Catholics in a Gentrifying Pilsen

It only took two or three weeks of my first sociology class with Dr. Anne Figert for me to fall in love with the subject. Later sociology classes led me to investigate gentrification in neighborhoods such as the Near North Side and Uptown. The causes and effects of gentrification captured my imagination, which has led to past projects exploring gentrification from different lenses such as housing, race, and education. One side often left out of the question when examining gentrification is religion.

Pilsen is a Chicago neighborhood with a rich art culture and community and an even richer history. The name Pilsen is an anglicization of the city name Plzen, the second largest city in West Bohemia according to the Encyclopedia of Chicago. WTTW provides an excellent recounting of the area’s history. Like many of the neighborhoods of Chicago, Pilsen started out as small communities set up along the canal, turning raw goods into marketable products. The Irish claimed the area as home as they dug the nearby canal. As waves of other immigrants found refuge in Chicago, the Pilsen found itself primarily inhabited by Czechs, many of whom were Catholic. Fast-forwarding, the Mayor Daley’s urban renewal program in the 1950s saw the construction of the Stevenson Expressway. This construction displaced many Latinx families in the Near West Side who then found refuge in Pilsen. The construction of the University of Illinois at Chicago displaced even more who followed the previous migration towards the affordable Pilsen neighborhood. According to WTTW, the Catholic Churches of Pilsen were essential to welcoming these new families to the neighborhood.

As the Latinx newcomers became the majority of the community, they began fighting to make the neighborhood their own. They built or renamed community centers (see video above), made bilingual education the norm in schools, and installed vibrant murals and mosaics in public spaces. These vibrant spaces combined with the marginalized community made the area ripe for the first of the stages of gentrification: the arrival of the first few outsiders. In the years since, the area has gone through all of the stages as property values skyrocketed, a majority of the original community members have been kicked out, and wealthy residents have moved in. This story of wealthy residents pushing out community members certainly sells newspapers, but perhaps there is a greater story to be unearthed.

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A cartoon illustrating four stages of gentrification: underserved area, the entrance of marginalized groups, initial re-investment, and large-scale development. (Source)

With each wave of new community members which Pilsen has seen, Irish, Czech, Latinx, and now wealthy urbanites, there must be a support structure both for the newcomers attempting to build community and the community members who call the neighborhood home. It was well-established last semester that Catholic Churches acted as the first community centers for many immigrant groups such as the Irish and the Czechs. In my research, I hope to look into how Catholicism played a role in the entrance and removal of the Latinx community in Pilsen and how Churches are fairing in this gentrified neighborhood.

Catholic Women in Health Care Reform

To anyone who knows me or my career aspirations, my interest in health care reform should be unsurprising. As I was browsing Loyola’s Women and Social Justice archives, the poster from Church Women United with the headline “Health Care Coverage” immediately stood out. It calls for individuals to write to their senators in support of comprehensive, affordable health care. With a little bit more digging, I also found a pamphlet by the same Church Women United inviting the people of Kankakee, IL to a health care reform workshop.

This kind of local organization with the goal of larger change is something we have seen throughout the Ramonat Seminar in the anti-War movement with Fr. Berrigan, the worker’s rights movements which began in local churches, and today as churches declare themselves as sanctuaries for immigrants. The reasoning behind this kind of organization may be due to how Catholics identify: often with their local church as we discussed in week eight. It is also unsurprising that Catholics would have a vested interest in health care politics. Though we have not studied it individually in class, Catholics, especially nuns, were very dedicated to providing adequate, affordable health care for all. One of our earlier readings pointed out that it was Chicago nuns who were able to establish the first permanent hospital in Chicago, a city riddled with disease and poor living conditions at the time. It is, therefore, unsurprising to see Catholic women taking up the mast in favor of more universal health care coverage.

The Health Care Reform Project Pamphlet


How to be a Catholic Politician

The Primaries – JFK Tackles the Religion Issue (Chicago Tribune: Sat. September 18, 1965)

This article is one of a series of writings by Teodore C. Sorensen in the the Chicago Tribune. Sorensen worked with John F. Kennedy for eleven years as his protestant ‘alter ego’. In this article, he describes how Kennedy was shunned in West Virginia, not because they did not like him as a person, but because they did not like him as a Catholic. Many protestants were concerned the Catholicism, given an inch, would take a mile. Similar sentiments have been shared in our past readings, especially with Catholic immigrants. Protestant immigrants were able to assimilate relatively easily but the German, Czech, and Irish immigrants were sequestered into their own communities. As Levi Boone is quoted in The Irish Way, “Who does not know that the most depraved, debased, worthless and irredeemable drunkards and slots which curse the community are Irish Catholics?”. Though their poverty certainly contributed to the discrimination, Irish Catholicism gave American Protestants something to latch onto. This hatred due to religion is something still seen in this article about Kennedy. One angle which we have not seen in our past readings is an appeal made directly to Protestant leaders. Kennedy employs the help of Sorensen and other Protestant ministers to write letters against religious discrimination. Other prominent leaders followed suit, and won Kennedy the primary in West Virginia.

Catholic Participation in the 2018 Midterms

Dr. Michael Murphy, the appointed Catholic of the Behind the Tweets panel unpacking the 2018 Midterm elections, claimed that Catholics are homeless in American politics. This comment echoed in my head throughout the remainder of the event because it expresses a thought which, I believe, we have been discussing all semester and a feeling which I have dealt with for my entire political life. Catholics have never really been welcomed into any American politics. Instead, they have forced their way in, shaping movements such as the labor movement and the anti-war movement. In a similar way, Catholic teachings do not align with the beliefs of either Republicans or Democrats. Instead, Catholics are forced to choose which issues matter most to them, which gives the distribution of voters an interesting, but relatively even, split.

The USCCB’s voting guide

As I reflected upon last week, Catholics are often seen as a bloc within the Conservative Republican party. While doing research for this week, I found yet more evidence as to why. The first six results when googling “Catholic vote 2018” all link back to one website: This website is undeniably conservative, praising the Kavanaugh nomination, supporting stronger border control, and, more than anything else, speaking out about abortion. In a similar vein, the United States Council of Catholic Bishops’ “Forming Consciences of Faithful Citizenship” lists nine issues which Catholics need to take into account today. The first three issues all have Republican leanings while the issue of immigration does not come up until number eight. Through just some simple googling, it becomes easy to see why many would view Catholics as a sub-section of the Republican party.

But history tells us a different story. Our studies have shown that Catholics have been heavily involved in movements traditionally associated with New Liberalism and, therefore, the Democratic party. We saw the Catholic Church stand behind workers as they unionized and began negotiating on an even playing field with their employers. In “Francis Revives the Workers’ Church”, the president of the Chicago Federation of Labor was quoted looking back on his father fighting as a union organizer saying, “It was brutal, but we always had the Catholic Church. There was always a Catholic priest around.” Catholic bishops were not afraid to speak their minds either. William Au points out that “Catholic bishops … were numbered among the most prominent advocates of the anti-nuclear and disarmament movements.” This directly contradicts the current figurehead of the Republican party, Donald Trump, who can be seen wielding the U.S. Army to any minor foreign threat. Activism from the Catholic hierarchy is also found within the Civil Rights movement. John McGreevy quotes an observer at Selma who said, “This was the first time that so many Catholic priests, acting with their bishops’ permission, had joined [protesters] on the front lines of the movement.” This forces the question to be asked: are Catholics Republicans or Democrats today?

2018 Midterm
A figure from the Pew Research Center breaking down and comparing the 2018 Midterm election by religious affiliation. (Source)

According to the Pew Research Center, the answer is neither. The Catholic vote is almost directly a 50/50 split and has been close to that mark for the past four midterms. What does this mean? I believe this data is the best evidence for Dr. Murphy’s claim that Catholics are homeless in U.S. politics. Due to the two-party system where neither party really offers all that Catholics want, Catholic voters are forced to chose a few issues which really matter to them and vote nearly entirely based upon those issues. If this sounds familiar, it should. Most citizens of the United States, Catholic or not, do not fall into either of the extremes of the parties. Instead, each is forced to choose a few issues which they care about most and make those their deciding factors. This makes the way Catholics vote entirely un-unique in my opinion. To say that there is a Catholic bloc is only looking at a very vocal subsection of Catholics who in no way speak for all. Instead, each Catholic is forced to choose his or her issues, just like every other American.

Why are Catholics seen as Conservative?

When I learned that we would be defining Conservatism and its links within the Catholic Church, I was rather excited. As someone who grew up in a Conservative Catholic parish and who has, over time, adapted opinions which would be considered Liberal (specifically New Liberalism), I have always wondered why the Church has leaned so far to the right. After all, it is the Democratic party, the United States’s Liberal party, who tends to back programs such as health care as a right, accepting refugees, and the dignity of workers. How then, can a Church which proclaims itself to back those in need be “on the other side” in American politics?

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A comic illustrating the difficult choice which Catholics in America are often forced to make. (Source)

As Dr. Shermer clarified on Monday, Classical Conservatism is distinct from Modern Conservatism. Classical Conservatism stems from a traditional power hierarchy with a focus on maintaining a line of authority. With this definition, it becomes clear why Catholicism sides with the idea of Conservatism. In addition, Colleen Doody in Detroit’s Cold War emphasizes the role of anti-Communist sentiment in Catholics turning toward the Conservative end of the political spectrum. She points out that, “Church leaders worried that the rise of Marxism both in Europe and in the United States threatened Catholicism”, mainly because Marxist states reject the idea of religion as ‘the opium of the people’.  Patrick Allitt uses a different angle when analyzing the correlation in American Catholics and the New Conservatism of the 1950s. In the paper, he draws a correlation between the “conservative journal of opinion”, called the National Review, and the religious identity of many who worked there: Catholic. However, Allitt claims that many of the Catholic writers at the National Review were actually converts to Catholicism. This suggests that perhaps people whose ideology already resized among Conservatism found a suitable home among the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. So why is there a conflict in the Church? As Miguel Diaz (who I spoke about last week) readily pointed out during his interview of Steven Millies, many of the tenets of the Catholic Church align better with the American Liberals than the American Conservatives.

Herein lies the conflict. Those who are considered Liberal Catholics align many of their political beliefs with that of the Church. However, at the same time, they emphasize a separation between Church and State. A great example of this is William J. Brennan, Jr. who we learned about in Samuel Mills’s article Parochiaid and the Abortion Decisions.  Brennan’s beliefs in both Catholicism and the separation of Church and State caused controversy among both Catholics and politicians as they were unsure what would lead Brennan’s judicial philosophy. The Council of Catholic Bishops has decided its opinion on the matter. William Black in God Save This Honorable Court states that “the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has also published a document urging ordinary Catholics to vote according to their religious values.” This sentiment from the USCCB clearly goes against Brennan’s and many Catholics’ hope of considering political matters with little or no religious input. Instead, this pushes power up to the undoubtedly Conservative hierarchy of the Catholic Church. This fight between the hierarchy of the Catholic Church which, purely by its nature, is Classically Conservative, and the Liberal Catholics who point to the union between their political and religious beliefs and the disunion between American Conservative and Catholic beliefs was ultimately inevitable. However, with Pope Francis and the growing Latinx-Catholic population, it seems as though Liberal Catholicism is gaining an upper hand.

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This data from Pew Research shows a great difference between race and immigration status of the American general public and American Catholics. (Source)

All this being said, I believe that the Millies book talk left a bad taste in my mouth. Much of the conversation seemed to frame Conservative Catholics as one-issue voters who were too ignorant to realize that Liberal Catholicism is the ‘real Catholicism’. This sentiment made me upset, as both a sociologist and a Catholic. As a sociologist, it is wrong to dismiss anyone based upon the choices they make because no one makes choices, political or otherwise, in a vacuum. However, as a Catholic, I completely understand their stance. In America, we are almost entirely forced to vote for one of two parties. As is inevitable, Catholic beliefs do not align perfectly with either party. Just like in real life where we are forced to prioritize family over work or homework over Netflix, Catholics in the political sphere are forced to prioritize Catholic principles based on their opinions. Assuming ignorance because other Catholics prioritize different parts of the vast Catholic Canon is only ignorance on your part.




The Changing Catholic Church: The Role of Community and a Lack of Ownership

One question which has been looming over my Catholic faith for the entirety of my adult life is why are people leaving the Catholic Church? As rational agents, we can assume that people will always act in their own self-interest. Therefore, there must be a reason as to why reasonable people are leaving the faith. This forces me to ask myself, who is missing something, me or them? This week’s events in Loyola’s 1968 Symposium surprised me by digging this question up out of my subconscious and giving me some insight into how others are dealing with the same question.

This video, produced by the Catholic Church, highlights achievements with the word “we”, encouraging a sense of community.

James Barrett in The Blessed Virgin Made Me a Socialist Historian gives a brief but relatively complete sense of what I will call the “Old Catholicism” when he asserts, “For many, it seems, the essence of Catholicism involved guilt, fear, and sexual repression.” Even setting aside contemporary culture, none of these three attributes are positive. Why were people a part of this church in the first place? The second speaker at the Catholics at a Crossroads panel, Susan Ross, expressed similar values in her talk, explaining that she believes the Church has failed to hear women’s voices or focus on racism as a mortal sin. Communities of Resistance by Marian Mollin backs up Ross’s first assertion of women’s second seat role in the church by highlighting the fact that it was even present in the Catholic radicalism movement during the Vietnam War. In these movements, Mollin claims, that the community of activists assigned values to men and women using stereotypical gender roles where “militant action was necessary to prove themselves as men … femininity did not depend on their willingness to act, but rather on their willingness to take on supportive nurturing roles that emphasized moral purity and persistence.” The question remains: why were people joining this strict and discriminatory Church? Barrett gives us a view into his experience saying, “[Catholicism] is the place I came from–my old neighborhood, with my parish at its center; the community, family, and other people who nurtured me; the worldview that shaped my values. [his emphasis]” This quote provides a simple answer to the question: the Catholic Church was the place. It was the place you went to school, it was the place you met your childhood friends, and it was the place you went for all of the holidays. Even though many today would disagree with the values the Church displayed at the time, people stayed because it was a like a second home.

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Puerto Vallarta, Mexico with La Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe and the city square in the center. My family visited this Church for Easter in 2016, and it quickly became clear to us that the town revolved around the Church. (Source)

This answer, however, begs the new question which I started my reflection with: how are things different now and why are people leaving the Church? I received an answer from Fr. Aaron Pidel, the first speaker at the Catholics at a Crossroads panel. His reflection on how Pope Benedict XVI went from the progressive wing of Catholicism to siding with conservatives gives an insight into how the Church is changing. Fr. Pidel recalled that Pope Benedict was shocked by the student protests and began to believe that, to remain progressive, he would have to give up his integrity. This narrative of needing to give up ones integrity in order to keep up with current beliefs was highly echoed in my conservative Catholic upbringing and continues to be echoed with some Catholics I speak to today. This story of the modern world as “losing its integrity” drives people away. Much of the change in the world is positive. Miguel Diaz, the third speaker, told about the new movement of Latin American Liberation Theology which contains a focus on preferential option for the poor, a social justice teaching that can be ignored in favor of attracting rich donors. People of the Catholic faith, good people in all respects, may be driven away from the Church when it refuses to take up beliefs similar to Latin American Liberation Theology, instead claiming that “the way that we’ve always done it” must be better because changing will cause us to “lose our integrity”. I would like to claim the opposite. Those in the Catholic Church who we hold the highest are the ones who were willing to make a change: the Virgin Mary saying ‘yes’, St. Jerome translating the Bible to Latin, St. Mother Theresa’s work with the poor. So what are the Catholics in the Church who want to see a change to do?

I really enjoyed Marian Mollin’s response to one question after all of the talks were over. She was asked why she was still Catholic with all the complaints she had about the Church. She first said that she was too old to change religions, but she then said that she preferred to be someone who stayed behind and became the change she wanted to see. In a similar vein, Niko’s comments about why he converted to Catholicism reflects the communities being refounded in the Church: communities people choose to join, rather than being born into. Ultimately, these two sources provide the answer to my initial question. People are leaving the Church because they are sick of those convinced that change requires a loss of integrity and they would rather seek change in a new Church than force change in the old one.

How American Catholic Identity Remains Rooted in the Local Churches

Our readings this week told a story of a powerful but fragmented Chicago Catholic Church. In Catholicism, Chicago Style, the authors claim that, “There was no other group [in Chicago] that was strong enough, united enough, or perhaps cared enough to oppose the dominant position of Catholics.” At the same time, John Buenker frames the Chicago mayoral races of 1905 and 1931 as a game of ‘who can appease the most ethnic-Catholic groups’ while emphasizing that it was Catholicism that eventually united the groups. Patrick Kennedy, focusing on the period immediately after, emphasizes the work of the German-American archbishop of Chicago George Mundelein. Mundelein facilitated the “creation of ethnic parishes” to appease the Irish majority of Catholics in Chicago. However, these are all stories of the past. It is clear by the institutions and neighborhoods that Chicago’s past focused on local politics which was driven by local churches. The question becomes, is it still this way today?

My home parish, Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Naperville, IL (Website)

Since I have been studying the actors in Catholic political history for the past month, it is difficult for me to think about a topic in Catholicism without applying the cases of Father Daniel Berrigan and Fr. Michael Pfleger. While reflecting on these two men in relation to how local Catholicism is today, I realized that these two men are fantastic evidence in support of Catholicism remaining local. Fr. Daniel Berrigan, a member of the Catonsville Nine, was famous on the small community of Block Island. The documentary Seeking Shelter highlights this community of Catholics and non-Catholics alike who surrounded and loved Fr. Berrigan. They spoke of long nights talking about the latest political issues or philosophy. Though this may not be a community Church in the literal sense, it reveals the communal nature surrounding the Catholic ideas which Fr. Berrigan preached. Fr. Pfleger, on the other hand, invokes a much more literal local Catholic Church. St. Sabina’s is heavily invested in the community, and the interior reflects this. The painting behind the altar depicts Jesus Christ with a skin tone that matches many of the members of the community. The celebratory music and dances much more reflects African Culture than traditional Catholic Rites. This, I believe, is the ultimate example of the Catholic Church remaining local.

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A photo of the altar of St. Sabina’s Catholic Church in Chicago during its 100th anniversary celebration. (Source)

However Fr. Berrigan and St. Sabina’s are relatively extreme cases. What about the local Churches scattered around Chicago that rarely, if ever, make the headlines? I visited St. Vincent DePaul Catholic Church in Lincoln Park and Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Uptown to find out. I did this as an alternative to visiting Open House Chicago sites, but going to Mass in these different communities ended up being more valuable in my eyes. St. Vincent DePaul at DePaul contrasts well with Madonna della Strata at Loyola. Even though Loyola and DePaul are similar as Catholic schools on the north side of Chicago along the red line, their worship spaces are quite different. St. Vincent DePaul is a parish on its own, with its focus being an independent Catholic Church that happens to have a large student population. Madonna della Strata, on the other hand, is funded, staffed, and run exclusively by the University, and outside parishioners are a small (but growing) percentage of attendees. This stark contrast is more evidence for the argument that Catholicism is local to this day. My experience at Our Lady of Lourdes echoed this contrast on a broader sense as its design, worship, and population were almost entirely unique especially compared to the marble monolith that is St. Peter’s in the loop or the heavily white parishes which I have frequented in the suburbs. As we have gone along studying the neighborhoods of Chicago essentially created by the Churches they surrounded, Fr. Berrigan’s island, Fr. Pfleger’s sanctuary for African American Catholics, and the differing populations and worship styles among Chicago Churches today, it has become clear to see that Catholicism has been and remains a highly local institution.

A photo I took of the simple but beautiful altar of Our Lady of Lourdes.