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 philip gleason 1 Becoming (and Being) a Catholic Historian I am (although I am not fond of the expression) a “cradle Catholic ,” and I hope to be a cradle-to-grave Catholic. For me, Catholicism is not a matter of looking back on the influence of a no-longer-operative “identity .” Being a Catholic is, rather, so closely linked with my past and present sense of myself that autobiography seems the only way to approach the task of reflecting on the connections between my religious faith and my professional training and work as a historian. Since autobiography should start somewhere near the beginning, I begin with some notes on how religion interacted with family circumstance and early experience in shaping the temperament I later brought to the study of history. I grew up in Wilmington, Ohio, a town in the southwestern part of the state with a population in my boyhood of just under six thousand. My father, a very progressive farmer who developed a prize-winning strain of hybrid seed corn, died in 1932, two weeks before my fifth birthday. My recollections of life on the farm are disconnected vignettes because, after struggling along with hired help for three years, my mother rented the farm and we moved into town in 1935. There couldn’t have been a lot of money, but I never felt we were poor. No doubt the absence of a father’s example and influence made a great, but unknowable, difference in the kind of person I became. Yet our family life was happy and I felt secure—except when my mother spoke, as she sometimes did, of returning to the farm when my two brothers and I were old enough to run it. Though it was just a fantasy on her part, it filled me with dread 01.i-x_1-198_Salv.indd 7 11/3/06 9:54:54 AM because I knew nothing of farming and was dismayed at the prospect of undertaking any such thing. Wilmington was a Protestant farming community, overwhelmingly “old American” in ethnic makeup. It had three or four Jewish merchants, and about the same number of Greek and Syrian families; Italian and Slavic names were conspicuous by their absence. The town did, however, have a couple of “colored sections,” in one of which there was a “colored” grade school. De facto segregation extended only through elementary school since there was but one high school, which African Americans attended, though they were few in number.1 In these respects, Wilmington did not differ from neighboring communities, but the many Quakers living in the town and surrounding countryside made it distinctive in religious terms. Yet aside from being conscientious objectors, the Quakers seemed to me no different from other Protestants. True, Catholics didn’t make many distinctions among the separated brethren in those days, but in addition to that fact, the Quakers of Wilmington belonged to the tradition that had shifted away from strict silent worship and adopted the organizational forms of conventional Protestantism. Wilmington College was (and still is) a Quaker institution, besides which the local Friends had an imposing “Quaker church,” a parsonage, and a minister (the Reverend A. Ward Applegate), just like the Methodists, Presbyterians, and Baptists. Growing up in this religious environment, I naturally assumed that Quakers were among the major Protestant denominations. It was quite a shock to learn, many years later, that their numbers are minuscule—no more than 200,000 nationwide—a discovery that should perhaps have made me more sensitive to the limitations of one’s own experience than it actually did. Since there was no Catholic school in Wilmington, I went through the public system. Virtually all of my grade school playmates and my closest friends in high school were Protestants. In fact, there were only three or four Catholics besides myself in my high school class of about eighty; none of the high school teachers was a Catholic, though my third-grade teacher was. Religion must have come up from time to time in conversations with my friends, but it wasn’t really a matter of discussion , much less dispute. Although my elders occasionally spoke of Ku Klux days, there was no evidence of active religious hostility as I was growing up. Even so, I was quite conscious of the difference in religion and, in keeping with the then-prevailing spiritual arrogance of Catholics, felt that religion didn’t mean nearly as much to my Protestant friends as it did...


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