The Bread of the Strong: Lacouturisme and the Folly of the Cross, 1910-1985

The Bread of the Strong: Lacouturisme and the Folly of the Cross, 1910-1985

Jack Lee Downey
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 352
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Bread of the Strong: Lacouturisme and the Folly of the Cross, 1910-1985
    Book Description:

    Contributing to the ongoing excavation of the spiritual lifeworld of Dorothy Day-"the most significant, interesting, and influential person in the history of American Catholicism"-The Bread of the Strong offers compelling new insight into the history of the Catholic Worker movement, including the cross-pollination between American and Quebecois Catholicism and discourse about Christian antimodernism and radicalism. The considerable perseverance in the heroic Christian maximalism that became the hallmark of the Catholic Worker's personalism owes a great debt to the influence of Lacouturisme, largely under the stewardship of John Hugo, along with Peter Maurin and myriad other critical interventions in Day's spiritual development. Day made the retreat regularly for some thirty-five years and promoted it vigorously both in person and publicly in the pages of The Catholic Worker. Exploring the influence of the controversial North American revivalist movement on the spiritual formation of Dorothy Day, author Jack Lee Downey investigates the extremist intersection between Roman Catholic contemplative tradition and modern political radicalism. Well grounded in an abundance of lesser-known primary sources, including unpublished letters, retreat notes, privately published and long-out-of-print archival material, and the French-language papers of Fr. Lacouture, The Bread of the Strong opens up an entirely new arena of scholarship on the transnational lineages of American Catholic social justice activism. Downey also reveals riveting new insights into the movement's founder and namesake, Quebecois Jesuit Onesime Lacouture. Downey also frames a more reciprocal depiction of Day and Hugo's relationship and influence, including the importance of Day's evangelical pacifism on Hugo, particularly in shaping his understanding of conscientious objection and Christian antiwar work, and how Hugo's ascetical theology animated Day's interior life and spiritually sustained her apostolate. A fascinating investigation into the retreat movement Day loved so dearly, and which she claimed was integral to her spiritual formation, The Bread of the Strong explores the relationship between contemplative theology, asceticism, and radical activism. More than a study of Lacouture, Hugo, and Day, this fresh look at Dorothy Day and the complexities and challenges of her spiritual and social expression presents an outward exploration of the early- to mid-twentieth century dilemmas facing second- and third-generation American Catholics.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-6546-6
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: Conversion and Catholic Pacifism
    (pp. 1-19)

    In 1976, while researching for the second installment in a historical trilogy on Dorothy Day (1897–1980) and the Catholic Worker movement, William Miller interviewed a diocesan priest from Pittsburgh named John Hugo, who had served for a time as her confessor and spiritual director. Hugo had gained some notoriety as the arch-apologist for a controversial contemplative retreat that Day once described as “like hearing the Gospel for the first time.”¹ During their conversation, Hugo reminisced about his first encounters with Day in 1940: “I don’t know how many times Dorothy made the retreats. I would say perhaps a dozen...

  5. 1 Canadien Identity, Nationalism, and Muscular Catholicism
    (pp. 20-52)

    Although self-styled as a reactionary movement pitted against then-ascendant mainline social Catholicism, Lacouturisme emerged from the very same muscular, supernaturalmentalitéthat undergirded the collective lifeworld of post-Confederation Québec. The narrative of Canadian—and particularly Québécois—Catholic history dovetails occasionally with its counterpart in the United States but simultaneously also mirrors those of colonized native Catholic environs such as Ireland. Its origins are bound up with French migration and displacement of indigenous peoples but by the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Québécois Catholicism under British rule adopted many conventional ste reo types of American “ghetto Catholicism”: racially insular, sectarian,...

  6. 2 Onésime Lacouture and Conversion in the White Desert
    (pp. 53-79)

    He was engulfed inflames. Lacouture’s first thought was that this was probably Purgatory. He awoke with a start, gasping for air, in a dark room that felt like an oven. It was sweltering, and all he could do was lie in his top bunk, dripping in his own sweat, and panic. Lacouture quickly came to his senses, which did not help clarify things—but at least he was able to deduce that he remained among the living, if for an indeterminate amount of time, given the heat and smoke that permeated the sleeper car he was trapped in as his...

  7. 3 Onésime Lacouture and the “Return to the Gospel”
    (pp. 80-116)

    By the fall of 1941, Onésime Lacouture had emerged front and center in a vicious, and often unbecoming, intra-clerical scuffle that threatened to consume the Québécois clergy but, in the end, produced only one notable casualty—that of Lacouture himself, who was eventually stripped of his priestly faculties and shuffled around North American Jesuit provinces until his death in 1951. Given the iconoclastic and decidedly disobedient tenor of his rhetoric and countercultural posture, one wonders what other outcome Lacouture might have legitimately envisioned. The meteoric success of his Ignatius-inspired retreat among Canadien religious precipitated a firm response by more moderate...

  8. 4 Mackerel Snappers in the US Industrial Era
    (pp. 117-138)

    Onésime Lacouture’s ascetic, mystical antimodernism found a receptive audience among enthusiastic vowed religious whose dormant restlessness at Catholic accommodation to secularism was primed. Lacouturite theology was intentionally countercultural and carried a strong indictment of secular proliferation, based on an extreme distinction between sacred and profane spheres of existence.¹ Although Lacouturisme was stamped out in its home province of Québec, it migrated southward and enculturated its analysis to mirror its new host. While Lacouturite rhetoric spilled a disproportionate amount of ink condemning particular secular practices, like smoking, its root focus was the holistic conversion of souls to the Sermon on the...

  9. 5 John Hugo and the Retreat’s Southward Migration
    (pp. 139-168)

    By the winter of 1949, the debate over Lacouturisme had become firmly rooted in US soil and had developed a distinct, somewhat more frenzied, tone. The figurehead of the American movement was Pittsburgh diocesan priest John Hugo, who had first stumbled upon the Lacouture retreat eleven years prior. Hugo translated the retreat into American idioms and almost single-handedly reconstituted what had been a primarily clerical, socially withdrawn, insular francophone movement within Québécois Catholicism into a powerful stimulant for Lacouturite spiritual regeneration in the United States. Unlike Lacouture’s original permutation of the retreat, Hugo’s tapped into the laity directly—anticipating the...

  10. 6 Dorothy Day, Anti-triumphalism, and a Personalist Approach to Voluntary Poverty
    (pp. 169-200)

    Within the ranks of the Lacouturite disciples, Dorothy Day stands out as its most historically conspicuous—which is to say, the most famous. During her lifetime and following her death in 1980, the retreat gained publicity and credibility directly from her close affiliation. Day first learned of the Lacouture retreat in the late 1930s (through her friend, publisher Maisie Ward) and was subsequently introduced to its doctrinal substance by a Josephite priest named Pacifique Roy, who had himself become an avid student of Lacouture and great admirer of John Hugo.¹ The effect on Day was as profound as it was...

  11. Epilogue: To Afflict the Comfortable and Comfort the Afflicted: Catholic Worker Pacifism as a Form-of-Life
    (pp. 201-210)

    On August 10, 1940, Dorothy Day penned a circular letter from the Worker’s root hub in Lower Manhattan to its constellation of affiliated communities, as the United States teetered on the brink of entry into World War II. Subsequently dubbed “Dorothy’s Encyclical,” the letter was a rare occasion for Day to directly assert her charismatic authority, in contrast to the Worker’s conventional decentralized mode of operation.¹ From its inception in 1933, theCatholic Workerhit the streets with a distinctive amalgamation of radical politics and maximalist Christian spirituality, maintaining a dogged opposition to all forms of militarism as an evangelical...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 211-246)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 247-262)
  14. Index
    (pp. 263-266)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 267-268)