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Educating the Faithful: Religion, schooling, and society in nineteenth-century France. (Reviews).

Educating the Faithful: Religion, Schooling, and Society in Nineteenth-Century France. By Sarah A. Curtis (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2000. xii plus 255 pp.).

In recent decades social historians have enriched the study of nineteenth-century French primary schooling by demonstrating that not only state policy--the focus of earlier studies--but also familial and local community demand led to the burgeoning of schools and enrollments therein. To date, however, contributions by religious orders and Catholic philanthropists to that history have been less well documented. Although Raymond Grew and Patrick J. Harrigan's School, State, and Society (Ann Arbor, 1991) included a chapter on "The Catholic Contribution to Universal Schooling," their quantitative analysis lacked the richness of qualitative detail offered by Sarah Curtis's new study of primary schooling in the diocese of Lyon between 1801, when Napoleon I concluded the Concordat with the pope, and 1905, when church and state were formally separated.

Mining both public archives and the documentary holdings of religious orders which granted access, Curtis has written an important regional study that never loses sight of the national picture. In a fine historiographical introduction she states the goal of wanting to modify both traditional republican historiography, with its overemphasis on the state's role, and Catholic historiography which, by treating Catholic educators as "victims" of the state's eventual attack on religious schools, has underemphasized aspects of the Catholic contribution. The diocese of Lyon, encompassing the two departments of the Rhone and Loire, is an appropriate site for studying that contribution because it was not only a major center of the evangelization developing in reaction to the de-Christianizing activities of the French Revolution but also an area where schools became plentiful at a relatively early date. Four major topics are highlighted: Catholic pedagogical practice, as opposed to rhetoric; congregations' contributions to re-Christianization; feminization of Catholicism; and philanthropic associations' support.

It was between 1801 and 1870, Curtis argues, that Catholic contributions to French schooling were most significant. Before the Third Republic (1870-1940) localities were responsible for building schools and paying teachers. Where communities lacked the necessary resources, or failed to see the importance of schooling, Catholic congregations stepped in to fill voids or provide services more cheaply than lay teachers might. Religious personnel were available to teach in public as well as private schools because, at the national level, more than 400 new women's congregations were founded during the nineteenth century, and the number of men's orders also increased, although less dramatically. Across France, many localities did prefer to have lay men teach boys, and the creation of many new men's normal schools after the 1833 Guizot Law reinforced that trend. Such preferences were less notable, however, in the diocese of Lyon where, in 1863, 57 percent of Rhone schoolboys and 72 percent of their Loire counterparts attended congregational schools (public and private), as compared to 22 percent of boys nationwide (p. 25). Catholic industrialists and other employers influenced that trend by informing workers that continued employment might depend upon where and by whom their children were schooled. To produce a literate work force that was also respectful of authority, secular patrons and congregations cooperated to make many schools tuition-free or low in cost. Indeed, before all public primary schools became free in 1881, congregational schools were more often free than lay counterparts. For the training of women teachers the Catholic contribution both nationally and in the Lyon diocese was long all important, for most departments did not fund women's normal schools until compelled to do so by the Bert Law of 1879. In 1863, 75 percent of Rhone schoolgirls and fully 86 percent of Loire schoolgirls attended congregational schools, as compared to 54 percent nationally (p. 25).

Republican contemporaries and later historians often questioned the competence of religious teachers, but Curtis finds them comparing favorably with lay teachers before the Third Republic, even if many congregations deliberately limited their academic preparation and trained them to obey higher ecclesiastical authorities. Indeed, Curtis believes that the teaching sisters provided the first model of a French professional woman, albeit a model standing "midway between teaching as service and teaching as profession" (p. 173). The security that congregations afforded women, particularly those from the lower classes, at a time of limited employment opportunities for women also helps explain why women left the religious life less often than did men. Furthermore, the education ministry's official school curriculum strongly resembled the Catholic program even before the Falloux Law of 1850 encouraged a noticeable increase in religious teachers' presence in public schools, and the public schools' moral lessons after t he Ferry Laws of 1881-82 were largely a secular version of traditional religious lessons on behavior.

Curtis's final chapters treat the period between 1870 and 1905 when Catholic schooling was on the defensive. Although she adds nothing new on the Third Republic's secularization of public schools after 1879 and exclusion of religious teachers from private schools in 1904, she presents valuable insights into the experience of women religious. Before the 1870s, women in many congregations selected their leaders and enjoyed an autonomy that secular contemporaries, unmarried or married, often lacked. Subsequently, women religious faced not only limitations imposed by the new Republic but also new controls imposed by higher religious authorities. To defend Catholic education, bishops paid greater attention to congregations' activities and imposed more enclosure on teaching congregations, and philanthropic backers of Catholic schools also made new demands. In the Lyon diocese, as elsewhere, secularization of public schooling prompted Catholic leaders to expand and strengthen a network of private schools which often competed successfully with public schools nor only because of the weight of tradition at a time of ideological conflict but also because they provided charitable services and childcare in areas where lay groups did not. When it became illegal in 1904 for private schools to employ religious teachers, the Lyon diocese "saved" about two-thirds of its church schools by having religious personnel resort to the subterfuges of wearing secular garb and ostensibly abandoning their orders.

In sum, Curtis provides a fine study of Catholic contributions to nineteenth-century schooling, adding particularly to the record on women religious and philanthropic school patrons in an industrializing region.
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Author:Clark, Linda L.
Publication:Journal of Social History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 22, 2001
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