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Rev. Thomas Timothy McAvoy, C.S.C.

AS A YOUNGSTER IN ST. JOHN'S PAROCHIAL SCHOOL in Tipton, Indiana, I heard many stories of two noted priests who had been trained by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Tipton. One was the president of Notre Dame from 1905 to 1917, Father John William Cavanaugh, C.S.C.; the other was the poet, Father Charles Leo O'Donnell, C.S.C., who came from neighboring Kokomo. To Father O'Donnell at Notre Dame I came on July 5, 1920, with a letter of introduction from my pastor as a possible member of the Holy Cross community. Father O'Donnell became the Provincial Superior between the time I visited Notre Dame and my return as a seminarian the following September, and he took a special interest in this younger fellow Hoosier.

The Sisters of St. Joseph, who looked after my early education when I was not ill (for I spent a great portion of my school years fighting various diseases and illnesses), insisted on basic education, especially grammar. Indeed, when at the tender age of fourteen I became the reporter for the Tipton Times I could write chiefly because that training in good grammar had become part of my expression. Because of the war-time manpower shortage, I wrote most of the local news daily in the eight-page paper during the summer of 1918. When the regular reporter returned after the war, I continued to write occasionally for the paper but returned to St. John's School. My third and final year of high school was in the Tipton Public School. I began in June 1920, as fulltime combined city editor and reporter, intending to work for two years to acquire money to attend Notre Dame as a student of journalism. The Sisters of St. Joseph, who occasionally visited the Times office, and the pastor, Father Joseph Bilstein, persisted in the notion that I would some day be a priest, at first with no thanks from me for the suggestion. But it was due to a long and inspiring talk by Father Bilstein that I came to see Father O'Donnell in July of 1920.

I made my novitiate under Father James Wesley Donahue, later Superior General, a very ascetic man. Of my college career I remember mostly the training I received from Father Lawrence Broughal who insisted that besides correctness in grammar, thought was necessary for good composition. I liked philosophy but tangled very often with my teacher, Father Charles Miltner; the exchange with him served to increase my interest in the subject. Two other important influences at this time were Father Thomas Kearney who, as my Superior, insisted that I confine my spiritual reading to twenty minutes a day and spend the rest of my reading time on the English classics; and Father Thomas Irving, my spiritual director, who taught confidence and moderation and also insisted that I acquire the habit of writing something every day. In my senior year at Notre Dame I won the Dockweiler Medal in Philosophy and the O'Brien Medal in History, and came in second on the Quan Medal for the senior with the highest average--after I notified the Dean that an overlooked lay student had a higher average than mine.

For theology I attended Holy Cross College at the Catholic University in Washington and also attended classes at the University with lectures in history from Dr. Patrick Healey and in Scripture from Dr. Heinrich Schumacher and Dr. Franz J. Coeln. Because our class at Holy Cross was the first not permitted to take secular subjects at the University during our theological course, I became a borrower at the District Public Library and the Congressional Library as well as at the University and College Libraries. And I organized during my second year a seminar among some seminarians in which we discussed literature, history, and kindred subjects. My readings were essentially in philosophy. I planned to make my future basic study in metaphysics with a hobby in American philosophy. In the meantime I read a balanced diet in literature (which I discussed with Leo L. Ward), history, and economics. Besides my reading for classes, I read 119 books during my first year in Washington.

As house librarian both in Moreau Seminary at Notre Dame and in Holy Cross College I reorganized both libraries with my own version of the Dewey Decimal System. Father Burns, the new Provincial Superior, in looking for an Archivist, learned that I had received very high marks in history at Notre Dame, and within six months of my ordination told me I was to be Archivist of the University's manuscript collection. Never having been in an archives in my life, I shifted my reading to archival methods and American church history. Father Burns told me that the valuable assortment of diocesan archives and personal papers on American Catholic history gathered by librarian James F. Edwards had been sadly neglected since his death in 1911. I visited the various Washington archives and had conferences with John C. Fitzpatrick, acting chief of the Manuscripts Division of the Library of Congress, with Professor Francis Stock of the Catholic University, with Tyler Dennett, then in charge of the Archives of the State Department, and with other archives. I also conferred with Monsignor Peter Guilday, then the dean of historians of American Catholicism.

I was ordained on June 24, 1929, and after a brief vacation, I returned to find myself, among other assignments, in charge of the University Archives. I immediately created the title of Archivist. But for the first two years I wore coveralls and labored to recreate the original collections which had become confused in pell mell sorting. Father Charles O'Donnell, then president of the University, authorized purchase of the necessary equipment and furnished me with a student secretary. At the end of the second year I began calendaring the papers, in the way I had been instructed by Mr. Fitzpatrick. In my spare time, besides earning a master's degree in history, I taught first year Latin and some English in the minor seminary for two years. Then I became rector of a resident hall on the campus of Notre Dame and began to teach American history. By the end of my third year at Notre Dame I began to realize that unless I attracted attention to the Archivist and the Archives I could not hope to get the necessary aid and equipment to complete my work. So I began to write for the Indiana Magazine of History and the Records of the American Historical Society of Philadelphia. But I felt that I needed further training, and I began to prepare myself for doctoral studies. On the advice of Father Robert H. Lord of Boston and my old friend, Professor Stock, I obtained permission to register at Columbia University in the summer of 1935. There I was welcomed by Professors Carlton J. H. Hayes and Parker T. Moon, and in particular by Professors John A. Krout and E. B. Greene. When the time came for choosing a thesis I wanted to write on Orestes A. Brownson whose papers were in my collections; but Professor Krout wisely insisted that I work on something pertaining to my church archives. We settled on the history of the Church in Indiana during the transition period between the decline of the French missions and the re-establishment of the Church under the American hierarchy. The result was The Catholic Church in Indiana, 1784-1334 (Columbia University Press, 1940). In the course of preparing for this, I gave a paper, since published, at the Rural Life Conference on "Agrarianism in Early Vincennes," and wrote a few articles in the Ave Maria on historical topics.

When I returned to Notre Dame in '38, Dr. Gurian had arrived and begun to pontificate over the intellectual life of the Arts and Letters faculty. The Review of Politics had just finished its first year when he asked me to contribute book reviews.

Then, without waiting for me to get my degree from Columbia, Father O'Hara appointed me Head of the Department of History. During the twenty-one years I held that post, I had the pleasure of gathering about me a band of hard working and fruitful scholars. M. A. (Bob) Fitzsimons, whose traditions I had encountered at Columbia, was already in the Department, as was James Corbett, a medieval scholar from the Ecole de Chartes of Paris. My first permanent acquisition was William Shanahan, the apple of Professor Carlton Hayes' eye, whom I had known at Columbia, World War II interrupted my plans for offering the doctorate in History, but resuming thereafter I brought to Notre Dame Aaron I. Abell who is the chief authority in Catholic social history. Next, at the suggestion of Samuel Morison of Harvard, I brought one of his favorite pupils, Marshall Smelser. To these men I owe whatever reputation the Department has attained in such a short time. I should add Anton H. Chroust of history and law and Gerhart Ladner and Marshall Baldwin, medievalists, who did not stay with us. The younger men of the Department are of the same mold.

But, after all, this masterminding a department (and some administrators who had no use for history) was just a distraction from what had been the purpose of my Superiors when they assigned me to the Archives. I taught an occasional class in American cultural history; in addition, the class in Historical Methods, which I taught for twenty years, became very important through my efforts to change budding philosophers into potential historians. I used the vacations and periods between semesters for occasional essays in Ave Maria. I also collaborated in a History of the United States (Fordham University Press, 1951) for college students.

In 1942, I became co-managing editor, with Frank O'Malley, of the Review of Politics, holding the post since except in 1954 when I was acting editor from the death of Dr. Gurian until the appointment of M. A. Fitzsimons as editor. With O'Malley and Fitzsimons I collaborated on The Image of Man (Notre Dame, 1959), a selection of some of the many important articles published in the Review during its first twenty years.

There were many things that led to my interest in the history of the Catholic minority. As a seminarian, when I expected to make philosophy my field of intense study, I was aware that the philosophy of Americans was obviously not the syllogisms and other arguments that I learned in the classrooms. I had read the two available histories of American philosophy and some of the writings of Jonathan Edwards, William James, John Dewey, and of several Neo-Realists, and had talked the matter over with the late Monsignor Edward Pace. When I began to study American history the religious and the intellectual history of the country were my chief interest. Puritan thought became a kind of hobby and the delineation of American cultural ideals occupied much of my reading and writing.

As Archivist, my chief assignment remained American Catholic history. After ordination in 1929, I plunged into the work of organizing and calendaring the manuscript collections obtained by Edwards. I found that I had material on nearly every Catholic movement in the United States between 1800 and 1880. Through reading the letters of the Bishops I became acquainted not only with handwriting, but with the minds expressed in it. Early in my studies I decided that the nucleus of American Catholic cultural progress lay in the English and AngloAmerican Catholic groups. I also began to understand the cultural conflicts involved in the adaptation of foreignborn Catholics to a Protestant English-speaking United States. I had heard the criticism expressed so often that the existing studies of Catholicism in the United States were written in a vacuum and had no real relationship to the rest of American history. While this criticism was leveled chiefly at Monsignor Peter Guilday, he was not at fault, as he had explained in writing to his friends. He had returned from Louvain with the hope of publishing not biographies but collections of documents from which future histories of American Catholicism could be written. He was warned that he could not get support for that kind of work. On the advice of his friends, he wrote his massive biographies, which were deliberately filled with his documents in the hope of achieving his real purpose of making these documents available to the future historian of the Church in this country. Unfortunately, some of his students imitated their master without understanding his purpose and contributed little to the correlation of secular and Catholic history.

My interest and writing gradually centered on the history of the relations between the Catholic minority and the dominant culture of the country. Some have hinted that I use the notion of a minority too much. It is also true that minorities are usually political groupings and that political independence has not been part of the concepts of American Catholics. Nevertheless, Roman Catholicism claims about one-fifth of the American population and they insist that they are fully American citizens while maintaining at the same time distinct religious and cultural positions. I used to ask my undergraduate classes in history how many of them had an ancestor in the American Revolution, but they did not seem to understand the reason for my question. Also, as a rector and prefect, I used to try to discover how many of the students I knew had parents who had gone to high school or college, and how many had parents had not any higher education. I studied the national origins and cultural inheritances of the bishops and priests at different periods of American history. I scrutinized the history of Catholic educational institutions. My Catholic history became a history of Catholic people, not the traditional list of clergymen, buildings, and occasional politicians.

At the urging of Dr. Gurian, I prepared an essay for the Notre Dame centennial issue of the Review of Politics (November 1942) in which I surveyed the activities of the Church in this country between the world wars; a second essay described Catholic efforts at the beginning of the war. In 1948, I published what I regard as the fundamental essay of my interpretation of the history of the Catholic minority under the title, "The Formation of the Catholic Minority, 1820-1860." I gave a paper on the earlier period to the United States Catholic Historical Society in New York in 1950. Having been invited to give a paper on Bishop John Lancaster Spalding, a favorite of mine from student days, I developed the paper into his notions of the Catholic minority. I also wrote an essay on contemporary American Catholicism in The Catholic Church in World Affairs (Notre Dame, 1952).

In the course of my studies of the history of the Catholic minority I found a real stumbling block in the socalled "heresy of Americanism." I was warned that this was a dangerous topic and I understood that much of the bitterness centered about nationalistic prejudices. I tried to ignore these prejudices. I had begun to divide the factors in the developing of American culture into two: the frontier, about which I had written in my Columbia thesis, and the migration from Europe. I changed the frontier to "frontier conditions" and the migration to "European cultural inheritance." Applying these to American Catholicism, I decided that the Americanist controversy was the cultural conflict between American frontier conditions and European forms of Catholicism. Later I was to decide that the European phase of the controversy took place over caricatures of both of these elements, but I also became aware that the American phase of the controversy centered on the adaptation of Catholicism to new world conditions in English-speaking and predominantly Protestant America. I published my first essay on this subject in the Review of Politics in 1943. I was asked to discuss the topic at the Catholic Historical Convention in Chicago in 1944. The paper was enlarged and published in the Catholic Historical Review. I continued to search American records and obtained a grant from the American Philosophical Society to pursue my investigations in European sources in 1951. After four years of further exploration of American sources, I began to write my history of the Americanist controversy. The book surveyed the period immediately before the controversy, depicted the two chief opposing groups of the American hierarchy, the American conflicts, the European counterpart, the final stage of the controversy after the European translation of the biography of Father Hecker, and the papal condemnation. My researches had not fundamentally changed my original contentions, but had brought out many corroborative details, and had enabled me to explain the enigmatical French controversy as well as the bitterness which had silenced study of the controversy for nearly fifty years. Despite the fact that the Thomas More Book Club adopted the book, The Great Crisis in American Catholic History, 1895-1900 (Regnery, 1957), Regnery refused me a royalty on the first 4,000 copies. But it continues in demand and has not been seriously challenged by other scholars.

To the twentieth anniversary celebration of the Review of Politics (January 1959), I contributed an article on Catholicism from the Americanist controversy to World War I under the title "American Catholicism after the Americanist controversy, 1899-1917--a Survey." To further the study of the position of the Catholic minority today, I sponsored two symposia at Notre Dame under the general title Roman Catholicism and the American Way of Life (Notre Dame, 1960). In these I invited Protestant and Jewish scholars as well as Catholic historians and social scientists to examine the external and cultural relations between the Catholic minority and the non-Catholic majority culture. Meanwhile, I have continued my researches into the origins of the Catholic minority. I have already arrived at some new opinions about the character and ideals of the English Catholic minority in Maryland and of the religious traditions of the contemporary majority culture as well. I have not yet surveyed satisfactorily the period from 1850 to 1870 and I plan to revise my essays on other periods. Before long I hope to write at least a full volume history of the Catholic minority in the United States.

Originally published in The Book of Catholic Authors, Walter Romig, Sixth Series, 1960.


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