Roman Catholicism and the American Way of Life

By Thomas T. McAvoy | Go to book overview

COLMAN J. BARRY, O.S.B.*


VI. The German Catholic Immigrant

The Catholic Church in the United States has been in large measure an immigrant institution. The tide of immigration which brought millions of settlers to American shores created a phenomenon for this Church which was unparalleled in its history. Peoples of different races and nationalities, of distinct traditions and prejudices, came individually or in groups to establish new homes in a strange country. Among these varied nationalities the German people occupied a leading place. Immigrant German Catholics of the nineteenth century had a firm loyalty to their religion, sound organizational techniques, and a strong community pattern of worship, culture and social action. From the time of their first Pennsylvania settlements in the mid-eighteenth century, German Catholic leaders had insisted on separate treatment and recognition as a minority group. Their demands in the following century for language rights, national parishes, and proportional representation in the hierarchy were, they maintained, defenses against attack by liberal German Americans after 1848, as well as insurance that their religious faith would be preserved intact.

Simultaneously, leading Catholic churchmen and laymen, following the pioneer example of the first Catholic bishop of the United States, John Carroll, of the colonial Maryland Carroll family, were working to instill devotion to American constitutional and political ideals among immigrant Catholics. Towards the end of the century differences over procedure and practice brought robust Americanizing and German elements into an open conflict. German Catholic leaders and news-

____________________
*
Father Colman J. Barry, O.S.B., Assistant Professor of History in St. John's University, Collegeville, Minn., is the author of The Catholic Church and the Germans ( 1953), and Worship and Work, St. John's Abbey and University, 1856-1956 ( 1956).

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