Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Frontiers of Faith: Bringing Catholicism to the West in the Early Republic

Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Frontiers of Faith: Bringing Catholicism to the West in the Early Republic

Article excerpt

FRONTIERS OF FAITH: BRINGING CATHOLICISM TO THE WEST IN THE EARLY REPUBLIC by John R. Dichd University Press of Kentucky, 240 pages, $50

Renegade priests. Rebellious laity. Another scandal exposé from Boston? Far from it, whether geographically and chronologically. John Dichd's book instead captures the irrepressible expansion of Catholicism beyond die Appalachians in the early American republic. Dichtl, executive director of the National Council on Public History, constructs a tighdy argued and meticulously researched account that recasts several narratives customary to American Catholic history.

Dichd jettisons the presumption of urban Catholic weakness in favor of the opportunities for both growth and scandal offered by the Appalachian frontier. Even as John Carroll became Baltimore's first bishop in 1789, Catholics were moving west, where Catholic communities went months at a time without a priest. Such absences left Catholics unshielded from anti-Cadiolic prejudice and free to intermarry with Protestant neighbors.

The new frontier granted priests discretionary freedoms not known in Europe, and, much to the bishops' chagrin, both priests and laity occasionally took the liberty to go their own ways. …

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