- Divided Friends: Portraits of the Roman Catholic Modernist Crisis in the United States by William L. Portier
In Divided Friends: Portraits of the Roman Catholic Modernist Crisis in the United States, William L. Portier offers a new interpretation of the Roman Catholic modernism crisis and its impact on American Catholicism through the collective biography of four crucial American participants: John R. Slattery of the Josephites, Catholic University of America rector Denis J. O’Connoll, and the Paulists William L. Sullivan and Joseph McSorley. Although all four men garner detail, McSorley emerges as Portier’s hero and unsung symbol of American Catholic life between Pope Piux X’s Pascendi Dominici Gegis (1907) and the Second Vatican Council.
Traditionally, Slattery and Sullivan’s response to Pius X’s Pascendi encyclical condemning modernism earned the lion’s share of historians’ attention because of its radicalism. Both men left the Church. Slattery, discouraged with lackluster Catholic outreach to African-Americans and drawn to the modernist arguments of Albert Houtin, left the Church, married, and entered the world of finance. Sullivan embraced modernism, left the Paulists to become a Unitarian minister, and published broadsides attacking the Church he had abandoned. Historians have taken both men’s self-imposed exile as signals that the post–Pascendi Church was bereft of intellectual curiosity and that a pall fell over the American Catholic mind until liberated by the Second Vatican Council. Portier revises this “lights went out” portrayal, rejecting the sometimes self-regarding defensiveness of Slattery and Sullivan as the definitive word, and seeks “to redeem the time between 1907 and 1962” (p. 325). McSorley serves as the vehicle for that redemption. The New York Paulist, deeply sympathetic to modernism, did not leave the Church and, rather than being guilty of bowing to Church authority, adapted his ministry. “[A]n historian who prayed,” McSorley labored over his biography of Isaac Hecker to redeem the Paulist founder from the shadow of Americanism and, amidst his pastoral work in New York, acted as Dorothy Day’s spiritual adviser (p. 365). With a vocation based on “Holiness and History,” McSorley’s life shows that the lights did not go out in American Catholicism after 1907 but still shone.
Portier skillfully mines a host of new sources in this book, including Slattery papers in Europe and the Catholic World correspondence files housed by the Paulists. He also offers an excellent outline of Pope Leo XIII’s neo-Thomism, the Americanism controversy, and Catholic intellectual life before modernism. Divided Friends deserves a close reading by Catholic historians and will become an essential text for understanding modernism and twentieth-century Catholic life. [End Page 684]