Catholicism in 20th Century America

A collaboration between the Cushwa Center and Cornell University Press, the Cushwa Center Studies of Catholicism in Twentieth-Century America series comprises nine volumes exploring the ways in which Catholics and their Church have responded to, shaped, and been influenced by developments in American society, culture, politics, and religion throughout the 20th century. R. Scott Appleby served as series editor.

Pursuing Truth: How Gender Shaped Catholic Education at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland (2021)

by Mary J. Oates, C.S.J. 

In Pursuing Truth, Mary J. Oates explores the roles that religious women played in teaching generations of college and university students amid slow societal change that brought the grudging acceptance of Catholics in public life. Across the 20th century, Catholic women's colleges modeled themselves on, and sometimes positioned themselves against, elite secular colleges. Oates describes these critical pedagogical practices by focusing on Notre Dame of Maryland University, formerly known as the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, the first Catholic college in the United States to award female students four-year degrees. The pattern of institutional development regarding the place of religious identity, gender and sexuality, and race that Oates finds at Notre Dame of Maryland is a paradigmatic story of change in U.S. higher education. Similarly representative is her account of the school's effort, from the late 1960s to the present, to maintain its identity as a women's liberal arts college.


All Good Books Are Catholic Books: Print Culture, Censorship, and Modernity in Twentieth-Century America (2013)

by Una M. Cadegan

In All Good Books Are Catholic Books, Una M. Cadegan shows how the Church’s official position on literary culture developed over the crucial period from World War I to the close of Vatican II, and how Catholics developed a rationale by which they could both respect the laws of the Church as it sought to protect the integrity of doctrine and also engage the culture of artistic and commercial freedom in which they operated as Americans. Catholic literary figures including Flannery O’Connor and Thomas Merton are important to Cadegan’s argument, particularly as their careers and the reception of their work demonstrate shifts in the relationship between Catholicism and literary culture. Cadegan trains her attention on American critics, editors, and university professors and administrators who mediated the relationship among the Church, parishioners, and the culture at large.


Catholics in the American Century: Recasting Narratives of U.S. History​​​​​​ (2012)

edited by R. Scott Appleby and Kathleen Sprows Cummings
American historians of race, politics, social theory, labor, and gender come together in this volume to address the distinctive presence and agency of Catholics as Catholics in the 20th century--a perspective that is almost entirely absent in both scholarly and popular works of history. Contributors consider how Catholics negotiated gender relations, raised children, thought about war and peace, navigated the workplace and the marketplace, and imagined their place in the national myth of origins and ends. A long overdue corrective, Catholics in the American Century restores Catholicism to its rightful place in the American story.

Contributors: R. Scott Appleby, University of Notre Dame; Lizabeth Cohen, Harvard University; Kathleen Sprows Cummings, University of Notre Dame; R. Marie Griffith, Washington University in St. Louis; David G. Gutiérrez, University of California, San Diego; Wilfred McClay, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga; John T. McGreevy, University of Notre Dame; Robert Orsi, Northwestern University; Thomas Sugrue, University of Pennsylvania


On the Irish Waterfront: The Crusader, the Movie, and the Soul of the Port of New York (2009)

by James T. Fisher

Site of the world's busiest and most lucrative harbor throughout the first half of the 20th century, the Port of New York was also the historic preserve of Irish American gangsters, politicians, longshoremen's union leaders, and powerful Roman Catholic pastors. This is the demimonde depicted to stunning effect in Elia Kazan's On the Waterfront (1954) and into which James T. Fisher takes readers in this remarkable and engaging historical account of the classic film's backstory.


Habits of Devotion: Catholic Religious Practice in Twentieth-Century America (2005)

edited by James M. O'Toole

In Habits of Devotion, four senior scholars take the measure of the central religious practices and devotions that by the middle of the 20th century defined the "ordinary, week-to-week religion" of the majority of American Catholics. Their essays investigate prayer, devotion to Mary, confession, and the Eucharist as practiced by Catholics in the United States before and shortly after the Second Vatican Council.

Contributors: Joseph P. Chinnici, O.F.M., Franciscan School of Theology; Paula M. Kane, University of Pittsburgh; Margaret M. McGuinness, La Salle University; James M. O'Toole, Boston College


Catholics and Contraception: An American History (2004)

by Leslie Woodcock Tentler

As Americans rethought sex in the 20th century, the Catholic Church's teachings on the divisive issue of contraception in marriage were in many ways central. In a fascinating history, Leslie Woodcock Tentler traces changing attitudes: from the late 19th century, when religious leaders of every variety were largely united in their opposition to contraception; to the 1920s, when distillations of Freud and the works of family planning reformers like Margaret Sanger began to reach a popular audience; to the Depression years, during which even conservative Protestant denominations quietly dropped prohibitions against marital birth control.


Ballots and Bibles: Ethnic Politics and the Catholic Church in Providence (2003)

by Evelyn Savidge Sterne

By the mid 19th century, Providence, Rhode Island, an early industrial center, became a magnet for Catholic immigrants seeking jobs. The city created as a haven for Protestant dissenters was transformed by the arrival of Italian, Irish, and French-Canadian workers. By 1905, more than half of its population was Catholic—Rhode Island was the first state in the nation to have a Catholic majority. Civic leaders, for whom Protestantism was an essential component of American identity, systematically sought to exclude the city's Catholic immigrants from participation in public life, most flagrantly by restricting voting rights. Through her account of the newcomers' fight for political inclusion, Evelyn Savidge Sterne offers a fresh perspective on the nationwide struggle to define American identity at the turn of the 20th century.


Horizons of the Sacred: Mexican Traditions in U.S. Catholicism (2002)

edited by Timothy Matovina and Gary Riebe-Estrella

Horizons of the Sacred explores the distinctive worldview underlying the faith and lived religion of Catholics of Mexican descent living in the United States. Religious practices, including devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, celebration of the Day of the Dead, the healing tradition of curanderismo, and Good Friday devotions such as the Way of the Cross (Via Crucis), reflect the increasing influence of Mexican traditions in U.S. Catholicism, especially since Mexicans and Mexican Americans are a growing group in most Roman Catholic congregations.

Contributors: Gilbert R. Cadena, Cal Poly Pomona; Karen Mary Davalos, Loyola Marymount University; Orlando O. Espin, University of San Diego; Roberto S. Goizueta, Boston College; Luis D. Leon, University of Denver; Timothy Matovina, University of Notre Dame; Lara Medina, California State University Northridge; Gary Riebe-Estrella, S.V.D., Catholic Theological Union


Claiming the City: Politics, Faith, and the Power of Place in St. Paul (2001)

by Mary Lethert Wingerd

Are Minneapolis and St. Paul "Twin Cities" in proximity only? How can two cities, spoken of so often in one breath, differ so greatly in their histories and characteristics? Claiming the City traces the contours of St. Paul's "civic identity" to show how personal identities and political structures of power are fundamentally informed by the social geography of place. St. Paul proves a particularly fruitful site for such analysis because it has developed along a divergent path from that of Minneapolis, its sister city just across the Mississippi river.