The Dynamic Catholic Other

The question posed to the Seminar this week is: to what extent do you think Catholics have been treated as full citizens, and if the treatment has changed throughout the history of America. Through our readings this week and the scavenger hunt activity we had to complete, I will argue that Catholics have, and continue to, not be treated as full citizens—predominately, the Catholic immigrant population and the Catholic union worker population. The first half of my post will explore the treatment of Catholic immigrants, followed by an exploration of Catholic union workers which stems from last week’s work on Catholics in unions.

During the American Founding, Catholics were viewed under a distrustful eye because of their connection to the Papacy. As Papal authority extended above civil law, the Protestant America foresaw Catholics going against the American government at the word of the Pope (Breidenbach, 468). Although there was a division in Catholicism regarding the Pope’s authority, many still viewed all Catholics supportive of temporal power. The side of Catholicism which advocated for a lesser authority of the Pope—conciliarism—has also been ignored in many histories of the American Founding (Breidenbach, 473). However, as scholars have made clear, the only way Catholics could effectively participate in politics and society was under a conciliarist view. Given this distrust in Catholics, there was a limited scope of their ability to participate as full citizens. The distrust of Catholics alluded to their ultimate status as an “other” in American society during the Founding.

The question of where a Catholic’s alliances stand still exists today—although in different regards. Considering Catholics are more likely to be immigrants or children of immigrants than other Americans, Catholics are still seen as an “other” in society. Also, the percentage of the American Catholics population who are Hispanic increased by 5% from 2007-2015 and continues to grow. The political relevance of immigration, especially from Mexico, puts a majority of US Catholics on a pedestal. Although scholars today claim the Catholics who received the brunt of the discrimination during the Founding to the early twentieth century lost their label of “other” after the 1960s (McCartin, 9), a new generation of Catholics is fighting for full citizenship in the eyes of America. Although other Catholic nationalities assimilated, Hispanic immigrant Catholics have become the new target for American discrimination. As we discussed in class, the discrimination against earlier Catholics dripped down onto the new group of Catholic immigrants today.

Regardless of the intersectional traits of American Catholics today, the American Catholics during the Founding to the early 1900s (i.e. Irish) still showed “racist, anti-Semitic, and other intolerant attitudes” (Barrett, 10). Although Catholic parties in American history has received countless amounts of discrimination, they were still able to be intolerant toward other minority groups. One could argue that Catholics in America today are receiving more discrimination than their ancestors because of a Hispanic Immigrant’s low power position in America. However, I also think earlier Catholic Americans were quick to ridicule others in support of their persistent effort to receive respectability and acceptance from the rest of America. As explored throughout Barrett’s The Irish Way, Irish Catholics “often embraced a hyperbolic brand of American patriotism, as if wrapping themselves in the flag might finally bring them acceptance” (Barrett, 7). The hyperbolic patriotism could have become a brand of hostile nationalism which infringed upon newer immigrants and “others.”

The “lace curtain class” of Irish Catholics in America also searched for the respectability from the rest of America. The intense need of Americans to feel accepted and respected within their community is also broadly seen in the Chicago Cultural Center. The Cultural Center was one of the options to visit during our class’s scavenger hunt assignment. I always thought the Cultural Center was beautiful, but I never paid attention to the history of the building. For years, the Chicago Cultural Center was a delivery space for the Chicago Public Libraries. As one of the greeting plaques advertise, the library “has served visitors in pursuit of inspiration, information, and enlightenment.” In many ways, this description is still relevant today—the building now holds many community offices, art exhibits, and information areas for pamphlets and information of what is happening in the city. The Cultural Center is a tourist attraction and meet-up point, but that was always the intent. The Cultural Center website even explains the splendor of the architecture was meant to show off to visitors that Chicago was a sophisticated American staple—“Come for the beauty, stay for the events.” The emphasis on appearances parallels the Irish Catholic’s “lace curtain” and the general desire of acceptance by the rest of America.

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Although immigration status is one of the big roadblocks in a Catholic’s road to full citizen participation, Catholics in unions also face restrictions on their political participation. Three out of the four scavenger hunt sites revolved around the discussion of labor unions last week. Union membership is another aspect to consider when discussing a Catholic’s societal citizenship in America given the restrictions and overall bad reputation put on unions.

Exploring Union Park, I could not help but enjoy the ample space and the fieldhouse to encourage communal activities. However, the neighborhood was eerily quiet and the only other people in the area were playing frisbee in the park. Perhaps this was because I visited on a Tuesday afternoon, but the emptiness of the park was still suspicious on a beautiful day. Unions and parks encourage communal events and family outings—so you would suspect Union Park to double that emphasis. Considering the location far out of downtown, public access to the park was restricted.

Another union site with restricted public access was the Haymarket Memorial. Although it was awkwardly positioned right at the side of the road, it close to impossible for a tourist to wander onto the memorial or Union Park without prior knowledge of the location. Union Park and the Haymarket Memorial give recognition to the unions, but also resist further recognition or encouragement in the eyes of the public.

Given the events which occurred during the Haymarket Riots, the random position of the memorial was less surprising. When I was at the memorial, there was only a middle-aged couple visiting too. The woman brought up how the commemorative plaque on the memorial called the rally organizers anarchists. With further reading, the plaques description of events was a bit inconsistent. Although it called the organizers of the event “anarchist activists,” the plaque then explained how none of the organizers could be tied to the bombing itself and endured an unfair trial. The contested legacy the Haymarket Riot put on unions continues in its own memorial dedicated to workers all over the world.


The commemorative plaque. Photo by me.

Perhaps with the Haymarket legacy in mind, the Plumbers Union Hall is right next door to the Fraternal Order of Police building. The police building provides a subconscious threat to the unions to thwart any other riots and strong activity. The ongoing “big brother is watching” mentality restricts the activity of the union members. The secluded locations and police presence at union sites take away the power from the unions. The limit of power on unions obstructs their ability to participate politically and socially in society as a full citizen. Therefore, considering the intersections of traits in Catholic Americans, the populations of Catholics in unions experience these restrictions.

Although not all Catholics experience the plights of a union member or an immigrant, a majority do. The discrimination and hardships in these groups restrict their ability to participate as a full citizen. Considering many Catholics congregate in unions and hold immigrant status, they feel these restrictions. Also, considering the historical distrust of Catholics in the American government, the precedent to limit a Catholic’s societal influence has existed since the Founding, regardless of the American Catholic’s persistent efforts to rid their status as an “other.”


Referenced Work:

Barrett, James R. “Introduction.” in The Irish Way, 1-12. New York: The Penguin Press, 2012.

Breidenbach, Michael D. “Conciliarism and the American Founding.” The William and Mary Quarterly 73, no. 3 (2016): 467-500.

McCartin, James P. “The Waning of the “Catholic Other” and Catholicism in American Life after 1965.” Revue Française D’études Américaines, no. 95 (2003): 7-29.



Catholics and Unions


“The Hand That Will Rule the World—One Big Union” from Solidarity, June 30, 1917. Source: Wikimedia, Creative Commons License.

The concept of community stressed in unions like the community in the Church was a parallel that never crossed my mind. Honestly, I never realized there was a correlation between religious affiliation and unions. Catholics relied on the community from the Church when they struck upon tough times just like union members rely on their union. As unions were formed in times of hardship, the Catholic worker  However, as unions are becoming less popular today, the communities in unions are less relevant than in the past. Reasons such as: companies meeting only the minimum standards in work conditions and the overall alienation of union protests displayed in the media continue to leave unions in a bad light to the general public. Membership is declining and there is more prominent dissatisfaction between members and the leadership. Unions have begun to hit a plateau in growth and a sort of universal respect. Coincidentally, you could say the same about the Catholic Church.

Essentially, the core of being a member of the Church and a member of a union is gathering and being accepted based off of mutual belief systems. The Church and a union allowed moments of peace and comfort within the hardships of everyday life. Although the inclusivity of Catholicism and unions have many issues, both in the past and present, I understand the importance of community and feeling accepted when you are struggling and marginalized. I agree immensely with opinions on wages, benefits, working condition, and rights on the job advocated in unions. All of the hard work people do in their jobs, no matter how trivial it may seem to others, deserves to be rewarded by better wages and benefits. Additionally, better working conditions and more rights on the job are deserved by the workers we make do the dirty work—literally and figuratively. As Catholics hold the largest number of immigrants than other religions,  a majority of Catholics work low-paying dirty work. With the little power America gives to immigrants (and low-income workers), the only way to garner enough power is to act in numbers. The union memberships gave workers the power to stand up to leadership and negotiate better conditions.

The Catholic Vote

With the beginning of a long year ahead of me, I am so excited to use this blog to track my progress. As a political science and history major, the theme of this year’s Ramonat fits directly in my interests. After completing the Newberry Library Undergraduate Seminar, I am looking forward to expanding my interest in research through another project. Hopefully, I can work on continuing my general research completed at the Newberry Library by exploring Catholic women in politics. Regardless, I am open and excited to discover the topics I decide to further research during my time at the Ramonat Seminar. 

As I was not brought up religiously, I am excited to use this seminar to help broaden my knowledge of Catholicism in America. When I think of Catholics in America, my mind immediately goes to the Kennedy’s. However, when I think of how Catholics vote, I tend to think in terms of how conservative Protestants vote. For instance, one of the biggest political issues today is immigration. Immediately, I see Catholics as anti-immigrant, as Protestants traditionally align that way in some form; but, I ignore the fact that Catholics are more likely to be immigrants than other major religious groups. In short, a challenge for me in delving deeper into Catholicism this year will be to familiarize myself with the differences between different realms of Christianity. Although this is an easy task for some (mostly at Loyola), religion is a foreign topicwhich I continue to explore in my studies. 


Along with immigration, abortion is one of the major political topics for Catholics today. In the past, I think questions of educational standards and war were big political matters for Catholics in America. No matter how knowledgeable you think you are with Catholicism, it is hard to pinpoint exactly how Catholic Americans will vote. Religion is one of the many intersectional traits that could determine one’s political views. We try to determine voting trends through studies like the Michigan Model, but theorists constantly encounter the odd one out who votes differently than expected. Religion can take a major factor in a person’s upbringing and can influence their morality, but it is important to remember that the political parties in the United States were not directly made through the influence of religion. Unlike other political parties rooted more so on religion, like the Sinn Féin in Ireland, American political parties have a blurrier correlation between religious involvement and political stances. The Catholic vote is spearheaded as one of the most important demographics in American politics, but I do not think it guarantees that all Catholics vote the same in political issues.