This is a collection of short, popularly written profiles of some of the leading figures in American Catholic history. The group includes Archbishop John Carroll, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Orestes Brownson, Isaac Hecker, Cardinal James Gibbons, Al Smith, Dorothy Day, Cardinal Francis Spellman, John F. Kennedy, and others. Collectively, their story is the story of the building and shaping of the largest religious body in the United States.But it is also something more. Catholics in America reflects the ongoing, often controversial, effort to work out the Catholic identity for American Catholics in the context of sometimes hostile, sometimes all-too-inviting American secular society.
The book poses a fundamental challenge to the conventional wisdom of Catholic Americanist historiography which takes cultural assimilation for granted. The oldest question in the history of the Catholic Church in the United States may be this: "Is it possible to be a good Catholic and a good American?" Catholics in America documents the variety of answers that have been given to date, and why the question is more timely now than it has ever been before.
History, human interest, and the drama of faith lived out in action come together in these portraits to tell an exciting story that stretches back two hundred years and continues today.