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Life Arts    H4'ed 11/7/16

John T. McGreevy's Account of Jesuit Globalization (REVIEW ESSAY)

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McGreevy makes it clear that the Jesuits were frequently subjected to anti-Jesuit propaganda, which contributed to the formal suppression of the Jesuit order in 1773 and to later political suppressions of the order even after its restoration in 1814.

As McGreevy points out (pages 222-223), Pope Francis is the first Jesuit pope -- and the first pope from South America (Argentina). The Jesuit missionaries in South America at an earlier time are the subject of the 1986 movie The Mission. In the pope's recent eco-encyclical, in the process of alerting people of goodwill around the world today to the threat of climate change, he critiques our capitalist economic system and economic globalization.

As McGreevy's end-notes show (pages 225-295), he worked extensively in various Jesuit archives. McGreevy, who is in history at the University of Notre Dame, does not state whether he was educated by Jesuits.

In Philip Gleason's book Contending with Modernity: [American] Catholic Higher Education in the Twentieth Century (Oxford University Press, 1995), he aptly expresses the spirit of contending with modernity that dominated the core curriculum of philosophy courses in Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy not only in Jesuit colleges and universities, but also in other Catholic colleges and universities in the twentieth century in the United States. Your guess is as good as mine as to how many American Catholic undergraduates actually understood the import of what they were taught in those various required philosophy courses in the core curriculum.

In effect, McGreevy explains the understandable backstory of how that spirit of Catholic contending with modernity arose in Europe and then arrived in the Unites States, with Jesuits exiled from certain European countries bringing that spirit with them to American culture. He reports that roughly one thousand Jesuits "left Europe for the United States in the nineteenth century" (page 2). He also notes that "the United States was such an important site for Jesuit work, drawing more Jesuits from around the world than any other place in the nineteenth century" (page 4).

McGreevy makes it clear that the anti-Catholic spirit in certain European countries had an American counterpart, most notably in the Know-Nothing Movement. McGreevy has discussed the Know-Nothing Movement and other forms of anti-Catholic prejudice in American culture historically far more extensively in his earlier book Catholicism and American Freedom: A History (Norton, 2003). Unfortunately, anti-Catholic prejudice persists in our contemporary American culture. See the religious studies scholar Philip Jenkins' book The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice (Oxford University Press, 2003) and the American Jesuit Mark S. Massa's book Anti-Catholicism in America: The Last Acceptable Prejudice (Crossroad, 2003).

In Ong's first book, Frontiers in American Catholicism: Essays on Ideology and Culture (Macmillan, 1957), he also discusses "the post-Revolutionary period of nineteenth-century Catholicism in which most American Catholics came to America" as characterized by "the minority, defensive position, in which the Church found itself in a culture which really, although never quite officially, was anti-Catholic" (page 3). Out of this understandable reaction to a hostile environment, American Catholics, according to Ong, developed "a Catholic mentality which in many ways is the most conservative in the world set in the midst of the nation whose genius seems to be adaptability and change" (page 3).

Basically, McGreevy adds substantially to Ong's assessment of how deeply conservative American Catholics tended to be, but McGreevy credits the Jesuits with playing a significant role in shaping that conservative mentality.

According to McGreevy, "This hostility prompted Jesuits and their allies to accelerate the building of a dense Catholic subculture of parishes, schools, associations, colleges, and magazines, all constructed in a reciprocal relationship with a particular devotional culture and communal sensibility" (page 3).

The modernity that nineteenth-century Catholics were contending with included the American experiment in democratic government and the spirit of individualism. (A kindred but different inner-directed spirit of personal individuation is accentuated in Jesuits and other who undertake a thirty-day retreat in silence following the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, as Ong has pointed out. But the spirit of individualism that Jesuits and others inveighed against came to be known later in the nineteenth century as social Darwinism.)

But McGreevy carefully explains that "Jesuit opposition to modernity was selective, not wholesale. It included hostility to new notions of nonsectarian education, religious freedom, and the idea that science and the miraculous were incompatible. It valued the community over the individual. It drove the construction of a dense network of Catholic institutions to shelter the faithful from potentially hostile influences. But the very construction and maintenance of those institutions required engagement with host societies" (page 13).

Later on, McGreevy says, "By the late 1940s, the vast majority of Jesuits in the North Atlantic had also come to terms with nonsectarian public education (as long as Catholic schools were permitted), religious liberty (in practice), and modern science (while sustaining a belief in the miraculous)" (page 212).

In Frontiers in American Catholicism, Ong says, "Collectively, American Catholics seem quite unaware that their achievement in setting up their present school system represents not only a remarkable achievement in the face of a neutral state which gives no financial assistance whatsoever to any but state schools, but also a tremendous development in the interior economy of Catholic life itself" (pages 7-8; also see page 107).

In Frontiers in American Catholicism, Ong commends the Cardinal James Gibbons of Baltimore (pages 15, 21, 23, and 125), Archbishop John Ireland of St. Paul (pages 15, 21, 23, and 125), and the Protestant convert to Catholicism Orestes Brownson (pages 22 and 125).

McGreevy also discusses Cardinal Gibbons (pages 160 and 164), Archbishop Ireland (pages 159-166, 179-180, and 190), and Orestes Brownson (pages 86, 92-93, and 111).

As McGreevy notes, "In 1914, the Jesuits inaugurated a centenary celebration [of the restoration of the Society of Jesus by Pope Pius VII in 1814]. The Society now numbered over sixteen thousand -- a remarkable increase from the several hundred survivors of the suppression who celebrated the restoration in 1814. Beginning with a handful of beleaguered institutions, Jesuits now ran 234 colleges in forty-three countries, sponsored dozens of scholarly, devotional, and missionary journals, ran multiple scientific observatories, served as advisers to the pope and in various high ecclesiastical positions, and as a collective constituted the most significant Catholic intellectual resource" (page 173).

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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