John MCGREEVY. American Jesuits and the World: How and Embattled Religious Order Made Modern Catholicism Global. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016. pp. 315. $35.00, hardcover, ISBN: 978-0-691-17162-3. Reviewed by Patrick HAYES, Redemptorist Archives of the Baltimore Province, Philadelphia, PA, 19123.
Global historians have been recently treated to gigantic tomes canvassing the full sweep of political, economic, and social revolutions—along with the historiography to go along with them. Lynn Hunt’s Writing History in a Global Era (2015) or Sebastian Conrad’s What Is Global History? (2016) have recently added to the broad and probing discussion on the impact of a globalized world on the writing of history. The amazing lack of new material on the global perspective on religion—and its accompanying historiography—is now put in check by John McGreevy’s enlightened treatise on the Society of Jesus and its worldwide enterprise to survive and thrive in the modern age.
Drawn from source material in Rome, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Manila—as well as points in between—the book serves to add a rich layer to our understanding of global Catholicism. McGreevy’s points of departure occur in places like Ellsworth, Maine, where Father John Bapst was tarred and feathered in 1854; or Grand Coteau, Louisiana, where Jesuits maintained a seminary not far from a convent that was the site for a miracle by the Jesuit Saint John Berchmans. European-born Jesuits had been scattered to these places owing to their expulsions from their native lands. America provided more than a refuge. Jesuits and their sympathizers gradually carved out territory in the public square in order to promote the cause of religion and to practice the Catholic faith, all while challenging Protestant conventions and diatribes. As missionaries and educators, Jesuits have been perceived (accurately or not) as a bulwark against civil antagonisms in Europe and the United States, but among those Protestant liberals who would take up the pen against them, they were viewed as in league with the Devil. That these people branded any Catholic priest a Jesuit, regardless of actual affiliation, had the two-fold effect of lumping together their worst fears about the Church of Rome, but it also granted to Jesuits themselves the honor of being the driving irritant to the irrational and thuggish elements of American society.
McGreevy’s argument is important and useful for the study of Catholicism and American history. In his narrative he constantly swings the pendulum back and forth between the global entity and its localized manifestation. The Jesuits are the fulcrum. As his case studies show, European-born Jesuit attitudes were molded to fit unfamiliar circumstances in the United States, where the creature comforts of home were lost, but new found freedoms were, at least on paper, guaranteed. The glue that held American Jesuits together in the long nineteenth century—things like a fearsome loyalty to the Roman pontiff, a taste for adventure, and the Ratio Studiorum—permitted them to feel a deep connection to a worldwide institution. It allowed them to take part in a movement that transformed culture, just as easily as it transcended it. “Ours” was not to be stable, locked up in a monastery. Jesuits in America were destined to go into the far reaches of the Philippines, Bolivia, and China as missionaries eager to bring the Gospel to remote places. The letters that crisscrossed oceans show men who did as much to bring their political allegiances and sympathies into local cultures, as they did to win souls for God.
From the suppression of the Society in 1773 through its restoration in 1814, the order could not function. The priests and brothers who were then active in laying the groundwork for Georgetown University (founded 1789) or who labored clandestinely, did so without benefit of paternal guidance and funding from Europe. Reconstituting itself in the United States meant eventually becoming attached to a foreign entity (the Russian Society). This legacy has shaped the Society to this day: its fourth vow to be sent wherever the pope deems necessary remains a hallmark for its commitment to a global church. McGreevy’s splendid study places this vow in context and takes it out of the abstract.