A History of the Catholic Church in the American South, 1513–1900

James M. Woods

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"In a masterful survey of research on Catholicism in the South, Woods has done for that region what James Hennesey did for the Catholic Church in the United States in American Catholics."--Gerald P. Fogarty, University of Virginia

"This is a book we have long needed. Over the last four decades the history of the evangelical tradition in the South has been discovered and much written about, but the Catholic dimension of southern religious history has lagged behind in the historiography. Finally here is a synthesis of almost three centuries of the Catholic Church in the region."--John B. Boles, Rice University

No Christian denomination has had a longer or more varied existence in the American South than the Catholic Church. The Spanish missions established in Florida and Texas promoted Catholicism. Catholicism was the dominant religion among the French who settled in Louisiana. Prior to the influx of Irish immigrants in the 1840s, most American Catholics lived south of the Mason-Dixon line. Anti-Catholic prejudice was never as strong in the South as in the North or Midwest and was rare in the region before the twentieth century.

James Woods's sweeping history stretches from the first European settlement of the continent through the end of the Spanish-American War. The book is divided into three distinct sections: the colonial era, the early Republic through the annexation of Texas in 1845, and the stormy latter half of the nineteenth century. Woods pays particular attention to church/state relations, mission work and religious orders, the church and slavery, immigration to the South, and the experience of Catholicism in a largely Protestant region. He also highlights the contributions and careers of certain important southern Catholics, both clerical and lay, and considers how the diverse Catholic ethnic and racial groups have expressed their faith--and their citizenship--through the centuries.

James M. Woods is professor of history at Georgia Southern University.

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"Presenting the history of the Catholic Church in the American South to 1900 in a single volume is an imposing endeavor. By attempting this feat James Woods reveals both his ambition and his talents for delivering a thorough and compelling synthesis of a deep, broad, and mature historiography. Woods skillfully compiles a diverse collection of secondary sources and complements their analyses with his own insightful research, producing a detailed narrative that spans almost four centuries and connects the stories of southern Catholics of different races, nationalities, and traditions of practice. Wood's digestible writing style and fluid chronology make subtle this theme and others, allowing the individual stories of southern Catholics to drive the reader forward. Particularly impressive is Woods' ability to address fundamental but diverse elements of both Catholic and southern history in a manner that neither detracts from his larger narrative nor trivializes those individual elements. He lucidly includes analyses of slavery, efforts by the Church to proselytize, the effects of shifting populations, and tensions between Catholics and non-Catholics. All the while Woods gives adequate treatment to the history of the Church as an institution as well as to the common experiences of the lay Catholic population of the South. This diversity of foci is perhaps the greatest success of the author in this work. Leaves the reader with a near-complete picture of the life of the Church in this region, achieving his goal of revealing a Catholic population not fractured by time, place, and nationality, but rather united by a common religious experience that withstood myriad external and internal pressures." Southern Historian, XXXIII

"An introduction to some of the best research available on the historiographical landscape of southern Catholicism and an invitation to engage this scholarship more fully." Florida Historical Quarterly

"The author's skillful narrative weaves the reader through all the periods and all the dioceses without creating a sense of being dislocated from one place and period to another." American Catholic Studies

"One of a kind: the only book to survey the first four hundred years of the Catholic Church in what would become known as the American South." … "Woods has performed a great service to the fields of American Catholic history and southern history." Journal of American History

"A comprehensive, well-documented, and interesting overview of the Catholic experience in the South through 1900. [Woods] has succeeded well in his objective of providing a solid resource on early Southern Catholicism." Catholic Historical Review

"imparts a tremendous amount of detail about Roman Catholicism in the American South Katherine E. Rohrer, Arkansas Historical Quarterly

"Since no one has hitherto treated Roman Catholicism within the South as a whole, Woods's book is a welcome contribution." The Journal of Southern History

"Scholars will appreciate how the author assembles this sweeping history." American Historical Review

“A highly readable synthesis of four centuries of southern Catholicism… helps to create a more nuanced and vibrant picture of religious life in the American South.” Catholic Southwest

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