Bias in the Republican Party? Connecting the Dots of Catholic Electoral History

Finally, all of you, be of one mind, sympathetic, loving toward one another, compassionate, humble. – 1 Peter 3:8

For this week’s seminar, the Ramonat scholars were required to find articles covering the numerous Catholic Candidates who made runs for the White House. Out of the articles that I found, the most interesting one was from the October 1960 issue of the Chicago Defender.

Robert Kennedy Charges Bias

According to the article, Robert Kennedy accused various elements of the Republican party of distributing anti-Catholic material. Robert Kennedy made these accusations while functioning as the campaign manager for his brother John F. Kennedy. The article mentions that Robert Kennedy did not believe that Nixon had knowledge of the material. This article is significant for two reasons. First, it was published in the Chicago Defender. This paper was one of the only publications in Chicago written for an African-American community. An interest in anti-Catholic propaganda might be common in the 1960 African-American community in Chicago. Facing a nation that was biased against them, their newspaper might try to show how the Democratic candidate experienced similar discrimination. While African Americans have a different history in the United States, both communities share a history of not being at home in the American establishment.

The Front Page of an Issue of the Chicago Defender


This article is also important because it fits within a working model of Catholic electoral politics developed during the seminar. A small group of students I worked with discussed that Catholicism shifted from being a nail in the foot to a tool in a politician’s tool box throughout the 20th century. For example, Al Smith had to face an editorial in the Atlantic Monthly questioning his ability to govern as a Catholic. Smith also worked very hard to disassociate his Catholic identity from his ability to govern. Today, politicians like Jeb Bush and Tim Kaine will discuss their Catholic faith when addressing Catholic audiences.

Jeb Bush meets Pope Benedict XVI

Where does the Chicago’s Defender’s fit into this model of Catholic politics? John F. Kennedy functions as a bridge between the two eras of Catholic politics. Kennedy accepted his identity as a Catholic. He did not try to divorce himself from the tradition like Al Smith did. One begins to see the seeds of the Jeb Bush variety of Catholicism in that Kennedy begins to not see his faith as a total negative in his life. While he accepted his Catholic identity, he had to face the same anti-Catholic attacks. The article makes it evident that some elements of the nation were not keen on seeing a Catholic in the White House. In these attacks, one can find remnants of the anti-Catholicism seen in the 1928 election.

Another way that the article points out the shift from detriment to tool in American Catholic politics is that Nixon did not know about the propaganda. If the highest levels of the party were not aware of the anti-Catholic bias, the propaganda might have come from grassroots and local sources. The implication is that Catholics were becoming more accepted on the national level of politics. By becoming more accepted, Catholics might be able to use their Catholicism in certain contexts.

The road that Catholics have walked in 20th century America is a fascinating one. While Catholics were originally wary to discuss their faith on the public stage, modern Catholic politicians will use it in some contexts. The article from 1960 charging anti-Catholic bias within the Republican party fits perfectly as a moment of transition from the old anti-Catholicism of the 1928 election to the more accepted context of today.

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Anti-Catholic Cartoon

The 2018 Catholic Vote – Diversity in Numbers

First of all, I hear that when you meet as a church there are divisions among you, and to a degree I believe it – 1 Corinthians 11: 18

The 2018 Mid-term election was one of the most important in recent American history. The “Blue Wave” that many people were anticipating materialized in some way through the Democrat’s taking of the House. The Republicans were able to continue their hold of the Senate. This political shift has the chance of blocking Donald Trump’s legislation from making its way into policy. What were American Catholic’s role in this political moment? According to Pew, Catholics voted almost 50/50 for Republicans and Democrats. This differs from other religious groups such as Evangelicals who voted predominately Republican or Jews who chose Democrats.


From the chart, one can see that this is a relatively new phenomena. In 2014, the Catholic vote was skewed Republican. Why has this changed in the last few years? I believe that there are two possible factors that has lead to Catholic polarization. One was the emergence of Pope Francis. Before Pope Francis, One could argue that the emphasis the Catholic tradition places upon abortion skewed the vote conservative. While Pope Francis also continues this tradition, he has pushed faithful Catholics to consider other “life” issues as well. In his recent exhortation on holiness in the modern world. the Holy Father wrote that people should place the fight against abortion on equal terms with the fight against poverty. I believe that Pope Francis’ teachings might push people to vote for candidates outside the traditional right wing conservative.

Gaudete Et Exsultate – Pope Francis’ recent exhortation

The second reason is that the 2016 and 2018 election were hot political moments that brought people to the polls who otherwise would not have gone. Pro-life Catholics are dedicated to the polls and making their voice heard. These unusual political moments might have had people come to the polls who care for other issues. For example, environmentally conscious Catholics or Catholics who are wary of capital punishment. These two reasons might lead to the recent polarization of the Catholic Vote.

While there was a shift in the Catholic vote towards greater polarization, what was the actual role of the vote? I argue that the Catholic vote had an important role in the election because it covers so many sectors of the population. According to Pew, there are about 51 million Catholics in America. This makes Catholic a large sector of the population. The sheer number of Catholics makes the Catholic vote important. The frustrating part of the large number of Catholics is the large political divide. This made them unpredictable in their voting habits. In other words, I believe that the Catholic vote’s role was important because of the quantity of it. What the ramifications of a polarized church and vote will be left for future historians to understand and study.

The 50/50 vote followed the ideas of scholars. As a Ramonat Scholar,  I attended a Mid-terms post-Mortem where Dr. Micheal Murphy of Loyola University Chicago’s Hank Center for the Catholic Intellectual Heritage mentioned that Catholics are never really at home in the American political world. Due to a Catholic’s commitment to life, they might feel uneasy with the mainstream Democratic party’s position on abortion. The Catholic Church also has strong anti-death penalty and ideas popular with Republican voters. This uneasiness with the political scene may lead to the 50/50 vote. Without having a political party that exactly lines up with their interests, Catholics are left to picking either party. Dr. Murphy’s words reveals an interesting element of being Catholic and political in modern America.

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Mid-Term Post-Mortem

Catholics are confusing. Unlike other political parties, they do not vote in a unified bloc. Despite their diversity, they make up a large portion of the American population which subsequently makes their role in elections important. The 2018 Mid-term election provided the opportunity to see the polarized Catholic vote in action.

A “Catholic Vote” – Diversity of Opinion

If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit. Let us not be conceited, provoking one another, envious of one another – Galatians 5: 25-26

In the Catholic Calendar, it is the feast of All Souls where we remember our departed dead. I thought it would be appropriate to share this week a piece of Catholic Culture along with my blog. Shepard Me O God is a recent church hymn that is synonymous with Catholic funerals. While Catholics may vote differently on different subjects. There are some things they can come together on like music.

This week the Ramonat Scholars attended a presentation by Steven Millies on his new book Good Intentions: A History of Catholic Voters’ Road from Roe to Trump. This presentation and this semester’s various readings has taught me a very important thing about the Catholic vote in america; its diverse. The main point that I gathered from Millies presentation is that the Catholic vote has been split since the passing of Roe Vs. Wade. While Millies seems to place abortion as the most important issue facing Catholics, our semester’s readings has shown that Catholics will vote for a variety of different issues. In the first week of class, we read “Another peek inside the Brain of the Electorate” where the author wrote that most people will vote on one or two issues. Catholics are not exempt from this phenomena.

Steven Millies’ presentation at the University of Chicago

In the conservative world, Catholics in the past were passionate about aid given to parish schools. This issue is explored in Samuel Mills’ article on Parochiaid and Abortion. While not as much of a heated issue in contemporary America, it was an issue of concern for Catholics in the past. An issue that captured Catholics attention in the past was the rise of Communism as was described in Colleen Doody’s Detroit’s Cold War. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, this issue has also taken a backseat, but you could argue that the conflict still lives on today. Many Polish Catholics continue to honor the legacy of Catholics who are commonly seen as bulwarks against Communism such as Pope St. John Paul II.

There are also issues that are still hot button issues in contemporary America. For example, the use of birth control by Catholics was controversial in the 70s and remains to be today. The diversity of American Catholic political thought is evident in an interview with Father John O’Brian by Studs Terkel. In the interview, Father O’brien responds negatively to the Pope’s recent proclamations regarding the sinfulness of birth control. The diversity of the Catholic vote is not just about what issues to think about, but also opinions on specific issues.

The Diversity of Catholic opinion spans past the ballot box. In his research on the supreme court and religion, William Blake finds that a judge’s religious preferences has a direct impact on his or her judicial rulings. While Catholic judges have a tendency to vote certain ways on certain issues such as abortion, it is important to note that there is still  a popoundence of diversity within the Catholic judicial world.

The diversity of the Catholic vote extends to liberal voters as well. One may find liberal Catholic voters fired up by the Pope’s recent encyclical on the environment Laudato Si. There are also Catholics who are radically skeptical of nuclear weapons or systematic racism. With Catholics fired up about so many singular issues, it is difficult to establish a concrete view of the “Catholic vote”!

While there is a diversity within the Catholic vote, I believe that commentators on the Catholic vote overlook the voice of the modern United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Their website contains a guide for Natural Family Planning. The conference also hosted an event celebrating Humanae Vita’s 50th anniversary. This is the document that outlined the church’s opposition to birth control. The USCCB is a powerful voice in Catholic America, and it is important to note that it has concrete views on these controversial issues. Regardless of the diversity of opinion in the Catholic laity, the opinion of the hierarchy should be noted. While the hierarchy’s voice might not be important to politicians who swear independence from them, it has an important role in the ideas and thoughts of everyday Catholics. The Catholic church has a powerful hierarchy, and it should not be overlooked.

An Instagram Post by the USCCB which references their commitment to life

In sum, the Catholic vote has been defined in the past and the present by its diversity. My time has a Ramonat scholar has solidified this opinion to an even greater extent. There are so many issues that individual Catholics find value in that it is impossible to establish even an illusion of a monolithic voice. The closest thing that one gets to in regards to a monolithic voice is the hierarchy which has stated opinions on a variety of different issues. While this voice is strong, there is still a concrete diversity within American Catholic political life.

Learn More

The USCCB’s page on Marriage and Family –

Studs Terkel Interview on Humane Vite –


Grassroots Catholicism – 1968 and Its Legacy


(I will open this post with my favorite Protest Song)

A word that kept coming to my mind during the Hank Center for the Catholic Intellectual Heritage’s programming on the legacy of 1968 was “grassroots”. While I was unable to attend the “Catholicism at the Crossroads” event attended by the other Ramonat Scholars due to a choir performance, I attended the panel on Chicago in 1968, the keynote speaker on time and space in 1968, and the tail end of the panel featuring student activists from 1968 and today. The idea of “grassroots”, personally defined as movements formulated from the bottom up, kept appearing throughout the week’s programming, the readings for the week, and the course in general.

David Farber’s presentation on coalition building in Chicago demonstrated how people were able to unite across differences. Farber described how the Black Panther Fred Hampton was able to unite groups of different backgrounds into a “Rainbow Coalition”. This group demonstrated that Chicago’s ethnic enclaves could unite around common goals. In previous weeks, the Ramonat Scholars have discussed how Catholic Chicago was formed by ethnic enclaves centered around parish communities. While Hampton’s coalition did not constitute Catholics per say, it shows that the communities formed around parishes are able to unite from the bottom.

Peter Pihos’ talk during the same panel on Chicago policing reflects the same grassroots ethos. I learned for the first time that African American police officers organized together against the discrimination that they saw in the department. While Hampton was able to organize the diverse ethnic groups through the city, these officers were able to build a movement from within the police department. One can argue that this echos the tendency for Catholics in similar organizations to unite against oppressive struggles. I think of Catholic members of the working class joining unions to fight for their rights.

The working class in Chicago is a powerful force behind grassroots movements. James R. Barrett recounts in his article “The Blessed Virgin Made Me A Socialist Historian” his experience growing up in working class Catholic Chicago. The parochial organized working class society influenced him to take up his particular take on history. Similar to the Chicago discussed by the panelists mentioned above, Barrett brings alive a Chicago of different backgrounds working to better their lot in life. This occurred at the parish or local level. Once again, the theme of grassroots emerged this week.

Keynote Speaker Julian Bourg

While a lot of the movements of 1968 were started from the bottom, they demonstrated an amazing ability to have international effects. A note that has stuck in my mind from Julian Bourg’s keynote speech was that a member in the crowd at an Irish civil rights rally shouted “don’t forget the Mexicans” in reference to the protests occurring across the globe in Mexico. This interconnectedness of protest movements may be overlooked in our modern hyper connected world, but it is remarkable that movements were able to have an effect across the globe. What does the grassroot becoming international mean for Catholicism? I believe that it meant that Catholics can come together for shared political goals and see the shared impact. One such way Catholics came together at the grassroots level was the Catholic Worker Movement. In his article “The Family. The Gospel, and the Catholic Worker”, Daniel McKanan argues that the Catholic Worker succeed better than most in combining Christian idealism with the family unit. I understand grassroots movements to be organized from the bottom. What is the most preliminary unit of society than the family? Similar to how political movements were able to unite ethnic groups together, movements such  as the Catholic Worker demonstrated that families can also come together. One should not overlook the troubling aspects of the protest movements of 1968. In the Catholic world, the protests of the Berrigan brothers had tendency towards the hyper masculine. Described by Marian Mollin in her article “Communities of Resistance: Women and the Catholic Left of the Late 1960’s, many women felt overshadowed by the men in the Catholic Left. While the protest movements did have its problems, it is important to note its ability to bring people together and go international.

Front Page of the Catholic Worker Newspaper

These protests are not a relic of 1968. The spirit of protest is still alive and well in Modern America. Hearing the testimonies of modern activists, I was struck by how these protest movements do not disappear, but transform. In some ways, the movements have become even more grassroots. Modern activists use social media which allows for participation of people of diverse backgrounds. The digital dimension of protest has allowed for demonstrations to become even more international. The religious dimension of some of the protests is also still alive. From my personal friendship with one of the panelists, I know that his Catholic faith informs a great deal of his activism.

Grassroots. The word means many things to many people, but one can not help but apply it to the protests discussed last week. The grassroots protests were able to unite people from different backgrounds and go international. Some of these protests also had a religious dimension, and are similar to many Christian protests of the contemporary period. 1968 was a year of protest, but that spirit is not dead in 2018.

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Jesus, The Greatest Advocate for Peace

Learn More:

Information on 1968 Symposium


“On this Rock I will Build my Church” – Catholics, Churches, and the Localization of Politics


The word of the LORD came to Solomon: As to this house you are building—if you walk in my statutes, carry out my ordinances, and observe all my commands, walking in them, I will fulfill toward you my word which I spoke to David your father. 1 Kings 6:11-12

(opening Note: Church architecture is one of my favorite things the concept of building a church is a very vivid aspect of my spiritual life. In honor of this post: I will share a fitting Catholic hymn.)

In her introduction to Catholicism, Chicago Style, Ellen Skerret writes that Chicago’s Catholicism is identifiable by its diversity. Visiting churches throughout the city has demonstrated that this is still the case in modern Chicago. I was unfortunately unable to partake in Open House Chicago with the other Ramonat Scholars because I led a retreat for new leaders in the Alternative Break Immersion program. In lieu of the traditional class activity, I visited two churches and am going to connect my experience at these places of worship with three other churches I have visited throughout my life. This entire experience has demonstrated that Chicago’s Catholicism and their politics are demonstrated in a peculiar way. While parishes focus on national issues, they tackle them in local ways. This is in line with Andrew Gelman’s argument in All Politics is Local? In which he argues that politics have increasingly become more national. The twist in Catholic parishioners is that they attempt to tackle these larger issues in smaller ways affecting their local communities.

Chicago is one of the most segregated cities in the United States. Many ethnic groups live in specific neighborhoods. This segregation was on some level intentional. For example, some black communities were specifically separated from other communities through red lining and highway construction. The specific process of highway construction is detailed in “Daley’s City” in Chicago: a Biography by Dominic Pacyga. While these decisions are morally fraught, it was closed tied to the creation of specific parishes for specific communities. John D. Buenker writes in his article on ethnic politics in Chicago that immigrants considered preserving their ethnic heritage to be one of their most important goals. Most of the churches discussed in this article attempted to represent and celebrate the heritages that make up their communities. This idea and the ways these churches were involved in politics is explored throughout this article.

The first church I visited was Holy Name Cathedral in the Gold Coast neighborhood. The cathedral was built in the the late 19th century to replace the original cathedral which was destroyed by the Chicago fire. Unlike the other churches described in this blog, Holy Name Cathedral was not home to one specific ethnic group. It was the seat of the bishop of Chicago and is subsequently home to Catholics of every background. Because of this, the church is lacking the artwork commonly found in churches of specific ethnic group. It may be important to note that all of the cathedral’s masses are in English. Churches that are important to certain ethnic groups usually have a mass in their language.

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Mass at Holy Name Cathedral


In regards to politics at Holy Name, the only political issue that was specifically mentioned is the abortion debate. During the prayers of the faithful, the part of the mass where the priest and congregation pray for various intentions, the reader on the altar prayed for “those considering an abortion”. These intentions are typically written out before the mass. In the space of the mass, Holy Name cathedral was tackling the national issue of abortion through the local means of communal prayer. Following praying for those considering abortion, the community also prayed for those suffering from addiction. One can read this prayer as a way to discuss the American drug crisis. While this is how the specific cathedral tackles political issues, it is important to understand that Holy Name is the seat of the archdiocese. The archdiocese also tackles issues that are local, but which have national repercussions. For example, Blaise Cardinal Cupich, the archbishop of Chicago, often speaks out against gun violence in Chicago. Cupich is also one of the greatest advocates for humane treatment of migrants. Holy Name cathedral is an interesting nexus of the Chicago political world where the local and national politics intersect.

The ceiling of Holy Name Cathedral depicting the Most Holy Name of Jesus – One of my favorite Devotions


The second church I visited was St. Stanislaus Kostka. While Holy Name does not focus on a specific ethnic group, St. Stanislaus Kostka is covered in signs which point to its Polish past. The stations of the cross in the church are in Polish. The altar is also flanked by a rendition of Our Lady of Czestochowa, the interpretation of the Blessed Virgin popular in Poland. The Church also has one mass a weekend in Polish. The Church was founded in the 19th century and quickly grew to be the center of Polish Catholic life in Chicago. While the church was rooted in Polish soil, there are signs of demographic change in the Church. On the other side of the altar, is Our Lady of Guadalupe which is venerated by the Mexican Catholic community. While the church only has one Polish mass on sundays, it has two masses in Spanish. St. Stanislaus Kostka is a microcosm of demographic change in Chicago. There are signs that there may be more changes in the future. The church was conducting a parish census the weekend I visited. One of the questions asked was “what languages do you speak at home.” Depending on the responses, there might be more changes in the languages used to say mass. It is important to note that there are signs of a traditionalist streak in the St. Stanislaus Kostka community. The mass that I attended was said ad Orientem where the priest says the mass facing away from the congregation. A remnant of the old Latin mass, this is form of saying mass is typically seen as a throwback to a forgotten era of Catholic life.

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The Corner of Polish devotions at St. Stanislaus Kostka
Our Lady of Guadeloupe at St. Stanislaus Kostka 

This church also follows the established pattern of tackling national issues locally. The church was hosting a “baby bottle drive” where parishioners filled baby bottles with donations which would go to crisis pregnancy centers. Obviously connected the church’s anti-abortion stance, this drive demonstrates a local way to tackle a greater issue. This drive is not special to this community. My home parish in a Chicago suburb also partakes in this fundraisers. Even though the fund raiser is spread throughout the Chicagoland area, it is still acting locally in that it is asking local parishes to donate to the cause. The fundraiser is acting locally at the local parish level. Regardless of the parish’s rising Mexican population, there are no signs of political advocacy for Latino interests. This may change as the demographics continue to change.

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Baby Bottle Drive at St. Stanislaus Kostka – Notice the flyers in three languages

These two churches are interesting when compared to St. John Cantius. Cantius is unlike other churches in the city because it is not home to a specific ethnic group or community. It is the home of a very specific minority in the Catholic world; traditional Catholics. It is one of the only churches in the archdiocese which offers the traditional pre-vatican II tridentine Latin language liturgy. I attended one of these masses in the summer. As a practicing Catholic who is very familiar with the liturgy, I found it difficult to follow along. While I could follow the general outline of the mass, the whole liturgy felt different than my familiar English language mass. One can understand the frustrations that some traditionalists have with the post-vatican II rite when one visits this church. The church exists as a rallying point for those who do not agree with all of the post Vatican II changes in the church. While the liturgy is different, there is something ancient about it which calls to centuries of Christian tradition.

The politics of the parishioners is also on display at the church. While I was searching for the church’s bathroom, I saw many posters for “Lifeapalooza” which was an event supporting pro-life initiatives. These are political positions traditionally held by conservative Catholics. If one sees traditional Catholics as a group identity with its own political goals and aspirations, one can understand that they would be advocating for political positions that they deem important to the their group. This event is local in the sense that it brought the local community of St. John Cantius together to discuss a national issue. The church also has two pro-life groups, “Crusaders for Life” and “Respect Life Committee”. The Respect Life committee’s webpage states that they follow legislation in Illinois relating to abortion. One sees a similar pattern established in the other churches mentioned, parishes attempt to tackle political issues in the local way they can.



St. John Brebeuf – My Spiritual Home



The tendency for a church to reflect the culture of its parishioners extends to the suburbs. My home parish is St. John Brebeuf in Niles, Illinois. Built in the 1950’s, the parish reflects the community’s heavy Polish community. There are numerous masses in Polish and the parish school hosts a Polish school. Throughout the Ramonat seminar, I have learned how ethnic groups attempted to construct parishes that reflected their heritage. Until now, we have only discussed this in an urban context. St. John Brebeuf stands as an example of how this tendency expands to the suburbs. Wherever people settle, they wish to be able to worship in their own language. In regards to politics, my home parish tackles larger issues on the local level in line with the other churches mentioned. The parish partakes in the same baby bottle fundraiser as St, Stanislaus Kostka. From my personal memory, very few other political issues were specifically mentioned. One can argue that by not mentioning a plethora of political issues, they were stating their political positions by being silent. Regardless, St. John Brebeuf continues the tradition of creating alcoves for specific groups.

Madonna della Strada chapel at Loyola University Chicago can be placed as a counterpoint to the more traditional churches mentioned above. The chapel was completed in the early 1940’s and is a combination of traditional Catholic church architecture and Art Deco. With Loyola being one of Chicagoland’s Catholic universities, the chapel reflects the large Catholic populations. Similar to St. Stanislaus Kostka, Madonna della Strada features a rendition of Our Lady of Czestochowa and Our Lady of Guadalupe. This reflects Chicago’s two large Catholic ethnic groups. Representation of Chicago’s Irish population is surprisingly missing.

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Mass about to start at Madonna della Strada Chapel at Loyola University Chicago

In contrast to the other churches discussed, Madonna della Strada tackles political issues from a liberal angle. During my most recent mass, the prayers of the faithful prayed for those suffering from human trafficking and for the reunification of families separated by the Trump administration. Abortion and other such issues are rarely mentioned. One can argue that this is a reflection of Loyola Chicago’s more diverse and liberal student body. What is interesting regarding Madonna della Strada is that they are tackling these issues through the same local ways. One way is through prayer during the mass. The collection that is taken up during the mass also sometimes goes towards Catholic Relief Services. The faith community of Loyola University Chicago uses small and local ways to change the large social problems affecting our society.

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Polish Devotions at Loyola
Guadelupe at Madonna
Our Lady of Guadeloupe at Loyola Chicago

A common thread throughout these churches that they rarely involve themselves in politics at the parish level. Joe Merton touches upon this topic in his article “Rethinking the Politics of White Ethnicity” where he states that parish organizations became anachronistic and were replaced by secular activist groups. This is not to say that the Catholic church does not involve itself in the political system. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops advocate for many political issues. This occurs on a larger scale than the parish level. There are also exceptions to this tendency. St. Sabina constituents fights for racial equality in the Chicagoland area. While this is to be admired, most parishes involve themselves in the political arena through Baby Bottle drives and prayers during the mass. The diversity of Chicago Catholicism is as vibrant today as it was decades ago. My personal journey through these churches was an amazing experience which taught me that my faith is a diverse one with many approaches to the spiritual life and the political life.

Learn More:

Holy Name Cathedral:

St. Stanislaus Kostka:

St. John Cantius:

St. John Brebeuf

Madonna della Strada

All Politics Local?:

Archbishop Cardinal Cupich:

“Neither Jew Nor Greek” – The American Catholic Church and Racism

The depiction of Jesus above the altar of Saint Sabina in Chicago

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus – Galatians 3:28

The Catholic Church in the United States has a long history of confronting our nation’s ugly record of racism. There has been a branch of the church confronting our racist past since the founding. The Catholic activist and thinkers of the past create a heritage of anti-racism which is carried on through Catholic activists today. The key characteristic of this tradition is addressing the specific issues afflicting marginalized communities. Examples of these modern Catholic activists are Father Micheal Pfleger of Chicago and the late Father Theodore Hesburgh of the University of Notre Dame I hope to share this proud theological tradition and show how Catholics continue to live it out today.

Growing up Catholic, I was always aware that my church tried to incorporate different cultures into the tradition. Many of the hymns that were instrumental to my faith development such as “Lead me, Guide Me” have their roots in different cultures. While I knew that Catholics had a tendency to reach out to people of all backgrounds, I knew nothing about the church’s campaigns against racial injustice. It would take until my high school years when I met Father Theodore Hesburgh of the University of Notre Dame that I knew that Catholics had a role in the Civil Rights movement. Father Hesburgh marched with Martin Luther King Jr. I have since learned the proud record Catholics have in the struggle.

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Father Hesburgh and Martin Luther King Jr

Great men such as Theodore Hesburgh are not made in vacuum. They are heirs to the deeds and thoughts of Catholics who came before them. Thinkers in the 19th century such as Bishop Francis Kenrick of Philadelphia argued that the slave trade and the ownership of a slave’s labor was wrong. While he did not specifically believe that slavery was entirely immoral, one can see that he began a stream of anti-racist thought in the American Catholic imagination. The maverick Catholic intellectual Orestes Brownson also came out against slavery as an institution. The revelation that there were Catholics fighting slavery in the 20th century surprised me. While I could probably assume that there were Catholics involved in the struggle, it was refreshing to learn their names.

Catholics also played a role in the most prominent Civil rights battles of the 20th century. These Catholics fought on many different battlefields. For example, Issel and Wold describe the Catholics role in public housing fights in the first half of the 20th century in San Francisco. Catholics also tackled education and integration. Catholics in Memphis formed the Catholic Human Relations Council (CHRC). DeLong describes these Catholics who fought to integrate Memphis Catholic schools and communities. One small practical way they accomplished this goal was through attending mass at churches where pastors were resisting integration. Similar to how the Catholic role in the anti-slavery movement was molded by great men, the CHRC in Memphis was led by Father Leppert. Father Joseph Leppert chose to integrate his parish when other pastors were fighting against integration.

Father Leppert, second from the left

Chicago also has a proud history of Catholics fighting against racism. Chicago Catholics were involved in the Catholic Interracial Council (CIC) which managed civil rights initiatives in the city. Catholics in the Second City also marched against the first mayor Daley and fought for equal housing. I believe that there is a prominent overarching concern of Catholic communities which fought racism in modern Catholic history. These Catholic communities focused on the specific issues which afflicted their marginalized communities. This Catholic culture of protest and fighting racism is what St. Sabina’s Father Pfleger was influenced by.

Born in Chicago in 1949, Father Pfleger grew up in an era where Catholics were marching for equal rights for all citizens. He was raised in part of Chicago where the CIC was very active. One can argue that he is the direct heir of the anti-racist tradition described above. Similar to how Catholics of generation past marched for equal housing, Father Pleger led his faith community in march that shut down the Dan Ryan expressway. Father Pleger is the pastor of St. Sabina Catholic Church in the south side of Chicago. Known throughout the city as a passionate advocate for those who he believes the city has forgotten.

When I attended mass at St. Sabina, I saw first hand how Father Pleger is the heir to the Catholic tradition outlined above by focusing on the issues afflicting his flock. One way he reflects this tradition is through the art he displays. Prominently displayed over the altar is a depiction of Jesus as an African American. This image, which can be seen at the beginning of this article, helps to make faith real and personal for his predominately African American congregation. The Catholic tradition asks its followers to make their relationship with Jesus real and meaningful, but this is difficult to do when Jesus never looks like you. The guest speaker for the Sunday has been so moved by the mural that he has it tattooed onto his body. In other words, Father Pfleger’s aesthetic decisions in the church directly influence and nurture his church’s faith community. By displaying this artwork, Father Pfleger is attending to his congregation’s spiritual problems.

The Faith Community of St. Sabina




The second way Father Pfleger is the heir to the Catholic tradition of attending to his marginalized community’s needs is that he preaches on topics that directly concern his flock. At the mass I attended, Father Pfleger let a former parishioner speak during the homily. He was a young doctor who grew up at St. Sabina. The main point of his talk was that people in disadvantaged communities need to see themselves in prominent roles and positions such as medicine and law in order to be inspired to succeed. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, one way to give a homily is to take the Gospel and apply it to a real world situation. Using this definition, would not having a speaker talk about the specific struggles of a faith community be the perfect homily? Similar to how Catholics in American history tried to overcome the struggles of African Americans, Father Pfleger is weaving solutions to modern problems into his mass.

Finally, Father Pfleger turns his preaching into action. As mentioned prior, he shut down the Dan Ryan expressway in protest to the lack of opportunity in Chicago’s south side. He also has put pressure on important figures in Chicago such as Rahm Emmanuel. Recently, he has commented on and demonstrated against Officer Van Dyke who shot Laquan McDonald in 2014. The firery anti-racist spirit of the American Catholic church is live and burning in the hearts of people like Father Pfleger.

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Father Pfleger marching down the Dan Ryan

This is not to say that anti-racist Catholics throughout history and Father Pfleger do not have the critics within the church and outside it. Catholics found themselves at odds with the abolitionist movement in the 1800s who saw the Catholic church as an institution that enslaved minds. In the 20th century, many conservative Catholics found the idea of nuns marching against discrimination as deplorable. In an interview with a Chicago nun from 1965, Studs Terkel played the audio of a Catholic who thought nuns should remove their habits if they marched. In his view, this disrespected the Catholic tradition. In the contemporary period, Father Pfleger has had his share of criticism. In 2011, the then archbishop of Chicago suspended Father Pfleger after saying he would rather leave the church then St. Sabina. From my own personal experience, I have known Catholics in my northern Chicago suburban community speak disparagingly of Father Pfleger. A constant throughout American Catholic history is that there are always critics of those fighting for racial justice.

In sum, a constant theme in the American Catholic tradition is addressing the specific issues of marginalized communities. Father Pfleger is the heir to this tradition by representing his African American congregation in St. Sabina’s art, preaching on issues afflicting their communities, and working for justice in meaningful ways. At the beginning of my faith journey, all I knew was that the Catholic community incorporated diverse cultures into the mass through song. After my experience of reading about Catholics who campaigned against racism and experiencing the Faith Community of St. Sabina, I have learned about the long history of Catholics and their battle against racial injustices.

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Learn More!

Father Pleger on the Dan Ryan Protests:

The Archdiocese of Chicago’s Black Catholic Initiative:

Father Pfleger’s biography on the St. Sabina website:

The Faith Community of St. Sabina:



“Throw the Mighty from their Thrones” – Catholics and Pacifism

Spring 2016 Dorothy Day
Demonstrating for peace with the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker, Spring 2016 (me, 2nd from the right)

Then he will judge between the nations and arbitrate between many peoples. They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into sickles. Nation will not lift sword against nation, no longer will they learn how to make war -Isaiah 2: 4

Fighting for peace has always been part of my experience as a Catholic. On my first Alternative Break Immersion through Loyola University, I had the privilege to live in a Dorothy Day Catholic worker for a spring break and live out the principles that Danial Berrigan fought for. The highlight of my experience in D.C. was standing in front of the White House and have people write what they believed human dignity meant to them on a banner (shown above). I actually have this same banner hanging in my apartment bedroom as a reminder of what sits at the center of the Catholic message, working for peace.

My experience and reading has taught me that the response that Catholics have to the politics of war is to promote peace. How one believes this is best accomplished depends on where one sits ideologically. The Rev. Au, in his article “American Catholics and the Dilemma of War 1960-1980”, describes different responses to war that were articulated in the 20th century. One response was the Catholic realists who saw war as an unavoidable part of our international system. It is subsequently better for Catholics to work within the framework that already exists. War is tool to use in this worldview. Au describes the idealist branch of the Catholic church who sought to resist war in all of its forms. This school of thought informs the ministry of Daniel Berrigan, William Stringfellow, and the Catholic Worker.

Danial Berrigan Arrested

Au describes these Catholics as creating a pacifism of resistance. I believe that this term best describes the Catholicism described in the Hank Center’s week of programming for Berrigan week. In the documentary “Seeking Shelter: A Story of Place, Faith and Resistance”,  Berrigan and Stringfellow’s community on Block Island is explored. Their “pacifism of Resistance” is shown in two ways. First, they literally resisted on the island. It was on Block Island that Danial Berrigan was arrested without fighting back. He let his actions of nonviolence protest and his life story fight against the oppressive systems of war. Secondly, the documentary showed the powerful community that Berrigan created on the island. Over dinners and conversation, Berrigan was resisting the popular ideas of war of the time. Through the documentary, one gets the idea that Daniel Berrigan would have a simple answer to the question of the relationship between Catholicism and politics. Catholicism asks its adherents to resist all war through nonviolent resistance and strong community.

Night of Music and Poetry of Protest September 20th 

This idea of Catholicism motivating its followers resist war is a powerful one. Just like any powerful idea, its effect is compounded when put to music. At the night of Poetry and Music saw the crowd to singing the classic protest anthem “Down by the Riverside”. This song, made famous by Pete Seeger in the mid 20th century, was sung by protesters throughout the country. I was struck by the line “ain’t going to study war no more”. This line encapsulates the ideas described by Au and the documentary. If one claims to follow the example of Berrigan and Stingfellow, one has to work to have others not study war no more. The relationship between Catholicism and politics is to motivate the nations of the world to quit war.


The relationship between Catholicism and war is a complex one with different perspectives from different thinkers. The realists saw war as an appropriate tool in certain circumstances. This ran contrary to the revolutionary theology and life of Daniel Berrigan who saw that Catholics should resist war and persuade others to do the same. I have seen how powerful of a theology this is during my time at the Dorothy Day House.  The peace that Berrigan dreamed of is still living in the church and in the hearts of Catholics who deeply desire to plow the world’s swords into ploughshares.

“Unwanted Papists” – Catholics and Citizenship

Anti-Catholic from 1870 (Catholic League)

“He then offered a sacrifice on the mountain and invited his kinsmen to share in the meal. When they had eaten, they passed the night on the mountain” – Genesis 31: 54

A refrain common throughout Catholic communities is that the faithful are part of the “Kingdom of God”. All Catholics can find solace by being members of the heavenly system, their citizenship under temporal powers has been slightly more fraught. To what extent have Catholics been American citizens? This is a complicated question that has many interconnected dimensions. I believe that many Catholic groups have not been treated as citizens throughout American history because they were at the center of three despised identities: religion, ethnic identity, and class. In contemporary America, a Catholic’s religious identity has become more accepted while their class and ethnic identity remains decisive.

Their religious identity as Roman Catholics prevented many of the faithful from being considered Catholic. One can look at the attitudes towards Catholics in the 18th century to understand that many American Protestants were afraid of Catholics’ perceived undying loyalty to the Pope. While this sentiment continued until the 20th century, the idea that Catholic belief inevitably led to Catholics to be unfaithful to American ideals of freedom and liberty was widespread throughout the original 13 colonies.

Throughout American history, newly arrived Catholics also happened to belong to unwanted ethnic groups. For example, James Barrett devoted sections of his book The Irish Way to the plight of the Irish when they arrived on American shores. Due to their identities as Irish, they were systematically kept out of systems of power in the United States. Italian immigrants have a vary similar story of people unwanted. These two groups also happened to be majority Catholic.

Statue of Irish Labor Leader James Connolly in Union Park (Own Photo)

The third identity that intersected with ethnic and religious identity is class. Throughout the 20th century, many Catholic immigrants were laborers who fought for their right to unionize. For example, James Connolly (1868-1916) was an Irish Catholic labor organizer that fought for Irish Catholic workers in Chicago. He is memorialized in Union park by a statue. In the American system, many Catholic workers were at the bottom of the proverbial totem pole in regards to power. Because of this, many Catholics were not treated as full citizens because they were tied to the whims of bosses and business. It is difficult to be treated as a citizen when your identity group does not hold power. Catholics were also abused during labor protests. Catholic workers were part of the infamous Haymarket riots. Throughout American history, Catholics typically were part of the class that was most abused and subsequently not treated as citizens.

Haymarket Memorial in Chicago (own photo)

While Catholics were historically not treated as citizens, I believe that the situation has slightly changed. I believe that discrimination against Catholics has mostly ceased on religious grounds, while certain Catholic groups’ ethnic and class identity remain a blockade. The United States government has and has had Catholic serving in its highest offices in the last few decades. Former vice-president Joe Biden and a majority of the Supreme Court are Catholic. Hillary Clinton’s running mate in 2016 was also a practicing Catholic. There are some isolated scenarios where a person’s Catholic identity is a problem. For example, Amy Barrett, who was one of the floated candidates for Anthony Kennedy’s vacant Supreme Court seat, was questioned on her Catholic faith’s role in her judicial decision making. These cases are uncommon, and practicing Catholics remain to be part of the American system.

Joe Biden meets Pope Francis (Catholic News Service)

While Catholicism as an isolated dimension does not prevent someone from being a citizen in modern America, there are ethnic and class groups that are predominately Catholic that are not treated as citizens. Latinos in the United States make up a large portion of the American Catholic population, and they often see themselves locked out of systems of power in the United States. They also are found working jobs with lower pay. I believe that in this scenario, it is the group’s class and ethnic identity that prevents them from being considered citizens rather than their religious affiliation.

To what extent have Catholics been American citizens? In summery, I believe that different groups of Catholics have not been treated as citizens. In Modern America, Catholicism has largely stopped been a factor in not considering someone as a citizen. While certain groups that are predominately Catholic continue to not be considered citizens, it is due to prejudice against their class and ethnic identity. Questions of citizenship and identity are not easy. A thorough reading of the historical record demonstrates that Catholic groups have faced challenges to be treated as citizens.


Catholics and Political Issues: A Diversity of Opinions

Daniel Barrigan, a Catholic Peace Activist, protesting nuclear weapons

He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. – Luke 1: 52

My Name is Mark Neuhengen and I am a double major in History and Religious Studies with minors in Islamic World Studies, Arabic Language and Culture, and Catholic Studies. I decided to name my blog “I will Go to the altar of God” after the opening of the old pre-Vatican II form of the mass. In the context of liturgy, the phrase represented Catholics bringing all that they had to God and the desire to know him more deeply. I believe that the phrase is a useful metaphor for Catholic involvement in the American political system. Similar to how Catholics in worship brought what is good in their lives to God, Catholics bring what they believe is good to the political sphere. I am excited to learn what Catholics brought to our American system and how certain issues divided them. In this first blog, I am going to discuss political issues that are important to me and to Americans of generations past. This will be followed by a discussion on Catholic opinions on these issues.

People can look at the world and feel a sense of injustice. There is always a political issue or social injustice that we feel should be corrected. I am  not the exception. There are many things that one can get fired up over in our world, but there are three issues that spark my passion. The first issue is Capital Punishment and torture. In my opinion, there is no other issue that gets to the center of the moral character of a nation than these issues. Do we believe that the government has the authority and the clear outlook to end someone’s life? Do we think that our government should put people through unspeakable pain for a higher goal? These are questions that a nation has to ask itself.

Closely connected to that issue is the idea of nuclear weapons. We currently live in a world where a handful of countries have the capability to annihilate all human life on the planet. the ownership and maintenance of these weapons bring up more ethical questions. Should nations be allowed to have such fire power? How does society exist in world with such weapons constantly threatening us? How do we think and remember the victims of nuclear weapons. The third issue for me is access to education and literacy. I am a firm believer that ignorance is the cause of many ills in the world. If we could only experience the lives of others, we might be able to become more human to each other. One way to do this is through education. By having people read and learn about our collective humanity, we might be able to understand each other better.

The Catonsonvile Nine, A group of Catholic Peace Activists, burn draft cards

I believe that the political issues that were important to Americans of prior generations change depending on the era. For example, the Americans of the late 1960’s were concerned about the American war efforts in Vietnam. Forty years later, many Americans were divided regarding the American invasion of Iraq. These are just two examples of issues that people were concerned about. It would take a book to write out every issue that was important to Americans throughout history.

When it comes to the Catholic vote on these issues, I believe that there might be a divide between the official teaching of the Church and the laity at large. Regarding my first issue, capital punishment and torture, the Vatican has been vocal on condemning both. Because of this official condemnation, I believe that many Catholics would vote against these measures. There is evidence that not all Catholics share Rome’s opinion. For example, the current Catholic governor of Nebraska Pete Ricketts has largely ignored Pope Francis’ recent labeling of the death penalty as inadmissible. I also believe that Catholic opinions on torture might learn more negatively, but there are still people within the Church who support it.

Catholic opinions on nuclear weapons might be more complicated. There is a historic precedence of Catholics such as Father Dan Barrigan building their ecclesiastical careers on an opposition of nuclear weapons. Pope Francis has also condemned the use of such weapons. There was also a community of Jesuits living in Hiroshima when the bomb went off. In a religious world view that values life above other characteristics, it makes sense that the Catholic Church would be opposed to a weapon that can annihilate all life on the planet. Regardless of the official teaching of the church, I can understand that there might be a group within the church that understands Nuclear weapons value in defending the nation. Once again, the issue is a controversial one with no easy solution.

I believe that Catholic opinion on education and literacy is more clear cut. With a history of Catholic schools, the Roman Catholic church advocates for people to learn about the world and the ideas that fill it. The controversy among Catholics and education may involve how that education should function. Should Catholic schools receive federal funding? How much control should the government have regarding what is taught in Catholic schools? Catholic voters would have different opinions depending on their priories and the extent that they believe in the justness of the issue.

In regards to how Catholics voted on historical political issues, I believe that it differed depending on the issue. Whether it was Vietnam, Iraq, or any other controversial topic, one can always guess that the Catholic vote would be the result of many different factors. I believe that the greatest factor that one has to consider when looking at how Catholics historically voted is the prime motivator for Catholics; life. At the center of Church teaching is the idea that life is sacred and should be protected and nurtured. How this idea manifests in the world may differ from person to person. For example, a Catholic in 1965 might argue that the U.S. was protecting life by going to war with North Vietnam. A different Catholic might have said that such an effort would only cause more harm and destruction. While both Catholics have the same end goal, advocating for life, how that vote manifested was different.

The Catholic church and American politics is a complex subject matter with many different dimensions. I am excited this semester to come to a deeper understanding of the issues that Catholics fought for and against during the Great American century.

A 1926 anti-Catholic cartoon from the KKK