Q&A with the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism

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In 2010, I was very fortunate to receive a Hibernian Research Grant from the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism. This grant helped fund two months of research at the University of Notre Dame archives and library in 2010. Without the Cushwa Center’s support, I would not have been able to write my book, Excommunicated from the Union.

Recently I got the chance to talk with Heather Grennan Gray, the Center’s Communication and Outreach Specialist, about my book and Catholics’ experiences in the Civil War.

Q: While the Civil War is commonly seen as a turning point for U.S. history in general, you mention in your introduction that historians are divided on whether the Civil War is a turning point in U.S. Catholic history. From you title, is it fair to say that you believe it is a turning point?

A: My central question was to examine how the war shaped the Catholic population, most of which lived in the states outside of the Confederacy. On the whole, I think the war was a missed opportunity to promote assimilation and acceptance of Catholics on their own terms. Angered that the bloodshed of thousands of Catholics did little to eradicate anti-Catholicism, and by strong signs of continued nativism and religious prejudice after the war, many church and lay leaders effectively doubled-down on the creation of a separate Catholic subculture. This subculture of course never totally separated Catholics from other Americans, but it did create a massive system of parochial schools, organizations like the Knights of Columbus, and a large Catholic press designed to safeguard Catholics’ faith from a seemingly hostile outside world.

You can read the full Q&A for yourself here.