Turn back to 1891. Catholics comprised an underclass in America, with a few token descendants from the Maryland colony standing out as a Catholic elite. Preachers in the hinterland railed against the tyranny from Rome, and even some scholar-gentlemen on the eastern seaboard presumed that Jesuits were endowed with more habits of wile than powers of intellect. Right-minded people, however, were developing a social consciousness. Led by entrepreneur presidents who were developing non-denominational universities to replace parochial prejudices with scientific inquiry, the progressive academics wanted to diversify the academy and allow African Americans, Jews, and Catholics into their classrooms. Denominational colleges had their place, but in the eyes of Charles W. Eliot of Harvard, Daniel Coit Gilman of Johns Hopkins, Andrew Dickson White of Cornell, James B. Angell of Michigan, David Starr Jordan of Stanford, and William Rainey Harper of Chicago, the small colleges needed to adopt uniform standards that would ready their students for graduate work in the universities. President Eliot was particularly welcoming to Catholics, with more Catholics attending Harvard than any of the Catholic institutions; he even invited the rector of the new Catholic University of America, Bishop John J. Keane, to deliver an address at Harvard.
One would expect that a new day was dawning for American Catholicism in the 1890s, but occasional expressions of optimism were soon proven unjustified. At the same time that President Eliot was welcoming Bishop Keane, he was publishing an admissions policy for the Harvard Law School whereby baccalaureate degrees from Catholic institutions were not recognized. After some exchanges of letters with prominent Jesuits, Georgetown, Boston College, and College of the Holy Cross degrees were added to the list of those recognized, but Boston College and Holy Cross were soon dropped. Both the affair and the correspondence soon became quite public. The Jesuits, notably Timothy Brosnahan, demonstrated that there was no factual basis for various assertions President Eliot made about Jesuit educational practices and that the many graduates of Jesuit colleges who attended the law school in the past had done well. The reputedly liberal and open-minded president of Harvard appeared to act with prejudice even as he encouraged the Jesuits to improve their colleges.
While the Jesuits put up a brave front publicly, and fared well in the publicity war over the Harvard Law School affair, they had serious doubts among themselves. The revived order, following its suppression in most nations from 1773 to 1814, sought to restore its status quo ante through much of the nineteenth century. While it succeeded in establishing colleges throughout the world, it lacked any new educational vision. Its American colleges, still centered around the Greek and Latin humanities, failed to draw many American students. The colleges' tight discipline—designed really for the younger age level of the European collège rather than the young adult American college student—simply aggravated American students, who quit the Jesuit institutions after obtaining the equivalent of the American high school education and attended secular or Protestant institutions for their higher educations. The Jesuit superior general, Luis Martín Garcia, a mainstay of the anti-modernist campaign of the later years of Pope Leo XIII and the papacy of Pius X, was entirely unsympathetic to private requests from some American Jesuits for curricular updating and the relaxation of discipline over the students. Martín did not understand why American Catholics should study science, should study philosophy in English rather than in Latin, should be allowed to engage in intercollegiate athletics, or should even be allowed off the campuses without permission. He did not see why American Jesuits would want to earn specialized doctorates at non-Catholic universities. It needs be recalled that Vatican churchmen distrusted Protestant and democratic societies such as the United States, and that Martín's Spain was at war with the U.S. at the end of the century.
After Martín's death in 1906, the Jesuits' 25th "General Congregation" delegated authority over curriculum to the provinces rather than leave it in the hands of the new superior general. The American provinces tried to retain the old model of the Ratio Studiorum, albeit in the American 4 years of high school followed by 4 years of college scheme rather than the traditional Jesuit 7-year plan, but that proved impossible. The New York-Maryland Province adopted the public schools' curriculum for Latin instruction in 1914 and ceased teaching philosophy in Latin in 1915. By 1923, the American system was adapted wholesale—separation of high school from college, semester credit hours, majors, minors, electives, athletics, men's and women's colleges nearby each other, and less supervision and discipline over students. Classics, theology, and philosophy became added features of Catholic education.
This is a fascinating story. I would only fault the volume for its organization. Mahoney groups material about the Protestant majority's attitudes toward Catholics and Jesuits in a first section of the volume, the exchanges between Catholics and Protestants about the Harvard Law School incident in a second section, and discussions among Catholics and Jesuits in a third section. The result is that the narrative does not follow temporally; there is a resultant "meanwhile back at the ranch" experience for the reader. I would have preferred a more strictly chronological organization of the three parts.