Forgotten History

“Go to the Worker”
America’s Labor Apostles
Kimball Baker
Marquette University Press, $30, 276 pp.

The Catholic Church in the United States is no longer a working-class church. The majority of its traditional, white parishioners have moved up the social scale. Initially brutalized by religious intolerance, fierce social condescension, and seemingly inflexible economic barriers, they benefited more than almost any other social group from the American economic takeoff after World War II. Their belief in the American Dream seemed to have paid off, in large part because of the efforts made by Catholic social activists in the early and middle decades of the twentieth century. Many of these individuals wrote regularly for Commonweal and similar publications. Today, American workers’ hopes for a continually improving future have fallen prey to rising debt, joblessness, and an ever-increasing disparity in the nation’s economic distribution.

Kimball Baker, a non-Catholic retired editor and writer who worked for years with the Voice of America and the U.S. Department of Labor, has produced a fascinating, informative, jargon-free book about those Catholics, lay and clerical, who were involved in the twentieth-century social-action movement. In dealing with ten of its more important but in the main less-well-known spokesmen, and in laying out four “social-action vignettes,” Baker chronicles a movement that was Catholic in origin but “ecumenical in nature.” Like the movement itself, he is not overly concerned with the issue of race. Instead, he deals with the...

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About the Author

Daniel J. Leab, professor of history at Seton Hall University, is a former editor of the journal Labor History and is the current editor of American Communist History.