Anne M. MARTINEZ. Catholic Borderlands: Mapping Catholicism onto American Empire, 1905 – 1935. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2014. Pp. 293. $70.00 hb. ISBN 978-0-8032-4877-9. Reviewed by Ann SWANER, Barry University, Miami Shores FL 33161
Catholic Borderlands tells a fascinating story of a thirty-year period in American history in the early twentieth century. In 1905 Rev. Francis Clement Kelley, a Canadian priest, founded the Catholic Church Extension Society of the United States of America and its very influential fundraising arm, Extension Magazine. The stated purpose of the society was to fund domestic evangelization in mission areas. The idea was to raise money from urban Catholic areas, mainly in the Northeast and Midwest, where by the beginning of the twentieth century Catholics were beginning to be established and to have some disposable income, and to use these funds to help remote populations in rural areas, mainly in the south and west.
But Martinez argues that Kelley had a much broader agenda. He used the monthly Extension Magazine to create an American Catholic narrative of American history countering the Protestant narrative. The Protestant narrative characterized the Spanish Catholics as backward, clerical, absolutist, and cruel to indigenous people (based on accounts by Bartolome de las Casas) while the American Anglo-Protestants were progressive, republican, rational, and civilizing. Kelley reminded his readers that the Spanish and French Catholics were in America long before the Protestants arrived. He rejected the “Black Legend” about the cruelty of the Spanish. The Spanish in Mexico and the U.S. Southwest and the French in Louisiana had converted and ‘civilized’ the native peoples they encountered and those people therefore had a right not to be torn away from their ‘mother’ religion or their ‘natural’ religion, which is Catholicism, by Protestant proselytizers and Protestant public schools. He argued that American Catholics had a moral responsibility to keep these people Catholic by contributing money to build churches, schools, and hospitals in these “Catholic borderlands.” Martinez defines these borderlands as “former Spanish territories that had to find their respective places within a growing U.S. sphere of political, economic, and cultural influence in the first three decades of the twentieth century.” (p.3)
In 1910 Extension Magazine was one of the most widely read monthly magazines in the country with a circulation of 78,444; this was more than the circulation of National Geographic and Atlantic Monthly combined. It contained short stories (some written by Kelley) about faith, conversion, poverty, and the history of the West, as well as articles and photos of the places and people who were being helped by the Extension Society and of the heroic priests who were dedicating their lives to serving them. It also contained detailed funding requests, testimonials, and editorials. American Catholics read and responded by funding Kelley’s projects; donating became a way of participating in the American Catholic mission that made Catholics feel more authentically American.
An important part of this story is about the participation of American Catholics, the U.S. government, and Father Kelley in the events in Mexico during this time period. Martinez situates her own family’s immigration to the US in the 1910’s, return to Mexico in 1930, and return again to Chicago in 1944 in the context of this larger picture of interaction between Mexico and the U.S. and between Mexican and U.S. Catholics. She describes events surrounding the Mexican revolution with its anticlericalism which caused many Mexican priests as well as foreign priests who had been working in Mexico to flee to the United States. Fr. Kelley continued to stress the obligation of American Catholics to keep Mexico Catholic. At Kelley’s urging, the U.S. bishops set up and funded a “seminary-in-exile” in Texas for the training of Mexican priests. The U.S. government didn’t so much care if the Mexicans were Catholic but they wanted the country to be stable for economic and political reasons and they recognized that that could not happen without resolution of the “religion question.” Martinez describes in great detail the intersection of historical, cultural, political, diplomatic, economic, and religious factors in this situation and that of the subsequent Cristero Rebellion. Church and State in Mexico finally came to an accommodation in 1929 after much intervention by US government officials, U.S. Catholics, and even the Vatican.
In addition to American Catholic intervention in Mexico Martinez describes the extension of Kelley’s mission to Puerto Rico and the Philippines. Although the Extension Society’s mission was explicitly domestic, Kelley insisted that “American Catholics inherited the mantle of Spanish Catholicism around the world, not just at home in the American West.” (p. 85)This book originated as a dissertation but most of the dissertation details have been relegated to the footnotes, which are interesting reading in themselves. There is some unnecessary repetition but on the whole it is very well written and accessible. Included are many wonderful black and white photos from the Extension Magazine. Catholic Borderlands should be read by anyone teaching or doing research in American religious history.