Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2008
With infectious energy and a genuine gift for storytelling, Raymond A. Schroth recounts the history of Jesuits in the United States. The American Jesuits isn’t simply a book for Catholics; it’s for anyone who loves a well-told historical tale. For more than 450 years, Jesuit priests have traveled the globe out of a religious commitment to serve others. Their order, the Society of Jesus, is the largest religious order of men in the Catholic Church, with more than 20,000 members around the world and almost 3,000 in the United States. It is one of the more liberal orders in the Church, taking very public stands in the U.S. on behalf of social justice causes such as the promotion of immigrants’ rights and humanitarian aid, including assistance to Africa’s poor, and against American involvement in “unjust wars.” Jesuits have played an important part in Americanizing the Catholic Church and in preparing Catholic immigrants for inclusion into American society.
Starting off with the first Jesuit to reach the New World—he was promptly murdered on the Florida coast—Schroth focuses on the key periods of the Jesuit experience in the Americas, beginning with the era of European explorers, many of whom were accompanied by Jesuits and some of whom were Jesuits themselves. Suppressed around the time of the American Revolution, the Society experienced resurgence in the nineteenth century, arriving in the U.S. along with waves of Catholic immigrants and establishing a network of high schools and universities. In the mid-twentieth century, the Society transformed itself to serve an urbanizing nation.
Schroth is not blind to the Society’s shortcomings and not all of his story reflects well on the Jesuits. However, as he reminds readers, Jesuits are not gods and they don’t dwell in mountaintop monasteries. Rather, they are imperfect men who work in a messy world to “find God in all things” and to help their fellow men and women do the same.
A quintessential American tale of men willing to take risks — for Indians, blacks, immigrants, and the poor, and to promote a loving picture of God—The American Jesuits offers a broad and compelling look at the impact of this 400-year-old international order on American culture and the culture’s impact on the Jesuits.
“An enthralling celebration of the Jesuits’ presence in American Catholic life, masterfully testifying to the society’s achievements. It should also serve as a much-needed blueprint for similar histories of other influential orders in American Catholic life. Fr. Schroth has set the standard.”
-National Catholic Reporter
“Schroth’s lively, detailed, scrupulously honest narrative does not dispel the Jesuit mystique, but instead provides concrete examples from throughout the centuries that explain the society’s origins and survival. . . . This is institutional history at its best. . . . Essential.”
“Blending history and analysis, Schroth chronicles the society’s weaknesses and failures, too, including its foot-dragging on racial issues. . . . Schroth also discusses the community’s decline in numbers, but ends on a hopeful note. . . . This is an absorbing read for those with an interest in the Jesuits.”
“An engaging read, and an elegant synthesis of four centuries of Jesuit heroics, controversies, flops, and hard work in the United States. Should be assigned reading for students of American Catholicism.”
-Mark S. Massa, S.J.,The Karl Rahner Professor of Theology and Co-Director, The Francis and Ann Curran Center for American Catholic Studies, Fordham University
“Anyone who has encountered the Jesuits—in a college, a high school, a parish, or one of their many social ministries—will appreciate this well-written and comprehensive survey of the Jesuit experience in America.”
-James M. O’Toole,Boston College