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Catholicism in 20th-century America.

The turn of the century has seen an explosion of interest in the history of 20th-century American Catholicism. Prominent among research efforts is the Catholicism in 20th-Century America project, conducted under the auspices of the University of Notre Dame's Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism and the Lilly Endowment.

As part of the project, nearly 150 people gathered for a conference at Notre Dame in March to mark the culmination of three years of research by more than 40 scholars working in collaboration to deepen understanding of the American Catholic experience. The project hopes to make a contribution to integrating the story of U.S. Catholicism with U.S. history by enhancing collaboration between historians of Catholicism and other scholars and promoting the accessible study of American Catholicism.

The Cushwa project addresses several broad areas. Lay and religious Catholic women have been on the front lines of American life, yet good histories of them, especially when it comes to laywomen, remain almost nonexistent. A section on Latino popular Catholicism asked whether the Latino Catholic community will assimilate into American culture, as European Catholic immigrants did, or maintain itself as a distinct group. The conference also examined European American popular--or "lived"--Catholicism: the community's week-to-week, regular attitudes and practices, such as the virtual disappearance of Confession as a widely practiced badge of Catholic identity. Sections on labor and social activism and place and public presence in American Catholicism rounded out the program.

Notre Dame made a fitting site for such a conference. Among recent books on American Catholicism is Jesuit Father Mark Massa's Catholics and American Culture (Crossroad, 1999), whose subtitle--Fulton Sheen, Dorothy Day, and the Notre Dame Football Team--indicates the importance of Notre Dame in the story of American Catholicism's move from cultural outsider to insider. The university transformed itself from a place, in Massa's words, "marked by a resolutely masculine, athlete culture and noisy, unintellectual religion," a working-class school whose football team constituted "the front ranks of an ethnic `holy war against the Protestant majority in the United States,'" to a "new Notre Dame," which did not jettison the school's athletic tradition or soft pedal its strong popular Catholic identity but combined them with a dedication to academic distinction.

With almost 20 books and dissertations planned for the Catholicism in 20th-Century America project, it marks a watershed not only in the history of American Catholicism's journey into mainstream culture, but also in the movement of that history into the mainstream of American historical research.
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Publication:U.S. Catholic
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2000
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