American Catholic

American Catholic
The Saints and Sinners Who Built America's Most Powerful Church
Charles R. Morris
Times Books, $27.50, 511 pp.

t the installation of Philadelphia Archbishop Denis Dougherty in 1918, 150,000 Catholics jammed the route from the train station to the cathedral. Before the appearance of Dougherty’s open limousine, the crowd (organized into specific viewing stands by parish) waited out fifty brass bands. Reporters described elderly women rushing the police lines to kiss the new archbishop’s ring. When Dougherty finally entered Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral for the installation, the seminary choir greeted him with a rendition of Ecce Sacerdos Magnus, or “Behold the Great Priest.”

None of this, observes Charles Morris in his sparkling new history, American Catholic, was “a ritual to encourage humility.” And Dougherty’s episcopal style-salting archdiocesan payrolls with relatives, pressuring resigned priests to change their names, and ordering Philadelphia’s Catholics not to attend Hollywood films-never wavered from its triumphal first moments.

Among the many virtues of Morris’s account is his ability to place this particular Catholic style into a sweep extending from 1840s immigrants to the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin’s Common Ground Initiative. Dougherty, Morris argues, marks one stage in American Catholic development, but his imperium in imperio is bracketed on the one side by the furious nineteenth-century struggle to absorb Irish famine refugees and build Catholic institutions, and by contemporary attempts to...

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About the Author

John T. McGreevy is the I.A. O'Shaughnessy Dean of the College of Arts and Letters and Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame.