The multi-talented Fr. Andrew Greeley has turned his energies to the interpretation of American Catholic history. In [The Catholic Experience] he gives a series of intellectual biographies of the men who have tried to adapt the Catholic Church to the political and social life of the United States…. Fr. Greeley has a definite interpretation that he wants to get across: the struggle between Americanizers and those conservatives who did not want to make Catholicism a fully American Church.
The book is a combination of summarized secondary-source history and interpretation of the efforts to accommodate Catholicism to American life. The history is well told, interesting and informative to readers who do not know of the life of John Carroll, the controversies of the 1890's and the social doctrine of John A. Ryan. The interpretation is valuable because it brings the insights of a liberal of the present to the men and events of the American Catholic past, and also because it is a pioneer attempt in the interpretation of American Catholic history. Fr. Greeley describes the great efforts to acculturate Catholicism and Americanism; these efforts were usually frustrated. Despite these setbacks, he thinks, American Catholics of today have achieved this synthesis, though their bishops may be slow in recognizing the fact.
At times Greeley paints his "bad guys" too darkly. He seems unable to appreciate the reasons why the anti-Americanizers held their point of view…. The author is too quick to judge figures of the past by our present-day insights, rather than by the criteria of the times.
Fr. Greeley desires that his book be taken seriously, and it certainly should be; but the absence of footnotes, bibliography and index makes this difficult. In quite a few instances the reader would like to know the sources of Greeley's information, or the origin of the material that is found in quotation marks.
All in all, Greeley has produced an informative introduction to American Catholic history for beginners and a thought-provoking interpretation for those with more background. (pp. 297-98)
Michael Morrison, in a review of "The Catholic Experience," in America (reprinted with permission of America Press, Inc.; © 1968; all rights reserved), Vol. 118, No. 9, March 2, 1968, pp. 297-98.