Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

American -- the Catholic Philanthropic Tradition in America by Mary J. Oates

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

American -- the Catholic Philanthropic Tradition in America by Mary J. Oates

Article excerpt

The Catholic Philanthropic Tradition In America. By Mary J. Oates. (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. 1995. Pp. xvi, 231. $27.95.)

All historians of American Catholicism have reason to be grateful for this wide-ranging and beautifully written survey. As Sister Mary Oates correctly points out, Catholic philanthropy has received only "meager attention from historians" (p. xii). Her study is thus the most complete to date, and it sets a persuasive agenda for future work on the topic.

Professor Oates traces the evolution of Catholic charity from the first wave of institution-building in the ante-bellum decades through the consolidation of charitable enterprises at the diocesan level and the concomitant professionalization of charity work in the early decades of the twentieth century. Subsequent twentieth-century developments are discussed more briefly, though the book is clearly meant to address what the author regards as a present-day crisis in Catholic philanthropy.

Though Catholic charities in the nineteenth century were much more modest in their reach and resources than Catholic charities in the twentieth, Oates sees those earlier efforts as possessed of distinctive strengths. They were local, even parochial, in their orientation and ethos, and primarily directed to the immediate alleviation of suffering rather than reform. Nineteenth-century charitable institutions did come increasingly under the charge of women's religious orders. But an emphasis on personalism in Catholic charity left ample room for lay voluntarism, to which women were especially drawn. Social welfare experts, by the century's end, did not much value either personalism or localism; Catholic charities, indeed, we widely seen by this growing corps of professionals is inefficient and amateurish. But it was precisely their lack of professionalism, Oates argues, that caused those charities to be so broadly supported. That laypeople could contribute services or in-kind gifts enabled even working-class Catholics to be regularly charitable. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.