- Faith and Action: A History of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, 1821–1996
The historic see of Cincinnati looms large on the American Catholic diocesan landscape. Established in 1821 at the emerging West's key urban community, the Cincinnati diocese at first included Ohio and parts of what became Michigan and Wisconsin. Partitions reduced its territory to southern Ohio by the time Cincinnati became an archdiocese in 1850. By then, the city of Cincinnati, the nation's largest inland city, had attracted a diverse population including many Germans. There, Catholics built a complex ethnic and religious culture that was a model of Catholic life for the region. By the twentieth century, other large urban Catholic communities emerged. A less influential but substantial archdiocese, consisting of nineteen Ohio counties since 1944, developed along the lines of other large dioceses coping with changes in American and Catholic life.
This archdiocese's imposing past gives cause to welcome Roger Fortin's history covering its first 175 years up to 1996. Superseding the institutional approach of John H. Lamott's 1921 centennial history, Fortin's focus is "the growth and administration of the archdiocese of Cincinnati, the active participation of the laity in the life of the church, religious education, social issues, and the relationship of Catholics to the larger society" (p. xiii). He strives for a "general portrait of the accomplishments of the clergy, religious, lay people, parishes, and Catholic organizations" (p. xiv). The archdiocese recruited Fortin to write this [End Page 352] history and gave him "full freedom to tell the story" (p. xi). Tucked away in the endnotes (p. 458) the author discloses that he did not have access to any correspondence of recent Archbishops Paul Leibold, Joseph Bernardin, and Daniel Pilarczyk, that is, since 1969. For an authorized history the archdiocese could have been less restrictive so that the author had indeed "full freedom" at least until 1982, the last year of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin's decade as archbishop. Such a restriction serves as another reminder of the official Church's uneasiness with accountability.
The volume has many strengths. The pre-1969 archbishops' papers and the continuous files of the diocesan paper, The Catholic Telegraph, provide abundant sources. Previous scholarship on topics and persons related to the archdiocese helped the author advance a rich story especially for the nineteenth century. From the hardships marking founding Bishop Edward Fenwick's tenure starting in 1821 through the building of a Catholic culture during the half-century of John Baptist Purcell's leadership as bishop and archbishop (1833-1883) the administrative narrative runs strong. This approach continues through the bureaucratic consolidations of Archbishops William Elder (1883- 1904) and Henry Moeller (1904-1925). The welcome account of Archbishop John T. McNicholas (1925-1950) as an innovative leader of the local church and influential national leader could have been balanced with a frank discussion of his often arbitrary treatment of persons and skills at self-promotion in dealings with Roman officials. The high tide of pre-Vatican II Catholicism was reached through the busy years of Archbishop Karl J. Alter (1950-1969).
The volume has its share of weaknesses. A newcomer to U.S. Catholic studies, the author lists a formidable bibliography containing most of the important titles in the field published in recent decades. A thorough immersion in this literature should have preceded and new interpretations should have guided research in primary sources. The author was not skilled in weaving the archdiocese's story into the larger themes of American Catholic life that have been illuminated through recent scholarship. Explaining the broader contexts should have been the starting point of discussion of many Cincinnati issues—perhaps in the introduction to each of the volume's four parts. Too often for twentieth-century issues, the author introduces the rich Cincinnati story with the context inserted as an afterthought or not at all and concluding the discussion of an issue with slight interpretation. As a result the reader is not made aware of Cincinnati...