From the 1920s through the 1960s, the Catholic Students’ Mission Crusade (CSMC) enlisted American Catholic youth in “prayer, study, and sacrifice” in support of foreign and home missions. This groundbreaking study by Father David Endres restores the all-but-forgotten CSMC to its rightful place in history, as arguably the most important popular public movement of United States Catholicism in the twentieth century. With its pageants, conferences, and publications, the evolution of the CSMC “paralleled the rise of the Church in America” (91). At its height, it boasted over a million members. [End Page 92]
Endres traces the CSMC across four generations and demonstrates how its leadership adapted the movement to its changing contexts. It began in 1918 in response to an appeal by American seminarians for Catholic youth to organize themselves in support of foreign missions. The founders employed “crusade” imagery to evoke the self-sacrifice, bravery, and chivalry of medieval Catholicism as foundational for American Catholic efforts to convert the “pagans.” The CSMC spread as a co-educational mission education movement through the parochial school system. By the 1930s, the CSMC adopted the stance of Catholic Action and moved into social justice work and race relations. It opposed the increasing secularism of American life, while advocating an internationalist vision of Catholicism as a global movement. By the 1950s, anti-communism was a prominent theme in movement literature. Mid-century saw the CSMC supporting an expanding lay apostolate, along with its longstanding encouragement of religious vocations. The youth revolution of the late 1960s, with its widespread rejection of crusading ideals including foreign missions, resulted in the decision by its clerical leadership to dissolve the CSMC in 1970.
One of the great strengths of Endres’ monograph is his ability to anchor succinctly the narrative of the movement in multiple historical frameworks. He argues convincingly that the CMSC represented the coming of age of United States Roman Catholicism. It exemplified how scholasticism worked with Catholic educational institutions to create a public American Catholic identity. By uniting Catholic youth, it helped shape a distinctively American ethos that cut across ethnic and gender divisions. Effective clerical leadership made it a reconciling bridge between the global missionary commitments of the Vatican and the patriotic agenda of “Americanism.”
Endres’ study also fills out the history of twentieth-century student mission movements alongside the already well-documented Protestant Student Volunteer Movement of Foreign Missions. He places the CSMC within ecumenical missiological discourse, and [End Page 93] shows parallel developments between Protestant and Catholic mission theory and practice. While the book would have benefited from hearing more of the voices of ordinary members alongside those of the clerics who guided the movement, Endres has written a careful and convincing study that restores the centrality of missions activism to the creation of twentieth-century American Catholic identity. This is a fine book that belongs on the bookshelf of everyone interested in student mission missions, and in United States Catholic history.