A Catholic New Deal is a history of religiously based social reform, ethnic politics, and labor organizing in Pittsburgh. To help orient the reader without, at the same time, interrupting the narrative flow, I have led off each chapter with a brief summary of its contents. Having written an academic monograph based upon my doctoral dissertation, as well as a more freewheeling book of broad social commentary and political history, I am now trying to arrive at a compromise between "lab report-style" writing and a journalistic type of narrative that is more interested in telling a story than worrying about whether readers see up front that there is a point to it all. Professional historians rightly complain that nonacademic "popularizers" are wont to sacrifice analysis if it gets in the way of telling a good tale. On the other hand, most readers of history and biography tend to avoid dry, linguistically inaccessible academic monographs. My hope is to bridge the gap between academia and the general reading public.
In the first chapter of A Catholic New Deal, we will meet Father James Cox, a Catholic priest and champion of the unemployed who, in 1932, led what was then the largest protest march on Washington in American history. Chapter 2 offers a discussion of Catholic social teaching and the New Deal. Between 1933 and 1935, the reform wing of the American Catholic Church struggled on behalf of pensions for the elderly, public works projects and compensation for the unemployed, and championed the right of workers to bargain collectively. At the same time, the Church reformers warned against the moral dangers of workers becoming too dependent upon the federal government. Meanwhile, Catholic clergy and laity matched wits with Communists and conservative corporate representatives who had their own vision of what constituted a just relationship between labor and management. Here we will meet Philip Murray and John Brophy, devout Catholics and labor