Katherine D. MoranMar 16, 2022
The Imperial Church
Catholic Founding Fathers and United States Empire
Cornell University Press 2020
Through a fascinating discussion of religion's role in the rhetoric of American civilizing empire, The Imperial Church: Catholic Founding Fathers and United States Empire (Cornell UP, 2020) undertakes an exploration of how Catholic mission histories served as a useful reference for Americans narrating US settler colonialism on the North American continent and seeking to extend military, political, and cultural power around the world. Katherine D. Moran traces historical celebrations of Catholic missionary histories in the upper Midwest, Southern California, and the US colonial Philippines to demonstrate the improbable centrality of the Catholic missions to ostensibly Protestant imperial endeavors.
Moran shows that, as the United States built its continental and global dominion and an empire of production and commerce in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, Protestant and Catholic Americans began to celebrate Catholic imperial pasts. She demonstrates that American Protestants joined their Catholic compatriots in speaking with admiration about historical Catholic missionaries: the Jesuit Jacques Marquette in the Midwest, the Franciscan Junípero Serra in Southern California, and the Spanish friars in the Philippines. Comparing them favorably to the Puritans, Pilgrims, and the American Revolutionary generation, commemorators drew these missionaries into a cross-confessional pantheon of US national and imperial founding fathers. In the process, they cast Catholic missionaries as gentle and effective agents of conquest, uplift, and economic growth, arguing that they could serve as both origins and models for an American civilizing empire.
The Imperial Church connects Catholic history and the history of US empire by demonstrating that the religious dimensions of American imperial rhetoric have been as cross-confessional as the imperial nation itself.
Carlos Ruiz Martinez is a PhD student in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Iowa. He is also the Communications Assistant for the American Catholic Historical Association (ACHA). His general interest is in American religious history, especially American Catholicism.
Allison Isidore is a graduate of the Religion in Culture Masters program at the University of Alabama. Her research interest is focused on the twentieth-century American Civil Rights Movement and the Catholic Church’s response to racism and the participation of Catholic clergy, nuns, and laypeople in marches, sit-ins, and kneel-ins during the 1950s and 1960s. Allison is also a Video Editor for The Religious Studies Project producing videos for the podcast and marketing team. She tweets from @AllisonIsidore1.