The author of Papist Patriots has written a lively account of the Catholic community in Maryland in attempts to understand how they as a group came to support the American Revolution while living in an environment of religious intolerance that had excluded them from public life and subjected them to penal laws for over seventy years.
The strength of the book lies in the author’s ability to synthesize a vast array sources to recreate the political conditions that influenced the development of the Catholic community in Maryland. Cecil Calvert (1605/6–1675), second Lord Baltimore and founder of Maryland, is central to the author’s narrative, for it was his policy of religious toleration that allowed Catholics to participate in the governance of the colony during its first sixty-five years, an experience that would be [End Page 73] formative in the creation of a political identity that distinguished them from their Protestant counterparts and later explain why they supported the American Revolution. It was also Calvert’s relationship with the Jesuits, the religious society that accepted his invitation to serve as missionaries in Maryland, the author claims, which set the tone for how the laity treated the clergy over the colonial period.
The author’s original contribution lies in her thesis that Catholics began to view themselves as Marylandians instead of English in the period following the Glorious Revolution (1688–1690) and in her portrayal of religious conditions in the community, which she argues was determined by the laity, who held it was their right to dictate the terms of how they practiced their religion to the clergy. Both assertions set her apart from the prevailing interpretation, which dates the origin of a distinct political identity among Maryland Catholics to the aftermath of the Glorious Revolution, but one that was loyal to both the ideals the colony was founded upon and to Lord Baltimore. When faith was broken with the latter during the 1750s, it provided the opening for the argument made by Charles Carroll of Carrollton (1737–1832) that persuaded his co-religionists to support the American Revolution. This interpretation also portrays the relationship between the clergy and laity as collaborative, one that was shaped by the pastoral program developed by the Jesuits to suit conditions in Maryland, which can best be described as a domestic Catholicism that emphasized catechesis and spiritual direction, meditative prayer, spiritual reading, and the performance of good works. A spirited debate will no doubt ensue. [End Page 74]