Issues in the Encounter

High Altar Crucifix used at St. Mary Mother of God, Catholic Church, Washington, DC, German Church established in 1845. St. Mary Mother of God Catholic Church

The Church's encounter with American culture and society focused on three issues in the 1880's and 1890's: ethnic diversity within the church; Catholic relations with non-Catholics; and the Church's relations with the American labor movement. In the first case, German priests and laymen, bridling at what they perceived to be forced Americanization by their Irish American co-religionists, sought Vatican and European intervention to restructure the church in the United States along ethnic lines. Archbishops Gibbons, Ireland and Corrigan, fearful of the ethnic balkanization of the church and its branding as foreign and un-American, resisted that intervention. In the second case, Gibbons, Keane and Ireland welcomed opportunities to participate in forums with non-Catholics such as at the World Parliament of Religions at the Chicago World's Fair of 1893. Bishop McQuaid and others opposed Catholic participation in such activities as concessions to religious relativism. Finally, some bishops, concerned about the Knights of Labor's secret ritual and its strike activities, prevented members of their flocks from joining the Knights of Labor. Their colleagues, convinced that the Knights were well within rights defined by the church and the nation to defend workers' interests and fearful that the church would seem indifferent to workers if it condemned the labor union, backed the organization and won Vatican approval for their action.