The Cold War
If the late 19th century was an era in which the American Catholic Church took root, the first half of the 20th century, culminating in 1960, is the age in which it began to bloom. The election of the first Catholic president seems an apt climax for this long process during which, beginning with the American Revolution and summed up symbolically on the deck of the USS Franklin and in the fields of white crosses over Catholic graves in Normandy and Iwo Jima, Catholics had had to prove that they were immigrants and patriots too. This efflorescence of Catholic institutions and culture has been described in various ways, as a maturing process, a coming of age, and even as a period of triumph. In the years following World War II, several of the social justice initiatives begun in the 1930s—retreats, labor schools, racial integration, and the confrontation with communism—came to the fore again, sometimes in new forms, and showed signs of both unresolved conflicts and progress.
These gains were made possible by a postwar leap in the Catholic population, which doubled between 1940 and 1960. In the Northeast, Catholics amounted to almost 40 percent of the population, and, in the nation as a whole, 23 percent. On this base, with vigorous clerical leadership in the population centers like New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Detroit, parishes, more than ever, became prosperous social and cultural centers with convents, grade schools and high schools, athletic teams with their own leagues, social clubs, Holy Name Societies, and sodalities—all geared to nurture, protected to some degree from secular corruption, a parish child through youth and adolescence, and into a Catholic college. At the same time, though this was not foreseen, as Catholics participated in the postwar economic boom, they jumped from the center cities to the suburbs where, as New Orleans Jesuit social activist Louis Twomey pointed out in his newsletter,