CATHOLICS IN THE MODERN SOUTH
THE TRANSFORMATION OF A RELIGION AND A REGION, 1945-1975
ANDREW SCOTT MOORE
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE
REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
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.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ................... .. ........ .......................iv
ABSTRACT ........................ .. ............................................... x
IN TRO D U CTIO N .............................................................................. ................... 1
1 MISSION TO THE BIBLE BELT: GROWTH PATTERNS OF THE DIOCESES IN
ALABAMA AND GEORGIA.................................................... 18
2 "THE INTOLERABLE ALIEN": ANTI-CATHOLICISM AND CATHOLICS AS
"OTHER" IN THE SOUTH ........................ ........................ 53
3 "BUT WE WERE A GROUP APART": THE BOUNDARIES OF SOUTHERN
CATHOLIC IDENTITY AT MID-CENTURY ...................... ..................... 89
4 "THE PLACE FOR THE SOUTHERN LIBERAL IS IN THE SOUTH": ALBERT
S. FOLEY, CATHOLIC "OUTSIDERS," AND SOUTHERN RACE RELATIONS
..................... ................................. 124
5 "SOMEONE WAS NOT PRACTICING WHAT THEY WERE PREACHING":
CIVIL RIGHTS IN ALABAMA IN THE 1960S: THE CHALLENGE TO
ORTHODOXY ....................................................... ...... ......................... 170
6 "BUT I DO ADVOCATE PRACTICING WHAT WE PREACH": THE
ARCHDIOCESE OF ATLANTA AND LIBERAL RACE RELATIONS .............215
7 "FREEDOM IS A WONDERFUL THING, BUT...": RACE AND THE
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
CATHOLICS IN THE MODERN SOUTH
THE TRANSFORMATION OF A RELIGION AND A REGION, 1945-1975
Andrew Scott Moore
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
"TO BE GOOD CATHOLICS AND GOOD CITIZENS"
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
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
" 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
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.
MISSION TO THE BIBLE BELT:
GROWTH PATTERNS OF THE DIOCESES IN ALABAMA AND GEORGIA
"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
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,
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
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
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,
" "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.
'THE INTOLERABLE ALIEN':
ANTI-CATHOLICISM AND CATHOLICS AS "OTHER" IN THE SOUTH
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
" 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
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,
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
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
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
*" 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
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.
"BUT WE WERE A GROUP APART':
THE BOUNDARIES OF SOUTHERN CATHOLIC IDENTITY AT MID-CENTURY
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.