Fathers on the Frontier

By Kelly Baker

Leslie Tentler reviews our contributor (and my dear friend and fellow FSU alum) Mike Pasquier's Fathers on the Frontier: French Missionaries and the Roman Catholic Priesthood in the United States, 1789-1870 (Oxford 2009), in the current issue of American Catholic Studies Newsletter (from the Cushwa Center at Notre Dame).

Tentler's lovely review situates Pasquier's work as on the cutting edge of Catholic history because Fathers on the Frontier examines seriously and thoughtfully the lived religion of Catholic priests. Tentler explains that her generation of historians focused upon the laity and some times actively attacked 'clerical history.' She notes:
Candid discussions of priestly life, however--its tensions, rewards, and material particulars--were extremely rare. Priests in this literature seemed to float not just above history but above the needs, drives, and psychological conflicts that bedevil the lives of lesser mortals (10).

She further continues that Pasquier focuses upon the "lived experience of the priesthood helps us to grasp the complexities of the system--the contingent nature of episcopal authority, for example, or the cultural capital enjoyed by the laity, even in times of plentiful priestly vocations" (11).

In his examination of priests as both father and brothers, Pasquier demonstrates the messiness of their relationships with one another and their parishes. Priests walked between the worlds of the sacred and profane, official authority and personal relationships, faith and doubt. Tentler reveals that Pasquier's examination of 'clerical thought and emotion' provides "psychologically rich territory--so rich, indeed, that one wonders why historians of my generation, intrigued as many of us by counter-cultural phenomena, have been reluctant to venture there" (11). She concludes, "Happily for all concerned, Pasquier has provided an excellent model for our imitation" (13).

For the review in entirety, click here (pages 10-13), and Chuck Lippy weighs in at the Journal of Southern Religion, too.