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The Catholic Historical Review 87.4 (2001) 763-764

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Book Review

The Encyclopedia of American Catholic History

The Encyclopedia of American Catholic History. Edited by Michael Glazier and Thomas J. Shelley. (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press. 1997. Pp. xi, 1567. $79.95.)

This sizable volume provides a valuable resource to both professional historians of the Catholic Church in the United States and to the more casual reader who would like to learn more about that history. The historian will be grateful for the breadth and detail of the material covered; the novice to the field will be fascinated by the richness of the story of American Catholicism that emerges from the varied entries.

The editors set as a goal for the massive project to tell the story of the immigrant Catholics and their descendants. The main characters in the story are much more varied than the traditional church histories that focus primarily on the hierarchy and the religious (though they are also covered thoroughly). In this encyclopedia, Catholics of all walks of life are introduced and their contributions to U. S. life and culture are described and evaluated. Thus we meet, for example, Josephine Baker, African-American dancer and singer who helped bring jazz to 1920's Paris; Mother Marianne Cope, who led a small group of Franciscan sisters to establish hospitals for leprosy patients in Hawaii along with Father Damian De Veuster; and Walker Percy, Southern novelist, to name just a few. Living individuals do not merit an entry but may be mentioned in articles on other topics. [End Page 763]

The contributing authors are generally the most respected scholars on the subject treated. They accomplished very well the primary aim set by the editors to provide basic information in concise and readable entries, while providing ample cross-references and bibliographic information to direct the reader to a fuller treatment of the subject. This work opens for the reader a vast library of literature in the field of American Catholic history. It was also evident that the purpose of the book was to present a true picture of the events and individuals rather than to focus only on the more edifying or positive elements of Catholicism in the United States.

There is a wide variety of topics covered. Institutional history, while not dominant, is certainly represented, with an entry for the history of the Catholic Church in each state of the Union, as well as an entry for each of the major religious orders, Catholic colleges, and important organizations. A brief necrology of every deceased U.S. bishop is also provided. However, there is more emphasis on social history, ideas, and movements than earlier encyclopedias or histories have generally displayed. Thus, one finds entries that cover the development in the United States of certain movements and ideas such as ecumenism, anti-communism, anti-Semitism, capital punishment, Catholic Biblical Scholarship, Catholic Medical Ethics, and the reception of Humanae Vitae, for example. Each major immigrant nationality is reported on. Previously neglected topics, such as Frontier Catholicism and American Catholic women, are given a more thorough treatment. Eastern Catholic Churches in the United States are refreshingly represented. On the other hand, some subjects, such as the Catholic Worker Movement, are given curiously little coverage.

In addition to the historical and biographical entries, there are numerous excerpts from important documents in American Catholic history. These primary texts are extremely useful and interesting, but their presence in the volume contributes to its principal limitation: namely, its sheer size and weight. The 8 1/2 x 11" size, 1,567-page length, and 6 lb. weight make it less than handy to use. Nevertheless, it is easily the best and most complete reference book available that treats the history of the Catholic Church in the United States.


Benedict Neenan, O.S.B.
Conception Seminary College, Missouri



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