December 21, 2020

I grew up in the pre-internet age, so I still have a sense of awe every time I turn on a computer. Yesterday morning, for example, I was looking at a great website devoted to the works of St. John Henry Newman (1801-1890), whom Pope Francis recently canonized. For the first time, I read through Newman’s sermon notes (as opposed to the text of his full-length sermons). These short insights are Newman in a nutshell. They can also be a... Read more

June 8, 2020

“Are We There Yet?” Over the past week, we’ve looked at some painful history. While it has at times been hard to address, as a Church, we’ve definitely come a long way. Still, as one of my college professors used to say, “We’re not there yet.”  We know the hierarchy got it wrong with the sex abuse crisis, but when it comes to reminding Catholics about racism and racial justice, I think they’ve been doing a very good job. Priests... Read more

June 7, 2020

Charity Not Enough  Today we focus on a brighter spot in American Catholic history: the Church and the Civil Rights Movement. Many Catholics were late to the movement, while some were early. By the time Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was organizing marches nationwide, it was clear to Catholics that individual charity, though admirable, didn’t suffice. The underlying racist system had to be challenged and overcome.   Besides the Josephites, many other priests and religious dedicated their lives to the Black... Read more

June 6, 2020

“The Dignity of the Priesthood”  In a sermon on  “The True Priesthood,” delivered at Brooklyn’s St. Ambrose Church in May 1886, Father Daniel Sheehy declared to his parishioners: What a dignity, the priesthood! Its duties are great. They are commissioned to lead the people to victory. Yours, too, is a duty. They are commanded to teach. You are commanded to learn. They in their own sphere are bid to command; you to obey. Priests were the officers in God’s army,... Read more

June 5, 2020

A Hierarchy Divided  As we mentioned earlier, some mainline Protestant Churches formally divided over the slavery issue. Although the Catholic Church did not formally do so, they did side with the prevailing outlook North or South. This was done less out of principle than from fear of inciting local anti-Catholic sentiment by going against the tide of popular opinion.  So what happened was this: when war broke out, Northern bishops supported the Union wholeheartedly, but Emancipation less so. Southern prelates... Read more

June 4, 2020

American Sisters and Social Justice Many today are familiar with the photos of American women religious marching during the Civil Rights Movement. Catholic Sisters have advocated for social justice at every level– Sisters Simone Campbell, Sister Helen Prejean— as well as the martyrs Sisters Maura Clarke, Ita Ford, and Dorothy Stang. Until her early death from cancer in 1990, Servant of God Thea Bowman, a Franciscan Sister, was a powerful and tireless advocate for racial justice.  These Sisters are a... Read more

June 3, 2020

  American Catholics and Slavery Throughout the centuries leading up to Emancipation, many slaveholders were Catholics. After the Jesuits landed in Maryland in 1634, they acquired land. And in the early 1700’s, they took on recently arrived African slaves to work the land. The idea was that the plantations would finance local Jesuit ministries.     They weren’t alone. Throughout the South, several women’s religious communities did the same, including  the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, the Sisters of Loretto, and the... Read more

June 2, 2020

Race in American Life When you look at English history, most scholars would agree that class is the defining issue. (Maybe that’s why TV series like Downton Abbey have been so popular.) But in America, professional historians concur that the key factor is race: slavery and Civil War, Reconstruction and Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Movement and the protests that have rocked the nation’s cities these last few days.  As we can see today from recent events, race continues to... Read more

May 30, 2020

A Drawing in the Middle of the Night Last night, I had trouble sleeping, which I normally don’t. For some reason, I felt compelled, perhaps inspired, to do a drawing from a movie I had recently watched. Now, I realize, that drawing  has got much to do with what’s been going on in America this week: a lot of anger, a lot of hurting, and a widespread need for healing. Deep down in our heart of hearts, I believe we... Read more

May 26, 2020

John Wayne and the Catholics For me today is a big “OTD” moment. That’s because, in 1907, my favorite actor, Marion Robert Morrison, was born in Winterset, Iowa. Known to the world as John Wayne, he’s also one of my favorite Catholic converts.  Raised Protestant, Wayne frequently referred to himself as a “Presbygoddamnterian.” But throughout his adult life, many of his close connections were Catholic. His first wife, Josephine Saenz, was a daily communicant and an active volunteer for Catholic... Read more

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