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John Ireland, St. Eloi Parish, and the Dream of an American Catholic Church

From: American Catholic Studies
Volume 124, Number 3, Fall 2013
pp. 21-43 | 10.1353/acs.2013.0034



In the late nineteenth century, the Catholic Church in the United States experienced a period of rapid growth primarily due to immigration. Many American bishops allowed immigrants to form their own churches, resulting in the creation of national parishes. Bishop John Ireland of St. Paul, Minnesota, however, disapproved of national parishes; he envisioned a church that was multiethnic, unified, and American. Yet a small parish in his diocese, St. Eloi, demonstrates the difficulty in achieving this dream. Disputes and disagreements plagued St. Eloi, usually pitting the French Canadian minority against the Flemish majority. The story of St. Eloi also reveals that Ireland’s vision for the church sometimes differed from the immigrants’ own ideas and plans for their parish. The dream of an American Catholic Church, therefore, was a contested one, contested between a bishop intent on molding the church to fit his vision and immigrant communities who had different ideas of what it meant to be an “American” church.