- The Maryknoll Catholic Mission in Peru, 1943–1989: Transnational Faith and Transformation by Susan Fitzpatrick-Behrens
Historian Susan Fitzpatrick-Behrens’ work, The Maryknoll Catholic Mission in Peru, 1943–1989, offers an insightful analysis into the religious foundations of twentieth-century Peruvian history. Focusing on the Maryknoll fathers’ and sisters’ mission to the Iglesia del Sur Andino (primarily the Puno archdiocese and the Juli prelature) and Lima, the author argues that Maryknoll’s mission established the “infrastructure” for religious, political, and socio-economic reform in Peru. The missionaries acted, often unknowingly, as “intermediaries” between the indigenous (Aymara and Quechua), urban poor, or misto elite, and the government. The close relationship between church and state, continued by Maryknoll and numerous foreign clergy, facilitated reform through a hierarchically-ordered church. The relationship and its disintegration, following a shift in Maryknoll’s mission methods from a sacramental and socio-economic [End Page 79] mission to one of cultural encounter and defense of human rights, advanced the progressive church in Peru, noted for its adherence to liberation theology.
Fitzpatrick-Behrens holds in tension the changing cultural standards of Maryknoll missionaries, the historical traditions of Peruvian socio-economic structures, and the demographic clashes in the region. Detailed description, using numerical data, colonial practices, U.S. foreign policy, Peruvian politics, and indigenous beliefs make for a solid, convincing argument. The author highlights individual missionaries to examine the shifts in mission methods and the ideals various generations brought to the Peruvian mission. Fitzpatrick-Behrens’ first chapter might include links between the early Maryknoll missionaries to Peru and their individual immigrant, Catholic backgrounds to corroborate the American Catholic humanitarian ideal of the 1930s. She also distinguishes the gender nuances between United States men and women within an intercultural context. The sisters experienced more personal encounters with the poor and flexibility in their work, despite the patriarchal bent of the Catholic Church. In contrast, many of the priests felt isolated from Peruvians and constrained by their sacramental duties.
The author might consider further aspects of gender in her work. For example, the Maryknoll women’s particular ethos demonstrates an unusual emphasis on individuality and gender-specific heroism. The sisters’ self-perception (rather than the priests’ perception of them), in addition to their service-oriented work, might further explain their flexibility and openness to progressive ideas such as liberation theology. Fitzpatrick-Behrens indicates a type of political engagement by Sisters Rosemary McCormack and Patricia Ryan in the late sixties and seventies; however, the last chapter (1976–1989) addresses only the men, whose a-political stance gave way to a unified church voice for human rights. The sisters’ flexibility and openness to progressive ideas, and proximity to the poor, perhaps explains their political engagement in advance of the Maryknoll fathers. The notion, which indicates women’s circumvention of hierarchy, would need further verification in the last chapter.
The Maryknoll Catholic Mission in Peru skillfully carries the subtleties of Peruvian history into the global sphere. The work is important to historians of the Americas for demonstrating the centrality of religion to the political and socio-economic development of a nation and the highly influential role mission played in the region. Her work is appropriate for graduate level and upper-level [End Page 80] undergraduate courses on Latin American, United States, and religious history, particularly those with a transnational emphasis.