What Catholic Reform Looks Like

Paul Harvey

Recently we put up a guest post from Julie Ingersoll reviewing Colleen McDannell's new work The Spirit of Vatican II: A History of Catholic Reform in America. This work, part family memoir and part religious history, was recently published by Basic Books.

There's a nice interview with Colleen about the book, up now here. Below, a little excerpt, which I hope will interest you in reading the rest:

The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) was perhaps the most important event in twentieth-century religious history. While there are many fine books about Vatican II, they focus either on the session debates or on the ideas contained in the Council documents. What I wondered about was how Vatican II influenced the lives of average American Catholics. What was parish life like before and after the Council? Did Vatican II really change anything?

It really is impossible to speak of “the American Catholic,” because of the ethnic, class, and regional differences. So, I decided to use my mother as the narrative thread to look at how certain Catholics negotiated the changes of the past century. I wanted to shift the discussion to girls, women, nuns, and parish life because the sex abuse scandals had yet again reduced Catholicism to a story of boys, men, priests, and bishops. I also thought that it was about time that religious historians take seriously mobile, middle-class life in the suburbs, especially in the western United States.


pjhayesphd said…
Colleen McDannell confirms what I've been saying for some time, namely, that in America the reception of Vatican was very uneven. To put it in more anthropological parlance, our understanding of that event is "thick" with description. I've gathered a collection of oral histories of women religious of different communities about their views on their Catholic life before, during, and after Vatican II. It is simply not the case that Catholic sisters had universal acquaintance with the conciliar proceedings as they occurred. Unless their superiors made commitments to getting their sisters educated on the texts or on the impact of the Council for the world wide Church, they did not familiarize themselves or make the messages of the Council part of their lives. One cluster of sisters that I interviewed stated that the local bishop returned from Rome in 1965 to address their community of several hundred nuns on his experience of the Council and his plan of action for the diocese. They all left the room asking themselves whether anyone had actually understood what he said. It was as if he was speaking in a foreign tongue. As these women were on the front lines of catechesis and other ministries, lay people were either inculcated in the emerging theologies of the Council or they lagged in understanding. It should not come as a surprise that Colleen McDannell's assertions about the variegated patterns of reception of Vatican II are prevalent even today.
Patrick Hayes

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