Frontiers of Faith

Frontiers of Faith: Bringing Catholicism to the West in the Early Republic

Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 250
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    Frontiers of Faith
    Book Description:

    American religious histories have often focused on the poisoned relations between Catholics and Protestants during the colonial period or on the virulent anti-Catholicism and nativism of the mid- to late nineteenth century. Between these periods, however, lies an important era of close, peaceable, and significant interaction between these discordant factions. Frontiers of Faith: Bringing Catholicism to the West in the Early Republic examines how Catholics in the early nineteenth-century Ohio Valley expanded their church and strengthened their connections to Rome alongside the rapid development of the Protestant Second Great Awakening. In competition with clergy of evangelical Protestant denominations, priests and bishops aggressively established congregations, constructed church buildings, ministered to the faithful, and sought converts. Catholic clergy also displayed the distinctive features of Catholicism that would inspire Catholics and, hopefully, impress others. The clerics' optimism grew from the opportunities presented by the western frontier and the presence of non-Catholic neighbors. The fruit of these efforts was a European church translated to the American West. In spite of the relative harmony with Protestants and pressures to Americanize, Catholics relied on standard techniques of establishing the authority, institutions, and activities of their faith. By the time Protestant denominations began to resent the Catholic presence in the 1830s, they also had reason to resent Catholic successes -- and the many manifestations of that success -- in conveying the faith to others. Using extensive correspondence, reports, diaries, court documents, apologetical works, and other records of the Catholic clergy, John R. Dichtl shows how Catholic leadership successfully pursued strategies of growth in frontier regions while continually weighing major decisions against what it perceived to be Protestant opinion. Frontiers of Faith helps restore Catholicism to the story of religious development in the early republic and emphasizes the importance of clerical and lay efforts to make sacred the landscape of the New West.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7293-4
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-7)

    Father John Carroll saw great promise in the nation’s future, particularly in its lands to the west. In the spring of 1785, two years after the Treaty of Paris had ended war with England and only months after his appointment as head of the missions of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States, Carroll described for a European colleague the rich forests and potential farmlands spread between the seaboard states and the Mississippi River. He asked his friend to convince American Catholics training for the priesthood abroad to return home, where the shortage of clergymen was acute. Not only...

  5. Chapter 1 The View to the West
    (pp. 8-18)

    Moving away from the east coast to find opportunity, some Catholics settled in or immediately across the Appalachians in the southwest part of Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh. Others traveled down the Ohio River to Kentucky, where new lands were opening up in the 1780s. Few settled in between, preferring the company of their fellow religionists at either the eastern or the western end of the Ohio River valley. Although they tended to group together, Catholics in the trans-Appalachian frontier found themselves in the midst of Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, nonbelievers, and others.

    The climate of public opinion during the 1780s was uncertain,...

  6. Chapter 2 A Central Role for Priests
    (pp. 19-48)

    Passing through the southwestern corner of Pennsylvania in the fall of 1807, traveling along rough roads and trails, Father Badin “found Catholics almost every where,” not only those he saw with his own eyes, or with whom he talked and prayed, but “many more . . . known or scattered about” in between the Ohio and the Monongahela rivers. In reporting to Bishop Carroll about his trip through a region that remained a frontier for the Catholic Church, he described the hazards, burdens, and obstacles the faithful faced. Unfortunately, he observed, some of the Catholics he encountered “do but faintly...

  7. Chapter 3 “Presumptuous Renegades”: Controlling Priests and Congregations
    (pp. 49-86)

    Father John Baptist Causse wielded substantial authority and fulfilled the many roles expected of a frontier priest. He also used his position for personal gain. In sowing dissension and defying his bishop, the immigrant cleric typified a pattern of behavior that would plague church officials in the early republic. Given the national shortage of trained priests, the church’s inchoate structure, and the overwhelming problems of a rapid expansion in the urban East and especially into the trans-Appalachian West, American congregations attracted a large number of inept, misguided, or combative clergy from the 1780s through the 1820s. These were not necessarily...

  8. Chapter 4 Making Sacred Place: Churches and Religious Goods
    (pp. 87-113)

    Just as priests proved to be conduits of custom and authority and focal points of Catholic-Protestant relations, so were the material manifestations of Catholicism a means of contact between Catholics and non-Catholics. Church buildings, their elements of decor, and the religious objects of Catholic ritual and devotion were representations of the lines of continuity anchoring the faithful in tradition and to the authority of the hierarchy in Europe. At the same time, they created unique spaces at which Catholic and non-Catholic could meet. As Catholics claimed western ground, sacralized the landscape with churches, and proliferated religious goods from statues to...

  9. Chapter 5 The Promise and Risks of Proximity on the Frontier
    (pp. 114-144)

    In 1789 or 1790 a family living in the uplands near Harpers Ferry, Virginia, approximately seventy-five miles due west of Baltimore, took in a poor Irish traveler who had become severely ill. Although the Livingstons were Lutheran and the Irishman was Catholic, the family did not hesitate to open its home and nurse him through several days of sickness. Mr. Livingston, however, repeatedly refused the Irishman’s request to send for a priest, and the Catholic died without the sacramental benefit of last rites. According to popular memory among Catholics in the area, for the next several years the Livingstons felt...

  10. Chapter 6 Emphatic Persuasion: Teaching, Processions, Preaching, and Polemics
    (pp. 145-175)

    Protestant opinion of Catholic public activities was an ever-present concern for Catholic leaders in the church’s migration westward. Throughout the 1780s and 1790s, church officials worried about appearing too foreign in the American context or too cold toward the nation’s principles of democracy, republicanism, and independence, particularly at the close of the century during the Federalist reaction against French influence. In the first two decades of the nineteenth century, however, Catholic optimism increased. Church leaders found they were able to maintain the hierarchical system of authority that was their inheritance, rein in the all too common renegade priests, and elaborate...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 176-184)

    For forty years, Catholics in the trans-Appalachian West got along well with neighboring Protestants and other non-Catholics. Through many points of contact, and in dynamic and dialectical ways, Catholics interacted with those around them. Sometimes they invited, occasionally they opposed, and always they considered their non-Catholic neighbors while establishing a religious presence from the eastern seaboard to the far western edges of the country. Catholic growth and success in frontier areas was more interconnected with Protestant denominations and the presence of non-Catholics than historians have recognized.

    The region was one of high aspirations for church leaders; and Catholic clergy, like...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 185-220)
  13. Works Cited
    (pp. 221-230)
  14. Index
    (pp. 231-240)