The Remaking of the Catholic Working Class: Detroit, 1919–1945
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 18 June 2018
This essay examines the response of Catholics—both the institutional church and blue-collar laity—to the turmoil of the late 1930s and the rise of the United Automobile Workers in Detroit. It critiques an influential line of scholarship that holds that the ethnic working class was effectively secularized by the rise of mass culture, the welfare state, and industrial unions. Instead, the essay argues that religion—like class, gender, or race/ethnicity—might fruitfully be analyzed as a “consciousness” and, as such, remains fluid, malleable, and protean in the face of historical change. During the Depression years, blue-collar Catholics (especially Catholic men) experienced a re-creation of their religious consciousness to conform to the new world of industrial unionism. While Detroit’s “labor priests” established the Archdiocesan Labor Institute (ALI) and hosted labor schools in parishes across the city, lay people, spurred by the movement for “Catholic Action,” founded the Association of Catholic Trade Unionists (ACTU) to strengthen working-class faith and “Christianize the UAW.” More important, the ALI and ACTU collectively provided a new religious template within which working-class Catholics might reconcile—even intertwine—their class, gender, and religious identities. While the changes of the 1930s did assimilate ethnic Catholics more fully into the secular sphere, this essay demonstrates that such a process did not result in a “decline” in religious significance for many Catholic workers; more precisely, it meant a “re-making” of religious consciousness.
- Research Article
- Religion and American Culture , Volume 19 , Issue 1 , Winter 2009 , pp. 37 - 67
- Copyright © Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture 2009
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21. George Addes to Raymond Clancy, TL, November 20, 1939, and Frank Boucher to Raymond Clancy, November 16, 1939, both in Clancy Papers, Box 4, Folder 2.
22. Interview with John Zaremba, TMs, in UAW Oral History Project, WPRLLUA.
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35. Student's assessments of the labor schools contained in Clancy Papers, Box 1, Folders 16, 17.
37. “Constitution of the ACTU,” adopted July 15, 1938, in ACTU, Box 1, Folder 1; “ACTU Bulletin,” in ACTU, Box 1, Folder 3.
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40. Seaton, Catholics and Radicals, is the most noticeable example.
41. Cort in Voices of the Catholic Worker, ed. Troester, 13.
42. ACTU, Box 1, Folders 4, 5.
43. ACTU Chrysler Local 7 newsletter, July 14, 1939, in ACTU, Box 23, Folder “Chrysler Local 7.”
44. “Actist Bulletin,” August 25, 1938, ACTU, Box 1, Folder 1; “Actist Bulletin,” ACTU, Box 1, Folder 3.
45. ACTU, Box 3, Folder “Parish Captain Minutes.”
47. “Catholic Social Manifesto.” Women were frequently discouraged from entering the workforce by ACTU chaplains; see Wage Earner, May 14, 1943, and June 11, 1943, for just two examples.
48. Michigan Catholic, May 2, 1940; Untitled TMs by Archbishop Edward Mooney in ACTU, Box 4, Folder “May Day 1940,” 1, 3.
49. Untitled TMs by Archbishop Edward Mooney, in ACTU, Box 4, Folder “May Day 1940”; “Resolution,” August 5, 1938, in ACTU, Box 34, Folder “UAW, 1938–1940.”
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56. Prayer card in ACTU, Box 1, Folder 1.
57. “Introductory Talk: ‘Not by Bread Alone, Doth Man Live!’” TMs, ACTU, Box 3, Folder “ACTU Lectures.” It is unclear who wrote this lecture.