Catholics in the modern South


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Catholics in the modern South the transformation of a religion and a region, 1945-1975
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xi, 324 leaves : ; 29 cm.
Moore, Andrew Scott, 1968-
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Dissertations, Academic -- History -- UF   ( lcsh )
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Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Florida, 2000.
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 306-323).
Statement of Responsibility:
by Andrew Scott Moore.
General Note:
General Note:

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University of Florida
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Copyright 2000


Andrew Scott Moore

To Mom and Dad


While researching and writing this dissertation I incurred many debts. Most of

these I can never repay. Acknowledging them will have to suffice. With few

exceptions, I had the privilege of working in archives that were relatively unused. I

found two forms of treasures: the archival material that formed the basis of my

dissertation and the archivists who were unfailingly kind and helpful. Anthony R. Dees,

of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta, is the type of archivist all researchers appreciate

but few are fortunate enough to find. In addition to running a tight ship in the

archdiocesan archives, Tony befriended me and took a personal interest in my project. I

always looked forward to trips to Atlanta. I am grateful as well to Sister Elise

Schwalm, R.S.M., who made available her edited collection of Archbishop Paul J.

Hallinan's writing and speeches, In His Own Words.

Mobile's Archbishop Oscar H. Lipscomb kindly allowed me access to

Archbishop Thomas J. Toolen's and Bishop John L. May's papers. And Bernadette

Mathews graciously accommodated me in the chancery and made photocopies for me.

Charles Boyle, archivist at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama, gave me complete

access to Father Albert Foley's papers. The late Sister Mary Victory, archivist for the

Catholic Diocese of Savannah, was always a delight. She never failed to tell me that

she was praying for me; I am sure that she still is. I dropped in unannounced one day at

the University of South Alabama's archives. Elisa Baldwin accommodated me without

an appointment. I am sure I was an inconvenience, but she was very gracious. I also

spent a few days in the archives of the Diocese of Birmingham in Alabama. The

chancellor, Sister Mary Frances Loftin, D.C., permitted me free access to the archives,

and Gerry Nabors made photocopies of transcripts from the Oral History Collection.

Funding from several sources enabled me to travel for research and provided

necessary time to write. During the 1998-1999 academic year, I enjoyed a dissertation

fellowship from the University of Notre Dame's Cushwa Center for the Study of

American Catholicism. I have had the privilege of being part of the Cushwa Center's

Twentieth Century Public Presences working group. I am grateful for Scott Appleby,

the director of the Cushwa Center, the members of the advisory committee of the Public

Presences working group, and my fellow grant recipients, all of whom critiqued my

project at various stages. This dissertation is better because of their input. Without

Christopher Shannon (who replaced John Haas) and Barbara Lockwood the project

would not have operated as smoothly as it did.

In addition, the University of Florida's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

awarded me a dissertation fellowship for fall 1998. I am grateful to the Richard J.

Milbauer Foundation and Professor Bertram Wyatt-Brown for fellowships my first two

years at the University of Florida and for travel money for conferences and research.

The department of history and the Graduate Student Council at UF also provided travel

money for conference trips.

I have had the honor of working with an excellent group of scholars at the

University of Florida. Bertram Wyatt-Brown guided me through six years of doctoral

work and chaired my dissertation committee. He often shredded my prose with his

editor's pen, and the primary reason this dissertation meets any scholarly standards is

his oversight. I enjoyed many lunch conversations with Samuel S. Hill, who helped me

focus on the right questions when I was stumbling along. His friendship and support

were welcome fringe benefits. Robert H. Zieger, W. Fitzhugh Brundage, and Thomas

W. Gallant also read the entire dissertation. Because these men respected me enough to

offer their honest criticism, I am proud of this dissertation. Finally, David Hackett was

not a committee member, but I sometimes treated him as if he were. Naturally, any

mistakes that remain are my own responsibility.

At the University of Florida. I enjoyed an unparalleled group of friends and

colleagues, whose collegiality made graduate school almost pleasant. Many of them

either commented on earlier drafts of chapters or on the feasibility and possibilities of

the project itself. James Manley helped me reconceptualize the project when it was still

in its infancy. He made me work harder and think more carefully about what I was

doing; that made it a more worthwhile undertaking. Andrew Frank and Lisa Tendrich

Frank helped me set up a research database to manage my dissertation notes. Susan

Lewis--Professor Wyatt-Brown's secretary, as well as my friend and history colleague--

tracked down doctoral forms for me and provided a steady link with Gainesville as I

finished my dissertation in absentia. Several research seminars at UF offered me the

opportunity to discuss my ideas or present papers. I am grateful to the members of

Professor Louise Newman's research seminar in spring 1998 and Professor Zieger's

spring 1999 seminar for their comments on earlier drafts of these chapters. Linda

Opper, Betty Corwine, Barbara Guynn, and Kimberly Browne provided the backbone of

UF's history department. All that they do to make graduate students' lives easier will

probably never be known.

One of the joys of traveling for research was meeting people whose friendship I

now treasure and taking advantage of the hospitality of old friends. Monsignor G.

Warren Wall, pastor of St. Ignatius Catholic Church in Mobile, offered true southern

hospitality at his parish's rectory and even acted as if he enjoyed my company. I

certainly enjoyed his. In addition to Father Wall, Father Austin Conry, Julie Clark, Bill

Strachan, and Al Priselac in particular made me feel as if I was never too far from

home. Besides being the friendly face who welcomed me to the rectory almost every

afternoon, Margaret Barnett also sat for an interview. Joan Sage, Father Albert Foley's

former assistant, befriended me as well. Joan sat for two lengthy interviews and

provided me with a copy of Father Foley's memoirs. Finally, Bob and Terri Barnett of

Gulf Shores, Alabama, opened their home to me and offered oceanfront hospitality and

the opportunity to unwind at the end of one research trip. This friend of Father Wall's

quickly became a friend of theirs. In Atlanta, John W. Truslow III proved to be the best

friend a man could have. Chez Truslow was a true home away from home. John

provided a place to sleep, food to eat, and social and spiritual fraternity, the

combination of which I have never enjoyed elsewhere.

My family provided the fellowship I enjoy and the love. support, and

encouragement that I needed throughout graduate school. Jeff and Amy Moore and

Julie and Armando Barraza have been friends as well as brother, sister, and in-laws. I

appreciate them for that. I dedicate this dissertation to my parents. They have yet to

read the first word of it, but without them completion of the dissertation--and graduate

school in general--would have been impossible. Their unconditional love and steadfast

support (emotional, spiritual, and financial) proved that they never doubted me, even

those times when I doubted myself. I have never met, nor do I expect ever to meet, two

finer people anywhere. Finally, toward the end of this project Christie Nicole Young

entered my life to stay. As we leave father and mother to become one, I look forward to

a sweet life together.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ................... .. ........ .......................iv

ABSTRACT ........................ .. ............................................... x

IN TRO D U CTIO N .............................................................................. ................... 1


ALABAMA AND GEORGIA.................................................... 18

"OTHER" IN THE SOUTH ........................ ........................ 53

CATHOLIC IDENTITY AT MID-CENTURY ...................... ..................... 89

..................... ................................. 124

ORTHODOXY ....................................................... ...... ......................... 170


CATHOLIC CRISIS OF AUTHORITY, 1966-1975 ..........................................260

C O N C LU SIO N ........................................................................... .............................298

BIB LIO G RA PH Y .......... ................................................................... .. .................... 306

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ....................... ................ ........................ 324

Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Andrew Scott Moore

May 2000

Chairman: Bertram Wyatt-Brown
Major Department: History

This dissertation explores the intersection of religion, race, and regional identity

in order to reveal the relationship between the South's Protestant culture and Catholics

in Alabama and Georgia. As a distinctive religious minority, Catholics feared that they

lived under constant public scrutiny, and they carefully negotiated the boundaries

separating their religious subculture and society at large. In an effort to connect a

disparate population behind a shared Roman Catholicism in the twentieth century,

Church leaders expanded diocesan infrastructures and increased their institutional

presence in the region. But this Romanization of their religious subculture was often in

conflict with the South's racial status quo. This dissertation argues that for most white

Catholics race was the central component of their southern identity. But tensions

surrounding racial reform also brought into sharp relief internal conflicts between

liberal and conservative, leadership and laity, and even between priest and prelate.

Catholics' awareness of their position in southern society concerned both civil

rights and anti-civil rights advocates. Those opposed to an immediate end to

segregation--the majority of whites--worried that moving too far ahead of the rest of

secular society would further alienate Catholics and bring retribution against the

Church. But proponents of racial justice also had misgivings about the Church's image

when faced with the black freedom struggle. The few white Catholic activists in the

South believed that the Church abdicated its moral authority by not taking the initiative

in opposing segregation. They wanted the Church to engage secular society and

provide the spiritual leadership missing from Protestant denominations. Until the

1960s, mainstream white society effectively marginalized those activists. But

segregation became a moral issue for the Catholic Church before it did for most of the

region's Protestants. And a bishop's authority to act unilaterally in the cause of racial

reform made the Church's public presence in Alabama and Georgia distinct from the

Protestant majority. By the early 1970s, progressive bishops led the Church into liberal

territory. advocating racial and social justice causes that were uncharacteristic of the

white South.


In 1945 a story in The Catholic Week, the official newspaper of the Diocese of

Mobile, acknowledged that Catholics were "scarce in most sections of the South." And

where Catholics maintained a public presence "they know they have to be good

Catholics and good citizens if they want to attain the respect of their fellow-citizens.

And the majority of them do."' The tension between being good Catholics and good

citizens had plagued the American Church since the colonial period. Despite political

battles over public schools and public support for parochial schools, Catholics accepted

American notions of religious pluralism and adapted to their secular environment.2 Too

much adaptation and too many (it appeared to Rome) relatively assimilated American

Catholics, however, led to the papal condemnation of "Americanism" in 1899. But

Catholics in the twentieth century continued to negotiate the boundaries between their

ethnic communities and secular society, often adapting American culture onto distinct

S"Trail Blazers In Birmingham," The Catholic Week, August 24, 1945, p. 7.

2 See, for example, Joseph P. Chinnici, "American Catholics and Religious Pluralism, 1775 1820,"
Journal of Ecumenical Studies 16 (Fall 1979): 727-746; Joseph J. McCadden. "Bishop Hughes Versus
the Public School Society of New York," Catholic Historical Review (1964): 188-207; Joseph Agonito,
"Ecumenical Stirrings: Catholic Protestant Relations During the Episcopacy of John Carroll," Church
History45 (1976): 358-373: Michael D. Clark, "Jonathan Boucher and the Toleration of Roman
Catholics in Maryland," Maryland Historical Magazine 71 (1976): 194-203; Patrick W. Carey, People,
Priests, and Prelates: Ecclesiastical Democraci and the Tensions of Trusteeism (Notre Dame, IN:
University of Notre Dame Press, 1987).


Catholic traditions and rituals.3 Catholics in Alabama and Georgia made their own

accommodations to secular society, often self-consciously and with a keen awareness of

their marginality. Southern white Catholics' efforts to be good citizens required

acquiescence to--if not support for--the region's racial status quo. From the perspective

of white southerners of whatever faith, the maintenance of social stability following the

end of World War II required segregation and the exclusion of blacks from public life.

The centrality of race governed issues as varied as educational policy, housing and road

construction, business opportunities, and the availability of hospital care.4 Few white

laity challenged this social arrangement and, indeed, most embraced it.

This dissertation explores the intersection of religion, race, and regional identity

in order to reveal the relationship between Alabama and Georgia Catholics and

twentieth-century secular southern society. Although it is virtually impossible to speak

of one singular southern culture. Alabama and Georgia are representative of the

elements that defined southern identity for most of the twentieth century. The late

journalist cum southern critic W. J. Cash once noted that if there are many Souths there

is also one South. For most of the twentieth century, that one South was preoccupied

with race and preserving white supremacy and segregation. Following the end of World

War II, concerns over race silenced southern liberals who had earlier supported the New

On the Americanist controversy, see R. Scott Appleby, Church and Age Unite! The Modernist Impulse
in American Catholicism, 1895-1910 (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1992); Alfred
Juan Ede. The Lay Crusade for a Christian America A Study of the American Federation of Catholic
Societies. 1900-1919 (New York: Garland, 1988); Robert Emmett Curran, "Prelude to 'Americanism':
The New York Accademia and Clerical Radicalism in the Late Nineteenth Century," Church History 47
(1978): 48-65. On the adaptation of American culture to Catholicism, see Jay P. Dolan, "The Search for
an American Catholicism." Catholic Historical Review 82 (April 1996): 169-186.

4 On southern race relations, see David R. Goldfield, Black, White, and Southern: Race Relations and
Southern Culture. 1940 to the Present (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1990).


Deal and were sympathetic to labor unions. President Harry Truman's modest civil

rights program alienated white southerners and gave rise to the States' Rights

Democratic party--the Dixiecrats--in 1948.5 In an environment that recognized and

enforced (sometimes violently) strict racial boundaries separating black from white, the

ethnic differences that were traditionally associated with American Catholicism were


Ethnic identity persisted into the twentieth century in a few southern states, most

notably among Latino Catholics in Texas and Florida. Including the Hispanic

population in a study of southern Catholics would have introduced a unique dynamic

into the picture of southern identity. In Texas, for example, the Catholic population

included a sizable proportion of Mexican Americans, who fit in neither of the South's

"typical" racial categories. They were neither white nor black. For Mexican

immigrants, Catholicism played a central role in their ethnic and religious identity, even

when the institutional Church was often marginal to their everyday experience.

Mexican nationalism persisted among Mexican Americans well into the twentieth

century. Indeed, priests often appealed to nationalist sentiments in order to strengthen

community and spirituality among parishioners." And Mexicans suffered

discrimination at the hands of Anglos, much like that suffered by blacks. For Mexican

Americans. religious and ethnic identities overshadowed any affinity they might have

5 See Numan V. Bartley, The New South, 1945- 1980 (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University
Press, 1995), pp. 38-73.

' Gilberto M. Hinojosa, "Mexican-American Faith Communities in Texas and the Southwest," in Jay P.
Dolan and Gilberto M. Hinojosa. eds., Mexican Americans and the Catholic Church, 1900-1965 (Notre
Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1994), p. 92. See also Jay P. Dolan and Allan Figueroa
Deck, S J., eds.. Hispanic Catholic Culture in the U.S.: Issues and Concerns (Notre Dame, IN:
University of Notre Dame Press, 1994).


felt toward white southern society. The Texas southern Catholic story, therefore, would

be different than that of Alabama and Georgia. This dissertation, therefore,

concentrates on the racial dynamic between whites and blacks in southern society and

within the Catholic Church in Alabama and Georgia, which was composed primarily of

Americans of European and African descent.

Available secondary literature suggests that Catholics in Alabama and Georgia

evinced typical responses to the southern racial status quo. In the late nineteenth and

early twentieth centuries, southern convention forced the Church to make Jim Crow

accommodations and maintain separate facilities for white and black Catholics.

Segregation characterized the Church in the South, and that modus vivendi satisfied

many white churchpeople.7 Indeed, the Archbishop of New Orleans, Joseph Rummel,

whose archdiocese in 1960 had six times the Catholic population of the Diocese of

Mobile-Birmingham, met fierce lay resistance when he announced the impending

integration of parochial schools in 1955. The New Orleans Association of Catholic

Laymen opposed Rummel's decision, and in 1962 the archbishop excommunicated

three laymen who persisted in their hateful opposition to school integration.8

On Catholic support for slavery, the Confederacy, and later segregation see Randall M. Miller and Jon
L. Wakelyn, eds.. Catholics in the Old South: Essays on Church and Culture (Macon, GA: Mercer
University Press, 1983); Michael V. Gannon, Rebel Bishop: The Life and Era ofAugustin Verot
(Milwaukee, WI: Bruce, 1964); Dolores Egger Labbe, Jim Crow Comes to Church (New York: Arno
Press, 1978); William A. Osborne, The Segregated Covenant: Race Relations and American Catholics
(New York: Herder and Herder, 1967).

" Michael B. Friedland, Lift Up Your Voice Like a Trumpet: White Clergy and the Civil Rights and
Antiwar Movements, 1954-1973 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press. 1998), pp. 39-
44; Adam Fairclough, Race and Democracy: The Civil Rights Struggle in Louisiana, 1915-1972
(Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1995), pp. 171-178. 199-204, 324.


Despite some southern white Catholics' reluctance to acknowledge the

relationship between Catholic social doctrine and the racial status quo, however,

segregation became a moral issue for their Church before it did for most of the region's

Protestants. The Church's pre-Vatican II belief that salvation could come only through

Rome forced southern dioceses to evangelize African Americans and include them in

the Church's public presence. White Protestants, therefore, were always suspicious of

the Catholic Church in Alabama and Georgia, and white Catholics there lived under

constant public scrutiny. This did not mean that most white Catholics readily accepted

the inevitability of desegregation. In fact. many resisted and relied on the church

hierarchy and conservative priests and bishops to sustain the regional social order. But

the Catholic ethos contained within it the ingredients for both a firm commitment to

orthodoxy that sustained the social status quo as well as a liberal challenge to the same

status quo. The Diocese of Mobile-Birmingham represented the conservative protector

of a segregated, hierarchical society, while Catholic leaders in the Archdiocese of

Atlanta (previously the Diocese of Savannah-Atlanta) served as liberal challengers.9

The secular society in which Catholics in Alabama and Georgia lived was

intimately associated with the region's religious milieu. Historian J. Wayne Flynt once

observed that studying the South without addressing religion is like exploring modem

The dioceses in Alabama and Georgia grew and divided during the years covered by this study. In 1945
the Diocese of Mobile and the Diocese of Savannah-Atlanta covered all of their respective states. In
1956 the Church created the Diocese of Savannah and the Diocese of Atlanta out of the Diocese of
Savannah-Atlanta. In 1962 Atlanta was elevated to an archdiocese. The Diocese of Mobile became the
Diocese of Mobile-Birmingham in 1954. which included portions of west Florida until 1968. In 1969 the
Diocese of Mobile-Birmingham separated into two separate dioceses. Although the Diocese of Mobile
was not an archdiocese until 1980, its prelate, Thomas J. Toolen. was given the title "Archbishop ad
Personam" by Pope Pius XII in 1954. Therefore, he is referred to throughout most of the dissertation as
Archbishop Toolen.


American culture without reference to sex. One can do it, but such an approach misses

the larger picture.10 By religion, of course, Flynt and others have traditionally meant

Protestant evangelicalism. Indeed, following the work of Samuel S. Hill, the seemingly

symbiotic relationship between Protestantism and secular southern society has become

axiomatic among historians of the South." Even where historians have noted diversity

within the region, many have agreed, in the words of David Edwin Harrell, that

Catholics, Jews, and marginal sects shared southern religion's "remarkable capacity to

bend to social pressure--accommodating slavery and segregation, lionizing the Lost

Cause, and heralding southern spiritual superiority."'2

Writing with the theological insight of a southern churchman and historian, Hill

argued that the conservative Protestant emphasis on a spiritual crisis conversion made

an individual's relationship to God paramount. This "central theme" of southern

Protestantism precluded the development of a Christian social ethic that could address

the South's racial crisis. Hill's conclusions made sense to many observers, and his

argument continues to frame historiographical debate. But until recently historians

treated all southern religion as a Protestant monolith, characterized by theological

uniformity. They underestimated the diversity within southern Protestantism and--with

'0 J. Wayne Flynt, "Southern Protestantism and Reform, 1890-1920," in Samuel S. Hill, Jr., ed., Varieties
ofSouthern Religious Experience (Baton Rouge. LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1988), p. 135.

" Samuel S. Hill Jr.. Southern Churches in Crisis (Boston: Beacon Press, 1968; originally published.
1966). Hill's classic has been re-issued with a new introduction and reflection on the state ofthe field
some thirty years later as, Southern Churches in Crisis Revisited (Tuscaloosa, AL: University of
Alabama Press, 1999). See also, Samuel S. Hill, Jr., "The South's Two Cultures," in Hill, ed., Religion
and the Solid South (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1972); Barry Hankins, "Southern Baptists and
Northern Evangelicals: Cultural Factors and the Nature of Religious Alliances," Religion and American
Culture: A Journal of Interpretation 7 (Summer 1997): 271-298.
' David Edwin Harrell, "Religious Pluralism: Catholics, Jews, and Sectarians," in Charles R. Wilson,
ed., Religion in the South (University, MS: University of Mississippi Press, 1985).


Hill--miscalculated the persistence and ingenuity of those churchpeople who

transcended the limits of their religious culture to engage actively the social crises that

haunted the region. Theology mattered and often dictated how southerners adapted to

southern society. But the theological implications of applied Christian faith varied

across the Protestant spectrum. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, for

example, there were those southern Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians who

practiced a social gospel. And later in the twentieth century a minority of southern

Protestant churchpeople supported interracialism.13

Catholics in Alabama and Georgia lived in a religious world that was foreign to

most southern Protestants. Catholics were a minority in the South and claimed

membership in a denomination centered elsewhere. From the perspective of a southern

Protestant, Catholic loyalties lay outside the region--in Rome or at least in the North,

where Catholics constituted a larger percentage of the population. Their theology, style

of worship, Latin mass, devotions to saints, church structure, and ecclesiastical

authority, moreover, all separated Catholics from the majority of southerners. At least

on the surface, the Catholic Church at mid-century had changed little since the

" For a challenge to the cultural captivity thesis, see Beth Barton Schweiger, "The Captivity of Southern
Religious History," unpublished paper presented to Southern Intellectual History Circle, Birmingham,
AL. February 21, 1997; idem, The Gospel Working Up: Progress and the Pulpit in Nineteenth-Century
Virginia (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000); Hill, "Southern Churches in Crisis Revisited," in
idem. Southern Churches in Crisis Revisited, pp. xvi. On the existence of a southern social gospel. see J.
Wayne Flynt, "Southern Protestantism and Reform, 1890-1920"; idem, "Dissent in Zion: Alabama
Baptists and Social Issues, 1900-1914," Journal ofSouthern History 25 (November 1969): 523-542;
idem, "Organized Labor, Reform, and Alabama Politics, 1920," Alabama Review 23 (July 1970): 163-
180; idem, "Alabama White Protestantism and Labor, 1900-1914," Alabama Review 25 (July 1972):
192-217; idem, "Religion in the Urban South: The Divided Religious Mind of Birmingham, 1900-
1919," Alabama Review 30 (April 1977): 108-134. For later in the twentieth century, see Tracy Elaine
K'Meyer, Interracialism and Christian Community in the Postwar South: The Story ofKoinonia Farm
(Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1997).


nineteenth century. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, Rome centralized its

authority and spelled out the proper hierarchy of church leadership--bishops at the top,

followed by priests and laity. Pope Pius X claimed that the "Church is essentially an

unequal society ... comprising two categories of persons, the Pastors and the flock."

The emphasis on the authority of priests and bishops was intended to teach the laity to

be obedient to religious leaders.14

The clergy controlled access to the sacraments, which enhanced their authority

in a layperson's life. Priests celebrated mass in Latin, a foreign language not accessible

to all. It was primarily through the clergy's actions, then, that lay Catholics gained

access to the sacred. The hierarchical nature of pre-Vatican II Catholicism and the

importance of ritual ordered a Catholic's life, and the sacraments touched every

milestone and significant event for the Church's communicants. From birth to death,

rituals of baptism, confession, penance, communion, and marriage connected Catholics

to each other and to a larger sacred world. American Catholics in the late nineteenth

and early twentieth centuries, moreover, took a hostile stance against secular society.

According to Jay Dolan, a spirit of anti-Protestantism accompanied this aversion to

society. Catholics feared and mistrusted Protestants and avoided interfaith contact

whenever possible.5

" Jay P. Dolan, The American Catholic Experience: A History from Colonial Times to the Present (Notre
Dame. IN: University ofNotre Dame Press, 1992), pp. 221-225; Pius X quoted on p. 222.

" Dolan, The American Catholic Experience, pp. 221-240; Jay P. Dolan, "Catholic Attitudes Toward
Protestants,' in Uncivil Religion: Interreligious Hostility in America, eds. Robert N. Bellah and
Frederick E. Greenspahn (New York: Crossroad, 1987). Also see Jon W. Anderson and Gwen Kennedy
Neville, "More Varieties of Religious Experience: Time and Faith for Southern Catholics," in Religion in
the Contemporary South: Diversity. Community. and Identity, eds. 0. Kendall White, Jr., and Daryl
White (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1995); and Jon W. Anderson. "Catholic Imagination


In addition. Catholics perceive the sacred with what David Tracy called an

analogicall imagination." That is to say, Catholics experience God as ever present in

the world, a notion that perceives society as basically good and is therefore conducive

to an emphasis on communal values.'6 Ostensibly, therefore. Catholic incarnational

theology differed fundamentally from southern Protestantism. Hill noted that for a

southern Protestant, morality "is associated with being, rather than doing."'7

Catholicism, in contrast, emphasizes the doing, rather than the being. Catholic doctrine,

then, lent itself more easily to the development of a social ethic that encouraged its

adherents to engage secular society.'8

Just because there was a nascent social ethic, however, did not necessarily mean

that all Catholics pursued it. The size of their population in Alabama and Georgia left

them vulnerable to their minority status and unable--and, perhaps, unwilling--to engage

society as their theology might otherwise compel them to do. Nineteenth-century

devotional Catholicism fostered a sense of individualism that, in fact, made the southern

Catholic accommodation to secular society relatively easy. Catholics in Alabama and

Georgia emerged from their religious world to critique secular society and engage their

critics, but then escaped to their sacred realm. Only gradually did a minority adopt the

and Inflections of 'Church' in the Contemporary South," in The Culture of Bible Belt Catholics, eds. Jon
W. Anderson and William B. Friend (New York: Paulist Press, 1995).
1 David Tracy. The Analogical Imagination: Christian Theology and the Culture of Pluralism (New
York: Crossroad, 1981); Andrew M. Greeley. The Catholic Myth: The Behavior and Beliefs of American
Catholics (New York: Collier, 1990), pp. 44-47.

Hill. "The South's Two Cultures." p. 35.

On a Catholic social doctrine, see David J. O'Brien. American Catholics and Social Reform: The New
Deal Years (New York: Oxford University Press, 1968).


Church's social ethic and moral opposition to racism and segregation. As the Second

Vatican Council transformed Catholicism itself in the 1960s, only then did racial reform

become expected for the Church at large. This gradually placed the Church in an

awkward position vis-a-vis southern society--either accept the immorality of racism and

segregation or deny the Church's moral authority to influence the secular world.

Catholics in Alabama and Georgia shared the religious imagination and theology

of the Roman Church; but they also differed from Catholics elsewhere. The southern

Church lacked the strong ethnic presence and national identities that characterized--and

sometimes plagued--the Church in the North and Midwest. The indigenous population

of the Church in Alabama and Georgia included Irish and Italian immigrants. Hibernian

Societies and the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, for example, celebrated St. Patrick's Day

and Sons of Italy groups honored Columbus every year. But in missionary dioceses

located in the South's racially polarized society, ethnic Europeans became "white."'9 In

the North, the parish--with its church, parochial school, convent, rectory, and

gymnasiums--often was the center of immigrants' religious identity.20 In the South, a

parish usually comprised more than one neighborhood--indeed, often more than one

county in rural areas. So Alabama and Georgia lacked the urban North's starting point,

" On the process by which ethnic Europeans became "white," see David R. Roediger, The Wages of
Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class (New York: Verso, 1991); John T.
McGreevy, Parish Boundaries: The Catholic Encounter with Race in the Twentieth-Century Urban
North (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), especially Chapter 2. On the South's ethnic
diversity, see Michael McNally, "A Peculiar Institution: A History of Catholic Parish Life in the
Southeast (1850-1980)," and Charles E. Nolan, "Modest and Humble Crosses: A History of Catholic
Parishes in the South Central Region (1850-1984)," both in The American Catholic Parish: A History
from 1850 to the Present, Vol. 1, ed. Jay P. Dolan (New York: Paulist Press, 1987), pp. 177-181, 238,
243; Dennis Clark, "The South's Irish Catholics: A Case of Cultural Confinement," in Catholics in the
Old South: Essays on Church and Culture, eds. Miller and Wakelyn: Fussell Chalker, "Irish Catholics
and the Building of the Ocmulgee and Flint Railroad," Georgia Historical Quarterly 54 (1970): 507-16.
20 McGreevy, Parish Boundaries, pp. 13-28.


namely, the parish that was strong enough to shape identity. Rather than identify

closely with parish and local institutions, therefore, southern Catholics identified with

the Church universal.

According to John T. McGreevy the strength of the parish and the importance of

community boundaries dictated how northern urban white Catholics encountered the

migration of African Americans into formerly all-white neighborhoods. As blacks

relocated into those neighborhoods, white Catholics perceived them to be violating

sacred space. Northern Catholics, then, viewed race relations through the prism of the

parish. White lay Catholics in Alabama and Georgia, in contrast, encountered African

Americans as white southerners. For them, their faith--like that of Protestants-

legitimated secular society. Like the doctrines of Catholicism, racial segregation

carried the sanction of time-honored tradition. When Church leaders--emboldened by

changes within the Church--accepted the moral imperatives of the civil rights

movement, then, many white laypeople failed to appreciate why something that had

long been accepted was suddenly sinful.21

McGreevy took seriously the intersection of race, religion, and community. But

other historians have often handled the role of religion in the civil rights movement

lightly, apparently not comfortable with the implications of a truly activist faith. The

role of the African-American church has been mentioned, to be sure, since the local

black Baptist or African Methodist Episcopal congregation most often was the only

institution with the facilities and leadership totally independent of white influence.

Civil rights activists held their meetings in black churches, and ministers often served as

2" See ibid.

leaders of the local movement. But faith itself has not been made central, especially

within the white church.22 White Christians' response to the civil rights movement was

complicated. Both opposition to the black freedom struggle and support for it were

shaped by Christian faith. This was particularly true for Catholics, for whom authority

and certain orthodoxy were as important as doctrines of racial and social justice.

When historians do point to the white use of religion in the anti-civil rights

movement, they usually argue that such claims to divine sanction were mere covers for

a sinister racism divorced from true belief. But theologian Charles Marsh has asked his

readers "to consider how the movement may appear anew if its complex and often

2 Historians debate when the modem civil rights movement actually began. Of course, the period
between the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955-1956 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 has been
considered the pinnacle of the post-World War II movement. Scholars initially focused on this ten-year
period because of the prominence of leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and the movement's legal and
political victories, which threatened to undermine southern segregation. Other historians have noted the
significance of World War II and the ways that conflict emboldened African Americans in their struggle
for equality. In the late 1970s and 1980s, focus shifted from national organizations and leaders to
communities. These studies revealed broad patterns and the importance of local organizations on the
success of the movement. Historians have examined the movement in much broader context, viewing it
in terms of its early-twentieth-century origins. See Stephen F. Lawson, "Freedom Then, Freedom Now:
The Historiography of the Civil Rights Movement," American Historical Review 96 (April 1991): 456-
471; Adam Fairclough, "State of the Art: Historians and the Civil Rights Movement," Journal of
American Studies 24 (December 1990): 387-398. For conflicting accounts of the New Deal as the
origins of the movement, see Harvard Sitkoff, A New Deal for Blacks: The Emergence of Civil Rights as
a National Issue. Volume : The Depression Decade (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978); and
Nancy J. Weiss, Farewell to the Party ofLincoln: Black Politics in the Age ofFDR (Princeton, NJ:
Princeton University Press, 1983). For local studies of the civil rights movement, see William Chafe,
Civilities and Civil Rights: Greensboro, North Carolina, and the Black Struggle for Freedom (New
York: Oxford University Press, 1980); and Aldon D. Morris, The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement:
Black Communities Organizing for Change (New York: The Free Press, 1984). Adam Fairclough, Race
and Democracy: The Civil Rights Struggle in Louisiana, 1915-1972 is the best study of the civil rights
movement within a broader chronological context. Glenn T. Eskew, But for Birmingham: The Local and
National Movements in the Civil Rights Struggle (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press,
1997) examines the tension between local and national organizations and the class divisions within the
movement itself. Finally. Timothy J. Minchin has broadened the chronological context of the movement
in the other direction, arguing that the 1964 Civil Rights Act was not the culmination of the legal aspect
of the movement; instead, he argues, it merely marked the beginning of a long and arduous legal battle.
See Minchin, "Black Activism, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and the Racial Integration of the Southern
Textile Industry," Journal ofSouthern History 65 (November 1999): 809-844; and idem, Hiring the
Black Worker: The Racial Integration of the Southern Textile Industry. 1960-1980 (Chapel Hill. NC:
University of North Carolina Press, 1999).


cacophonous religious convictions are taken seriously--if the content of such language

is not dismissed as smooth justifications of cruelty or dissent, pragmatic tools in the

service of political ends, or opiates of the status quo."23 Marsh lays the groundwork for

recasting the struggle for racial justice into a theological drama, a spiritual contest with

serious moral and religious consequences. The story of the Catholic Church in the civil

rights movement is one of the Church in theological transition. On the one hand,

ecclesiastical authority rooted in a pre-Vatican II hierarchy acquiesced to the southern

social order and refused to challenge segregation. On the other hand, the modem

Church was forced to sort out the moral implications of a relatively newfound social

ethic that undermined racial discrimination. Although the nature of bishops' authority

became increasingly complicated in the late 1960s, their ability to act unilaterally set

Catholics apart from Protestant churches.

Reconsidering the black freedom struggle as a theological drama helps to

emphasize the interracial nature of the movement. The success of the civil rights

movement depended in part on the actions of whites. Hostile whites provided violent

images and negative publicity that created national sympathy for an end to racial

segregation. But the fight for racial justice also needed moderate and liberal whites to

bridge the racial gap and create a biracial coalition.24 The fight for racial justice did not

Charles Marsh, God's Long Summer: Stories Of Faith And Civil Rights (Princeton, NJ: Princeton
University Press, 1997), p. 3. In addition, James F. Findlay, Jr., Church People in the Struggle: The
National Council of Churches and the Black Freedom Movement. 1950-1970 (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1993): and Friedland, Lift Up Your Voice Like a Trumpet are splendid exceptions to the
lack of information on white Christians in the civil rights movement.
24 See for example, David L. Chappell, Inside Agitators: White Southerners in the Civil Rights Movement
(Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994): Charles W. Eagles, Outside Agitator: Jon
Daniels and the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina
Press, 1993); K'Meyer, Interracialism and Christian Community in the Postwar South: The Story of


necessarily split southern whites into advocates and opponents of reform. It also

created a third, middle camp that was often pulled back and forth between conscience

and political expedience. This group consisted of those who knew the morally and

ethically correct thing to do. but who had difficulty putting the knowledge into practice.

Many white Catholics in Alabama and Georgia lived on this middle ground. Their

church taught them how to love their fellow Catholics, and whites and blacks

participated in church activities together--often in segregated arrangements, but together

nevertheless. The American bishops denounced racism and segregation in 1958. And

in 1963 Pope John XXIII issued his own condemnation.25 Yet, because of their

relationship to southern society, they resisted the full implications of Catholic racial

justice doctrine.

Chapter 1 of this dissertation introduces the growth patterns of the dioceses in

Alabama and Georgia and demonstrates that Alabama and Georgia were missionary

territory for Catholics. The growth of the southern Catholic Church resulted from a

combination of homegrown initiative and outside contribution of money and manpower.

This outside assistance ran counter to southern rhetoric about local autonomy, but it was

a fact of southern life. The chapters that follow break down into roughly two

chronological sections--from 1945 until approximately 1960, and from 1960 until the

1970s. Chapters 2 through 4 cover approximately the same time period, from 1945

Koinonia Farm; Andrew S. Chancey, "Race, Religion, and Reform: Koinonia's Challenge to Southern
Society, 1942 1992" (Ph.D. diss., University of Florida, Gainesville, 1998).

2 Pope John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, in Claudia Carlen, I.H.M., ed., The Papal Encyclicals, 1958 1981
([Wilmington, NC]. McGrath, 1981).

through the 1950s. Religious differences separated Catholics and Protestants, and anti-

Catholicism served as an identity-marker for both Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

Church leaders in both Alabama and Georgia undertook expansion efforts that would

strengthen local parishes and unite their Catholic populations behind a shared Roman

Catholicism. When Alabama Catholics made their case for acceptance into the public

sphere, they appealed to themes of patriotism and liberty. Through Christ the King

celebrations and public veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary, southern white Catholics

reinforced their own American identity, even as their prominence in southern society

rose. Their claims on public sacred space also revealed the relationship between their

own religious culture and mainstream southern society. The boundary separating the

two became increasingly fluid. In arguments similar to those of white Protestants in the

late 1940s and 1950s, Catholics in Alabama and Georgia envisioned a national society

that would closely resemble that of the South.26 By mid-century. Catholics in Alabama

and Georgia had begun to redefine themselves as Catholics, southerners, and

Americans. The boundaries separating these identities became more fluid.

Nevertheless, race was the central component of their southern identity. Many

white Catholic laymen and women, not to mention their leadership, proved to be as

racist as any white Protestant. Still, because of the inclusive nature of Catholicism,

southern Church leaders fashioned a subculture that included African Americans, even

if only marginally. Members of religious orders and others who might be considered

"outsiders" from southern society took the lead. Gradually over the course of the

26 On this and the differences between white and black Baptists, see Andrew Michael Manis, Southern
Civil Religions in Conflict: Black and White Baptists and Civil Rights, 1947-1957 (Athens. GA:
University of Georgia Press, 1987).


decade and a half after the end of the war, Catholic leaders accepted segregation as a

moral issue. Following Church social teaching, a select number of bishops and priests

addressed racial issues and urged racial equality within the Church at least, if not in

society at large. Priests and nuns of religious orders based outside the South espoused

these ideas earlier than other Catholics in the region, but their influence was limited to

the African Americans with whom they worked.

Chapters 5, 6, and 7 address the concurrent changes in both the South and the

Catholic Church during the 1960s and early 1970s. In the early 1960s, the civil rights

movement converged with the Second Vatican Council, convened by Pope John XXIII

to re-evaluate the Church's relationship to the modem world. The Council de-

emphasized the hierarchical structure of the Church and replaced it with an

understanding of the Church as the "people of God." This conciliar definition

encouraged increased lay, religious, and priestly involvement both in the Church and in

addressing social justice problems. Clergy and female religious were among the first

Catholics to apply conciliar doctrines to racial reform. In 1965 both priests and nuns

assumed prominent positions in the Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights

demonstrations, much to the consternation of conservative Catholics, including

Archbishop Thomas J. Toolen of the Diocese of Mobile-Birmingham. In the 1960s the

Archdiocese of Atlanta was more liturgically and racially progressive. Archbishop Paul

J. Hallinan actively pursued liturgical reform and used his episcopal authority to

integrate archdiocesan institutions. The Diocese of Mobile-Birmingham, in contrast,

instituted liturgical reforms more slowly and responded to the civil rights movement

with caution, if not outright reaction.


By the 1970s. being "good Catholics" and "good citizens" had become more

complicated for Alabama and Georgia Catholics. Post-World War II events had

transformed their denomination and their social milieu. For Catholics, the Vatican

Council and the civil rights movement had broadened understandings of the Church and

created new opportunities for ecumenical cooperation between southern Protestants and

Catholics. But the Catholic Church in Alabama and Georgia defies facile

categorization. By the early 1970s, progressive bishops led the Church into liberal

territory, advocating racial and social justice causes that were uncharacteristic of the

white South. They joined the Catholic mainstream with their support for fair housing

and workers' rights, but the relationship between the laity and hierarchy suggested a

more conservative Church at odds with progressive leadership.


"In the year 1944," Father John Horgan, the Mobile diocese's director of

missions to south Alabama, wrote in 1948, "a traveler leaving... Mobile and going

North on highway 31 would drive for hours through what is locally known as the Bible

Belt of Alabama..... Here in this vast area of over 3000 square miles not one Catholic

Church could be found. Our traveler might wonder if there were any Catholics in these

places." There were many, Horgan answered, but they lacked a local parish church.

They were "braving the continued storms of ignorance and bigotry--without any of the

consolations of our Holy Faith." Writing only four years later, Horgan concluded that

conditions had improved. A journey through the small towns along the same route in

1948 would reveal several Catholic mission stations. They served the small Catholic

population in that area as "a real house of God."' Horgan's hypothetical traveler just as

easily could have traversed rural Georgia instead of south Alabama to discover identical

situations. Not surprisingly, the area contained few signs of the presence of Catholics.

Elsewhere, particularly in the North and Midwest, by the end of World War II Catholics

constituted a majority of the population and had achieved a significant level of social

The Rev. John Horgan, "Catholic Missions of'The Bible Belt,'" The Catholic Week, July 9, 1948. p. 1.


maturity and stability. But in the South, they remained an overwhelming minority, at

most no more than 3 percent of the population. In Alabama, Catholic numbers were

strongest in Mobile and Birmingham. Mobile's Catholic population dates back to the

colonial period, and Birmingham traces its Catholic roots to Italian and Irish laborers in

the nineteenth century. In Georgia Savannah has the oldest Catholic tradition, with

Atlanta's Catholic population developing after the end of World War II.

Since the Catholic Church in the South (outside Louisiana) lacked a prominent

indigenous population, post-World War II growth set it apart from those Protestant

denominations--such as the Baptists and Methodists--whose strength was regional. The

growth of the Church in Alabama and Georgia depended on outside agents that

reminded southern Catholics of their marginal status in the region and their relationship

to the larger denomination. Financial assistance for parish construction and liturgical

accoutrements often came from mission organizations based in northern dioceses.

Southern Catholics also engaged in organized evangelization. Those duties often fell to

religious orders, like the Paulists, who specialized in parish missions or open-air

evangelism. Finally, the growth of Church in Alabama and Georgia can be attributed to

in-migration of non-southern Catholics following the end of World War II.

In the North and Midwest, the urban parish served as the cornerstone of a strong

Catholic identity. For those Catholics, the parish identified the neighborhood in which

they lived and demarcated the sacred boundaries that gave their environment religious

meaning.2 Mobile, Birmingham, and Savannah, with larger Catholic populations, had

2 McGreevy, Parish Boundaries.


more parishes and most closely resembled the situation in the North. But even then,

parish was not always coterminous with neighborhood. One parish usually drew

communicants from several locales. In the rest of the South, however, the Catholic

population was too small and dispersed, and churches built only after the population

reached a certain size, for the parish to be a strong symbol of unity for these Catholics.

To be sure, the parish was important. For people with no visible symbol of their faith, a

new church building was inspiring. As Horgan pointed out, even the smallest mission

station could be seen as the "real house of God." But many counties and towns still

lacked a full-fledged parish or a full-time pastor. Many areas built parishes at a time

when Church authorities were engaged in concerted efforts to centralize their authority.

As a result, church buildings often did little more than connect parishioners to diocesan

and--by extension--Roman authority.

Following the expedition of Hemando de Soto from Florida north and westward,

priests of the Society of Jesus entered Alabama and Georgia as early as the sixteenth

century. The Jesuits sought converts among Native Americans, but, as it turned out, any

lasting religious influence they had on the American Indians was inconsequential.

Eventually European Catholics made their way into the region, and in the nineteenth and

twentieth centuries priests traversed the South searching for the Catholic families who

had moved ahead of their Church. Priests from several different religious orders, as

well as diocesan priests, celebrated mass in homes, in rented auditoriums, and even in

the church buildings of other denominations. For those Catholics not living in Mobile,

Savannah, Birmingham. or Atlanta, the services of the Church were not readily


available. Mass was offered whenever a priest was in the area; baptisms and

confirmations were irregular and again dependent on the erratic schedule of the

overextended clergy. For well into the twentieth century, those priests were "outsiders,"

members of religious orders based outside the region, or secular priests who most likely

called Ireland or another European country home.

Catholic inhabitants had long lived in the Mobile and Savannah areas. Their

ancestors had arrived during colonial contact, and they predated the Baptists and

Methodists who came to predominate during the antebellum era. Italian migrants

moved into the Birmingham area in the nineteenth century, as they found work in mines

and on the railroads that would later help transform the South. The Irish arrived in

middle Georgia for similar reasons. In addition, the ethnicity of the clergy in Alabama

and Georgia followed the national pattern. Many, if not most, were Irish. Indeed,

Bishop Toolen, of Irish ancestry himself, took annual recruiting trips to Ireland, coaxing

young priests and nuns to his state. The presence of these various ethnic groups of

Catholics in Alabama and Georgia reached as far back as the eighteenth and early

nineteenth centuries. Other Catholic folk migrated to the South during and following

World War II, participating in the dramatic modernization of the postwar South. These

Catholics settled in Atlanta, Huntsville, and Montgomery, and swelled the ranks of the

already existing Catholics in Mobile and Birmingham.3

3 Oscar H. Lipscomb, "The Administration of John Quinlan, Second Bishop of Mobile, 1859-1883,"
Records of the American Catholic Historical Society ofPhiladelphia 78 (1967): 3-163; idem, "The
Administration of Michael Portier, Vicar Apostolic of Alabama and the Floridas, 1825-1829, and First
Bishop of Mobile, 1829-1859" (Ph.D. diss., Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., 1963):
Fussell Chalker, "Irish Catholics and the Building of the Ocmulgee and Flint Railroad"; Frank J. Fede.


For most of the twentieth century, the Church considered Alabama and Georgia

to be missionary territories. The Catholic population encompassed such a small

percentage of the total population that they required special assistance from mission

organizations and northern dioceses. Many parishes in both dioceses were not self-

supporting. Priests and bishops were forced to appeal to the Catholic Church Extension

Society of Chicago and other groups with headquarters outside the South. Mission

priests often took annual fund-raising trips through northern dioceses, and individual

nonsouthem parishes contributed portions of their mission budgets to Alabama and

Georgia. Such outside help demonstrates one characteristic these Catholics shared with

their fellow white southerners, who despised--at least rhetorically--outside interference

in their regional affairs. Of course, since at least the late nineteenth century, the region

depended on northern and federal dollars for investment and development in the region.

Indeed, New South development occurred in the late nineteenth century because of

northern capital. After World War II, federal funds prompted the expansion of the

modem South. For Catholics, such outside assistance provided them with the resources

to build and supply mission chapels and new parishes across Alabama and Georgia. It

also reinforced their relationship to extra-regional organizations and the influence of

outside religious forces.

St. Vincent de Paul Church in Tallassee, Alabama, provides an almost comical

study of contrasts between the strength and numbers of non-southern agents and the

small, isolated churches they helped build. In circumstances that are unclear from the

Italians in the Deep South: Their Impact on Birmingham and the American Heritage (Montgomery, AL:
Black Belt Press. 1994).


available sources. Bishop Fulton Sheen, the nation's most famous and widely respected

Catholic in the 1950s, had helped to convert Mrs. Robert Blount of Tallassee. Sheen

was then on the faculty of Catholic University in Washington. D.C., and promised her

that he would preach the dedication sermon if a Catholic Church were built in her

hometown. Mass was first offered in the area in 1910, but not until February 1956 did

the small Alabama town, located approximately midway between Auburn and

Montgomery, have the opportunity to invite Sheen to fulfill his promise. And, one

newspaper reported, "with Bishop Sheen on the morrow will converge on Tallassee the

most distinguished array of clergy ever to assemble in these parts." In addition to

Sheen, the archbishop of Chicago, the Most Reverend William D. O'Brien, blessed the

new building with holy water.

St. Vincent de Paul Church--"the realization of a dream by a good woman, the

hard work of a few faithful families and the generosity of a non-Catholic husband"--had

eight families and sixteen members in a mission church that would hold a mere 100

persons. The size of the parish notwithstanding, more than two thousand were expected

to turn out to see and hear the host of the popular television show, "Life Is Worth

Living," and organizers made arrangements to accommodate the overflow crowd at the

National Guard Armory. Sheen's celebrity certainly was a factor in the turnout, and no

other mission dedication drew such a crowd. But such a spectacle reveals how active

Catholic missionary organizations were in the South, and how proud they were upon

finding, symbolically, the one lost sheep that had strayed from the ninety-nine.4

4 "Bishop Sheen Keeps Pledge at Tallassee Church," Montgomery Advertiser, February 12, 1956; "Bishop
Sheen Delivers Church Dedication Talk," Alabama Journal, February 13, 1956; see also articles in


In such an environment, most Catholics were not afforded the luxury of a well-

provisioned parish. Baptisms, confirmations, and other rites of religious passage

occurred in the parish church, but often those took place irregularly, as priests were

stretched thinly across the diocese and their services not always readily available. There

were exceptions, to be sure. Mobile's parish and neighborhood structures most closely

resembled those in the urban North, although even then a parish covered a larger

territory. And Savannah itself had six established parishes and five missions and

chapels in 1945. But the rest of the state of Alabama and Georgia remained mission


Despite their mission status, during the postwar period Bishop Thomas J. Toolen

had extraordinary plans for his diocese. In the spirit of the times, Toolen was an active

"bricks and mortar" bishop who arrived in Mobile in 1927. One brief history of the

bishop (later archbishop) says that Toolen "set as his goal to strengthen and unite the

Catholic Church by instilling in his people a greater self-respect as Catholics."6

Toolen's 1945 plans had that goal clearly in mind. He announced programs to spend in

excess of $4 million to build or renovate churches, schools, hospitals, convents, and

orphanages. The main holdup was the lack of building supplies, which had been

Tallassee Tribune, February 9, 1956; and Montgomery Advertiser, February 13, 1956. Clippings in
Public Information Subject Files-County, Container SG6855. Elmore County, Folder 10 Catholic
Church. Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery. AL.

5 See McGreevy, Parish Boundaries, for an excellent discussion of the parish as a sacred self-contained
environment for northern Catholics.

6 Souvenir Edition, The Catholic Week, November 23, 1979, p. 9.


reserved for the war effort.7 This was a tall order for a state with between a third and a

half of its counties without a Catholic Church. Catholics were concentrated in Mobile

and Birmingham. Thus, along with the plans for expansion of existing facilities, the

Alabama diocese also increased efforts to evangelize the non-Catholic population,

especially in rural areas around Birmingham but also in the vast stretches of former

plantation land of central and south Alabama.

Bishop Toolen arrived in Mobile in 1927 to a diocese that claimed just forty

thousand Catholics in the entire state of Alabama plus a segment of northwest Florida.

That number had increased to seventy-one thousand in 1950. By 1964 there were

128,603 Catholics in the Mobile-Birmingham Diocese, representing 32,206 families.

More than twenty-four thousand (24,236) of those lived in the Pensacola, Florida, area,

which until 1968 was under the administrative care of Mobile. In 1950 there were one

hundred parishes in the diocese, and sixty-two mission stations. In 1960 there were 126

churches that had reached parish status, and still sixty-two missions. In 1964 there were

nineteen churches with sixteen hundred or more Catholics on the rolls, and almost

twenty-five thousand children in Catholic grade or high schools.8

The story was similar for Georgia. In 1950 the Diocese of Savannah-Atlanta

(which covered the entire state of Georgia then) contained forty-one parishes and thirty

additional mission stations. In 1951 there were just over thirty-one thousand Catholics

S"Diocese To Spend Four Million Dollars," The Catholic Week, November 16, 1945, p. 1.

"Final Statistic In CCD Census Report Numbers 128,000 Catholics in Diocese," The Catholic Week,
January 17, 1964, p. 1; "CCD Census Report Parish-by-Parish," The Catholic Week, January 24, 1964, p.
7; Thomas J. Toolen, "My Jubilee Story" [February 1960], Alabama Department of Archives and History,


in the state, an increase of twenty-three hundred in two years' time. In 1956 church

officials created the Archdiocese of Atlanta out of the Diocese of Savannah-Atlanta,

assigning seventy-one counties of northern Georgia to the See City. At that time, those

seventy-one counties contained 23,695 Catholics. Within six years that number

increased almost 83 percent, to 43,342 in the 1963 diocesan census.9 Approximately

thirty-six thousand of those were located in the five-county metropolitan Atlanta area.l0

By 1960 the Diocese of Savannah consisted of between twenty-five and twenty-nine

thousand Catholics. In the eighty-eight counties in the diocese, there were thirty-three

parishes and nineteen mission churches. In 1968 the entire state of Georgia contained

84,032 Catholics, who worshipped in seventy-one churches. That placed them third in

size behind Southern Baptists and United Methodists among white denominations. By

1975 their numbers had reached 98,666, the fourth largest number behind the Baptists,

Methodists, and A.M.E. churches.12

Over the course of the 1950s and early 1960s, the Catholic population in

Alabama and Georgia increased more than 80 percent. The general population only

Montgomery, AL; Charles E. Nolan, "Modest and Humble Crosses: A History of Catholic Parishes in the
South Central Region (1850-1984)," Appendix 4, p. 328.

S"Archdiocese Census Count Shows 43,342," The Georgia Bulletin, May 30, 1963, p. 1.

10 Questionnaire To Determine Current Religious Resources of Judicatories in Five County Metropolitan
Atlanta. Box 021/1, Folder 16, Archives of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta.

"Confessional Groups, Membership and Number of Churches Within The State of Georgia in 1968
Compared to National Membership." Box 036/4, Folder 31, Archives of the Catholic Archdiocese of

12 "Church Membership in Georgia By Denomination In Order of Number of Communicant Members,"
November 20, 1975." Box 036/4, Folder 31, Archives of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta; n.d.
"Diocese of Savannah, Statistical Report," Box FB-1, A Ap, Folder, "Apostolic Delegation (2), 1948-


doubled between 1940 and 1980. The statistics reveal that Catholic growth far outpaced

the rest of the region. As in the North, the Catholic population in Alabama and Georgia

congregated in the urban centers. In 1963 more than 80 percent of the Catholic

population of the Archdiocese of Atlanta was located in the Atlanta metropolitan area.

The Diocese of Mobile-Birmingham's 1964 census demonstrated that Mobile,

Birmingham, Montgomery, and Pensacola. Florida, contained the overwhelming

majority of Catholics in the diocese. Metropolitan Birmingham registered 39,712

Catholics; Mobile had 38,116; Pensacola 24,336; and Montgomery 13,762. That left

between twelve and thirteen thousand in other cities and rural areas of the state.

Industrial and technological growth, the advent of cities like Atlanta as a commercial

and transportation hub, and federal investment in the form of military bases and defense

contracts attracted this surge in population.

The story of each parish in Atlanta and Georgia differs by time of foundation,

but the circumstances surrounding the advent of each one can fit into one of several

patterns. A few churches in Mobile and Savannah trace their history back to the

nineteenth century. Priests were more available in those locales, since those cities were

the center of Catholic activity in their respective states. In other districts, a group of

Catholics might gather in someone's home whenever a priest made his rounds through

several parishes under his charge. When a certain section had a Catholic population

large enough, the bishop would then appoint a priest--assuming one was available--and

priest and people would locate or build suitable facilities for mass and other services.

1960," Archives of the Catholic Diocese of Savannah, GA; Michael J. McNally, "A Peculiar Institution:
A History of Catholic Parish Life in the Southeast (1850-1980)," Appendix 2, p. 229.


Obtaining sufficient numbers of clergy proved to be a difficult chore. One statistical

report from Savannah circa 1960 pointed to the desperate need: "If we are to bring our

holy faith most effectively into the mission areas of South Georgia we must have more

priestly personnel."13

The history of Holy Family Church in Lanett, Alabama, provides a good

example of the development of a parish from a small Catholic population originally

formed around a particular family. The first known Catholics came to Lanett, a small

town east of Auburn on the Georgia border, in 1875. William Mema Sr. brought his

family from Ireland that year to help develop a peach orchard, near what is now Fairfax,

Alabama. Mera's partner returned to Ireland in 1890, and Merna went to work for the

Atlanta & West Point Railroad. In addition to the Memas' seven children, there were a

handful of other Catholics in the area. Those families would gather at the Merna home

once a month when priests from either Atlanta or Montgomery would come to celebrate

mass. On other Sundays, the Mera family would make the ninety-mile trip via railroad

from Lanett to Montgomery for services.'4

In 1910 Bishop Edward Allen of Mobile invited priests of the Congregation of

the Missions (the Vincentians) to accept responsibility for the Catholic population of

east Alabama. Their assigned territory covered some fifty-three square miles across

nine counties. At the time only 152 Catholics lived in that area. Parishioners built Holy

Family Church in 1915, and in 1927 Lanett received its first full-time pastor, a

13 "Diocese of Savannah, Religious Report." Box FB-1, A Ap, Folder, "Apostolic Delegation (2),
1948-1960," Archives of the Catholic Diocese of Savannah, GA.

'4 "History of Holy Family Church, Lanett," The Catholic Week, September 24, 1965, p. 12.


Vincentian priest. Holy Family served as the home parish of families from surrounding

communities in Alabama and Georgia as far away as thirty-five to forty miles from

Lanett. By the 1940s, Holy Family's pastor, Rev. John F. King. C.M., added a Sunday

mass in Roanoke, Alabama, some thirty-five miles north of Lanett. In 1952 the Catholic

population of Lanett had grown to the point at which Holy Family needed three Sunday

masses to accommodate its members.15 By mid-century, then, this rural parish that

began around a few Catholic families had steadily increased in size and influence since

the late nineteenth century.

Huntsville's Holy Spirit Church offers a contrast, as its foundation can be traced

directly back to the migration of Catholics into the South following World War II.

Diocesan authorities observed Huntsville's postwar growth and anticipated a

tremendous expansion of the population due to the advent of the nation's space

program. In 1954 they authorized the pastor of St. Mary of the Visitation parish in

downtown Huntsville to purchase ten acres of land outside of town near the airport.

Between 1950 and 1960, Huntsville's population grew from sixteen thousand to

seventy-two thousand, a boom attributable directly to industrial and technological

development in the city. Red Stone Arsenal, the army's site for missile-defense

research, opened during the 1950s, and NASA added a space flight center in 1960.

According to the 1964 diocesan census, Visitation was the largest parish in the diocese,

with 5,895 Catholics from 1,483 families. In 1959 Visitation began construction of

Ibid.: see also "History of Parish At Auburn Reflects Growth Of Church," The Catholic Week,
September 23, 1966, p. 13.


facilities that would become a school and then a mission station of the church. The

school opened in 1960, and work on Holy Family church began in 1963. Msgr. John A.

McGonegle, pastor of St. Mary of the Visitation parish, first celebrated mass in the new

church on April 4, 1965, and Archbishop Toolen dedicated it in October of that year.

By 1965 the Catholic population had grown so much that Holy Spirit School had four

hundred students, and another eight hundred Catholic children attended public school.

The majority of this new population resulted from migration into Huntsville because of

the space program and military installations there.16

Industry also came to formerly rural parts of the South. In 1962 development

came to Winfield, Alabama, in the form of what the Catholic newspaper labeled "a new

plant." Winfield is in the northwest comer of the state, over an hour's drive north of

Tuscaloosa and west of Birmingham. A "national recruiting service" brought in outside

personnel to staff the plant. Many of these newcomers were Catholics who drove eighty

miles roundtrip every Sunday for mass in Jasper, Alabama. A parishioner's two-car

garage and then a building that formerly housed a dry-cleaners provided space for mass,

before Church officials responded to the new Catholic community's need and built a

mission chapel. Congregants of the Chapel of the Holy Spirit received a permanent

brick structure in 1965. The mission became a full-fledged parish in 1973.17 Modem

'6 "Dedication of Holy Spirit Church, Huntsville, Oct. 27," The Catholic Week, October 22, 1965, p. 11;
"Recent Rapid Growth Of Church in Huntsville." The Catholic Week, October 22, 1965, p. 12; "Final
Statistic In CCD Report Numbers 128,000 Catholics in Diocese," The Catholic Week, January 17, 1964,
p. 1: Rose Gibbons Lovett, The Catholic Church in the Deep South: The Diocese of Birmingham in
Alabama. 1540-1976 (Birmingham, AL: The Diocese of Birmingham in Alabama, 1980), pp. 126-128.
17 "New Church In Winfield, Ala.. Gift ofOrth Family," The Catholic Week, March 20, 1964, p. I; "It
Takes Desire," The Catholic Week, March 20, 1964, p. 1; Lovett, The Catholic Church in the Deep South,
pp. 128-129.


South population growth increased the number of Georgia's Catholics as well. By

1963, for example, Clayton County. located just south of Atlanta, was the fastest

growing county in the state. In 1950 its population made it thirty-fourth in the state; in

1960, it was thirteenth. The influx had come so quickly that Jonesboro, the county seat,

did not even have a mission chapel by 1963, while the surrounding towns of Griffin,

Thomaston, Jackson, McDonough, and Newnan all did.8

The primary reason that the growth of the Catholic population in Alabama and

Georgia between the end of World War II and the 1970s kept pace with that of the rest

of the general population was migration of Catholics into the South. But Church

officials were not content merely to follow their parishioners around building churches.

Evangelism was crucial to Alabama and Georgia Catholics--or at least to their leaders.

They were motivated by their conviction that the people of the South needed to hear

their message. At first glance, Catholic revivalism might seem self-contradictory. After

all, revivalism was the central component of southern Protestantism, the phenomenon

most closely associated with the region. But the Catholic Church was no stranger to

revivals. The southern Church evinced a revivalist pattern similar to what was

otherwise common in the region.19 Catholics evangelized people familiar with a

particular religiosity, one that emphasized the centrality of the emotional, crisis


" "Church Hopes Grow In Jonesboro Area," The Georgia Bulletin, November 14, 1963, p. 6; "Dispatches
From Some of Georgia Missions," The Georgia Bulletin. January 1, 1963, p. 2.
'9 For nineteenth-century Alabama, see Oscar H. Lipscomb, "Catholic Missionaries in Early Alabama,"
Alabama Review 18(1965): 124-131.


One Georgia Catholic suggested a fundamental difference between the

understandings of salvation when he joked about a Jesuit missionary priest who could

hold his own against Protestant revivalists popular in the region. In 1952 Hugh

Kinchley wrote to the Diocese of Savannah-Atlanta's Vicar General, "This Jesuit from

India that has been conducting the Novena of Grace at the Sacred Heart Church was one

of the best speakers ever to be heard from the pulpit of that church." Using a phrase

common to Protestant evangelicalism, Kinchley sarcastically noted that the priest was so

good, in fact, that "He has just about 'saved' me."2" Kinchley's wit reveals a keen

awareness of the differences between Catholics and Protestants over understandings of


At the same time, however, by nature southern Protestantism has demonstrated

extraordinary similarity to Catholicism. For both groups, religion is a predominant

aspect of their cultural and social landscape. Samuel Hill has described the South as the

"most visibly religious region of the country."21 Theologian David Tracy refers to

Catholics' "God-in-the-world" religious vision as the analogicall imagination."

According to Tracy, the Protestant imagination is "dialectic," which sees the divine as

opposed to the world ("God and the world").22 As noted above, southern Protestants do

evince this sort of religious sensibility. But the southern Protestant mind is divided.

Historian Charles Reagan Wilson has argued that such worldly objects as funeral home

20 From Hugh Kinchley, Augusta to Rt. Rev. Msgr. Joseph E. Moylan, Savannah, March 15, 1952. Box
FB-5, Folder, "Catholic Laymen's Association, 1951-1952," Archives of the Catholic Diocese of
Savannah, GA.

21 Hill, Southern Churches in Crisis Revisited, p. xii.


fans, pictures of Elvis, and statues of Confederate heroes represent sacred objects for

white Protestant southerners.23 But this sacred imagination must be seen in opposition

to the South's revivalist tradition. Revivalism and the crisis conversion mentality of

southern Protestantism create a discontinuity in this experience. The sense that God is

always present in the world is disallowed by revivalist preachers. Instead, they convince

listeners that God is completely absent; in order to encounter him, one must experience

the crisis moment of sinful awareness and conversion. For a Catholic, by contrast. God

is present and experienced in the world.

Catholic revivalism in the nineteenth century concentrated on effecting an

individual crisis conversion similar to Protestant revivalism. Historian Jay P. Dolan has

labeled this phenomenon "sacramental evangelicalism".24 And southern Catholics in

the mid-twentieth century continued this tradition, with local parish missions (or

revivals) and street preaching. This is a close parallel to what Sam Hill labels as the

"central theme" of southern Protestantism, but with very different origins, parameters,

and ramifications. Rather than individual conversion per se, Catholics in Alabama and

Georgia were concerned about bringing people into the fold of the Catholic Church--the

"one true church." There was much more involved in conversion to Catholicism than in

evangelical individual conversion. Whereas Protestants invited converts to struggle

with the sacred, Catholics invited people to enter into it.

22 Tracy. The Analogical Imagination: Christian Theology and the Culture ofPluralism.

23 Charles Reagan Wilson. Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865-1920 (Athens, GA:
University of Georgia Press, 1980); idem. Judgment & Grace in Dixie: Southern Faiths from Faulkner
to Elvis (Athens. GA: University of Georgia Press. 1995).


Dolan has traced the origins of the parish mission back to sixteenth-century

Europe and the Catholic counterreformation. Religious orders such as the Jesuits in

Spain, Vincentians in France, and the Redemptorists of Italy adopted the parish mission

as their primary apostolate in service to the Church. In America, where newly arrived

immigrants lacked regular access to a priest and the sacraments, missions provided a

small degree of institutional support. Much like Protestant evangelicalism, Catholic

revivalism concentrated on individual conversion, with nightly "hellfire" sermons

intended to rouse common sinners to emotional states of sorrow for wrongdoings and

confession and penance.25

In the nineteenth century parish missions fostered devotional Catholicism.

Those revival meetings (in Protestant parlance) instructed laity in devotion to the

Blessed Virgin Mary, the sacred heart of Jesus, and frequent communion. Lengthy

missions also offered Catholics the opportunity to purchase the items necessary for their

spiritual development: rosaries, pictures, holy cards, and the like. In addition, the

mission fostered the "'culture of sin," constantly reminding wayward Catholics (and

even those who failed to realize how wayward they were) of the torments of hell

reserved for unrepentant sinners. 26 An emphasis on a personal crisis conversion

perhaps reminds observers more of evangelical Protestantism than Roman Catholicism:

but nineteenth-century revivalist priests made "heartfelt conversion ... the goal of every

24 Jay P. Dolan, Catholic Revivalism: The American Experience. 1830-1900 (Notre Dame, IN:
University ofNotre Dame Press, 1978), pp. 91-112.
26 Dolan, Catholic Revivalism, idem, The American Catholic Experience, pp. 213,226-227.


parish mission" and took great pride (which, perhaps, indicates their own sinfulness)

themselves in the great numbers that waited their turns outside confessionals. By the

1940s and 1950s, devotional Catholicism was on the decline, replaced by an as-yet-

undefined, amorphous individualized spirituality that prefigured reforms of the Second

Vatican Council.27

From a Catholic perspective, Alabama and Georgia were promising mission

fields, where conversions should be welcomed. Catholics comprised a negligible

proportion of the overall population, and even where their numbers were strongest at

mid-century they were a minority in an overwhelmingly Protestant land. But despite

struggles against prejudice and discrimination, Alabama's and Georgia's Catholic

populations did not always live as the embattled minority. Indeed, with World War II

drawing to close, they were primed to perform what they saw as their duty to evangelize

the non-Catholic populations around them. The war forced a type of national cohesion

that united North and South, Catholic and Protestant, black and white against a common

enemy. Formerly marginal members of society, Catholics were now prepared to assert

what they perceived as their right to be taken seriously in the public sphere. Since they

now shared a common national identity, southern Catholics assumed it was their duty to

share their religious duty with others as well. But first they had to encourage their own.

The parish missions that were held at individual churches throughout Alabama

and Georgia most closely resembled Protestant revivals. Rather than being held in

2 Dolan, The American Catholic Experience, pp. 227, 384-390; Timothy Kelly, "Suburbanization and the
Decline of Catholic Public Ritual in Pittsburgh," Journal ofSocial History 28 (Winter 1994): 311-330;
Timothy Kelly and Joseph Kelly, "Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Gender Roles, and the Decline of
Devotional Catholicism," Journal of Social History 32 (Fall 1998): 5-26.


borrowed or rented public locations or on street comers, which was the case in areas

with no established Catholic churches, various parishes hosted these. Intended in part to

reach non-Catholics--they even advertised in local secular newspapers--parish missions

primarily served to reinforce the Catholic community, encourage devotional practices,

and instruct laity in the faith. Virtually every announcement of forthcoming missions

urged Catholics to "bring their non-Catholic friends with them."28 The Rev. Francis

Broome, a Paulist from Winchester, Tennessee, announced that the mission he would

conduct at Montgomery's St. Andrew's parish in 1947 would "be conducted in [a] non-

controversial manner.... The purpose of this mission is to set forth in a clear and

understandable way, the position of the ancient Christian church, especially in these

days when so many are asking, as did St. Paul, 'Lord what will thou have me do.'29

St. Catherine's Church in Mobile provides one good example of this series of

services. The announcement of the 1945 mission that appeared in The Catholic Week

listed five objectives for the week's services. First, mission planners sought to remind

those in attendance of lessons learned from the catechism: "'Why did God make us? To

know my Maker to serve Him and to save my soul.' 'What does it profit a man if he

gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul?' Or what exchange shall a

man give for his soul." Spiritual activities also were meant to develop a "living faith"

2 See. for example. "St. Paul's Mission Given By Paulist Fathers, Oct. 7-21." The Catholic Week,
October 5, 1945, p. 3; "Fr. Silvius To Hold St. Margaret's Mission," The Catholic Week, March 16, 1945,
p. 2; "Saint Catherine's, Mobile, To Observe Mission March 10th," The Catholic Week, March 1, 1946, p.
2; "Father Broome To Conduct Mission At St. Andrew's," The Catholic Week, March 7, 1947, p. 7.

2' "Father Broome To Conduct Mission At St. Andrew's," The Catholic Week, March 7, 1947. p. 7.


among lay persons, "arouse the lukewarm to a life of fervor." "encourage weary,

despondent sinners to make their peace with God," and reclaim fallen away Catholics.30

In March 1945 St. Catherine's held its annual mission, led by Father Anthony

Maher, a Passionist priest who traveled widely leading similar missions. Revivalist

priests were most often members of religious orders like the Passionists, the Paulists,

and the Congregation of the Mission (Vincentians) who performed similar missions in a

variety of parish locations. In February Maher. for instance, presided over a series of

services at Mobile's Little Flower Parish, and from St. Catherine's he was scheduled to

move to Pensacola for a weeklong stay there.3 During St. Catherine's mission, he

spoke at all four Sunday morning masses on March 4, and then during the week three

masses took place each morning. Following the first morning mass, Maher would give

"a brief instruction." and then nightly at 7:30 he would conduct additional instruction in

Catholic doctrine. On Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday mornings,

moreover, Maher held special teaching activities for the children of the diocese.32

Evening meetings often involved doctrinal lessons for Catholics as well as

sermons aimed at the conversion of non-Catholics. At St. Anthony's Parish in Ensley.

Alabama, Father John J. Conway, C.M., preached a series of sermons on salvation, sin,

"the great truths of Eternity. on particular vices, the beauty of virtue, the mercy of God

3o "Father Maher C.P. Is Mission Speaker," The Catholic Week, March 2, 1945, p. 2.

"Little Flower Church Is Looking Forward to Week's Mission." The Catholic Week, February 16, 1945,
p. 2; "Little Flower Mission Draws," The Catholic Week. February 23, 1945, p. 2; "Fr. Maher to Conduct
Mission At Pensacola, The Catholic Week, March 16, 1945, p. 5. See also "Missions Scheduled In
Apalachicola, Port St. Joe," The Catholic Week, October 22, 1949, p. 6.
32 "Father Maher C.P. Is Mission Speaker." The Catholic Week, March 2, 1945, p. 2.


and the Love of God for souls."33 The Reverend James Glynn. C.M. preached on

salvation, mortal sin, death and judgment, marriage, "mercy and delay," and sins of the

tongue.34 Specifically for Catholics, priests would instruct parishioners in saying the

Rosary, offer the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, or perform a ceremony for the

renewal of baptismal vows.5 They also sold "religious articles." Alabama and Georgia

sources fail to reveal exactly what these items were, but historian Dolan says these were

probably prayer books, devotional guides, rosaries, and pictures.36

At mid-century, Catholics recognized that they were competing with Protestants

for the unchurched and increased their efforts to reach non-Catholics. A 1948 Jesuit

provincial meeting in New Orleans noted the need for mission work in rural areas,

where Catholics registered negligible numbers. The minutes of that meeting noted that

from one-third to two-fifths of rural southerners belonged to no church. There was

work to be done. "Protestants realize the importance of apostolic work in rural areas,

and are at work," the Jesuits noted. "A recent article in the Christian Century tells of the

work of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference, and urges Protestants to do

likewise." Included on the list of tasks Jesuits should undertake to offset Protestant

'3 "Fr. Conway to Conduct Mission at St. Anthony's Parish, Ensley," The Catholic Week, September 23,
1950, p. 3.

4 "St. Patrick's Church Holding Annual Mission," The Catholic Week, April 21, 1951, p. 6.

3' See, for example, "Father T. Powers, C.P. Ends Mission Week at St. Aloysius Church," The Catholic
Week, March 4, 1950. p. 5: "Fr. John J. Conway To Conduct Fairhope and Daphne Missions," The
Catholic Week. January 20. 1951, p. 2.
"6 See, for example, "Father Ralph. C.P., To Conduct Mission At St. Augustine's Parish," The Catholic
Week, February 27. 1948. p. 3: "Fr. Conway to Conduct Mission At St. Anthony's Parish, Ensley." The
Catholic Week, September 23, 1950, p. 3; Dolan, The American Catholic Experience, p. 213.


advances was "street preaching in rural areas .... for the formation of new parishes and

mission stations, the reclaiming of fallen away Catholics and making converts."37

This type of traveling revival show suggested that the New Orleans meeting had

ample precedent, and the Jesuits were not the only group active in such evangelism.

The Dominicans, Paulists, Redemptorists, Vincentians, and secular priests all were

energetically involved in open-air evangelization. Indeed, from the 1930s through the

1960s several groups of Catholics--both lay and religious--made street preaching and

open-air apologetics their apostolate. They targeted primarily rural areas in the South

(from Oklahoma and Missouri to North Carolina), where Catholics were rare and

prejudice and mistaken--sometimes odd--ideas about the Catholic Church prevailed.38

This mission work to non-Catholics elicited many inquiries and a few converts,

but they focused as well on strengthening whatever small community of Catholics

existed to begin with. The rural South isolated Catholics who migrated ahead of the

institutional Church, especially in northern and central Alabama and most of Georgia

outside the coastal area. Through their street preaching enterprises the North Alabama

Missions band located many of those "fallen aways" and tried to incorporate them back

into the fold. In a 1945 pastoral letter soliciting mission funds and encouraging more

vocations to the priesthood, Bishop Toolen painted a bleak picture for Catholics. Those

isolated co-religionists were suffering discrimination, and as a result the Church

" "Catholic Rural Life: Discussion Outline," New Orleans Province Institute of Social Order Meeting,
Spring Hill College, January 2 and 3, 1948. Loose Folder, "Faculty Pictures and P.R.", Fr. Albert S.
Foley, S.J Papers, Spring Hill College Archives, Mobile, AL.


suffered. "These are discouraging missions. In going around I find so often that the

Catholics are demoralized by the prejudice they have to face. Quite a few of them have

joined Protestant churches. I surely am eager for the weather to warm up that I may go

out to these places to preach and if nothing else to raise the morale of our Catholic


The Dominicans brought their "motor chapel" to places like Crawford, Georgia,

where they could locate only three Catholics in the general population. During one

particular stop, more than 500 non-Catholics gathered over two nights in Crawford to

hear the Dominican missionaries' message. Probably reflecting trouble such

missionaries had experienced in the past, one report indicated that the Dominicans

"were well received by the local sheriff," as well as others in the town. Townspeople

had even invited the traveling preachers to return. In Colbert, another small Georgia

town only a few miles northeast of Athens, 200 non-Catholics braved cold

temperatures--"huddled into 35 parked cars"--"as they witnessed the religious motion

pictures and listened to the missionary's sermons."40 In World War II era rural Georgia,

preaching services such as these no doubt served as local entertainment, which is one

possible explanation for the turnout in inclement weather. But such a utilitarian

interpretation is ultimately unsatisfying. Southerners were a religious people, even if

" Douglas J. Slawson, "Thirty Years of Street Preaching: Vincentian Motor Missions, 1934-1965,"
Church History 62 (March 1993): 60-81: Debra Campbell, "Part-time Female Evangelists of the Thirties
and Forties: The Rosary College Catholic Evidence Guild." US. Catholic Historian 5 (1986): 371-83.
3 "Diocese Support For Students To Priesthood Is Urged By Bishop," The Catholic Week, April 13,
1945, p. 1.

40 n.d., "Dominican Motor Chapel Starts Work In Georgia"; "The Dominican Motor Chapels Have Very
Successful Holy Year Program." Hugh Kinchley Collection, Box 1. Folder. "Motor Chapel Ministries,"
Archives of the Catholic Diocese of Savannah, GA.


their behavior sometimes did not validate the sincerity of their commitment. Because of

their denominational affiliation, Dominicans may have seemed an oddity to most

southerners. But revivals were familiar to them, "religious events that kept alive the

hope of salvation." according to historian Ted Ownby. Many non-Catholics were no

doubt drawn to the nightly sermons based on that acquaintance.41

In the early 1930s, Father Frank Giri established the North Alabama Mission

Band, whose assignment was open-air preaching in areas with but a miniscule Catholic

population. These "street preachers" served a couple of different purposes. Their

primary goal was evangelism, but Catholic "protracted meetings"--to use a nineteenth

century Protestant phrase--also fulfilled a secondary, but equally important, goal. They

provided support for the few Catholics scattered across those counties that lacked a

priest and regular access to the sacraments, and attempted to draw back into the fold

those "fallen aways" who had begun to neglect their Catholic duty. In 1945 The

Catholic Week. reflecting the optimistic belief that a properly delivered message would

alleviate ecumenical tensions in the South, opined that "The work of the Catholic

Church in the South is cut out for it. It takes the warming light of the truth to banish

bigotry and prejudice. The Church must be known before it can be loved. If the people

will not come to the Church, then the Church must go to the people."42 And go these

priests did. But their tasks were not simple.

4' Ted Ownby, Subduing Satan: Religion. Recreation, and Manhood in the Rural South, 1865-1920
(Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1990), p. 162; on lay perceptions of revival
meetings, see pp. 144-164.
C "Street Preaching," The Catholic Week, September 21, 1945, p. 4.


If they hoped to catch the attention of non-Catholic southerners through their

sermons, street and mission preachers had a rich legacy to live up to, for southerners had

a taste for rhetoric. Partly because of low levels of literacy and few available books,

southern society in general was predominantly an oral culture and marked by the

importance of the spoken word. This proved true from the earliest fiery evangelical

Protestant sermon through the demagogues of the New South period. In his study of

southern culture, published in 1941, journalist W.J. Cash described the "Southern

fondness for rhetoric." This "gorgeous, primitive art .... flourishes wherever [the

simple man] foregathers." In the South, the white man in many ways followed "the

example of the Negro," who would "seize on lovely words, roll them in his throat" and

spew them forth in utterly meaningless phrases, until "there is nothing left but the sweet,

canorous drunkenness of sound, nothing but the play of primitive rhythm upon the

secret springs of emotion."43 One anthropologist, furthermore, has argued that for

Southern Baptists, ritual is verbal. They create the sacred by speaking "the Word;" that

is, by reading the Bible and preaching the sermon Baptists experience sacred ritual.44

For the southerner, then, rhetoric became, according to Cash, "not only a passion

but a primary standard of judgment, the sine qua non of leadership. The greatest man

would be the man who could best wield it."45 That oratory frequently reflected the

' W.J. Cash, The Mind ofthe South, with a new introduction by Bertram Wyatt-Brown (New York:
Vintage Books, 1991; originally published 1941), p. 51.

" Miles Richardson, "Speaking and Hearing (in Contrast to Touching and Seeing) the Sacred," in
Religion in the Contemporary South: Diversity, Community, and Identity. eds. 0. Kendall White Jr. and
Daryl White (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1995), pp. 13-22.

"' Cash, The Mind of the South, p. 51.


intense emotionalism that characterized the southern Protestant revival experience.

Faithful listeners believed they could discern an evangelist's proximity to the Holy

Spirit based on the manner in which he appealed to the crowd. Historian Randall Miller

has written that. because a large majority of priests in the South were not native to the

region, they had a difficult time mastering southern customs and idioms; therefore, the

sermon proved to be a particular problem.46 For Catholics, moreover, such religious

emotionalism could not be trusted.

One Alabama mission priest. Father Henry Thorsen, recalled that his sermons

were often on a favorite southern Protestant topic. "[T]hey liked to hear about sin and

hell," although the existence of Purgatory presented problems for Protestants otherwise

emotionally involved in concerns about the afterlife.47 A second priest who began his

stint with the mission band in the 1960s pointed out that "you don't street-preach the

way you preach in a Catholic church." Instead, Father Paul Donnelly recalled in the

1990s, "You get up and for forty-five minutes, rant and rave about Jesus like a good old

Jimmy Swaggart or ... evangelist type of thing."48 But when describing his mission

band meetings, Father Joseph Durick reported that his listeners' favorite portion of the

" Randall M. Miller, "A Church in Cultural Captivity: Some Speculations on Catholic Identity in the Old
South." in Catholics in the Old South: Essays on Church and Culture, eds., Miller and Jon L. Wakelyn
(Macon. GA: Mercer University Press, 1983), pp. 48-49.

'7 Father Henry Thorsen, transcript of interview by Sr. Rose Sevenich, O.S.F., transcribed by Mr. John
J.P. O'Brien, September 9, 1992, Oral History Project, Box 1, Envelope 8, Archives of the Catholic
Diocese of Birmingham in Alabama.

" Father Paul Donnelly, transcript of interview by Sr. Rose Sevenich. O.S.F., transcribed by Mr. John J.P.
O'Brien, September 25, [n.d.]. Oral History Project, Box I, Envelope 7, Archives of the Catholic Diocese
of Birmingham in Alabama.


sermons was "the vast, deep logic of a man's purpose in life."4 About another mission

priest, a reporter noted that "From reason and revelation he proves convincingly that a

peaceful and happy life can be attained only by following the direction of God."50 If the

truth were known, the "deep logic" and "reason" portions of the sermons may have been

the priests' favorite segment more than the audience's. After all, trying to live up to the

South's rhetorical reputation could be a chore. But this demonstrates one obstacle

priests faced in their evangelism.

The pattern of Alabama's open-air evangelism varied little from year to year. A

group of five or six priests--in the late 1940s and 1950s led by Father Joseph Durick,

later bishop of Nashville--traveled through Jefferson, Walker, Talladega, Shelby, and

Bibb counties in North Alabama, "teaching Catholic Doctrine on the streets." A

separate group covered counties in the southern part of the state. Speaking before open-

air gatherings to laity seated on wooden folding chairs, from the back of a bus or trailer

with a mobile public address system, or from a willing Catholic's front porch, priests

delivered sermons, answered inquiries about the Catholic faith during "question box"

periods, and handed out pamphlets. Father Durick later admitted that he and his fellow

priests would occasionally "stuff this question box ourselves." They did this innocently

enough in their efforts "to disabuse people of wrong notions concerning the Church.""

Father Durick also reported attempts to foster devotion to the Virgin Mary and "giving

49 "Street Preaching In The Birmingham District," The Catholic Week, September 21, 1945, p. 5.
50 "St. Anthony's Plans Mission, Oct. 7-14." The Catholic Week, September, 28, 1945, p. 3.
! Bishop Joseph A. Durick, interview 1, transcript of interview by Sr. Rose Sevenich. O.S.F., October 2,
1992. Transcribed by Mr. John J.P. O'Brien. Oral History Project, Box I, Envelope 11, Archives of the
Catholic Diocese of Birmingham in Alabama.


out rosaries to those who promise to say them."52 In addition, seminarians would

canvass neighborhoods and pass out pamphlets. Those with questions could also visit

the Catholic Information Center, a store in downtown Birmingham that offered Catholic

publications and answers to non-Catholics' questions about the faith.53 Besides the

priests, female religious organized the women and children and taught them Catholic


The missions of Our Lady of the Rosary, devoted to evangelism in south

Alabama, covered four counties and thirty-two hundred square miles, all without a

single Catholic Church in 1949. The Catholic Week reported that the few Catholics

living in that region "were scattered, isolated and in many cases discouraged, since it

was impossible to hear mass frequently." In response to this Catholic desert, Father

Frank Giri constructed a temporary chapel above a mechanic's shop, and established

"inquiry" and "instruction" classes for First Communion for adults and "over-aged

children."55 Giri's ministry to non-Catholics, then, first had to begin with administering

spiritual aid to struggling Catholics.

" "Street Preaching In The Birmingham District," The Catholic Week, September 21, 1945, p. 5.

5 Father Henry Thorsen. transcript of interview by Sr. Rose Sevenich, O.S.F., transcribed by Mr. John
J.P. O'Brien, September 9, 1992, Oral History Project, Box 1, Envelope 8, Archives of the Catholic
Diocese of Birmingham in Alabama.

54 Bishop Joseph A. Durick, interview 1; Sister Mary Alice Vose, n.d. Talk transcribed by Mr. John J.P.
O'Brien, Oral History Project, Box I, Envelope 4. Archives of the Catholic Diocese of Birmingham in

5S "Father Girl To Preach At St. Paul's, B'ham, Next Sunday," The Catholic Week, March 11, 1949, p. 1.


In 1949 Father Giri described his own technique for covering non-Catholic areas

of South Alabama. "I have a car and trailer and a film projector. After a street sermon I

arrange a meeting at some public building. There film slides of the life of Christ are

shown and I give the Catholic interpretation of this beautiful story. Showing of the film

takes several nights and meanwhile interest in [sic] developed by the audience which

gets larger. I also pass out Catholic literature, which explains confession, the Holy

Eucharist and other phases of the faith."56 Giri's trailer chapel provided the only church

facilities in some counties. In February 1948, Bishop Toolen dedicated two new church

buildings in south Alabama, Our Lady of the Visitation in Jackson and Our Lady of the

Annunciation in Monroeville. Our Lady of the Visitation began with ten members who

received mass in Giri's trailer, which, The Catholic Week reported, "was parked on the

grounds where the present chapel now stands."57

Father Thorsen, the diocesan mission priest in north Alabama, recalled that of

course the intended audience for his street preaching was non-Catholics. But after

careful inquiry and probing, "we come to find out that a goodly number of them had

ancestors that were Catholic that came here originally from Germany, Italy, from ...

Ireland and England and other places and they didn't have a church, a Catholic Church

out there, so they ended up going to the nearest church." Thorsen believed they had not

been catechized properly to begin with, "so they didn't have the reasons why they had to

" "Father Frank Giri Describes Mission Work In South Alabama," The Catholic Week, January 14, 1949,
p. 2.

" "Bishop Dedicates 2 Missions Churches In South Alabama," The Catholic Week, March 5, 1948, p. 1.


stick to the faith or the means to alone get together and preserve the faith."58 They

wanted to worship God, but their migration had far outpaced the movement of their

church. So they made do with what was available to them--Baptist and Methodist

congregations, the services of whose preachers were more readily accessible. It was in

those communities that faith needs were met, where they devoted their religious


In 1993 one Alabama woman remembered Monsignor Ed Foster's request that

her family--the only Catholic one in Minor, Alabama--allow street preaching from their

home. "When you're the only Catholic family in a community, -- and you have street

preaching in your yard, .... It was very dangerous," Alice Slatsky recalled. One

Baptist church in that small town west of Birmingham refused to give the Catholic

evangelists easy access to the community. The Baptists issued "long letters against us,

and telling people not to even let us in their house. ... Not to have anything to do with

us." During one particular Holy Week, moreover, local miscreants threw rocks through

church windows and disrupted services.59 The small handful of Catholic families in

Childersburg, Alabama, also experienced the strain of being a religious minority and the

stress of being expected to share their resources with mission teams.

In 1992 Amy Winters feared that Father Abraham, the priest who rounded up

five Catholic families in Childersburg, Alabama, did not receive enough credit for his

5"Father Henry Thorsen, transcript of interview, September 9, 1992.

59 Alice Slatsky, transcript of interview by Sister Rose Sevenich, O.S.F., transcribed by Mr. John J.P.
O'Brien, January 14, 1993, Oral History Project, Box 2, Envelope 13, Archives of the Catholic Diocese
of Birmingham in Alabama.


work. Few people, she noted, would understand the pressures "unless they lived on the

mission and understood the circumstances of living in a bootleg community where

Catholics were people you hated, wished to get rid of if you could. ... You had to meet

your religion face to face." The Ku Klux Klan was strong in the area, as well. The

post-World War II Klan announced its customary opposition to Catholics--"'Catholics.

Jews, Communists. Negroes and northern agitators' [are] the principal threats to the

'destruction of the white heritage,"' the Montgomery Klan announced in 1956--but

concerned itself primarily with issues of race and civil rights. Despite one potentially

hostile encounter with a Klansmen, Winters remembered no burning crosses. Still, she

and her fellow Catholics felt isolated, "a group apart." as she put it.60

The annual reports of the North Alabama Mission groups reveal the pattern of

growth and the limited success of the mission band among the Catholic population

throughout north Alabama. This mission band included those small churches and

stations located in the counties around Birmingham that did not yet qualify as full-

fledged parishes. The Catholic population grew slowly but steadily. Churches' contact

with a priest and therefore the frequency of services varied. In some instances there

were enough families in an area to justify weekly mass, while others saw a priest only a

couple of times a month.

" Joe and Amy Winters, transcript of interview by Sr. Rose Sevenich, O.S.F., transcribed by Mr. John J.P.
O'Brien, September 11, 1992, Oral History Project, Box 1, Envelope 2, Archives of the Catholic Diocese
of Birmingham in Alabama: "1,200 Attend Klan Rally Staged Here," Montgomery Advertiser, September
9, 1956; see also, "Montgomery Chosen As Hub of New 6-State KKK Group," Montgomery Advertiser,
August 24, 1949. Both clippings in Public Information Files General File, Container SG6966, Folder
962, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, AL.


In 1944 the North Alabama Mission group covered 534 white Catholics in

fifteen church stations. All of these were white, with some thirty-three being converts to

the faith and another thirty-six being confirmed that year. A year later that number had

grown to 724 white mission Catholics in seventeen stations. Forty-nine of that number

were converts. Reflecting the transient nature of portions of the population, the mission

at Pell City, for example, had four families--eleven Catholics--in 1944 with mass being

celebrated twice a month. A year later, only one of those families remained. Between

1945 and 1950. the Catholic population of the mission stations fluctuated, increasing to

as many as 776 in 1946 before dropping to around 300 in 1950. There were fewer

mission stations by half in 1950, however, with over fifty converts. A few of the

mission chapels had been raised to parish status, while others disappeared from use

when the Catholic families in the area moved elsewhere. Some of the mining villages,

like Blocton, where Italian Catholics had labored in the mines since the nineteenth

century, simply disappeared when natural resources were depleted.

In the five-year period after 1950, the number of Catholics assigned to the North

Alabama Mission Band increased again. The missions covered 1,063 in 1955, and that

number remained high well into the 1960s. The most obvious explanation for this

increase is that following 1955 the missions appealed to a greater number of "colored"

in the area. In 1955 there were 317 African Americans in the missions along with 746

whites. Beginning with the 1957 report, the number of black Catholics assigned to the

mission band dropped drastically. The explanation for this sudden decrease probably

lies in the creation of a new parish for blacks. By 1956, there were enough African


American converts in the Birmingham area to form a new parish, Our Lady Queen of

the Universe. When the archbishop disbanded the North Alabama Mission Band in the

late 1960s, mission priests were responsible for 1,042 Catholics -- 768 whites, and 274

blacks. There had been fourteen stations in 1965.61

The North Alabama Mission Band and its south Alabama counterpart, the

missions of Our Lady of the Rosary, reached into the rural and suburban counties of

Alabama. Similarly, in Georgia Glenmary, Redemptorist, and diocesan priests serviced

mission stations in rural areas and suburban counties outside Atlanta. As the region's

population continued to increase, parish construction continued throughout the 1960s

and into the 1970s. In 1963 the Georgia Bulletin reported in its annual mission appeal

that there were "many parts of the Archdiocese, particularly in Northern Georgia, where

tremendous Catholic opportunity is waiting for us." Those opportunities existed "not

only in the rapidly growing towns--many of them near Metropolitan Atlanta--but

especially where four or five counties are at present being served by one priest and a

chapel."62 As late as 1970 Bishop John L. May, who succeeded Toolen as Mobile's

ordinary in 1969. wrote to a colleague in New Orleans that. "As you know, much of this

Diocese is heavily missionary, with many of our counties without a single resident priest

or a Catholic Church."63 The majority of the Catholic population lived in the two states'

61 Annual Reports of North Alabama Missions. Cabinet RG 2.06, North Alabama Missions Folder,
Records of the Chancery, Records of Parishes, Statistics, Archives of the Catholic Diocese of Birmingham
in Alabama; Lovett, The Catholic Church in the Deep South.

6' "Georgia Mission Appeal Sunday," The Georgia Bulletin, November 7, 1963, p. I; see also, "St. Luke's
Dahlonega Apostolate In The Mountain Country," The Georgia Bulletin, November 7. 1963, p. 3.

6 From Bishop John L. May to Mr. Thomas Finney, Archdiocesan Chancery Office, New Orleans,
November 30, 1970. Bishop May papers, Archives of the Catholic Archdiocese of Mobile, AL.


urban areas, but each diocese's mission labors signaled efforts to unite the diverse

southern Catholic Church under a single banner.

When Father Horgan bemoaned the lack of institutional support for Alabama's

rural Catholics in 1948. he lamented the absence of a public presence of Catholicism in

"what is known locally as the Bible Belt of Alabama." Such a public presence provided

"the consolations of our Holy Faith" in "a real house of God." Horgan pointed to the

importance of a local parish for the spiritual and. no doubt, psychological wellbeing of

the region's Catholics. Whereas Baptists reached the sacred through verbal

communication, for Catholics a church building was a sacred place, a visible symbol of

hope in a potentially hostile environment. But even with these small houses of God

throughout the region, the Catholic Church in Alabama and Georgia needed something

more to unite the disparate population. Church leaders realized the need to incorporate

rural and urban Catholics. newcomers and indigenous population under one umbrella.

Their Roman Catholicism bound them into a subculture and forced them to negotiate

boundaries between their Catholic identity and southern culture. During the fifteen

years after the end of World War II. Catholic leaders effected reforms that strengthened

the Church's institutional presence in the region and increased connections to Catholic

organizations outside the region.

Catholics were outsiders in the region, and during--in Father Horgan's words--

"continued storms of ignorance and bigotry." Protestants would not let them forget it.

Still, Catholics asserted their right to the public domain. Street preachers and mission

priests who made direct appeals to non-Catholics staked out claims to sacred space.


Public street covers and open fields temporarily became consecrated territory, sites at

which Catholics shared their religious vision with southern society. Even larger and

more important public demonstrations occurred during annual Christ the King

celebrations and venerations of the Virgin Mary. At mid-century, southern society

underwent tremendous population growth, economic development, and social and

cultural modernization. Catholics played an integral role in that transformation. Their

negotiations of the boundaries between their own sacred environment and southern

society revealed how blurred those lines had become by the 1940s and 1950s. In their

own defense against prejudice, and in their annual Christ the King celebrations and

veneration of the Virgin Mary, southern Catholics fashioned a Catholic identity that

consolidated their scattered population behind their shared Roman Catholicism and

associated themselves with the wellbeing of southern--and American--society.


In 1941 journalist W. J. Cash published The Mind of the South, now considered

a classic study of southern culture. He argued that despite the region's fast-rising

urbanization and industrialization, white southerners evinced a cultural and ideological

continuity. As he phrased it, "it is easy to trace ... a complex of established

relationships and habits of thought, sentiments, prejudices, standards and values, and

associations of ideas ... common in one appreciable measure or another." One element

of that network of ideas was a social fear that bred anti-Catholicism. From the

perspective of an early-twentieth-century resurgence of "a bitterly narrow spirit of

Protestantism," according to Cash, Catholics were "the intolerable Alien, the bearer of

Jesuit plots to rob them of their religion by force."' Cash described the South's

religious milieu in the first half of the twentieth century, when the region's Catholic

population was never large enough to threaten the predominance of Protestantism in the

regional mind. The South's Catholic population increased following World War II, and

with outside help built an institutional infrastructure and new public presence. But the

Church in Alabama and Georgia remained marginal, especially when compared to the

' W.J. Cash, The Mind of the South, with a new introduction by Bertram Wyatt-Brown, first quotation, p.
xlviii; subsequent quotations, pp. 333-334.


size and strength of the northern Church. Examples of prejudice and discrimination

further marginalized Catholics, and their outsider status helped to cement religious

identity for both Protestants and Catholics.

Following World War II and into the 1950s, southern Protestants found the

transition to modernity so confusing that Catholics as the "intolerable Alien"--despite

their minority status--served as an easy target of hostility. Anti-Catholicism took

several forms. First, many southerners feared that the Catholic Church posed a threat to

democracy and religious freedom, and in 1949 an Alabama branch of Protestants and

Other Americans United for the Separation of Church and State opened. Second,

Reformation Days and annual celebrations of a common Protestant Heritage provided

platforms to single out Catholics for public scorn. Those occasions gave the South's

white southern Baptists, Methodists, Churches of Christ, Presbyterians, and many other

denominations and sects the opportunity to coalesce around a common Protestantism

and to define themselves in opposition to Catholics. Newspaper editorials and

advertisements and circular pamphlets, furthermore, decried the mystery of Catholicism

and denounced Catholic interpretations of Scripture and revelation. Finally, alleged

former priests or bishops made regular tours of southern Protestant churches and drew

curious crowds eager to be horrified by tales of the evils of the Roman Catholic Church.

Anti-Catholicism ranged from examples of fear and suspicion to sincere

theological differences between faiths. Ecumenical discussions of those differences

would have to wait until later in the twentieth century. In the 1940s and 1950s,

Catholics reacted testily to both perceived slights and blatant slander. They could be as


anti-Protestant as Protestants were anti-Catholic. They defended themselves against

charges that their church was un-American and opposed to democracy and religious

freedom. Catholics in Alabama and Georgia struggled to overcome their "other" status

and to make themselves be understood and accepted by Protestants. But their

marginalization also contributed to the strengthening of their religious identity. Indeed,

anthropologist Gary W. McDonogh has argued that "Both Catholics and Protestants

have reified 'the Catholic as Other,' holding dialectic readings of a divisive myth." And

"Protestants and Catholics, whites and blacks, natives and immigrants have recognized

anti-Catholicism as a socially constructed fact of life and built identities around it even

as they may have contested (or used) it."2 In Alabama and Georgia, those competing

identities revolved around struggles to define American liberty and to decide whose

tradition best represented the nation's highest ideals. In response to anti-Catholicism,

Catholics accepted their outsider status and appealed to a rich Roman Catholic tradition

to sustain them. Their "other" status contributed to religious pride and became one

boundary marker for southern religious identity--for Protestants and Catholics alike.3

Anti-Catholicism has been a prominent feature of American culture throughout

certain periods of the nation's history. From the organized nativism and convent raids

2 Gary W. McDonogh. "Constructing Christian Hatred: Anti-Catholicism, Diversity, and Identity in
Southern Religious Life," in Religion in the Contemporary South: Diversity, Community, and Identity,
eds. 0. Kendall White Jr. and Daryl White (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1995), pp. 67, 77.
On anti-Protestantism, see Jay Dolan, "Catholic Attitudes Toward Protestants".

3 On identity-formation from central, internal factors, see Eugen Weber, Peasants into Frenchmen: The
Modernization of France (Stanford. CA: Stanford University Press, 1976); and R. Merfyn Jones,
"Beyond Identity? The Reconstruction of the Welsh," Journal ofBritish Studies 31 (October 1992): 330-
357. On the definition of group identity based on negative factors, see Linda Colley, Britons: Forging
the Nation, 1707-1837 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992); Colley, "Britishness and
Otherness: An Argument," Journal ofBritish Studies 31 (October 1992): 309-330.


of the nineteenth century to the popular writings of Paul Blanshard in the twentieth,

prejudice against Catholics became a national pastime for many Americans.4 In 1977

priest and sociologist Andrew Greeley described anti-Catholicism as America's "ugly

little secret." The problem persisted, Greeley insisted, most often unnoticed or ignored,

into the late 1970s. According to historian John T. McGreevy, moreover, anti-

Catholicism was an integral component of American liberalism in the 1940s and 1950s.

Twentieth-century American liberalism insisted that religion was an entirely private

matter and must be kept out of the public realm where it might threaten national unity.

In addition, only an emphasis on individual autonomy--"thinking on one's own"--would

sustain American democracy.5 Catholics in Alabama recognized the widespread

acceptance of recent anti-Catholicism. At least in their state, the editor of The Catholic

Week wrote, "those who are attacking the Church are not found in the under-privileged

or unenlightened portion of the nation's population, but rather among the important

people in various fields of national life. Instead of ignorant persons, prompted by

emotion and prejudice, some of the better minds in the country are now entering the

4 On anti-Catholicism in the nineteenth century, see Ray Billington, The Protestant Crusade, 1800-1860:
A Study ofthe Origins ofAmerican Nativism (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1938); Jenny Franchot,
Roads To Rome: The Antebellum Protestant Encounter with Catholicism (Berkeley, CA: University of
California Press, 1994); and Marie Anne Pagliarini, "The Pure American Woman and the Wicked
Catholic Priest: An Analysis of Anti-Catholic Literature in Antebellum America," Religion and American
Culture: A Journal ofInterpretation 9 (Winter 1999): 97-128. See also, Edward Cuddy, "The Irish
Question and the Revival of Anti-Catholicism in the 1920s," Catholic Historical Review 67 (April 1981):

SAndrew Greeley, An Ugly Little Secret: Anti-Catholicism In North America (Kansas City: Sheed
Andrews and McMeel, Inc., 1977); Lynn Dumenil, "The Tribal Twenties: 'Assimilated' Catholics'
Response to Anti-Catholicism in the 1920s," Journal ofAmerican Ethnic History 11 (Fall 1991): 21-49;
John T. McGreevy, "Thinking on One's Own: Catholicism in the American Intellectual Imagination,
1928-1960" Journal ofAmerican History 84 (June 1997): 97-131.


combat against Catholicism. They do not hide their identity under hoods, but on the

contrary seem ever ready to state their views in print or over the air and in the courts."6

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Paul Blanshard wrote American Freedom and

Catholic Power (1949) and Communism, Democracy, and Catholic Power (1951).

Blanshard maintained that Catholicism was antidemocratic and therefore antithetical to

American ideals, an argument that liberal intellectuals like John Dewey widely praised.7

In the minds of the Church's critics, pervasive Catholic separatism (exclusive beliefs,

insistence on natural law, parochial schools, and hospitals) presented problems of

integration into American society. Liberals questioned how Catholics could become

democrats and hence good Americans. The collapse of democracy and the concomitant

rise of Church-supported fascism in Europe only made the perceived problems still

harder to resolve. Liberals traced the origins of Americanism to the Protestant

Reformation and linked democratic traditions to the Protestant reformers. In doing this,

McGreevy notes, "scholars clearly distinguished Catholic from American." Debates

raged over state support of parochial schools versus public schools. Only the latter

would teach democratic values and American ideals. Strident anti-Catholicism waned

over the course of the 1950s, but only after anticommunism took on increasing

significance and diverted liberals' attention in that direction.8

S"Take One Protestant Wake Up," The Catholic Week. January 7, 1949, p. 4.

SPaul Blanshard, American Freedom and Catholic Power (Boston: Beacon Press, 1949); idem,
Communism, Democracy, and Catholic Power (Boston: Beacon Press, 1951).

McGreevy, "Thinking On One's Own," p. 113.


White southerners shared the liberal conviction that Catholics were narrow-

minded, unthinking puppets of Rome. Southerners also tended to be wary of the

mystery and--in Tom Watson's words--the "sinister wonders" of Catholicism. Georgia

was home both to Watson, the South's most notorious anti-Catholic firebrand in the late

nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the second incarnation of the Ku Klux

Klan. Before World War I, Watson issued vitriolic newspaper and pamphlet attacks on

Catholicism as "the Deadliest Menace to our Liberties and Our Civilization."9 In

addition, in 1915 the Georgia legislature passed its own version of a convent inspection

bill. The Klan, moreover, wielded considerable power in local politics, controlling

several seats on Atlanta's school board in the early 1920s. 10 In response to the 1915

Veazey Bill, a group of Georgia Catholic laymen met in Macon in 1916 and formed the

Catholic Laymen's Association of Georgia. The CLA waged its own campaign to

correct misinformation about Catholicism from 1916 until its dissolution in the 1960s. "

Anti-Catholicism was prevalent throughout the South, but the documentation for

instances in Georgia is more complete because of the CLA. By the 1940s, Catholics in

Alabama and Georgia were already familiar targets of prejudice and bigotry. Being the

9C. Vann Woodward, Tom Watson: Agrarian Rebel (New York: Macmillan, 1938), p. 419.

"' Philip N. Racine, "The Ku Klux Klan, Anti-Catholicism, and Atlanta's Board of Education, 1916-
1927," Georgia Historical Quarterly 57 (Spring 1973): 63-75. On the Klan in Athens, GA, see Nancy
MacLean, Behind the Mask of Chivalry: The Making of the Second Ku Klux Klan (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1994). MacLean does not, however, have much to say about anti-Catholicism and the
Athens Klan.

" Felicitas Powers, R.S.M., "Prejudice, Journalism, and the Catholic Laymen's Association of Georgia,"
U.S. Catholic Historian 8 (Summer 1989), pp. 203-204; Richard Reid, K.S.G., "The Catholic Laymen's
Association of Georgia," The Missionary 55 (June 1941): 143-147. Box R.G. 5, Organizations, 1.3
CLA, Anti-Catholic Bigotry, Folder, "Articles by Richard Reid," Archives of the Catholic Diocese of
Savannah, GA.


targets of such attacks necessarily shaped their identity, and their response to that

prejudice revealed the nature of that identity. Examples of southern bigotry pointed up

Catholics' shared Roman Catholicism; when members of the laity defended themselves

and their church, they drew on the tradition and doctrine they shared with Catholics

everywhere. They also appealed to American ideals of fairness and religious freedom.

They responded, therefore, as both Catholics and Americans, a dual identity that in

Catholic minds were not incompatible.

In the wake of World War II and a perceived need for national unity, the

National Council of Christians and Jews sponsored, and many of America's churches

recognized, an annual Brotherhood Week in February. For at least that one week, the

nation's religious groups were supposed to downplay denominational differences and

promote interfaith dialogue. This was especially important during World War II, when

Americans sought common patriotic ground. Catholics participated in the annual

events, but, despite their good-faith efforts to cooperate, those in Alabama and Georgia

found themselves maligned by Protestants. Catholic and Protestant reaction to

Brotherhood Week revealed the breadth of the gap separating them at mid-century. The

Catholic Week, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Mobile (later Mobile-

Birmingham), devoted special issues to Brotherhood Week, and editorials and special

articles on ecumenism promoted the annual event to laity. Church leaders in Savannah

were more reluctant to participate, perhaps because of their experiences through the



For Alabama's Catholics, Brotherhood Week presented the perfect opportunity

to teach tolerance for and promote understanding of Catholicism among Protestants. An

editorial in The Catholic Week noted that prejudice and bigotry do not come naturally to

children. Echoing President Roosevelt's comments on the importance of Brotherhood

Week in uniting Americans of all faiths behind the war effort, The Catholic Week

proposed that the NCCJ event provided the perfect opportunity to maintain "at home the

same degree of understanding and cooperation that our soldiers and sailors are

manifesting on the battlefronts. We must match this devotion and this teamwork on the

home front. No sacrifice is too great, no discipline too severe, for us at home if we do

our part to win the war."12

Despite the good intentions of the sponsors' of the ecumenical week, however,

at least Alabama's Protestants could not translate the desire for interfaith unity into

sensitivity to Catholic feelings. In fact, the 1940s and 1950s witnessed the

institutionalization of anti-Catholicism. That is to say, Protestant church organizations

themselves became more active in discrimination and expressions of prejudice and

bigotry.13 The state's Methodist newspaper, the Alabama Christian Advocate, urged its

readers to "make the world a real brotherhood. This cannot be done unless we get men

to live in the spirit of Christ and establish a social order in which the high ideals of

brotherhood shall become the high standards of human relationships." The Catholic

Week lauded the Methodist organ for its "noble sentiments," but expressed dismay at

1 "Teaching Intolerance To Children," The Catholic Week, February 2, 1945, p. 4.

Lerond Curry, Protestant-Catholic Relations in America: World War I through Vatican I (Lexington,
KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1972), particularly chapter 2.


what appeared to Catholics to be a double standard. In the same issue, the Christian

Advocate covered the 1945 statement signed by some 1600 Protestants opposing any

Vatican role in the postwar peace process. Taking the periodical's coverage as an

endorsement of that document, The Catholic Week interpreted this as Methodist anti-

Catholicism.'4 This incident illustrates the degree to which Catholics and Protestants

were still far apart on ecumenical issues. It also illustrates, from the Catholic

perspective, one source of anti-Catholic sentiment. Many Protestants--and most

Americans--adhered to a clear double standard. They spoke the language of ecumenism

and brotherhood but often failed to practice those high ideals. Uniting behind a shared

Protestant identity proved more valuable than true interdenominational inclusiveness.

Savannah's relationship to Brotherhood Week proved just as troublesome and

Protestants' motives just as difficult to comprehend. Priests were not allowed to

participate in the week's activities; nor were clergy from outside the diocese permitted

to appear on such programs within the diocese. In 1950 the executive committees of

several Georgia cities' NCCJ chapters attempted to organize a trio of speakers (a

Catholic, Protestant, and Jew) to address civic clubs, women's groups, veteran's

organizations, and the like during that year's Brotherhood Week observance. Hugh

Kinchley, executive director of the Catholic Laymen's Association of Georgia, declined

the invitation to be his denomination's representative. Diocesan clergy were forbidden

to take part, and Kinchley, a layman, acted under the assumption that his professional

role with the CLA should preclude him as well. Besides, he wrote to Joseph E. Moylan,

" "Is This Brotherhood?" The Catholic Week. March 16, 1945, p. 4.


vicar general of the diocese, "While the NCCJ may be doing us some good, I am not as

enthusiastic about it as in the past, and am going to ask to be excused on the plea that

publication of The Bulletin conflicts."15

Moylan agreed with Kinchley's assessment of the NCCJ and the ultimate good

served (or not served) by Brotherhood Week. Lay participation was questionable but

still a possibility. Many Catholics would find it difficult to extricate themselves from

official ecumenical activities, especially since "so many of our Catholics are associated

with Jews." Moylan credited Jews with pushing the interfaith program, then charged

that "Protestants are going along as a gesture." Moylan questioned the latter's motives,

however. American Protestant opposition to the Catholic government in Spain, to

"Internationalization of the Holy Land," and to public aid for parochial schools rang

hypocritical to Moylan. "With words they would argue Brotherhood, with actions they

seem to inhibit the Church's activities," he responded to Kinchley.'6 Again Protestants'

contradictions perplexed the South's Catholics. This no doubt demonstrated to

Catholics what Andrew Greeley and John T. McGreevy discovered in the 1970s and

1990s, respectively. Anti-Catholicism has been central to Protestant identity, most often

without their realizing--or at least acknowledging--that fact. Because it was so central

to Protestant identity, it contributed to Catholic identity as well. Above all else, they

were not Protestant.

15 From Hugh Kinchley to Rt. Reverend Msgr. Joseph E. Moylan, Savannah, January 18, 1950. Box FB-
5, Catholic Laymen's Association, 1950-1957, Folder. "Catholic Laymen's Association, 1950," Archives
of the Catholic Diocese of Savannah, GA.

" From Moylan to Kinchley, January 21, 1950. Box FB-5, Catholic Laymen's Association, 1950-1957,
Folder, "Catholic Laymen's Association, 1950," Archives of the Catholic Diocese of Savannah, GA.

American anti-Catholicism has European roots traceable to the Protestant

Reformation of the sixteenth century. Catholics in Alabama and Georgia attributed

some of the hostility merely to their attackers' Protestantism. But they refused to

believe that anti-Catholic prejudice was necessarily a product of Protestantism. Instead,

misinformation ran rampant, and non-Catholics needed correction. The seemingly

inherent Catholic Protestant tension sheds light on the religious situation at mid-

century and the extent to which southern Catholics drew on the full Catholic tradition to

construct their own subculture. That is, they identified with Rome--its traditions, its

history, its teachings, and its liturgy--to set themselves apart in a hostile environment.

They also appealed to American ideals, for in their estimation, anti-Catholicism was un-

American and just plain unpatriotic. Catholics took a couple of different approaches

when responding to prejudice. They appealed to a sense of fairness and American

patriotism, and they sought to ensure that their attacker and his potential audience were

well informed about the tenets of Catholicism. Not all anti-Catholicism was as harsh as

some of the rhetoric from Protestant pulpits. In fact, Alabama and Georgia Catholics

attributed most anti-Catholic sentiment to misinformation. If Baptists, Methodists, or

Churches of Christ did not know any better, the reasoning went, how could they be

expected to act? At least that was the way southern Catholics treated those who

sometimes disagreed with them.

Separation of church and state was the central issue for many mid-century

Protestants, who feared that Catholics presented a formidable threat to that treasured

American principle. For Protestants, the Roman hierarchy, "which also claims temporal


authority," as one Atlantan phrased it, posed a direct threat to democracy.7 Catholics

had long sought public support for parochial schools, moreover, which Protestants

opposed on constitutional grounds. And when President Harry Truman reappointed

Myron Taylor to be his personal representative to Pope Pius XII, Protestants fought hard

to reverse Truman's decision. Despite the U.S.'s and the Vatican's mutual opposition to

the Soviets, Protestants deluged the White House and State Department with letters. In

such an atmosphere, and with cries of concern over church state issues, the Truman

administration failed to establish diplomatic relations with the Vatican.18

In 1945 The Catholic Week informed its readers that the Jesuit weekly, America,

"warned here that an alleged current anti-Catholic drive by Protestant leaders will result

in a revival of the Ku Klux Klan." In late 1944 the Federal Council of Churches

launched an "Intensify Your Protestantism" campaign at its annual meeting. Calling

specifically on "heirs of the Reformation," the FCC and its regional assemblies,

according to the Alabama Catholic organ, called upon its members "to quicken with

new and vigorous life their historic opposition to the Catholic Church." The liberal

Protestant journal, the Christian Century, followed with a series of articles answering

the question, "Can Catholicism Win America?"19 Such alarmist cries from national

Protestant organizations and publications proved to Catholics that this was not a

" From Ethan A. Smith, Atlanta, GA, to Kinchley, December 24, 1948. Hugh Kinchley Collection, Box 3,
Folder, "Correspondence w/ Smith & Campbell," Archives of the Catholic Diocese of Savannah, GA.

" George J. Gill, "The Truman Administration and Vatican Relations," Catholic Historical Review 73
(July 1987): 408-423.

9 "Ku Kluxism Revival Feared By Catholic Journal, 'America'," The Catholic Week, February 23, 1945,
p. 7.


uniquely southern problem. They were under siege at home and across the nation. This

only reinforced their Catholic identity.

Protestant laity echoed the concerns of the FCC. In 1948 an Atlanta man

expressed his anti-Catholic fears to Hugh Kinchley. He equated his "democratic

church" with a democratic government. And "some of us who are in a free church

cannot see why anyone so situated will not read the bible for themselves and see that the

hierarchy of your church is without the slightest authority of scripture and was invented

after apostacising in the union of church and state under Constantine."20 In September

1951 an anti-Catholic pamphlet that began as a column in The Christian Index--the

official organ of the Georgia Baptists--circulated Georgia. The broadside quoted Father

Patrick Henry O'Brien, who spoke on behalf of "We the Hierarchy of the Holy Roman

Catholic Church" and warned Americans that "We are going to have our laws made and

enforced according to the Holy See and the Popes and the canon law of the Papal

throne." The Catholic Laymen's Association found no evidence of there being a priest

by that name, but such "Romish Aspirations"--the pamphlet's title--sparked alarm

among Georgia's Protestant population.

Catholics often responded to Protestant attacks with their own prejudices. For

them, separation of church and state was a Protestant issue that opened the door for

communist infiltration of America. Catholics drew what they perceived as separation of

church and state's logical conclusion, namely, wholesale secularization of American

society. In Catholics' minds, Protestantism equaled secularism and therefore was bad

20 From Ethan A. Smith, Atlanta, GA, to Kinchley, December 24, 1948.


for America. Protestants and Other Americans United for the Separation of Church and

State sprang up in the late 1940s. Catholics took particular affront at POAU's agenda

and, in their defense, pointed to their own faithfulness to constitutional principles. In

1949 the POAU came to Alabama, with chapters opening in Mobile and Birmingham.

Alabama's small Catholic population expressed alarm at that development, even as they

downplayed the group's significance. After all, The Catholic Week suggested, this was

but "a very small group of bigoted Protestant ministers and a few other Americans who

have proved themselves ready to go to any extent, even to that of leaning away over

towards communism, rather than acknowledge the true worth of American

Catholicism."21 And that "true worth" came with impeccable credentials in church -

state issues. Indeed, a separate Catholic Week editorial placed Catholics in the category

of "the other Americans" mentioned in POAU's title.22

When the POAU opened its Birmingham branch in 1949, The Catholic Week

anticipated "its inevitable and most vicious attacks on the Catholic Church and on

Catholics." The Alabama organ reprinted an article from Our Sunday Visitor, a national

Catholic weekly defending the Church against predictable charges that Catholics oppose

democracy and would seek unduly to influence the American political process. The

column pointed to the Church's diversity to support its contention that "the Catholic

Church is the most democratic institution in the world." The periodical obviously

1 "Who Are Our Friends?" The Catholic Week. April 9, 1949, p. 4. On Birmingham's chapter, see,
"Birmingham To Be Headquarters Of State Unit of Anti-Catholic POAU," The Catholic Week, April 9,
1949, p. 1. On Mobile's chapter, see "POAU Unit Being Formed In Mobile," The Catholic Week, April
23, 1949, p. 1.
22 "'.....and other Americans...." The Catholic Week, April 9, 1949, p. 4.


confused pluralism with democracy, but the point was clear. In Catholics' minds, their

church was perfectly compatible with American ideals and institutions. In addition,

simply because the headquarters of the National Catholic Welfare Conference was in

Washington, D.C. "does not mean at all that it operates a lobby." The newspaper was

sure that an informal poll of congressmen and senators would reveal that Catholic clergy

sought to influence public policy less than clergy from other denominations did. In

short, the POAU's fears were at best unfounded. At worst, they were vicious attempts

to draw other Protestant organizations into the anti-Catholic fight.23

An Edmundite priest, Father Francis Donnelan, attacked the POAU from a

different angle. To him the organization failed the tests of true Christianity and true

patriotism. Separating church and state would "give us an atheistic state, for only an

atheistic government could meet the standards they have set." Protestant and Other

Americans United, then, would "lead the United States into communism." In 1949

Donnelan entreated 250 members of the Catholic Men's Breakfast Club of Mobile "to

fight this menace to Christianity and country by living Christ-like lives."24 The

Edmundite asserted the Catholic belief that Catholicism more truly represented

American ideals and was better capable of reinforcing the nation's Christian heritage.

Not only were Protestants responsible for opening the door to Communism; their

influence on American society had led to "materialism and secularism." For Alabama's

Bishop Toolen, the Catholic press served as the best defense against misinformed anti-

23 "What Catholic Editors Are Saying," The Catholic Week, April 9, 1949, p. 4.
24 "Mobile Catholic Men's Breakfast Club Hears Denunciation of Poau," The Catholic Week, April 23,
1949, p. 2.


Catholicism and the perils of communism. In a pastoral letter urging financial support

for The Catholic Week, Toolen told would-be readers. "If you study the methods of our

enemies, you will note that one of their aims is to destroy the Catholic Press. This has

been successfully accomplished in every country that the Communists have taken

over."25 In a 1948 letter to an Atlanta Protestant, Georgia's Hugh Kinchley linked

"recent decisions by the Supreme Court" to "a spirit of secularism that is seeking a

complete separation of church and state in this country." This was not an achievement

the founding fathers wanted, Kinchley concluded.26

In 1950 the threat of communism cast a sinister pall over a nation that should

have been relishing its rise to global prominence following its victory in World War II.

But just the hint of communist association tarnished bright careers, and anti-

communism became a national pastime.27 At Mobile's 1950 Protestant Heritage Day

celebration, Dr. Frederick C. Grant, an Episcopalian professor at New York's Union

Theological Seminary, once again coupled Catholicism with communism, claiming that

both shared similar totalitarian roots. Catholics did not respond in kind publicly, but

privately Msgr. Moylan offered an ironic interpretation of the source of public attacks

against his church. Rather than the Catholic Church being in league with communists,

as Grant and others maintained, it was Protestant churches that were loyal to foreign

25 "Bishop Toolen Urges Support of 'The Catholic Week' As Diocese Observes Catholic Press Month,"
The Catholic Week, February 18, 1949, p. I.

26 Kinchley to Mr. Ethan A. Smith. Atlanta. GA, December 29, 1948. Hugh Kinchley Collection, Box 3,
Folder, "Correspondence w/ Smith & Campbell," Archives of the Catholic Diocese of Savannah, GA.

7 Lisle A. Rose, The Cold War Comes To Main Street: America in 1950 (Lawrence. KS: University
Press of Kansas, 1999), pp. 22-38. 117-165.


political systems. In August 1950 Moylan expressed to Hugh Kinchley his conviction

that "Very much of these attacks upon the Church are Communistic inspired, they have

infiltrated the Protestant pulpits to a serious extent." Church of Christ clergy did not

receive high salaries "and it is not impossible that [J.A. Dennis, editor of Georgia's

bitterly anti-Catholic newspaper, The White Horse] is obtaining money from sources

outside Christianity. The madness and fury of his words .., should prove his

undoing."28 Moylan privately acknowledged. furthermore, that the problem was much

more serious than just renegade Protestant preachers. Savannah's vicar general

suspected "members of the New Deal, particularly those in the State Department" of

being "more un-American in selling the Country out to Russia than the Knotty Knobs of

the KKK, who, whatever their private depredations, have never completely betrayed the

Nation nor delivered millions of people into the slavery of Communism."29

Protestants and Other Americans United for the Separation of Church and State,

a national organization, provoked Catholic reaction in Alabama. In their defense, they

linked themselves to events, ideas, and traditions outside their local situation. Also on

the local level were annual celebrations of the Protestant culture--in the form of

Reformation Days or Protestant Heritage Days--which consistently reinforced for

Catholics that they were an embattled minority that needed to be constantly vigilant.

They also gave Catholics the opportunity to assert their patriotism and the Catholic

2S From Moylan to Kinchley. August 3, 1950: From Julian V. Boehm, Atlanta to Hugh Kinchley,
Augusta, August 1. 1950. Box FB-5, Catholic Laymen's Association, 1950-1957, Folder, "Catholic
Laymen's Association, 1950." Archives of the Catholic Diocese of Savannah. GA.

9 From Moylan to Kinchley, February 4, 1950. Box FB-5, Catholic Laymen's Association, 1950-1957,
Folder, "Catholic Laymen's Association, 1950," Archives of the Catholic Diocese of Savannah, GA.


Church's compatibility with American liberty. Between the late 1940s and early 1950s,

cities in Alabama and Georgia alike set aside special days in which they celebrated the

region's Protestant heritage. These celebrations are curious reminders of the common

bond linking the area's non-Catholic churches. Despite the appearance of a singular

Protestant culture in the South, there were wide theological divides between, say,

Baptists and Churches of Christ, and between Methodists and Presbyterians. The label

Protestant means little apart from the presence of a Catholic other. Yet Baptists,

Methodists, and Churches of Christ in Atlanta. Savannah, Mobile, and Birmingham

chose to emphasize that shared identity.

These celebrations of Protestantism often became deliberate invitations to bash

Catholics. Atlanta's 1949 Reformation Day Rally brought four thousand participants to

hear Congressman Graham A. Barden of North Carolina, the chairman of the House of

Representatives' Committee on Education. Barden echoed the familiar separation of

church and state theme. He told the crowd that principle was "far more important than

Federal aid to education and if there must be a choice, 1, with Protestants over the

nation, will give up Federal aid." Barden drew applause when he attacked the Catholic

Church in all but name, particularly their campaign for tax support for parochial

schools, a perennial issue of concern for Catholics since the nineteenth century. He

argued that "there are 256 denominations in America. Only one has attempted to get tax

money for church schools--and, so far as I know, the other 255 oppose that one!"30

o "Barden Sees Separation More Important Than Aid," Religious New Service, October 31, 1949. Hugh
Kinchley Collection, Box 3. Folder, "Reformation Day 1949," Archives of the Catholic Diocese of
Savannah. GA.


The Savannah Reformation day celebration that same year featured Methodist

Bishop Paul B. Kern, of Nashville. Kern gave at least passing reference to the

ostensible purpose of the gathering, namely, the events the compelled Martin Luther to

attach his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg church door. In a November 7 letter to the editor

of the Savannah Morning News. the Catholic Laymen's Association's executive

secretary Hugh Kinchley addressed Kern's mischaracterization of indulgences and

church history. Kern attacked the sixteenth-century pre-Reformation church for

preventing lay access to the Bible and selling indulgences in return for absolution from

sin. He also claimed that the Protestant faith was responsible for individual liberties.

Kinchley first pointed to the normally good ecumenical relations in Savannah and the

Catholic contribution to the betterment of the local community in the form of schools,

hospitals, orphanages, and other welfare. He conceded that some people abused

indulgences, but then he defended the doctrine, arguing that they "are not an easy means

of obtaining pardon for sin." Instead, no applicant was dismissed "without grace" and

those who could not afford the fee "were to give their prayers for the kingdom."

Kinchley finally noted the irony in so closely relating the Reformation with the

separation of church and state. For, Kinchley maintained, it was European civil powers

that spread Protestantism, and Germany, England, and Denmark, for example, all had

established state churches.31

In 1950 Dr. Frederick C. Grant, the Episcopalian anti-Catholic spokesman, told

several thousand Mobile Protestants that "Romanism and Communism are

From Kinchley to Editor, The Morning News. Savannah. GA, November 7, 1949. Hugh Kinchley
Collection. Box 3. Folder, "Reformation Day 1949." Archives of the Catholic Diocese of Savannah, GA.


fundamentally totalitarian." Both also encouraged overpopulation, he lectured, and

contributed to high poverty levels. Communism was "the natural economy of scarsity

[sic], while Roman Catholicism makes the patient endurance of poverty a virtue." He

then sounded a familiar political warning. Once the Catholic Church reached a 51

percent majority in the America, "it will begin to take over our political institutions."

Such a harangue was nothing new from Protestant leaders in the 1950s, but Mobile

Catholics were reluctant to believe that Grant spoke for all Protestants. The Catholic

Week editorialized that of course local Catholics would be "pained" at such an attack.

"But such is the foul nature of Dr. Grant's address that even greater must be the pain it

caused in the hearts of sincere Protestants, in whose name it was made."32 Alabama's

Catholics. then, appealed to a general sense of Christian fairness and American liberty,

the violation of which would also surely shame other Protestants.

These Reformation and Protestant heritage celebrations reveal something else

about American religion in the years after World War II. Southern Protestant churches,

following almost one hundred years of virtual isolation from the American mainstream,

had begun to share once again in the national religious culture. The coming decades

would see American evangelicalism returning to acceptability and a position of respect.

Anti-Catholicism provided the linchpin for Protestant identity, as well as one element

that drew North and South together. At Mobile's 1950 Protestant Heritage Celebration,

for example, the principal speaker was New York seminary professor Grant, and

"Issue Taken With Heritage Day Attack," The Catholic Week, November I 1, 1950, p. 1; "Heritage Day
In Mobile." The Catholic Week. November 11. 1950, p. 4; "Catholic Spokesmen Hit 'Hate Sermon' At
Protestant Event," NC New Service. Mobile, AL, November 20, 1950. Box R.G. 5, Organizations. 1.3
CLA, Anti-Catholic Literature, Unlabeled Folder, Archives of the Catholic Diocese of Savannah, GA.


Methodist Bishop G. Bromley Oxnam of Washington, D.C., moreover, was a fixture at

Atlanta's celebrations and a leader in the POAU.33 Regional chauvinism disappeared in

these celebrations. In at least this instance, religion became one factor in the re-

integration of the South into the national mainstream.

Protestant Heritage and Reformation Days were not the only--or even the most

common--instances of anti-Catholicism southern Catholics faced. Examples of

prejudice surfaced in publications throughout the region. Newspapers and pamphlets in

Alabama and Georgia regularly published anti-Catholic libel, often spreading blatant

untruths and unproven rumors about Catholicism. Members of the laity monitored

those publications and rose to the defense of their Church. Indeed, the Catholic

Laymen's Association of Georgia was founded expressly for that purpose. In 1949, for

example, the Morgan County (Ga.) News printed a series of articles written by a Baptist

minister which, according to the executive secretary of the CLA "were anti-Catholic in

tone." The CLA ran an advertisement in the News offering free information about the

Catholic Church to anyone who requested it. The editor of the paper--"a religious

fanatic" to whom "nobody in the county paid any attention"--reluctantly ran the ad, but

refused payment for it.

He also tried his hand at Baptist-style evangelism. In correspondence with Hugh

Kinchley, the editor attempted to explain "how you could be saved from your sins by

accepting the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour, but you would not hear from

From Bishop Francis E. Hyland, Savannah to Most Rev. John B. Montini, S.T.D., Pro-Secretary of
State, Vatican City, October 10, 1953. Box FB-5, Catholic Laymen's Association, 1950-1957, Folder
"Catholic Laymen's Association, 1953-1954," Archives of the Catholic Diocese of Savannah, GA.


me." Maybe ten thousand years in hell would do the trick, the editor surmised; then

"you will think how you persecuted Christians. In your heart you know that no priest

can save you from hell."34 In 1952 Kinchley's report to the CLA's annual convention

described "a considerable amount of anti-Catholic literature sent us by another woman

in Georgia who is pleading with the executive secretary of the Laymen's Association to

accept Christ as his Saviour and be saved.""35 The Catholic layman delivered that

statement with a smirk, one could imagine, and no doubt elicited at least a few knowing

chuckles from his audience. The path of salvation differed for Catholics and

Protestants, and the latter's zeal probably made many of the former uncomfortable.

The CLA received some response to their newspaper ads, and Kinchley carried

on an active correspondence with some of Georgia's Protestant laymen about

Catholicism. Some of the exchange of letters reveal both Kinchley's and his

correspondents' attempts to define their identity in oppositional terms. The primacy of

the Bible (in Protestant minds) versus Tradition, the 1950 proclamation of the dogma of

the Assumption of Mary, and competing interpretations of church history separated the

two sides. In September 1948 Kinchley responded to an editorial entitled, "Priceless

Bible," in the Douglas County (Ga.) Sentinel. The editorial, according to Kinchley,

14 Report of the Executive Secretary To The Annual Convention of the Catholic Laymen's Association of
Georgia, October 30, 1949. Box, The Catholic Laymen's Association, 1938-1957, Minutes of Meetings
and Conventions, Folder, "Catholic Laymen's Association, Minutes, Reports, 10/49-"; "About Roman
Catholics," Advertisement in Morgan County News, Madison, GA, January 1949. Box R.G. 5
Organizations, 1.3 CLA, Anti-Catholic Bigotry, Folder, "1949 Advertisements & Letters to Inquirers,"
Archives of the Catholic Diocese of Savannah, GA.

35 "Report of the Executive Secretary to the Annual Convention of the Catholic Laymen's Association of
Georgia, at Waycross, Georgia," October 26, 1952. Box FB-5, Catholic Laymen's Association, 1950-
1957, Folder, "Catholic Laymen's Association, 1953-1954," Archives of the Catholic Diocese of
Savannah, GA.


noted that "'for many centuries the Bible was a closely guarded book, unavailable to the

common man.'" The editorial made no explicit mention of Rome, but Kinchley feared

that readers of the Douglasville, Georgia, periodical would incorrectly infer that the

Catholic Church should be held responsible for that scriptural repression. Kinchley's

pre-emptive defense pointed out Rome's role in establishing the canonical books and

the Venerable Bede's translation of Scripture "into Saxon, which was at that time the

language of the people of Britain."36

Following the Reformation tradition's adherence to sola Scriptura--the argument

that Holy Scripture was the final authority on matters of faith--southern Protestants held

special reverence for the Bible. One distinction they drew between themselves and

Catholics was the tension (in their minds) between biblical authority and reliance on

Tradition. Indeed, Ann Taves has argued that at least in the nineteenth century the Bible

served as a "devotional symbol" for Protestants, an equivalent to the Catholics' Blessed

Sacrament.37 J. G. Malphurs's initial correspondence with Kinchley has not survived,

but the CLA executive secretary's 1950 letter to the Albany, Georgia, resident suggests

some of Malphurs's concerns about Catholicism. Kinchley responded to a litany of

concerns, ranging from parochial schools and teaching religion in public schools, to the

pope's temporal power as ruler of a sovereign state, to communism. Kinchley defended

the Church's support for the Bible. "No religion holds the Bible in higher regard than

36 From Kinchley to Mr. P.D. Mathews, Editor and Publisher, Douglas County Sentinel, Douglasville,
GA, September 16, 1948. Box R.G. 5 Organizations, 1.3 CLA, Anti-Catholic Bigotry, Folder, "1948
Letters to Inquirers," Archives of the Catholic Diocese of Savannah, GA.

'7 Ann Taves, The Household of Faith: Roman Catholic Devotions in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America
(Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1986), pp. 30-32, 126-127.


the Catholic," Kinchley wrote. In fact, "her sons wrote the books of the New

Testament." But the Catholic Church predated the canonical scriptures, and "most of

our separated brethren must depend on Catholic tradition and history" for the foundation

of their faith.38

Several months later, Malphurs wrote an editorial column for the Albany (Ga.)

Herald in response to the recent papal proclamation of the dogma of the Assumption of

Mary into heaven. Malphurs complained that the new dogma "is absurd, and

contradictory to Bible facts." The New Testament mentions the mother of Jesus only a

few times, and no relevant passages point to her ascension into heaven. For Malphurs,

"this dogma is another proof that Roman Catholics do not accept the Bible as God's

complete revelation to man."39 In defense of Pope Pius XII and Catholics everywhere.

Kinchley reiterated that "Christianity did not begin with the Bible," an impossible feat

since "millions of Christians ... lived and died before the printing press was invented."

When Kinchley wrote that the "Catholic Church is not dependent upon the Bible for her

existence, nor is she limited to it in her teachings" he outlined one boundary of both

Protestants' and Catholics' identity.40 For Catholics, both church tradition and Scripture

together were necessary for the discernment of divine truth. For southern Protestants,

" From Kinchley to Mr. J.G. Malphurs, Albany, GA, July 22, 1950. Hugh Kinchley Collection, Box 2,
Folder, "Religious Persecution," Archives of the Catholic Diocese of Savannah, GA.

" J.G. Malphurs. "Catholics New Dogma Disputed," Letter to the Editor, Albany Herald, n.d. Hugh
Kinchley Collection. Box 2, Folder, "Religious Persecution," Archives of the Catholic Diocese of
Savannah, GA.

*" Kinchley, Letter to the Editor, Albany Herald, n.d. Hugh Kinchley Collection, Box 2, Folder,
"Religious Persecution." Also see, Kinchley to Mr. Ethan A. Smith, Atlanta, GA. December 29, 1948,
Archives of the Catholic Diocese of Savannah, GA.


the Bible alone was the ultimate spiritual authority, the very words of Gods. In this

case, both Catholic (Kinchley) and Protestant (Malphurs) defined himself in opposition

to the other.

Malphurs' objection to the dogma of the Assumption of Mary revealed a second

issue separating Protestants and Catholics. Protestants accused Catholics of worshiping

the mother of Jesus and placing her in a position equal or superior to that of her son in

the Church. Rose Hill Church of Christ in Columbus, Georgia, sponsored

advertisements in the local newspaper to denounce Catholic doctrines concerning Mary.

Mary was neither without sin nor perpetual virgin, one advertisement charged. And the

notion that Mary is the Mother of God "is repulsive to intelligent and enlightened

people. God has no mother.'"' Kinchley again drew on Church tradition to support the

Catholic belief, but not before wondering what business this was of Malphurs's in the

first place. In response to Malphurs and in defense of Catholicism, Kinchley surmised

from his letter that Malphurs was "evidently not a Catholic ... so it seems that he is

disturbed about something which is of more concern to Catholics than it is to him."

Nevertheless, Kinchley argued that devotion to Mary was almost as old as the Catholic

Church itself, founded "more than 1,900 hundred [sic] years ago.'42

4 "Is Mary the Mother of God? Is the Doctrine of Immaculate Conception True?" advertisement in
Columbus, Georgia Ledger-Enquirer, May 20, 1951; see also, "Ye Shall Know The Truth," Ledger-
Enquirer, May 27, 1951; and "What About The Roman Catholic Foundation?" Ledger-Enquirer, June 3,
1951. Clippings in Hugh Kinchley Collection, Box 2, Folder, "Religious Persecution," Archives of the
Catholic Diocese of Savannah, GA.

Kinchley, Letter to the Editor, Albanm Herald, n.d. For another response to Malphurs, see Morton
Wiggins, Jr., "Youth Defends Catholic Dogma," Letter to the Editor, Albany Herald, n.d., clippings in
Hugh Kinchley Collection, Box 2, Folder, "Religious Persecution," Archives of the Catholic Diocese of
Savannah, GA.


The laity in Alabama were not as prepared for that sort of communication with

non-Catholics; but priests and lay members of the Knights of Columbus did monitor

newspapers and attempted to keep the general public in line with what they perceived to

be American ideals of liberty and freedom of expression. When the local Churches of

Christ sponsored a series of newspaper advertisements that labeled Catholicism as being

"Satanic in origin," the Catholic Priests Association in Birmingham wrote both of that

city's daily newspapers, the News and the Age-Herald, in protest. The priests conceded

the right of the Churches of Christ to "freedom of opinion and expression in religious

matters." But they failed to understand "how the tenor of such articles serves the cause

of religion and public well-being.... We are appalled at the thought that any Christian

group could so stigmatize their Catholic neighbors as to say that they are allied with

Satan and engaged in a work essentially evil." The priests believed they were in

excellent company, at least. The charges reminded them of an instance from Scripture

when Jesus was accused of casting out demons under the authority of Beelzebul, "prince

of devils." Since Christ came not from "satanic origins," then neither did they. Instead,

the Birmingham clergy appealed to what they believed to be commonly accepted

standards of Christian fairness. The priests concluded, "the advertisements are in bad

taste, scurrilous, and insulting to the Christian integrity of our Catholic people."43

4 "Birmingham News Draws Criticism For Acceptance Of Derogatory Advertising," The Catholic Week,
April 1, 1950, p. 1; "Priests Protest Ads Attacking Church," Religious News Service release, April 21,
1950. Box R.G.5 Organizations, 1.3 CLA, Anti-Catholic Literature, Unlabeled Folder, Archives of
Catholic Diocese of Savannah, GA. For an example from the laity, see "Muscle Shoals Holy Name
Societies Sponsor K.C. Catholic Information Ads In Local Papers," The Catholic Week, May 5, 1951, p.


Publicly, Catholics were well behaved and respectful in their responses to

instances of prejudice. But in their private correspondence and other times when

individuals let their guard down, their true feelings came to light. The Diocese of

Savannah's Vicar General, Msgr. Joseph E. Moylan, could be particularly caustic.

Criticizing the Southern Baptist doctrine of the autonomy of the local church, Moylan

wrote to Hugh Kinchley that taking Baptists' problems seriously was difficult for two

reasons. "Each one of them is a schismatic," and "none of them knows that he is, even

what schism is." Moylan then recalled the popular joke that a Methodist is just a

Baptist who can read and write. "I do not question the ability of Baptists to read and to

write, but in matters of religion few of them read right or write right.'4

In July 1950, the Albany Herald printed a letter from a local preacher (in Hugh

Kinchley's words) "denouncing various an [sic] sundry thinks [sic] Catholic," including

the execution of William Tyndale in 1536 for translation and distribution of the Bible

and Catholic opposition to public schools. Moylan speculated that the minister must

have received help in preparing his complaints. "Somebody must have given him a

book of fairy tales which he thought was history," the sarcastic vicar general surmised,

"or perhaps somebody read it to him." Moylan concluded that, "These tub-thumpers do

not disturb me seriously .... There is no logic, nor dignity, nor theology, but only raw

4 From Msgr. Joseph E. Moylan. Diocese of Savannah to Hugh Kinchley, Augusta. February 4, 1950.
Box FB-5, Catholic Laymen's Association. 1950-1957, Folder, "Catholic Laymen's Association, 1950,"
Archives of the Catholic Diocese of Savannah, GA.


prejudice. This is not a Southern attack either."45 Louie D. Newton, an Atlanta Baptist

minister and frequent anti-Catholic antagonist, was one of Moylan's favorite targets in

private correspondence. In 1950 Moylan described Newton's election to the presidency

of the Georgia State Baptist Convention. When Newton proclaimed his support of the

separation of church and state, Georgia's Baptists expressed their approval with, in

Moylan's demeaning words "their fervent Amens and other hog grunts of pietistic

affirmation.'6 With those expressions of"pietistic affirmation," Baptists affirmed a

leader who--more than any other individual--symbolized their Protestant identity. If it

did nothing else, their support of Newton confirmed that they were not Catholics.

Similarly, Newton offered an easy target for Catholics. If he did nothing else, that is,

Newton demonstrated to Catholics what they did not want to be. He detested their

religion's core beliefs and represented the antithesis of American liberty and fair play in

which Catholics believed. Newton, therefore, provided a clear boundary for both

Protestant and Catholic identity.

Protestants were suspicious of the mystery of Catholicism and of "secret"

Catholic groups like the fraternal Knights of Columbus--not to mention wary of

cloistered nuns and an exclusive, celibate priesthood. Maria Monk's Awful Disclosures

of the Hotel Dieu Nunnery, published in 1836. alarmed antebellum Protestants with

45 From Hugh Kinchley, Augusta to Msgr. Joseph E. Moylan, July 24, 1950, Moylan to Kinchley, July
25, 1950. Box FB-5, Catholic Laymen's Association, 1950-1957, Folder, "Catholic Laymen's
Association, 1950," Archives of the Catholic Diocese of Savannah, GA.

From Msgr. Joseph E. Moylan, Diocese of Savannah to Hugh Kinchley. Augusta, November 16, 1950.
Box FB-5, Catholic Laymen's Association, 1950-1957, Folder, "Catholic Laymen's Association, 1950,"
Archives of the Catholic Diocese of Savannah, GA.


tales of sexual and physical abuse in a Catholic convent.47 In 1954 the Book and Bible

House. a Decatur, Georgia, publishing outfit, distributed a similar pamphlet. "My Life

in the Convent" purported to be the story of Margaret L. Shepherd "as compiled by

Evangelist L.J. King," who claimed to be a convert from Catholicism. The pamphlet is

not in the Catholic archives, and the extant documents do not describe its contents. But

the Catholic Laymen's Association of Georgia gathered information about King in an

effort to discredit him. John E. Markwalter wrote the Book and Bible House, informing

them that at best King was baptized a Catholic as an infant but never made his first

communion and, apparently, never went to church. By the age of fifteen, "he had

become a bar-room 'bum' and had a reputation for incorrigible immorality." The CLA

had ample documentation of King's earlier anti-Catholicism. In the early 1920s he was

active in Boston, Massachusetts, where he was accused of blackmail and theft. In

Missouri and Ohio he stirred up riots, and one Presbyterian pastor ejected King from his

church "after listening to one or two of King's filthy lectures." The Book and Bible

House, Markwalter warned, would be better off "praying and hopping [sic]" that more

young women would enter the convent and "devote their lives to the instruction of

youth; to the building of character ... [and to] the sick and the dying.4"" If the Decatur

publishers responded to Markwalter, there is no evidence of that correspondence. But

they were not the only group accused of disseminating such inflammatory literature.

41 On the Protestant reaction to Monk's "revelations," see Franchot, Roads to Rome.

" From John E. Markwalter to Book and Bible House, Decatur, GA, March 30, 1954; and From
Markwalter to Members of the Catholic Laymen's Association of Georgia. April 1, 1954. Box FB-5,
Catholic Laymen's Association, 1950-1957, Folder, "Catholic Laymen's Association, 1953-1954,"
Archives of the Catholic Diocese of Savannah, GA.


Anti-Catholic groups occasionally circulated copies of a purported oath taken by

all members of the Knights of Columbus. No documents in the Catholic archives reveal

the substance of this "bogus oath." But The Catholic Week described the "scurrilous

and libelous matter," spread by people "who are susceptible to infection with the virus

of intolerance."49 Elsewhere, the paper labeled it "false and libelous and is part of a

propaganda based on bigotry."50 The broadside claimed that the oath was copied from

the 1913 Congressional Record. The Catholic Week, however, provides the rest of the

story. The oath was an exhibit in an investigation of the congressional committee on

elections, in which the distribution of the oath figured in the defeat of one candidate for

Congress. The oath was not new. It had surfaced in Minnesota, California, and

Michigan in the 1920s and in Savannah in 1928. In each of those cases, the person who

circulated it was convicted on charges of criminal libel. In 1950 the Savannah woman

who served six months in jail for distributing the oath reappeared in Warrenton,

Georgia, lecturing against the Catholic Church."5 The Catholic Week drew a direct link

between this current instance of prejudice and earlier attacks against the Church. The

paper's editor credited "Know-Nothings, A.P.A. and their allies and successors" with

creating the "most heinous, ungodly and unchristian 'oath."'52

9 "Take One Protestant Wake Up," The Catholic Week, January 7, 1949, p. 4.

5s "The Truth And It's [sic] Proof Regarding the K.C. 'Oath,'" The Catholic Week, March 26, 1949. p. 4.

5 From Kinchley to Moylan, February 21, 1950. Box FB-5, Catholic Laymen's Association, 1950-1957,
Folder, "Catholic Laymen's Association, 1950," Archives of the Catholic Diocese of Savannah. GA.

52 "The Truth And It's [sic] Proof Regarding the K.C. 'Oath,'" The Catholic Week. March 26, 1949, p. 4.
See also, "Rep. Battle Disclaims Any Connection With Alleged K. of C. 'Oath,"' The Catholic Week.
April 2, 1949, p. 1


Even if they did not spout anti-Catholic rhetoric or read the "bogus oath" of the

Knights of the Columbus themselves, many of the South's Protestants proved receptive

to Catholic impersonators who made periodic tours through the region. Sponsored by

both local denominations and Mason lodges, they usually addressed Protestant worship

services (often as part of a revival series). These "ex-priests" and "former bishops"

drew crowds of inquisitive minds wanting to know more about the secret intrigues of

the Roman Catholic Church. They critiqued Catholic doctrine--as far as they

understood it--and told tales of priests and nuns being held in the Church against their

will. The Catholic Laymen's Association of Georgia maintained a constant vigil across

the state for these lecturers and used its resources to expose the itinerants as frauds.

In February 1950 one of the "renegade" priests appeared in Statesboro, Georgia,

as a representative of the Christian Mission Organization, an alleged organization of ex-

priests. The only account of his visit appears in correspondence between the pastor of

St. Matthew's Catholic Church in Statesboro, Father Edward W. Smith, and Monsignor

Moylan, the diocesan vicar general. Apparently local Catholics infiltrated the talk. Two

Catholic students "asked the apostate the suggested question concerning virginity and

acoholism [sic]," Father Smith reported. The man was "diabolically clever handling an

audience," however. He "heckled" his questioner and dismissed him with the claim that

"this was the Catholic answer to anyone attacking the Church." According to Father

Smith, the "apostate" began with a customary attack upon the Church's alleged

opposition to religious freedom and then touched upon other familiar issues. Protestants

in Spain and Italy, the "redeemed" priest claimed, enjoyed no freedom, and there was


"no freedom of press, radio, assembly etc. in Cath. dominated countries." The unnamed

speaker expressed a fear common to many Protestants at various times throughout

American history. As the number of Catholics increased, so would their influence on

public life. In the 1950s, the South and the West were the last fortress against Roman

power, but even there Catholic assault appeared imminent. As Father Smith recalled the

speech, the "Catholic Church will spend millions of dollars to take over the South and

the West to finally take over the United States."53

Catholics, furthermore, must accept "the Roman Catholic Church or the Bible,"

because "Nothing in the Bible ... can support the teaching of the C.Ch." This brought a

"big Amen" and then "'That's what I told them'" from the host church's pastor.

Contrasting views of the availability of salvation also troubled this former priest. As

Father Smith reported the speech, there could be "Absolutely no salvation outside the

Catholic Church (this stressed very much). 'If I die outside the Church, I'll go straight

to Hell'." In the pre-Vatican II church, this actually was a correct understanding of

Catholic doctrine--extra ecclesiam nulla salus (outside the church there is no salvation)-

-although by the 1950s leaders of the American Church were de-emphasizing its

significance.54 In 1952 the Vatican condemned a Boston group that had made that

dictate central to its Catholic identity. But the laity who attended weekly lectures by

Father Leonard Feeney, the charismatic Jesuit leader of the group, at Cambridge,

From Edward W. Smith to Msgr. Joseph Moylan, February 20, 1950. Box FB-5, Catholic Laymen's
Association, 1950-1957. Folder, "Catholic Laymen's Association. 1950," Archives of the Catholic
Diocese of Savannah, GA.


Massachusetts' St. Benedict Center were not as heretical as Rome might have it.

According to one historian, the reality was that Feeney "had changed the interpretation

of St. Cyprian's dictum far less than had the experience of postwar American

Catholicism itself."55 Still, the importance the unidentified lecturer in Georgia placed

on that element of doctrine (which so separated Protestants from Catholics) reveals how

Protestants and Catholics continued to define themselves in opposition to the other.

In the mid-1950s a former "postulate" Trappist monk and a man who claimed to

be a former New York bishop drew Protestant crowds in Georgia. Their anti-Catholic

messages have not been preserved, but it is probably safe to assume that each of them

sounded themes familiar to Georgia's Baptists, Methodists, Churches of Christ, and any

number of independent Protestant churches. Hugh Kinchley and the CLA investigated

each person and could find no evidence of their being affiliated with the Catholic

Church. The former "Trappist" was now a "Baptist Evangelist." He finally admitted to

his Catholic challengers that the closest he had come to a monastery was "writing to

Gethsemani [Trappist monastery in Kentucky], in regard to entrance and receiving an

invitation from the Abbey welcoming him if he desired to come." His Augusta trip was

" From Edward W. Smith to Msgr. Joseph Moylan, February 20, 1950; and Kinchley to Moylan,
February 21, 1950. Box FB-5, Catholic Laymen's Association, 1950-1957, Folder, "Catholic Laymen's
Association, 1950," Archives of the Catholic Diocese of Savannah, GA.

5 Mark S. Massa, Catholics and American Culture: Fulton Sheen, Dorothy Day, and the Notre Dame
Football Team (New York: Crossroad, 1999), pp. 21-37; quotation on p. 35.


his first to Georgia; but in 1951. the CLA's records revealed, he took his ministry

through New Orleans, "being billed as an 'Ex Priest.'"''

In 1954 a Carl Mrzena lectured in Savannah and claimed to be a former bishop

of New York. There was no record of his being a bishop anywhere in the United States.

The CLA sponsored an advertisement in the local paper publicizing Mrzena's lack of

credentials and criticizing anyone gullible enough to believe the "former bishop". "It is

'startling, amazing yet true.'" the CLA's announcement read, mimicking the newspaper

blurb for Mrzena's speech, that anyone would refer to the speaker as a former Catholic

bishop without verification. "It would seem that the Rev. C. P. Stegall was not being

fair to his fellow Savannahians of the Catholic faith." Kinchley reported to members of

the CLA that "Reports from Savannah state that the lecture was poorly attended."" But

the crowds that did show up to hear these and other traveling Catholic bashers suggest

that local Protestants were ready to believe most anything about the Catholic Church.

Most examples of anti-Catholicism in Alabama and Georgia were predictable

and fit common formulas. Catholics readily linked this most recent period of anti-

Catholic bias to earlier eras, to Know-Nothings and convent burnings of the nineteenth

century, and the Klan of the 1920s. Catholics were accused of not supporting freedom

of religion, and of being anti-democratic, mysterious and secretive, and opposed to the

[Hugh Kinchley or John E. Markwalter]. Report of Catholic Laymen's Association, n.d., Hugh
Kinchley Collection. Box 1, Folder, "The Church Militant in Georgia, by H. Kinchley, 1942," Archives of
the Catholic Diocese of Savannah, GA.

17 Catholic Laymen Association of Georgia Advertisement, appearing in Savannah Evening Press, n.d.
1954; and From Markwalter to Members of the Catholic Laymen's Association of Georgia, April 1, 1954.
Box FB-5, Catholic Laymen's Association. 1950-1957, Folder, "Catholic Laymen's Association. 1953-
1954,' Archives of the Catholic Diocese of Savannah, GA.


Bible. In the minds of many Protestants, those things equaled opposition to

Protestantism itself. Those same Protestants also believed that their opposition to the

Catholic Church enhanced their own patriotism and proved their American identity.

They evinced the exclusive nationalism that characterized the early years of the Cold

War in America. According to this reasoning, by its very nature Catholicism was

incompatible with Americanism.

Catholics. of course, refused to see the incompatibility. They would wear the

"intolerable Alien" badge only so long. Their patriotism and commitment to democracy

and religious liberty should be indisputable. Southern Catholics asserted their right to

belong and be taken seriously in the larger society. In their minds, they and their

message were to be acknowledged and heeded not in spite of their Catholicism but

because of it. Protestants should direct their energy toward achieving other goals,

instead of defaming a fellow Christian group. Indeed, Alabama's and Georgia's

Catholics implied that postwar Protestantism needed Catholicism to save it from itself.

"What is needed," Hugh Kinchley wrote Albany's J.G. Malphurs in 1950, "is not for

representatives of different religious beliefs to debate their differences, but for them to

find ways of working together in a spirit of Christian unity for the common welfare of

the nation and the freedom of all of the peoples of the world." The preservation of

American liberty depended on "the loyal, patriotic devotion and sacrifice of Catholic,

Protestant and Jews united against the onslaughts of atheistic totalitarianism.""5 Rather

than being tangential to American society, Kinchley was saying, Catholics and their


belief system should be central to it. Anti-Catholicism, both explicit and subtle, forced a

diverse population to unite. But that united population redrew the boundaries of their

identity following World War II. They became Catholic, American, and, finally (when

race was the central issue), southern.

" From Kinchley to Malphurs, July 22, 1950. See also From Markwalter to Book and Bible House,
March 30, 1954; and From Markwalter to Members of the Catholic Laymen's Association of Georgia,
April 1, 1954.


In a 1992 interview, a Childersburg, Alabama, woman reflected on the isolation

she and other Catholics experienced in the South fifty years earlier: "But we were a

group apart. Just as Catholics have been, in my estimation, everywhere I've been in the

South for all the years I've been here. They are a group apart. Even in Birmingham."

Amy Winters was from Colorado originally; her husband was from Mobile. Winters

expressed in simple language how disconnected from southern society the region's

Catholics could feel. Her description of being set "apart" from mainstream southern

culture suggests in spatial terms the extent to which the region's Catholics felt

themselves to be physically and spiritually removed from the Protestant majority.

Winters defined her own Catholic identity in opposition to the South's Protestant

majority. But the end of World War II brought dramatic changes to the region and the

redefinition of Catholics' position in southern society. Anti-Catholicism persisted at

least until the early 1960s, but the boundaries of southern Catholics' self-identity shifted

in the late 1940s and 1950s. As the Church in the South grew with new converts and

the in-migration of nonsoutherners, Catholics moved from outsiders to social and

Joe and Amy Winters, transcript of interview by Sr. Rose Sevenich, O.S.F., September 11, 1992.
Transcribed by Mr. John J.P. O'Brien. Oral History Project, Box 1. Envelope 2, Archives of the Catholic
Diocese of Birmingham in Alabama.