- Following Father Chiniquy: Immigration, Religious Schism, and Social Change in Nineteenth-Century Illinois by Caroline B. Brettell
On opening my review copy, I was struck with trepidation when I read that the author had a family connection to the subject. Although a Canadian and a professor of anthropology at Southern Methodist University in the United States, Caroline Brettell traces her family to French Huguenots who were closely connected to the family and work [End Page 84] of the former Roman Catholic priest turned Protestant minister, Charles Chiniquy. When she claimed that the work was something of a homecoming for her (p. xiii), I feared a work of one-sided filiopiety.
Happily, the author has steered clear of the debates about the truth or falsehood of the many usually (but not entirely) Catholic accusations of immorality and fraud surrounding Charles Chiniquy, the charismatic, schismatic priest who was revered as a modern Martin Luther by Protestants and, of course, by those French Canadians who followed him into schism and most of whom eventually found themselves in Presbyterian or Baptist churches. Nor does she shy away from obviously scandalous information implicating Chiniquy. Brettell has concentrated instead on discussing the role the man had in encouraging immigration to Illinois, adapting to the United States, and in many conversions to Protestantism within the historical context of mid-nineteenth century Illinois.
The book is divided into two parts: the first comprises three chapters describing the historical anthropology of the French-Canadian immigration to Illinois (chapter 1), the religious schism instituted by Charles Chiniquy (chapter 2), and a discussion of Chiniquy’s charisma and conversion narrative (chapter 3). The second part, also in three chapters, discusses the evolution of the French community in Kankakee, Illinois. Brettell describes the demography, economy and social structure of the community in the last half of the nineteenth century (chapter 4). Then she looks at judicial records to explore group assimilation into American society and how it differed from other French-Canadian immigrant communities (chapter 5). The final chapter describes the origins of Catholic pilgrimages to the Church of St. Anne, Kankakee, and the evolution of meaning these devotions had in the twentieth century.
In summary, Brettell makes a strong case that the French-Canadian community of Illinois was significantly different from New England French-Canadians, and not just in its schism. While the first generation of immigrants closely resembled their parent communities [End Page 85] in Quebec, the agricultural context allowed greater creation of wealth than the New England mill towns and forced a greater number of community members, especially offspring, to search further afield – Kansas, for example – for more land, thus weakening family and ethnic – including linguistic – ties even more than the religious schism did. “Survivance” as an important cultural concept was much weaker in Illinois. Brettell speculates whether Protestantism then effected the lower birthrate or encouraged prosperity, but rather finds that the French-Canadian community followed similar patterns shown by other, even Catholic, ethnic groups in the American Midwest. Geography may have had a greater influence than religion. The judicial records show that Chiniquy, his family, and his followers were frequent users of the legal system and demonstrate a rapid inculturation into the institutions of the new country, which contrast greatly with New England French Canadians who assimilated into the English language institutions of their communities more slowly. Adherence to Catholicism and poverty did slow linguistic and institutional assimilation in the eastern United States. Ties to the Province of Quebec, and to Ste-Anne-de-Beaupré, were reinforced by the transfer of relics from Quebec to St. Anne, Kankakee, partly to counter-act the schism. Although at first used to encourage miraculous cures, the relics eventually served to gather the two parts – Catholic and Protestant – of the community together in welcoming pilgrims and, finally, far-flung family members who used the Feast of St. Anne in the summer as an occasion to visit home.
Although the work does not replace Marcel Trudel’s critical but polemical Chiniquy...