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The American Jesuits

A History

Raymond Schroth

Publication Year: 2007

Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2008

With infectious energy and a genuine gift for storytelling, Raymond A. Schroth recounts the history of Jesuits in the United States. The American Jesuits isn't simply a book for Catholics; it's for anyone who loves a well-told historical tale. For more than 450 years, Jesuit priests have traveled the globe out of a religious commitment to serve others. Their order, the Society of Jesus, is the largest religious order of men in the Catholic Church, with more than 20,000 members around the world and almost 3,000 in the United States. It is one of the more liberal orders in the Church, taking very public stands in the U.S. on behalf of social justice causes such as the promotion of immigrants’ rights and humanitarian aid, including assistance to Africa's poor, and against American involvement in "unjust wars." Jesuits have played an important part in Americanizing the Catholic Church and in preparing Catholic immigrants for inclusion into American society.

Starting off with the first Jesuit to reach the New World—he was promptly murdered on the Florida coast—Schroth focuses on the key periods of the Jesuit experience in the Americas, beginning with the era of European explorers, many of whom were accompanied by Jesuits and some of whom were Jesuits themselves. Suppressed around the time of the American Revolution, the Society experienced resurgence in the nineteenth century, arriving in the U.S. along with waves of Catholic immigrants and establishing a network of high schools and universities. In the mid-twentieth century, the Society transformed itself to serve an urbanizing nation.

Schroth is not blind to the Society’s shortcomings and not all of his story reflects well on the Jesuits. However, as he reminds readers, Jesuits are not gods and they don't dwell in mountaintop monasteries. Rather, they are imperfect men who work in a messy world to “find God in all things” and to help their fellow men and women do the same.

A quintessential American tale of men willing to take risks — for Indians, blacks, immigrants, and the poor, and to promote a loving picture of God—The American Jesuits offers a broad and compelling look at the impact of this 400-year-old international order on American culture and the culture’s impact on the Jesuits.

Published by: NYU Press


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

I thank the Society of Jesus for teaching me when I was young and giving me meaningful work now when I am older, the New York Province for the time and the means to get away and write, and the Saint Peter’s College Jesuit community for being my home. I had special help at the beginning from Jesuits and scholars John Padberg, S.J., Jack O’Callaghan, S.J., Joseph Novak, S.J., Gerald McKevitt, S.J., and....

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pp. xi

This book began when my father the journalist and my mother the teacher decided that I should go not to Trenton’s Catholic high school but should commute to Philadelphia to Saint Joseph’s Prep. There I met the first of the men to whom I dedicate this book. Jack Burton, then a scholastic, challenged me to participate in a speech contest and made me yearbook editor. In short, he represents...

I In the Beginning

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pp. 3-14

The Society of Jesus’ first adventure in North America neither began nor ended well. It is September 14, 1566, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, and a large Spanish ship, with a Flemish crew, a contingent of Spanish soldiers, and three Jesuit missionaries aboard, having been..

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1 The World Scene

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pp. 15-20

One Jesuit historian suggests that the decades following the coming of the Jesuits to Mexico “were the most glorious” of the Society’s history. He then enlarges the scope of his judgment to encompass the leadership of the fifth and sixth generals of the order—Claudius Aquaviva...

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2 The Maryland Tradition

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pp. 21-27

Drive two hours south of Washington, D.C., through the lush, green farmlands of St. Mary’s County to the southern Maryland peninsula, where the Potomac River empties into the Chesapeake Bay on the west, the bay reaches up past Annapolis and Baltimore on the east, and Maryland’s Eastern Shore dangles down between the Chesapeake...

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3 The Pioneers

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pp. 28-46

It is January 5, 1644, and a ragged traveler knocks at the door of the Jesuit college at Rennes, France. He is gaunt, poorly dressed in clothes that do not fit him. He is bearded and young, 38 years old, but, with thinning hair and a lined face, looks much older. His hands are mangled stumps, his left thumb is gone, and his forefingers, from which...

II Suppression and Return

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4 Death and Resurrection

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pp. 49-57

How could it happen that a powerful international religious society of almost 20,000 men, faithful to the pope, confessors to kings, with colleges and mission outposts all over the world, ceased to exist in a fourstage process over 14 years? Historians suggest three reasons that are intellectual, political, and personal: the rise of the Enlightenment—the Age of Reason—an intellectual...

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5 The New America

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pp. 58-76

The period in which the Jesuits reestablished themselves in the New World has been called the Age of Jackson, an era of growth and confidence in which America, having defeated Great Britain more decisively at New Orleans in the War of 1812, was born again—this time in the image of a democrat and frontiersman. It was the era of the industrial...

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6 A Nation and Faith Divided

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pp. 77-85

In October 1850, 13-year-old Robert Gould Shaw, son of a wealthy Boston antislavery family, sat at his desk day after day in the study hall at Fordham, as the former St. John’s College was already called, and wrote angry, whining letters home with one dominant theme. He hated the school and wanted to come home. The other boys, he complained...

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7 Schoolmasters and Preachers

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pp. 86-101

This was the presuppression Society at the height of its influence, when it had set up so many schools in Europe that there were almost too many, in fact more than in the mid-19th century. But the improvisational context of establishing schools in what was still a frontier mission made exhaustive preparation an unattainable goal. When...

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8 The Turning Point

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pp. 102-112

It is 1892. Two young Jesuits, Philosopher and Theologian (not their real names), on a break from Woodstock and on an after-supper stroll, are on a summer visit to St. Inigoes, the Maryland countryside where Andrew White landed in 1635. They have been reading the latest Woodstock Letters (vol. 121) with its annual fold-out pages with charts...

III Engaging the World

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9 The Social Question

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pp. 115-130

It is fitting that the name of the American Jesuits’ new flagship magazine should be the one proposed by Thomas Gannon, former Fordham rector and the Maryland–New York provincial in the first years of the 20th century. Gannon was most conscious of the negative aspects of European control of American Jesuit enterprises and was forthright in his efforts to break from European restrictions on an appropriate American lifestyle...

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10 At War

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pp. 131-145

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, when George Dunne spontaneously told his provincial he wanted to enlist as a chaplain, the provincial told him he had already recruited three, and that’s all he could afford. The impulse to be a chaplain was another lingering spirit from the Society’s first century, of the zeal to be a missionary, to throw oneself...

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11 The Cold War

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pp. 146-169

If the late 19th century was an era in which the American Catholic Church took root, the first half of the 20th century, culminating in 1960, is the age in which it began to bloom. The election of the first Catholic president seems an apt climax for this long process during which, beginning with the American Revolution and summed...

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12 The Golden Age

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pp. 170-196

It was about half past midnight, and Father Bill Carroll thought he smelled smoke. But he had been wrong before—last year he smelled something burning in the middle of the night, but the house had been searched and no evidence of a fire found—and maybe he was wrong again. Actually a second search, four days later that year, had discovered a hidden beam...

IV The Modern Society Emerges

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13 Freedom from Fear

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pp. 199-216

In general, novices in the late 1950s knew nothing that was going on in the “outside world,” outside the gates of the country novitiate, until the novice master at the morning conference dropped headlines on them from papers they were not allowed to read and radio reports they were not allowed to hear. But 1958 was a “hot news” year by any...

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14 The Arrupe Era

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pp. 217-258

On October 11, 1963, word reached America magazine that a Jesuit had risen from the dead. The editor, Thurston N. Davis, a Harvard PhD in classics who had been dean of Fordham College in the 1950s but had left that post to replace Robert Hartnett as editor, was, above all, a...

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15 Into the 21st Century

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pp. 259-284

On March 7, 1975, on the last day of the 32nd General Congregation, which had been meeting for 96 days, Pedro Arrupe and his four newly elected general assistants left the meeting hall at the Jesuit headquarters to meet with Pope Paul VI in his offices on the other side of St. Peter’s Square. It had been a rough three months. Several times during...

Notes and Sources

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pp. 285-296


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pp. 297-306


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pp. 307-312

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About the Author

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pp. 313

Raymond A. Schroth, S.J., is Professor of Humanities at Saint Peter’s College, as well as a Jesuit priest and journalist. He has been a professor and/or academic dean at five Jesuit colleges and universities. He is the author of six books, including Fordham: A History and Memoir, Dante to Dead Man Walking: One Reader’s Journey through the Christian...

E-ISBN-13: 9780814708811
E-ISBN-10: 0814708811
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814740255
Print-ISBN-10: 0814740251

Page Count: 368
Publication Year: 2007