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  • Sacrifice and Survival: Identity, Mission, and Jesuit Higher Education in the American South by R. Eric Platt
  • Thomas J. Ward Jr.
Sacrifice and Survival: Identity, Mission, and Jesuit Higher Education in the American South. By R. Eric Platt. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 2014. xi, 223 pp. $44.95. ISBN: 978-0-8173-1819-2.

Based on extensive primary research from the Jesuit Archives and various college and university collections, R. Eric Platt has produced a well-written institutional history of the institutions of higher learning run by the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) in the American South. Platt examines a number of themes in his work, most notably Jesuit mission and identity, especially as it related to larger Catholic mission and identity; relationships with local communities, focusing on the unique circumstances of being a Jesuit institution in the South; and the curriculum decisions made to balance Jesuit teachings with the demands of American educational standards and needs. His central question centers on why some of these institutions survived, but most failed.

The strength of Sacrifice and Survival is Platt's examination of the little-known, now-extinct Jesuit educational institutions in the American South, including Louisiana's St. Charles College, Georgia's College of the Sacred Heart, and St. Mary's University in Texas. These microhistories provide insights into the numerous difficulties [End Page 171] that the Jesuits faced in establishing institutions of higher learning in the South, including financial difficulties and pervasive anti-Catholic sentiment throughout the region, even though all of the schools were founded in areas with significant Roman Catholic populations. In Grand Coteau, Louisiana, for example, the local paper in 1876 called for the Jesuits to abandon St. Charles College within fifteen days or they would be "stripped, whipped, and driven out" (62). While the college did eventually close in 1922, the Jesuits remain in Grand Coteau to this day, where the former St. Charles College now trains novices and serves as a home for retired Jesuits.

Of the institutions of higher education run by the Jesuits in the South, only Mobile's Spring Hill College and New Orleans's Loyola University survive today, and Platt devotes a significant portion of his book to these schools. Again, he provides well-researched institutional histories of both schools from their establishment until the mid-twentieth century. He examines, in particular, why Spring Hill and Loyola-New Orleans were able to persevere in the South, while all other Jesuit schools of higher education eventually failed, which he credits, in part, to the development of a strong Jesuit identity at both institutions.

The issues of mission and identity at Jesuit institutions in the South—in essence, what it means to be a Jesuit college as compared to a public school or even another denominational institution—are major themes of Platt's study. His focus on mission and identity at Jesuit institutions remains extremely relevant today, especially as the number of Jesuits declines and schools are forced to grapple with the question of what it means to be a Jesuit institution with few, if any, actual Jesuits on faculty and staff.

Sacrifice and Survival, however, falls short of expectations in a number of areas. While Platt does touch on the impact of the Civil War on some of the institutions, the effect of the war on these schools needed to be explored in greater detail. Similarly, while he does explore anti-Catholic—and specifically anti-Jesuit—sentiments in the [End Page 172] region and its impact on higher education, there are also glaring omissions in this area as well, such as the anti-Catholicism of the southern Populists of the late nineteenth century and the rise of anti-Catholicism in the 1920s in the South. Placing the history of these schools into the larger context of southern history would have been particularly useful in these areas.

The failure of Platt to take his study past the early twentieth century is another weakness of the book, as there seems no reason why he should abandon his study by the 1950s. For example, while he details the impact of the Galveston hurricane of 1900 on St. Mary's University...


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