- Worthy of the Gospel of Christ: A History of the Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. Commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Diocese and Catholic Life in Northern Indiana
Many times, a diocesan history recounts the history of the bishops, the ecclesiastical superiors, the diocesan building development, and the major issues of the clergy and the important historical figures. Fortunately, this is not the type of history given to us here. Joseph White, noted historian and author of many works regarding American Catholic history, has written the story of the Catholic Church in northern Indiana from the seventeenth century to the beginning of the twenty-first century. Between 1830 to 2007, we have the foundation of the Diocese of Fort Wayne in 1857 and the redesignation of the see to Fort Wayne–South Bend in 1960. White has placed the Church in the broad context of north Indiana history: its people, its culture, its social relations, and its economic and political structures.
The historical account begins with the evangelization of the Native Americans, particularly the Pottowatami Indians through the efforts of Louis Deseille, Benjamin Petit, and the lay woman catechist Angelique Campeau. The beginning of the Church began with the tragedy of the Native American people and their forcible removal from their homes. People are the center in White’s panoramic view of the Church, men and women, laypersons and missionaries, saints and the less saintly, among them St. Mother Theodore Guérin and the Sisters of Providence and Célestin de la Hailandière, the irascible bishop of Vincennes. The Church of northern Indiana began with the migration of various Europeans into that area, especially after Indiana became a state in 1816. At first came the Germans and then the Irish, followed by the Poles, the Slovaks, the Italians, and the Hungarians at the beginning of the last [End Page 639] century. The author weaves together the diversity of the Church, the culture of the peoples, and the economic situation of the dioceses and of the ordinary people in the sections “Building a Catholic Culture, 1872–1900” and “Dimensions of Catholic Culture, 1900–1924.”
White avoids restricting the history to the bishops, but his portrait of John Luers, the first bishop of Fort Wayne—1857–71—is one of the best sections of the book. His portrait of Archbishop John Noll reveals the man with his achievements and his mistakes. Noll’s support of Father Charles E. Coughlin, his support of the America First Committee, his naive sympathy for Hitler in the early thirties, and his opposition to labor movements are treated objectively in the section that also recounts the bishop’s remarkable life and work. In his preface White points out that “recent Catholic historical scholarship” now seeks “an honesty that makes inevitable the disclosure of the negative along with the positive aspects of the past.” White has done so without bias or judgment.
At the very beginning of this work, the author reveals the paucity of archival resources. It seems that the archival records from the time of Bruté to the administration of Noll have disappeared or have not been processed. Despite this, however, White “launched [into] the . . . task of reading Catholic newspapers for articles that reveal the range of issues in diocesan life.” He availed himself of the archives of religious congregations, especially the archives of the University of Notre Dame. The sheer size of this study is daunting, but the details are handled very well. The number of ethnic groups in an area where so many Catholics from diverse countries are represented could not be exhaustive. For instance, details regarding the establishment of black parishes in South Bend and Gary during the Noll administration are not passed over. Nevertheless, it would have been interesting to point out more clearly the determination...