Anne M. Martinez. Catholic Borderlands: Mapping Catholicism onto American Empire, 1905-1935. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2014. Illustrations. 312 pp. $70.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8032-4877-9.
Reviewed by Katherine Moran
Published on H-SHGAPE (June, 2015)
Commissioned by Julia Irwin (University of South Florida)
The Catholic Errand
In any summary of US empire building in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, one is sure to find a few emblematic figures: Teddy Roosevelt and Albert Beveridge would certainly make the list, accompanied by missionaries in Hawaii, teachers in the Philippines, or sailors on the decks of the Great White Fleet. Anne M. Martínez, in her insightful new book, Catholic Borderlands: Mapping Catholicism onto American Empire, 1905-1935, argues that this list should include more American Catholics. At the very least, it should include the Reverend Francis Clement Kelley: priest (and later bishop) by vocation; diplomat, fundraiser, and controversialist by avocation; and Irish-Canadian Hispanophile and self-appointed spokesman for Catholics across the growing US empire.
Kelley founded the Catholic Church Extension Society of the United States of America in 1905, and ran it and its fundraising organ—Extension Magazine—until 1924. Created with the support of Archbishop James Quigley of Chicago, the Extension Society’s primary goal was to raise money among urban Catholics to support work in rural parishes, particularly in the US South and West. Kelley’s ambition, however, was not limited to the nation. The Extension Society and its magazine became a platform from which Kelley spoke to American Catholic readers about the wider world and their role in it. He coupled exhortations in print with his own efforts at lobbying and diplomacy, turning his attention to a dizzying array of sites: from the Philippines and Puerto Rico after the Spanish-Cuban-American and Philippine-American Wars, to Versailles in 1919, to Mexico during the revolution and Cristero Rebellion. Kelley was particularly invested in Mexico: he wrote about Mexico throughout his career, eventually producing a pro-Catholic history, Blood-Drenched Altars: Mexican Study and Comment, published in 1935.
Kelley is at the center of Martínez’s book, but she has not written a biography. Instead, she uses an examination of Kelley’s career and influence during the three decades between the founding of the Extension Society and the publication of Blood-Drenched Altars to make an argument for the importance of what she calls the “Catholic borderlands,” an elastic concept that is at once territorial and rhetorical. On the ground, the borderlands are places—from California to Puerto Rico to Mexico—that were once colonized by Catholic Spain but had fallen, by the early twentieth century, under US authority or influence. Kelley’s language and activism united these diverse places: in that sense, the Catholic borderlands are also his “creat[ion]” and his “vision,” even something he and other Catholics adopted as a “strategy” (pp. 3, 70, 100). Ultimately, then, one finds the Catholic borderlands wherever the fading “Iberian Century” met the rising “American Century” in land and language, a “trans-imperial, transhistorical space built on the Spanish Catholic past but enhanced by a U.S. Catholic present in the early twentieth century” (pp. 2-3).
Martínez uses the concept of the Catholic borderlands to argue, in short, that Kelley and other like-minded Catholics used the Spanish imperial past to claim a special role for Catholics in the American imperial present. Their work sat at a right angle to Protestant and secular notions of US empire: empowered by their position within the metropole, they saw themselves as speaking for Catholics threatened by anticlerical regimes or American Protestantization campaigns. In the process, their participation in US empire building gave tangible proof to US Catholics’ claims to be fully American.
Martínez begins this argument with an intellectual and cultural history of the Catholic borderlands as articulated in Kelley’s Extension Magazine. Her first chapter examines invocations of the Spanish (and sometimes French) missionary past in relation to the US West, Southwest, and South. Here, Martínez illuminates a Catholic version of the Protestant civilizing mission, premised on the racialization of African Americans, Native Americans, and Mexicans. In chapter 2, Martínez extends this analysis to sites of US empire, broadly defined. In these places, she argues, US global power, the Spanish imperial past, and a sense of threat to Catholics (either from American Protestant evangelizing or local anticlericalisms) inspired writers in Extension Magazine to call for US Catholics to come to the aid of their coreligionists around the world.
In chapter 3, Martínez moves from discourse to policy. She traces lay and clerical US and Mexican Catholic attempts to influence the US government and to shape US policy in the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution. This is not a story of massive influence and success: her Catholic actors lost as much as they won. But Martínez makes a convincing argument that they succeeded in attracting policymakers’ attention. This chapter illuminates the assumption—among Catholics in the United States, Mexico, and around the world—that the United States had a role to play in Mexican religious issues. Indeed, in particular moments, Martínez paints an intriguing picture of church/state collaboration, such as when the US government joined Extension Magazine readers to pay for the evacuation of Mexican priests and nuns to Galveston, Texas, in 1914.
Martínez follows Kelley even further afield in chapter 4. Kelley went to Versailles in 1919 as the unofficial representative of Mexican Catholics, lobbied the British for the rights of German Catholic missionaries after the First World War, and even played a role negotiating the settlement of the Roman Question between the Vatican and the Italian state. Chapter 4 thus traces the far edges of the Catholic borderlands, well beyond formerly Spanish territory: here is the breadth of action made possible by a vision of global Catholicism underwritten by US empire, but here also are its practical limits, as Martínez notes that Kelley’s reputation abroad often suffered from his propensity to overstate his authority.
In her fifth chapter, Martínez returns to US-Mexico relations and takes us past the time of Kelley’s greatest influence. She examines Chicago’s 1926 International Eucharistic Congress, which Kelley helped plan, and argues that the congress’s criticisms of Mexican anticlericalism actually hurt the Mexican Catholic cause, perhaps even prompting the passage of the so-called Calles Laws, which placed new restrictions on the Mexican Catholic Church. The chapter then shows how the networks of communication that Kelley had created among Catholics in the United States and Mexico, combined with a broader ongoing assumption that the United States should intervene in Mexican religious affairs, laid the groundwork for Ambassador Dwight Morrow’s negotiations during the Cristero Rebellion. These negotiations, Martínez concludes, ultimately favored US interests more than those of the Mexican government, the Mexican Catholic hierarchy, or the Vatican.
Martínez closes the book in chapter 6 with a comparative study of racial ideologies. Here she examines the intersection of racial and religious ideas behind both the US eugenics movement and the Mexican nationalist thought of Manuel Gamio and José Vasconcelos. She then returns to Kelley and his major historical work. In Blood-Drenched Altars, Martínez argues, Kelley articulated a mestizaje that both celebrates racial mixing but also grounds that celebration in an idealization of the civilizing work of Spanish imperialism.
Kelley’s career is fascinating, and holds together what might otherwise be an unwieldy argument, but the book itself is much bigger than Kelley. Catholic Borderlands reminds us that Catholics participated fully in the formation of the modern US empire, with their own behaviors, organizations, and readings of national and global history. Frank Reuter urged scholars to explore this fact in 1967, when he published Catholic Influence on American Colonial Policies, 1898-1904, but historians of US empire and US religion have so far failed to fully heed his call. In taking up this challenge, Martínez joins a growing group of scholars attempting to bring religion and empire into the same analytical field: from Andrew Preston’s broad survey of religion and US war and diplomacy (Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy ), to more specialized monographs by Roberto Ramón Lint Sagarena (Aztlán and Arcadia: Religion, Ethnicity, and the Creation of Place ), Susan K. Harris (God’s Arbiters: Americans and the Philippines, 1898-1902 ), and Matthew McCullough (The Cross of War: Christian Nationalism and U.S. Expansion in the Spanish-American War ).
Catholic Borderlands is remarkable in its scope. Martínez’s bilingual research makes use of archives across the United States and in Mexico, and she contextualizes her study of Kelley and his compatriots with extensive discussions of a wide range of topics, from US-British relations following the First World War to the US eugenics movement. Like all works of such ambitious scope, this book also invites curiosity about what was included and what was left out, and raises questions that it cannot fully answer. Is there, for example, a parallel or intersecting story to be told about the French past, alongside the Spanish past, particularly given Kelley’s Canadian birth and Martínez’s brief references to French history in the first chapter? What role did non-Catholics play in the rhetorical creation of the Catholic borderlands, as suggested by the inclusion of figures like Eber Cole Byam and Charles Fletcher Lummis? And what might it mean for Martínez’s discussion of racial ideologies in chapter 6 if the transnational, and specifically Latin American, history of the eugenics movement was more fully addressed?
The scope of the book also raises some narrative challenges. Martínez has chosen to organize her chapters more thematically than chronologically (though there is a rough chronological progression as the chapters unfold). There are significant analytical advantages to this organization, but at moments the argument can feel repetitive, as Martínez repeats introductory information and restates the main argument about borderlands. (For example, in chapter 5 the reader is given an introduction to the Monroe Doctrine, but the argument of chapter 3, “Religious Monroeism,” is built on a revision of that concept.)
These questions and structural challenges all speak, however, to the fascinating complexity of this ambitious topic. Ultimately, Catholic Borderlands makes a compelling argument that we cannot understand US empire without looking beyond what we know about Protestant providentialism and Manifest Destiny. We must recognize Catholic actors, narratives, and motivations as fully American, and full participants in the imperial project. Future scholars of US empire, American religion, and American studies more broadly would do well do draw on the findings of this important work.
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Katherine Moran. Review of Martinez, Anne M., Catholic Borderlands: Mapping Catholicism onto American Empire, 1905-1935.
H-SHGAPE, H-Net Reviews.
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