Among the gems in the latest issue of Historically Speaking is Randall Stephens’ interview(yes, we shamelessly shill for one another on this blog) with Brandeis University historian Maura Jane Farrelly.
Papist Patriots: The Making of an American Catholic Identity was published earlier this year with Oxford University Press. She focuses on colonial Maryland, which was home to British America’s largest concentration of Roman Catholics, including the influential Carroll family.
Anti-Catholicism in early Maryland was a complex phenomenon, Farrelly notes, not easily reducible to hostility toward Roman Catholics. Papist Patriots shows how a dual Roman Catholic identity -- distinguished by its compatibility with broader American understandings of religious liberty and its commitment to a hierarchal and communal church -- were reconciled in this largely Protestant country.
Excerpted below are a few tidbits from Stephens’ interview with Farrelly.
On her historical dissent from the Roman Catholic priest and theologian John Courtney Murray’s pivotal postwar argument that “there was a natural fit between Catholicism and a commitment to individual rights and religious pluralism”:
Farrelly: I agree with him that the Catholics living in the British colonies in the 1770s had embraced the American consensus, but I’m not sure their natural-law mindset was the reason why. I think it was their unique experiences as a politically -- but not economically -- oppressed minority in an English colony where Catholicism had been tolerated -- and then wasn’t that ‘prepared’ colonial Catholics to accept the ideology of the founding.
On the dual challenge faced by early Catholics:
Some Catholics rebelled more strongly against their government; others rebelled more strongly against their church. But most pushed against both with equal weight, telling their king that he could not have dominion over their religious consciences and telling their church that it could not determine their civil loyalties or behavior.
On the similarities between seventeenth-century Maryland and twenty first-century Iraq:
In 2006 nearly 235,000 people in Iraq fled their homes because of sectarian fighting. As staggering and disturbing as that statistic is, it still represents less than 1% of the entire Iraqi population. In contrast, 80% of the settlers in St. Mary’s County either fled or were killed in what is known as the ‘Ingle-Claiborne Rebellion’ of 1645-46.
On the formation of an American Catholic identity:
. . . Maryland’s Catholics understood after 1689 that English identity alone was not going to provide them with the liberty they sought. To claim the rights of Englishmen, they were going to have to assume the mantle not of English identity, but ‘Marylandian” identity, since religious toleration had been a fundamental component of Maryland’s founding. In 1776 that is precisely what they did.
Farrelly isn’t the first historian to offer an explanation of how early Roman Catholics became Americans (or more properly, first Marylanders, and then Americans), but she may have just provided us with the most persuasive one.