This research project will provide the foundation for continuing study of one of the most socially diverse and little known phenomena in the Midwest, the Old Catholic Movement in North America.
The movement, over a century old, has drawn its membership from a number of disparate sources: disaffected Roman Catholics following The First Vatican Council, the "Americanization" movements in various dioceses in the 1930s, and the Second Vatican Council; Episcopalians seeking the ordination of women prior to the General Convention of 1976, and Episcopalians protesting the ordination of women after the General Convention of 1976; Lutherans reacting to the alignment of their denominations with those derived from the British Reformation experience. The movement has been diverse in ethnicity and socio-economic background throughout its entire history. The study of those who seek an alternative in the Old Catholic movement can provide valuable insights into the nature and result of tensions accompanying social and structural change in religious traditions, and we can trace some of the "fallout" during critical controversies in a variety of denominations.
The Old Catholic History Project seeks to collect, catalog, archive, analyze and interpret material relating to the great variety of Old Catholic and Independent Catholic movements which emerged in the United States from the late nineteenth century to the present. Our location in Chicago is salutary. Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin have been, and continue to be, the epicenter of Old Catholic activity in the United States.
There is a small body of literature on this movement, but it is all based on anecdotal evidence. This is both unfortunate and unnecessary because plentiful documentary evidence (letters, reports, publications and photographs) are in the possession of a wide variety of these organizations, but have never been collected and analyzed. Over the past two decades I have made contact and entered into sustained dialogue with several dozen ecclesial bodies throughout the United States and Canada. They have allowed me access to their documents, in some cases going back to the first decade of the twentieth century. They have also expressed a willingness to have their materials archived. We will deposit the material in the Special Collections division of Northeastern Illinois Unviersity.
Professor Hickey and I plan at least one book manuscript based upon this material. Furthermore, we will interview members of a great variety of Old Catholic communities in North America. We will also make the archives available to other scholars, including the writers of theses and dissertations. The study of this multifaceted movement will add nuance to our understanding of the religious history of the Midwest and the United States in general. For Religious Studies, this project would provide a solid documentary base for the study of phenomena we all know about, but no one has yet been able to study systematically. Given the strong ethnic dimensions of the various organizations, and their origins amid social, economic and cultural tension, the collection could prove valuable for scholars in a variety of areas beyond Religious Studies.