- The Maryknoll Catholic Mission in Peru, 1943–1989: Transnational Faith and Transformation by Susan Fitzpatrick-Behrens
Susan Fitzpatrick-Behrens, an associate professor of history at California State University-Northridge, has produced an historical perspective on the work and consequences of the Maryknoll missions in Peru during the years indicated and even beyond, based on extensive personal research in many of the relevant communities and archives of Peru and the United States. She is a sympathetic relator of the heroic Maryknoll missioners (both men and women), who, she interprets, “were at the heart of liberation theology, progressive Catholicism, and revolution, which placed them in opposition to U.S. policy in Latin America” (p. 1). Her account provides many layers [End Page 182] of understanding and helpful information, especially as she explores the many unintended consequences of Maryknoll missionary endeavors in Peru and of the near disappearance of Maryknoll from the scene, both in Peru and in the United States.
Although the book is mostly organized chronologically, there are large sections where no dates are provided, making some forms of analysis and comparison impossible, if not confusing. More admirably, the author endeavors to explore the antecedent history and underlying causes of Maryknoll methodology in Peru, beginning with the recruitment of men and women that was imbued, she argues, with the immigrant Catholicism of the 1930’s U.S. Church. The first chapter provides an immense amount of information about Maryknoll, the immigrant Church in America, the Latin American Church, international ecclesial structures, and critiques of the initial Maryknoll efforts from the perspective of the 1960s and later. An uninformed reader might find it difficult to follow.
In subsequent chapters, the author has focused more on particular local communities, paying close attention to the personalities and approaches of individual missioners and locals. It is “thick history from below.” Herein, she begins to explore the results of the insertion of a “foreign” element into local power structures and the resistance that sometimes occurred among those of the missionaries’ ministry. The translation of previous mission experience from China and other Oriental lands to indigenous Catholic cultures in Peru was often met with surprising consequences, which are artfully explored. She also rightly highlights the influences of the American church experience of the mid-twentieth century, conveyed to their mission assignments by the unwitting Maryknollers who were often transformed by their experience of the Latin American Church and helped pave the way for various strains of liberation theology and more radical movements for social reform. She also details how the missionaries were often more dependent on the local communities than they might have assumed they would ever be on arrival.
The book includes two helpful maps, as well as extensive endnotes and a selected bibliography, making it especially helpful for students. The few photos only highlight the later years under study. There are some factual errors, including the name of the cofounder of Maryknoll (Thomas F. Price—not Anthony) and the bibliographical reference to this reviewer’s 2001 article in this journal (not the Canadian Historical Review). The author ignores the real commencement of the call for ecclesial missionary assistance in Latin America to other national churches by Pope Pius XII, not Pope John XXIII, as is so commonly alleged. Unfortunately, she also does not provide due consideration to other foreign mission groups and communities in Peru during the years examined, which might have yielded fruitful comparison, nor to the experience of Maryknoll in neighboring Bolivia, which in some cases was at some contrast with the Peruvian experience. Her theological observations are often diminished by the use of dated slogans, never explained, and other vague generalizations (for example, the reference to “Romanized Catholicism” and the unhappy designation of “Foreign-Controlled and Progressive Dioceses in Peru”). Perhaps given the author’s overarching and favorable perspective of [End Page 183] “progressive Catholicism,” no thought appears to be given to a more fundamental question for Maryknoll in Peru and...