John F. Kennedy and the “Catholic Issue”

John F. Kennedy being greeted by Pope Paul VI at the Vatican in 1963.

John F. Kennedy is often remembered as America’s first Catholic president, but his nomination did not come without its own unique hurdles. Kennedy’s Catholic faith made him stand out from the usual presidential nominee, and not always in a good way. While his popularity post-mortem is quite high, his critics at the time were not enthused about a president whose Catholic identity, they feared, would equate with a conflict of interest between the authority of the Catholic Church and the needs of the American public.

Kennedy himself, however, made it a point to publicly dissociate from his Catholic identity, even calling his religious beliefs an “intrusion” into the campaign for the Democratic nomination (Phillips). This could be attributed to two things– a fear of hostility towards a Catholic candidate or a desire to promote unity and focus on Kennedy’s more relevant qualifications and issue positions. In his famous January 1960 statement announcing his candidacy for President, he makes no mention of his religious faith and instead focuses on the relevant issues of the 1960s as well as his years of service to the United States both as a senator and as a naval officer. He even explicitly states in a 1960 New York Times article, that he is “not the Catholic Candidate for President” (Phillips). He highlights his religious affiliation as a simple fact, and emphasizes that there are more relevant political issues for the American public and the press to focus on. I found this article particularly interesting because Kennedy seldom speaks about his Catholicism in public, instead choosing to focus on aspects of policy preferences and attempting to shift the focus away from the subject of religion, the way he does in his presidential candidacy statement. In this speech, he makes an explicit statement about his religious identity and then goes on to clearly ensure to the American public that it will be a nonissue in his Presidency, if he is elected.

A snippet of Veysey’s Chicago Tribune article, which includes a photo of the ancestral Kennedy family home.

Though he seldom discussed his Irish Catholic roots, Kennedy was not only the first Catholic President, but also the first Irish president, according to a Chicago Tribune article, which provides a detailed history of his ancestral lineage. His great grandfather, Patrick Kennedy, emigrated to America in 1847, attracted to the wealth of American opportunities and the possibility of upward mobility as well as the need to escape famine in his hometown (Veysey). Unfortunately, Patrick may not have gotten as warm of a reception as he would have liked, with the increase in anti-Irish Catholic and anti-immigrant sentiment running rampant in the US at this time. In his book The Irish Way, Barrett emphasizes the blatant xenophobia and adversity that the Irish faced upon their arrival to the United States after the Great Famine (5). Veysey’s Chicago Tribune article makes it clear that once Patrick Kennedy emigrated to America, the American side of the Kennedy family fell out of contact with their Irish roots, and they were clearly fortunate enough to belong to the upwardly mobile “lace curtain” Irish (Barrett). This prevented the Irish and Irish-American sides of the family from getting to know each other very well– despite Joseph Kennedy being the ambassador to Britain’s Court of St. James, he made no effort to learn about his heritage until 1947, and John himself, during his time as Massachusetts Congressman, was still unknown by his relatives in Ireland (Veysey). Patrick Kennedy’s initial emigration and his grandson Joseph Kennedy’s immense success as a businessman and politician enabled the Kennedy family’s worth to soar, and allowed John the privilege to have such a lucrative career in public office, providing the ultimate example of  an immigration success story.

MacLeish Cartoon
A 1960s political cartoon depicting the fear that JFK’s ultimate allegiance as President would be to the Catholic Church.

Despite his efforts to remove his role as future President from his personal role in the Catholic faith, Kennedy still drew sharp criticism and encountered doubts as to whether he could effectively separate the two facets of his life. In a New York Times article, Bishop Oxnam of the Methodist Church questioned whether Kennedy, as president, could be free from Roman Catholic hierarchical control, or if he could exercise independent judgment as an American citizen (“Bishop Asks if Kennedy Can Be Free Ruler”). The Methodist bishop held tightly to the notion that a man ought to be loyal to his faith while simultaneously defending the Methodist church and insinuating that Methodists make no attempts to control their candidates for public office (“Bishop Asks if Kennedy Can Be Free Ruler”) a clear ideological bias against Catholic candidates. Meanwhile, Kennedy consistently tried to dissociate from the power structures of the Catholic Church.

Despite John F. Kennedy’s inherent wealth and privilege, his pathway to the presidency paints a detailed picture of the nuances of running for President while balancing one’s Irishness and Catholic-ness, proving that no matter how much wealth, privilege, and power one holds, the inherent biases of the American people will ultimately become evident.

Works Cited

Barrett, James R. The Irish Way: Becoming American in the Multiethnic City. Viking, 2014.

“BISHOP ASKS IF KENNEDY CAN BE FREE RULER.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Jan 04, 1960, pp. 5. ProQuest,

Phillips, Wayne. “KENNEDY, BACKED BY HUMPHREY, HITS ISSUE OF RELIGION.” New York Times (1923-Current file), Apr 22, 1960, pp. 1. ProQuest,

Special to The New,York Times. “The Kennedy Statement.” New York Times (1923-Current file), Jan 03, 1960, pp. 44. ProQuest,

VEYSEY, ARTHUR. “Reporter Visits Kennedy’s Ancestral Home.” Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file), May 26, 1963, pp. 1-a3. ProQuest,






The Modern Catholic Vote in the 2018 Midterms


While voters in North Carolina cast their ballots in an unspecified church, how heavily does their religious identity influence them, and how are they affected by the image of three crosses behind them?

Given the breadth of Catholic opinion throughout the United States, it’s difficult to say exactly how large of a role Catholics as a whole played in this year’s midterm elections. The Catholic Vote itself has been divided for years on a variety of issues– Millies would argue that it has been divided since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. The Catholic vote on abortion and capital punishment, among typically relevant social issues, is almost evenly split according to recent polling data, which would undoubtedly surprise many who assume that the term “Catholic” is synonymous with “conservative.” Catholics are even split down the middle in terms of political party affiliation. This could be attributed to a wide variety of factors, including but not limited to the fact that Catholics today wear many hats, and religion is not always at the forefront of the modern voter’s mind.

Table 1:

While Catholic voters are split almost evenly down the middle in the 2018 Midterms, religious “nones” seem to have an abundantly clear preference for Democrats 


At the “Midterms Post Mortem,” Dr. Murphy pointed to the fact that Catholics may not feel at home in either political party, which could explain the near even split between Catholics who support Republican and Democrat candidates. This is a phenomenon echoed by Millies in his book Good Intentions, where he explains that Catholics have long struggled to accommodate their religious beliefs to the political alternatives among candidates and parties. Being American has won over being Catholic for a number of Catholics (Millies 2). Meanwhile, religions “nones” have clearly favored Democrats over Republican candidates in Midterm election years, as noted by Table 1. Perhaps since religious “nones” do not have a specific set of beliefs they need to accommodate to either political party, they find it easier to make a choice between the two. Given the table, it seems that the Catholic vote has gotten more polarized in both directions since 2006, while the vote of religious “nones” has slowly leaned to the left.

Despite the intense polarization of the Catholic vote on both sides, Catholics as well as other religious groups have strongly pushed people to vote in this year’s midterms, perhaps inspired by Pope Francis’ January 2018 speech at the Rome International Conference on the Responsibility of States where he declared indifference a dangerous enemy (“Pope: Indifference a Virus”).

“The enemy against which we fight is not only hatred in all of its forms, but even more fundamentally, indifference; for it is indifference that paralyzes and impedes us from doing what is right even when we know that it is right” (Pope: Indifference a Virus”).


Catholic groups such as the Franciscan Friars of St. Barbara, California and the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas have taken to social media to encourage Catholic Americans to register to vote and exercise their civic duty (Guidos). Various Catholic organizations  have endorsed a handy voting guide for Catholics created by a collection of National Catholic Organizations including the Sisters of Mercy– A Call to Holiness: A 2018 Guide for Voters, which includes overviews of social issues such as racial justice, economic issues, immigration, healthcare, gun violence prevention, and the environment. While it does not include specific recommendations, it offers Church teaching on several issues along with a set of reflection questions for Catholics to ask themselves while they fill out their ballots. Due to the split nature of the Catholic vote, even today, it is difficult to say how effective these are, but these measures can provide effective guidance for some Catholics around the country.

Works Cited

“2018 Midterm Election Voter Guide: A Call to Holiness.” Sisters of Mercy,

Geiger, Abigail. “How Religious Groups Voted in the Midterm Elections.” Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, 7 Nov. 2018,

Guidos, Rhina. “Religious Groups Made Effort to Drive Their Flocks to Midterm Voting.” Crux, 10 Nov. 2018,

Millies, Steven P. Good Intentions: a History of Catholic Voters’ Road from Roe to Trump. Liturgical Press, 2018.

“Pope: Indifference a Virus That Is Contagious in Our Time.” Vatican News, 29 Jan. 2018,–indifference-a-virus-that-is-contagious-in-our-time.html.




Understanding the Catholic Vote

Note: This week, I had an alternative assignment, as I was unable to attend the Steven Millies Talk in Hyde Park.

The same photo of nuns voting that Millies uses on the cover of his book Good Intentions.

One of the first discussions that we had at the beginning of the semester was about what we thought salient political issues for Catholic Americans were. I remember a few of my classmates (myself included) saying that we thought abortion and reproductive healthcare were some of the most salient issues today. Healthcare, immigration, and nuclear weapons were also mentioned as salient issue, but abortion tends to be the first one that comes to mind when prompted. Catholics have an incredibly diverse set of political opinions, and there is no way to physically measure them all.  Abortion is not always a make or break issue, as these opinions differ based on every person’s priorities and personal experiences. Nonetheless, Steven Millies uses the abortion decision in Roe v. Wade to discuss the changing tides of Catholic public opinion in the United States.

The Catholic vote in the United States throughout the years has been a constantly shifting phenomenon as Catholics have struggled to gain recognition in mainstream America, and as their priorities have shifted politically. Although the American political system has not always been welcoming to the desires of Catholic Americans, due to its heavy Protestant sway at the time of the American Founding, through lobbying groups, the USCCB, and the power of the Vatican, Catholics have been able to assert their political desires, even if they have seldom been fulfilled.

In his book, Good Intentions, Steven Millies points to a few key events as pivotal to Catholics in America– the Catholic immigrant experience of the 1800-1900s, the ascent of Catholics to mainstream American life during Cold War anticommunist paranoia, and the historic Roe decision of 1973 (Millies 192). All of these events have come together in a culture war over questions of morality that Millies says has led to the election of Donald Trump and the deep polarization of the Republican and Democrat parties. Despite this culture war having an important place in society, he does not specifically point to Catholics as the sole reason for the election of Donald Trump, and this is because Catholicism has always been far to large to fully integrate into American society (Millies 2). One party cannot be seen as the “Catholic party,” although many people have the misconception that being Catholic correlates directly with being a conservative Republican, because religiosity integrates differently with political ideology for everyone. Neither the Democratic nor Republican party offers Catholics a completely comfortable place with regards to issue position, and thus many Catholics have struggled to accommodate their commitment to faith with their public acts as citizens (Millies 3).

Catholic Americans have often been wrongly perceived as a solely conservative religious group, but this is not the case. Millies attributes this to “culture war issues such as abortion, marriage, euthanasia, and others” (24). These issues polarized American Catholic thinking, and this polarization was retained in the American political system. Millies specifically points out the dawn of the twenty-first century in his book, and explains that this point in time allowed two groups of opposing Catholics to form–those who were able to enter the mainstream American life and assimilate, and those who resisted assimilation and have identified with more conservative practices of Catholic identity such as abstaining from meat on Fridays and taking specifically conservative legal and political positions such regarding abortion (Millies 24). This, to me, seems like it could be the reason why people tend to equate increased religiosity (specifically increased Catholic religiosity) with increased conservative opinions. This is a misconception, and the evidence lies in liberal Catholic groups such as Catholics for Choice, a pro-choice Catholic lobbying group in DC founded in 1973, Nuns on the Bus, a traveling Catholic advocacy group that lobbies for social justice, and Call to Action, a group meant to build inclusivity in the Church.


Network's Sister Campbell appears with Nuns on the Bus campaign as it makes stop in nation's capital
Sister Simone Campbell, of Nuns on the Bus

Millies also emphasizes the Roe decision as essentially the final straw for Catholics in the United States, and the moment at which Catholic Americans struggled the most to be heard, after a long history of struggling to integrate into mainstream American life. A cultural turning point had been reached after the Roe decision, and Cardinal Ratzinger feared that the American public were becoming masters of our own destiny who sought to freely exercise control over the things that bind us, such as pregnancy and painful death. These realizations paved the way for Pope John Paul II to write his encyclical Evangelium Vitae (Millies 98). Because American Catholics and Evangelicals both lamented abortion, Pope John Paul II suggested it may be beneficial to build bridges between the two communities in order to work together to reverse Roe. This approach, however, did have its fair share of criticism as it seemed to promote tactics that only increased polarization around abortion (Millies 101). Although the Pope was clearly discouraged about the emergence of the abortion and life/death issue in the United States as well as the vanishing influence of religious traditions in the United States, Millies optimistically refers to the Roe decision as an opportunity for dialogue, and the sign of an American public that now takes the opinions of women more seriously (101), which further illustrates the point that American Catholics can hold a wide range of political views surrounding this controversial issue.

Something that I found interesting, was that Millies, Mills, and Blake all specifically focus on the power of the U.S. Supreme Court in their writings. While I agree that The Roe v. Wade (1973) decision marks a significant change in the polarization of the Democrat and Republican parties, the tricky part about looking so closely at the Supreme Court  is that justices make their decisions based on a variety of different intersecting circumstances. Ideology, policy goals, Constitutional interpretation, and Court politics all intersect to produce these landmark decisions, and it is impossible to say just how much influence religiosity holds on each Supreme Court Justice. Justice Brennan, one of the first American Catholics appointed to the Supreme Court, tended to put his responsibility to uphold the Constitution above his oath to uphold the desires of Catholic hierarchy, no matter how tense the disagreement between the two was (Mills 754). Brennan’s separationism is not inherently unique to the Court, but because he was the Court’s first Catholic, I’m sure there was an expectation that his votes would follow the desires of the Catholic Church, since the Catholic Church has a stronger and more pervasive governing body than other religious faiths. While the decisions in the parochiaid cases and Roe v. Wade (1973) clearly went against Catholic recommendation and were perceived as anti-Catholic by groups such as the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Liberty, they were not intentionally anti-Catholic and simply embraced the principle of separationism (Mills 764).

Robert Bork during his confirmation hearings.

Even the confirmation hearings of Robert Bork highlight this issue. Bork’s confirmation hearings mark a pivotal moment in the history of the judiciary– the first time that a nominee for Supreme Court Justice had been rejected based on ideology alone, which was shockingly conservative and strictly adherent to the original text of the Constitution. The Bork hearings also marked the moment when abortion began being a hot-button issue at every subsequent Supreme Court confirmation hearing. (Millies 111). The abortion issue began pervading every part of politics in the 1980s and 90s, and as the political parties became more and more polarized, they became deeply ensnared in the issue of life versus death, and some Catholic groups lobbied hard to try and get Roe overturned, but despite the Supreme Court having the power of judicial review, the decision could not be overturned the same way that Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) and Lawrence v. Texas (2003) were reversed (Millies 114). The nature of Roe v. Wade (1973) as a privacy case prevented this, but since the ruling, TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws that heavily regulate abortion providers in ways that differ from standard medical clinics, have been a way that more ideologically conservatives states have circumvented the ruling.

Millies’ book points to a Catholic vote that has been largely shaped by Roe v. Wade (1973). He also points to the Pope and the United States Council of Catholic Bishops as major centers of power and influence for American Catholics. The Vatican is an important governing body for Catholics, and although its recommendations do not supersede federal law in the US, the Church and its affiliated groups still have the power to speak out against Catholic candidates who they feel are not taking Church teaching into consideration or bills that go against Church teaching. John Kerry and Mario Cuomo provide two examples of Catholic candidates who have taken positions directly in conflict with Catholic teaching in order to promote separationism, and both men have faced retribution from the Church, with Boston’s Archbishop Sean O’Malley asserting that Catholic politicians who hold public pro-choice positions should not receive Communion (Mills 118-119).

Despite Mills illustrating these extreme circumstances, I believe that the Catholic vote in the United States is diverse. Catholics do not operate at the polls as one big group, and there are many factors that tie in to one’s voting preferences– it is a matter of which identity is the most salient at the time, and this can change as it is affected by the tide of daily life. The abortion issue may be a salient political issue in this post-1973 world, but before that, Catholics struggled to fit into the a world that did not yet embrace them, and immigration may have been a more salient issue to the Catholic vote. Catholic governance in the United States has also been incredibly diverse, with Catholics such as John Kerry, Mario Cuomo, and William Brennan identifying with their faith ideologically, but also ensuring an ultimate separation between their religious ideology and their governance, and other candidates such Marco Rubio, who has taken outspoken anti-abortion positions and endorsed specific fetal-protection laws. The Catholic vote and Catholic governance in the U.S. varies wildly from person to person, and although some have tried to define it, I do not believe that it can ever be defined in its full scope because of the nature of the U.S. as a diverse hub of all sorts of political opinions.


Works Cited

Millies, Steven P. Good Intentions: a History of Catholic Voters’ Road from Roe to Trump. Liturgical Press, 2018.

Mills, S. A. “Parochiaid and the Abortion Decisions: Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. versus the U.S. Catholic Hierarchy.” Journal of Church and State, vol. 34, no. 4, 1992, pp. 751–773., doi:10.1093/jcs/34.4.751.



Catholic Politics Worldwide and In America

This special week of Hank Center programming provided an illuminating look at the way Catholic politics have functioned not only in America but also throughout the world. Although we have taken a largely US-Centric look at the intersection of Catholicism and politics as of late, this week of programming centered around 1968 showed me that there was something unique about the events of 1968 that brought the world together.

Father Aaron Pidel, SJ emphasized in his talk on Tuesday night, that 1968 was a year in which the tensions in the Church finally emerged. After Vatican II and humanae vitae, 1968 became a moment in which the tensions within the Church emerged and people began to truly realize why they wanted change in the world. Humanae vitae came right before a time in the Church when liturgies were highly formal, ritualistic events shrouded in mystery, events that commanded a dedicated and rigorous religious practice (Barrett 8). After Vatican II, Churches became much more welcoming, relaxed spaces with some degree of freedom regarding daily practices, but the Church’s hard line stance on abortion and reproductive health issues tells the story of a Church whose grip on social issues tightens in a new era of abortion and contraception-related legislation coming to light.

humanae vitae

Although the 1968 Week events were centered mostly around the Catholic Church and the Church’s influence and response to the various political events that occurred in 1968, I found myself the most struck by the level of student involvement in protests, demonstrations, political actions, etc. Protest seemed to be a central theme throughout  1968, with student protests specifically leading the charge. With the new social movements involving people of color, women, and LGBT folks came a new awareness of the common world and an imagination full of people power. This encouraged those who once felt powerless to stand up and act and reinforced the idea that ordinary people do matter.

columbia protest
1968 Student Protest at Columbia College, NYC. 

The student protest at Columbia College in New York is the perfect example of a powerful student uprising. The students of the college, motivated by Student Afro-American Society, an African American student group, mobilized and occupied the university in response to its plans to build a mostly-private gym on public land. The students heard the Harlem community’s concerns about Columbia repeatedly encroaching on their land with it’s ivy-league brand of imperialism. This anger over the misappropriation of public land combined with anti-Vietnam war protests by Students for a Democratic Society, another student group that called for Columbia to divest from the IDA caused an extreme rise in tensions that finally came to a head with the occupation of five university buildings (Blakemore).

Student protest in France, 1968

The student and worker revolts of France in 1968, highlighted by Julian Bourg in his keynote address, also provide an example of the power of youth protest across the globe. Bourg emphasized the power of the protest, and explained that it was so large that it almost caused a government collapse, but that it also resulted in the convergence of freedom and solidarity for many people. Students were extremely dissatisfied with the Vietnam War as well as the closure of University of Paris Nanterre, and took to the streets to mobilize, causing a protest that continued all the way through the end of May.

These protests can serve as a powerful example for youth today, especially as student organizing on college campuses seems to be increasing steadily. Perhaps the current political climate could be creating the perfect conditions for a similar phenomenon.


Works Cited

Blakemore, Erin. “How Columbia’s Student Uprising of 1968 Was Sparked by a Segregated Gym.”, A&E Television Networks,



Faith and Politics at the Local Level


Catholic immigrants to Chicago did not receive the most warm welcome upon their arrival in the late 1800s, but as unpleasant as this experience was, it allowed them to build their own associations and ethnic communities that embraced and fostered their individual cultures, giving Catholicism and politics in Chicago a distinctive local flair. These communities can still be seen today, and I was thankful to have the opportunity to explore them during Open House Chicago two weeks ago.

During our class discussion, Kathleen and I came to the conclusion that Catholic politics in Chicago has remained very local, and that this is a unique quality that exists perhaps only in Chicago. One of the things that we attributed this to is the fact that Chicago has distinctly segregated neighborhoods that are specific to ethnic groups, which has allowed its neighborhood-based politics to grow together with these communities. Skerrett, Kantowitz, and Avella also identify five historical sources that influence Chicago’s unique style of Catholicism– “ethnic diversity, a close identification between parish and neighborhood, able episcopal, clerical, and lay leadership, social and political liberalism, and a soaring self confidence” (xvii). Ukrainian Village, West Town, Pilsen, Bridgeview, Rogers Park, and more are all examples of neighborhoods that have been built up by various immigrant communities and that hold these unique qualities. In Chicago, these neighborhoods contain national parishes, and parishoners tend to live in the same neighborhoods as their churches. In some cases, parishoners have even gone as far as building their churches brick by brick.

St. Stanislaus Kostka and St. John Cantius, two “daughter” Polish churches, as the priest giving my group their tour explained, are two beautiful examples of strongly-led churches whose parishes have been built from the ground up by the immigrant communities they serve, and that provide an incredibly close relationship between parish and neighborhood. St. John Cantius is a church that was founded by the quickly growing community of Polish immigrants that migrated to what is now called West Town at the end of the nineteenth century. Due to the hard work of the community, the church was able to grow a population of over 22,000 parishoners by 1918. This population fell dramatically as the expressway was built, but a massive restoration effort by the residents of the community, who were largely Polish and other Eastern European immigrants looking for labor managed to bring the waning parish community back to what it once was. The church now contains hundreds of holy relics and pieces of architecture that either mimic famous churches in Poland or that have been imported from Poland. The church even features hand-carved wooden confessionals imported from Poland.

Photo, by me, of the replica of the Wit Stowz Altarpiece in Krakow’s Basilica of the Virgin Mary, at St. John Cantius.
A photo, by me, of a traditional Polish icon in St. John Cantius












St. Stanislaus Kostka also has a deep history ingrained in the Polish immigrant community of West Town. Coincidentally, it also has a deep history within my family– it was the church that my family attended during my childhood when we lived in Jefferson Park. It provided the Polish community of the late 1800s with a place to worship that felt familiar, and it also provided my own immigrant mother and grandmother with the same inviting hospitality over a century later, giving them a place to worship and socialize in their native language surrounded by people who were similar to themselves.

Photo, by me, of the stained glass windows of St. Stanislaus Kostka (this photo was taken during a baptism that was happening during Open House weekend)

Although the church was slated for demolition in the 1950s, protests from the Polish community as well as political involvement by U.S. representative Daniel Rostenkowski, who frequently represented the interests of the Polish community in Washington (“Our Past, Present, and Future”). It is this type of political patronage and ethnic politics that helped sustain Catholic politics in Chicago. Political success in Chicago in the early to mid 1900s largely depended on understanding and ministering to the needs of ethnic minorities, as Rostenkowski and other politicians including Anton Cermak and Dunne often did (Buenker 176). Although political success in these times was often thought of as the result of corruption, politicians like Cermak, Dunne, and Rostenkowski provided disadvantaged communities with these services in a more personal manner, with their ability to communicate with their constituents in their native languages. With these strong ethnic connections came the ability to allow urban migrants to climb the political ladder and create a system of group patronage that heavily dominated city politics until the present day (Buenker 196). If not for the presence of Chicago’s city hall building as the epicenter of city politics, these historic mayors certainly would not have had the opportunity to effectuate change in their communities.

Photo of me sitting in the Mayor’s seat at City Hall

Of course, it is not at all uncommon for churches to face the threat of demolition the way that St. John Cantius and St. Stanislaus Kostka did. The burgeoning movement of the 1950s to make the world more accessible to cars dislocated hundreds of businesses, people, churches, and the like. The Stevenson Expressway threatened St. Bridget’s Irish Church in Bridgeport and plowed through poor working class and minority neighborhoods. The city’s desire for urban renewal frequently ignored the needs of these minority communities and displayed a major lack of empathy and reliance on social and political clout (Pacyga 338). This led to periods of Catholic retreat as families lost their homes and thus lost their parishes, but then a period of rebuilding as demolished parishes struggled to regain their members.

This tremendous amount of growth has allowed organizations such as Catholic Charities of America to arise and care for the needs of those displaced by low income, prolonged unemployment, forced demolition of property, etc. Catholic Charities greatly narrowed their focus at this time in the 1960s and focused on providing Head Start services to Chicago residents in order to mitigate the suffering caused by the construction of the expressway (“Our History”).

Photo, by me, of a statue of a homeless man sleeping on a park bench outside of Catholic Charities, which perfectly exemplifies their mission.

One such service of the Catholic Charities of Chicago was childcare. The Angel Guardian Orphanage that was previously on the land of Blessed Aloysius Stepinac Church lived out the charity’s mission but was eventually taken over by Misericordia and then the church of St Aloysius itself, which gave the Croatian immigrant community of West Ridge their own place of worship and their own means of building community associations.

A photo (by me) of myself in front of Blessed Aloysius Stepinac. 

Looking back at the sites that I visited during Open House as well as our readings in class, I would definitely say that Chicago politics is and remains to be local because of the different perspectives that its ethnic communities provide.

Works Cited:
Buenker, John D. “Dynamics of Chicago Ethnic Politics 1900-1930.”
“Our History.” HistoryandMission, Catholic Charities,
“Our Past, Present, and Future.” Our Past, Present and Future | St. Stanislaus, St Stanislaus Kostka,
Pacyga, Dominic A. Chicago: a Biography. University of Chicago Press, 2011.

Race, Catholicism, and Civil Rights Politics

American Catholics are and have always been an incredibly diverse group of people with regards to race and ethnicity, and although many Catholics who immigrated to America were eventually able to “become white,” not all of them were afforded this privilege, and in response, many racial and ethnic groups focused on building their own Catholic churches and institutions, where they saw themselves more clearly represented. Catholicism may be a institution that has historically appeared very white and European since the immigration of Catholics to the United States in the 1700s, but black Catholics have always played an extremely important role in the Church as well as the Civil Rights movement.

It is important, though, to recognize that the institution that is the Catholic Church in America has not always been welcoming to African American Catholics, especially in the South, where many bishops were slow to desegregate schools, parish boundaries were gerrymandered to keep out African American students as well as parishoners, and white flight took over as white parishoners refused to tolerate the purposeful integration of their churches (DeLong 129-132). Meanwhile, in San Francisco, the bombing of Pearl Harbor brought demographic changes to a white Catholic population that enjoyed high levels of power, privilege, and prestige (Issel and Wold 22-23). San Francisco was thus incredibly segregated, and nonwhite residents suffered from limited access to jobs, housing, healthcare, education, and cultural opportunities (Issel and Wold 23). Despite efforts by Catholic Racial Justice groups to bring communities together, opposition to racial integration still remained in areas across the United States.

With that in mind, many Catholic Civil Rights groups such as the Memphis CHRC fostered internal changes in the Tennessee church that improved race relations and integration efforts. As a result, religious and secular groups across the United States began mirroring these efforts, taking the grassroots movement in memphis to new heights (DeLong 144). Just a few years prior, The Bay Area Council Against Discrimination, an organization comprised of San Francisco’s Catholic racial liberals as well as Protestant and Jewish civil rights activists and members of ethnic minority rights organizations, worked to pursue programs for racial liberalism and advancement for  racial and ethnic minorities. The San Francisco Catholic Interracial Council also worked toward these goals, as well as toward endorsing the Rumford Fair Housing Act, which would enable minorities equal housing opportunities. These groups also pushed for aggressive rejection of Proposition 14, which threatened to nullify fair housing legislation, through preaching efforts and community outreach.

According to McGreevy, these efforts of racial integration and civil rights organizing can be attributed to Vatican II, which led to a “reordering of American Catholic culture” (224). This conference enabled church leaders to realize that the old parochial structures of the Church were ineffective, and that the Church was changing, so these structures needed updating as well. African American Catholics placed pressure on Catholic officials to integrate institutions because of the extreme amount of discrimination they faced from white Catholics, but the decreasing number of converts to the Church urged clergy to become more interested in community organizing and involvement, more relaxed mass structures, and greater involvement of women in the Church (McGreevy 228). This along with the increased involvement of priests and nuns in civil rights protests including the Selma march showed Catholics that integration was not an abstract issue. Despite facing opposition, priests and nuns still participated in civil rights marches in an attempt to bridge the division in racist communities. Vatican II encouraged programs of liturgical reform that were influenced by the interracial situation in the country occurring around the 1960s, and Catholic liberals who were inspired by these movements applied the concepts of freedom and rights to the structures in the Church that oppressed them (McGreevy 245).

The changes brought about by Vatican II are part of the reason why the faith community of St. Sabina Church is able to participate in the kind of radical organizing that it has been involved for forty years. From shutting down the Dan-Ryan in 2018 to splattering red paint on alcohol and tobacco ads in the neighborhood of Auburn-Gresham, Father Michael Pfleger has worked hard to become a pillar of his community and enact lasting change in the South Side (Osnos). Pfleger’s political activism fit well into the increasingly relaxed post-Vatican II Catholic Church described in the previous paragraph. He transformed the congregation of St. Sabina, taking it from just 60 members to the perhaps hundreds of members that I witnessed in the church on our visit. When Father Pfleger was assigned to St. Sabina, he instituted changes that last to this day, introducing gospel music, altar decorations, praise dancing, and homilies with messages that resonated deeply with the community– messages about gun violence in the community, deconstruction of the negative stereotypes of the community, political involvement, and the like, proving that Catholics have an integral role in civil rights politics in this church.

I saw all of these things and more reflected in the Church on our visit. The most visible difference that really stood out to me was the massive painting of Jesus located at the center of the church, with his hands outstretched. This painting struck me because I have never gone to a Catholic church and seen a depiction of Jesus that didn’t resemble an everyday white man with long hair and a beard with bright blue eyes and long, curly blonde or light brown hair. These depictions of Jesus as a white man are not only alienating, but they are historically inaccurate. Jesus was most likely a Middle Eastern man who had a dark complexion and thick, curly hair, considering the area in which he was born. These white, Eurocentric depictions of Jesus can alienate nonwhite Catholics, because it can be difficult to identify with a savior figure that you just don’t see yourself in. This is why the purposeful depiction of Jesus right in front of the congregation of St. Sabina is so important– it provides the largely African American congregation with a figure they can identify with, as discussed by the guest speaker at our Sunday mass, Dr. Pierre Johnson. Dr. Johnson pointed to the painting as a continued source of inspiration throughout his life. Despite the challenges he faced in being completely unprepared for college and later medical school, he was able to look back at the painting and see a guiding force that inspired him to persevere and work hard to break down the negative stereotypes and portrayals of black men in media.


The purposeful inclusion of easily relatable religious imagery combined with the beautiful gospel music and relaxed mass structure contributed to the welcoming atmosphere of St. Sabina for me, and made me wish that my own church at home could make an effort to be more inclusive and intentional about the imagery it uses, both in school and during Mass. From the moment we stepped through the door of the church, we were instantly welcomed by its congregation and made to feel at home. It was clear that there were no outsiders, and that anyone was welcome, even if they were just visiting for the day like we were. This church is an excellent example of a church that is tailored to the needs of its congregation, and a church that cares deeply about its surrounding community. St. Sabina is a church community that actively participates in radical organizing and isn’t afraid to make noise and draw attention to the issues that are salient to its community members, such as increased gun violence.

Although Catholics, specifically African American Catholics have played a complicated role in civil rights politics throughout the years, they have persevered against increased persecution and alienation efforts and made their voices heard through protests, lobbying efforts, and community organization. Great strides have been made, but there is always work to be done in terms of modernization as the population Catholic Church becomes increasingly changed by the influx of refugees and immigrants to America.


Works Cited

Delong, Amy. “Change from the Inside Out: The Contribution of Memphis Catholics in            Civil Rights Activism, 1961-1968.” Tennessee Historical Quarterly, vol. 67, no. 2, 1 July         2008, pp. 124–147.

Issel, William, and Mary Ann Wold. “Catholics and the Campaign for Racial Justice in San

Francisco From Pearl Harbor to Proposition 14.” American Catholic Studies, vol. 119,          no. 3, 2008, pp. 21–43.

Mcgreevy, John T. “Racial Justice and the People of God: The Second Vatican Council, the       Civil Rights Movement, and American Catholics.” Religion and American Culture: A              Journal of Interpretation, vol. 4, no. 2, 1 July 1994, pp. 221–254.

Osnos, Evan. “Chicago’s Political Priest.” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 1 Sept. 2017,



Catholics Resisting War

     This week, we studied Catholics and their involvement in anti-war movements and protests. The different events put on by the Hank Center during Berrigan Week combined with our in-class readings helped to provide an unique look at the inner workings of the relationship between individual Catholics and war, and the greater Catholic Church and war.

     This week was particularly interesting to me, as I had never really thought that war resistance would be popular amongst Catholics– growing up, we had never really talked much about war or war resistance in my parish, and I was thankful to hear in class that this was not necessarily an uncommon experience. Growing up and going to mass, the only mention we ever had of war during Sunday mass was when we would offer up petitions and pray for those fighting in whichever current war was going on. In my small Catholic middle school and later high school, we spent weeks discussing World Wars I and II in my history class and briefly studied the Vietnam War and Iraq war, but never really discussed any resistance movements, much less any specifically Catholic resistance movements, which is why this week was particularly illuminating to me.

     Rev. William Au explains that Catholics have always had a strong involvement in domestic reform, but “they have never been represented in large numbers or by a strong institutional presence in American anti-war movements,” (49) which I believe is a good way to explain the complicated relationship between Catholics and anti-war movements. There seems to always have been a separation within Catholics regarding whether to support or protest the war effort. In the 1960s, Catholic debates on war and peace revolved around anti-pacifist discussion on whether the American Church should address war using Aquinas’ Just War Theory or radical pacifist discussion critiquing modern Western society (Au 55). The conflicting ideologies that Au mentions in his discussion on the American Catholic debate on war and peace (52) is not unique to the 1960s-70s, but goes back as far as the Civil War, if not earlier, when some Catholic bishops “ordered American flags flown from the steeples of churches, other Catholics described themselves as ‘pained’ to see ‘flags hung on the cross of Christ’” (McGreevy 73). While some Catholics vehemently opposed the Civil War draft and refused the inclusion of pro-war prayer requests, others, including most Catholic newspapers, “did not wholeheartedly support the Union… and the Catholic clergy had Southern sympathies” (McGreevy 76). This separation of ideologies extended into the debate on slavery, as some theologians disliked the idea of complete and immediate abolition, while others saw slavery as completely evil. These attitudes later evolved into idealistic WWII propaganda that emphasized tolerance and cooperation among races, religions, and ethnicities, which was not necessarily as inclusive as it seemed, proving that the advances in racial equality made after the civil war were just two steps forward an one step back. FDR’s fireside chats regarding tolerance of minorities essentially only meant white European immigrants and did not include Japanese Americans, Chinese Americans, African Americans, or other nonwhite groups, which was proven by popular war propaganda in media, which often excluded nonwhite minorities. (Fleegler 63 -67).

     The various forms of media that I interacted with during Berrigan Week helped give me an even greater understanding of the separation between ideologies surrounding war in the Catholic Church. Although the ideological separation of radical antiwar pacifists vs. pro-Just War realists has been a recurring theme, it became particularly salient and visible in the 1960s, during radical protests against the Vietnam War, which Fr. Daniel Berrigan vehemently opposed and was incredibly outspoken about.

     Although he faced deep opposition from the Catholic Church for his radical methods, Fr. Berrigan persisted and found himself on the FBI’s Most Wanted list due to his orchestration of the “Catonsville Nine,” the famous group that broke into the draft board in Catonsville, Maryland, and burned 600 1-A draft records in order to prevent the taking of innocent civilian lives in the Vietnam War. This protest exemplified the great divide amongst American Catholics– some agreed wholeheartedly with his message, while some, even pacifist Catholics such as Dorothy Day, favored less violent means to get these points across (Seeking Shelter exhibit). Some even detested any sort of civil disobedience at all, as they feared that it contributed to further unrest across the nation. Block Island provided Fr. Berrigan with a refuge and a place to disappear off of the face of the earth while he was in hiding from the FBI for being such a radical antiwar protester. The island was a quiet place to write poetry as well as ruminate on his thoughts, becoming a modern-day Walden Pond for the radical priest. Seeking Shelter, the documentary that we watched on Wednesday, really conveyed this sense of Block Island being a spiritual and mental retreat for Father Berrigan, who must have been worn out by all of the controversy surrounding his actions, which were viewed as un-American by his opposition.

A photo (by me) of the panel on the Catonsville Nine, from the Seeking Shelter exhibit. 

     One of the things that I found the most interesting throughout this week was the continuous, although sometimes subtle, return to Irish Catholics in the Seeking Shelter documentary as well as the poetry and music reading. In Seeking Shelter, the narrator discussed Father Berrigan’s capture by the FBI and made the subtle point that the FBI officers carrying Fr. Berrigan in the famed photo of one of his arrests were Irish Americans. This reminds me of the reading from Week 2 that discussed Irish Catholic migration to the United States, as it made a point to emphasize that Irish people quickly became the stereotypical image of the American because they dominated every facet of everyday life, working as city policemen, shopkeepers, etc. The poetry and music readings were also filled with references to Ireland, with performances of traditional Irish protest songs and poems by Fred Marchant that featured imagery of Ireland’s rolling hills. This, to me, seemed like a sort of return to the roots of Catholicism in America.

Fr. Berrigan being carried away by two Irish FBI officers. Image taken from The Intercept.

     Overall, I really enjoyed the events of Berrigan Week, and I’m glad to have been a part of this enlightening experience. Hearing about the history of Fr. Berrigan’s antiwar protests gave me inspiration for the future of radical organizing today, and I feel very fortunate that we get to learn about such deeply interesting historical figures.


Works Cited:

Au, William A. American Catholics and the Dilemma of War, 1960-1980. Catholic University of America Press, 1983.

Fleegler, Robert L. “‘Forget All Differences until the Forces of Freedom Are Triumphant’: The World War II–Era Quest for Ethnic and Religious Tolerance.” Journal of American Ethnic History, vol. 27, no. 2, 1 Jan. 2008, pp. 59–84.

McGreevy, John T. Catholicism and American Freedom: a History. W.W. Norton, 2004.