Professor Moore Studies “The Lived History of Vatican II”

Our Lady of Lourdes Atlanta GA

One Thing After Another’s recent ruminations on anniversaries pointed to many milestones and turning points. In addition to the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act and the brutal murders of Cheney, Schwerner, and Goodman, 2014 marks the fiftieth anniversary of Lyndon Johnson’s electoral whipping of Barry Goldwater. Johnson’s victory opened the door to his Great Society programs (in addition to the Civil Rights Act, think Medicare, Medicaid, and the War on Poverty). This year is also  the fiftieth anniversary of the start of the British Invasion. Both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones toured the United States for the first time in 1964.

Some events (like the British Invasion, frankly) cannot be pinned down to one year, but their anniversaries are just as important to recognize. In this category—especially important for Catholics—is the Second Vatican Council. Pope John XXIII (SAINT John XXIII as of Sunday April 27), announced the Council in 1959; its first session convened in Fall 1962. John XXIII’s call for “aggiornamento”—or bringing the church up to date—would fundamentally alter the Church. Between 1962 and 1965, Catholic bishops met in Rome for four sessions. By the time they were finished, they had, among other things, changed the Catholic Mass from Latin to the vernacular, opened up the possibility of ecumenical cooperation between Catholics and Protestants, and encouraged a re-thinking of the Church as the “people of God” rather than a hierarchical institution.

As historians know, however, what those in authority (like bishops or the pope) tell people (like the world’s Catholics) to do and what actually gets done are two very different things. Now, fifty years on, historians are taking up the question of how “regular” Catholics actually lived the reforms of Vatican II. Since 2012 Professor Andrew Moore has worked on a research project sponsored by the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame called “The Lived History of Vatican II.” Fifteen scholars have been examining dioceses around the world, conducting close-grained studies of how Catholics experienced the reforms of Vatican II. Some weeks ago that project culminated in a conference, in which those fifteen scholars joined more than twenty others to present their research about Vatican II.

The conference program can be found here.

In short, these historians found that Vatican II often fell victim to the law of unintended consequences. What the bishops intended was not always what happened. That was true for Professor Moore’s case study, the Archdiocese of Atlanta. He focused his research on one parish, Our Lady of Lourdes Church, which is in the “Sweet Auburn” neighborhood of Atlanta, Georgia. For most of the twentieth century, this neighborhood was the heart of black Atlanta. Ebenezer Baptist Church (home church of Martin Luther King, Jr.) is down the street, for example. Our Lady of Lourdes was an all-black parish founded in 1912. When the civil rights movement rolled around, its members participated in demonstrations in Atlanta. After Vatican II, the archbishop and other archdiocesan leaders believed that the central message of the Council was that they had to close black parishes and force integration between black and white Catholics. This was not easy, however, and many whites moved to the suburbs to avoid “urban” problems like integration. For their part, black Catholics felt like they were being treated as problems to be solved. It would not be until the early 1980s when black Catholics finally felt like they were truly a part of the local Catholic Church and that their contributions were taken seriously. That was a good result of Vatican II, but the route they took to get there was longer and more circuitous than anyone expected.

After this conference, the plan is for the papers from the project to be collected into a book. The gears of academic publishing grind slowly, but all the authors hope that the book will appear next year, in time to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the close of the Second Vatican Council.


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