James T. Fisher December 7, 2006 - 9:02pm
In his America essay Bishop Thomas J. Curry of Los Angeles opines: "The dominant academic interpretation of American Catholic history, one that portrays the role for Catholic laity as 'pray, pay and obey,' is itself a recycling of the anti-Catholic interpretation that prevailed in the 19th and 20th centuries. The insularity of Catholic commentators renders them largely incapable of locating Catholicism, past or present, within the larger American context."
When I entered graduate school in U.S. History at a public university and expressed an interest in American Catholicism I was urged to discover on my own the "dominant academic interpretations" in the field. I was soon immersed in works that treated the contributions of Catholic thought to New Deal-era reform movements; the 'evangelical' dimension of parish missions; the role of Catholicism in shaping American notions of ethnic identity; and many, many others by scholars whose integrity and intellectual honesty was a source of my vocation. None recycled an "anti-Catholic interpretation;" they were anything but insular in their outlook and they inspired me and many others to continue seeking ways to locate Catholicism "within the larger American context." So how can we take seriously an essay that is grounded in such an ideologically-driven misreading of U.S. Catholic historiography?