Welfare and Conversion: The Catholic Church in African American Communities in the South, 1884-1939
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The dissertation argues that Catholicism's theology and sacramentalism constituted the foundation of a ministry that from Reconstruction through the 1930s extended the religion's reach in the U.S. beyond its historical loci of numerical strength and influence to African American communities in the South. The dissertation draws on decrees of the Council of Trent, papal encyclicals, pastoral letters, theological treatises, and Catholic interpretation of Judeo-Christian scripture to demonstrate that the Church's beliefs manifestly shaped its African American ministry. The dissertation illuminates a missiology that employed uniquely Catholic sacral elements in a framework designed to assist the faithful in living a virtuous life and attaining salvation. Within the temporal sphere, education functioned as the centerpiece of the Church's missionary effort, and the dissertation demonstrates the capacity of Catholic educational initiatives to advance African Americans socially and spiritually. The study assesses the efficacy of different educational methodologies and concludes that the Church prescribed industrial education for both white and African American students and, wherever and to the extent possible, simultaneously provided instruction in classical, non-vocational subjects. The dissertation establishes the centrality of priests and religious sisters to the work of evangelization in its various forms. Focusing on three American orders of sisters, and four orders of priests with European roots, the study concludes that the efforts of these women and men had a salutary effect on the lives of African Americans in the South. While both priests and sisters served as spiritual guides and counselors, priests functioned mainly as ministers of the Church's sacred rights while the sisters crafted and managed the work of education. Although the Church Universal received its direction from the Vatican, the dissertation argues that American bishops, faced with the realities of the Jim Crow South, demonstrated a lesser commitment to the African American apostolate than the Holy See decreed. The work of priests and sisters at the local level, on the other hand, more clearly reflected the course that Rome expected the American Church to follow.
Collopy, William (2011). Welfare and Conversion: The Catholic Church in African American Communities in the South, 1884-1939. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from