American Catholicism Since Vatican II

The Challenges of Change

Course Description

This course studies the experience of Catholicism in the United States from the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s to the present day.  Although the events that you will study in this course occurred in the very recent past, you will approach them from a historical perspective as you attempt to discern patterns, continuities, and change over time. 

As you move through the course, you will notice that many themes will emerge and overlap from unit to unit. Catholicism in the U.S. over the last forty-five years has left a rich but contested history.  The goal of the course is that you gain an understanding of the historical dimension of each of the major themes of the recent history of U.S. Catholicism; when they developed and why, and the subsequent impact each has had on the shaping of the Catholic community in the United States.

*Note: All participants must have their own copy of The Faithful: A History of Catholics in America by James M. O’Toole (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2008).

Course Content

Unit 1: The Second Vatican Council

  1. Introduces the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and its major agenda of reform.

Unit 2: The Church of Vatican II: Reform and Revolution

  1. Provides an overview of how the Catholic Church in the U.S. interpreted the reforms of the Council, attempted to implement them, and experienced the challenges of a changing Church and American culture. 

Unit 3: Pluralism of Belief and Practice I: Theology and Worship

  1. Focuses on the plurality of voices that emerged after the Second Vatican Council on matters of theology and religious practice or piety.

Unit 4: Pluralism of Belief and Practice II: Prayer and Politics

  1. Connects the changes in how Catholics understood and practiced their faith to the ways in which they engaged wider American culture and politics after the Council. 

Unit 5: The American Catholic Church in the 21st Century

  1. A survey of selected critical issues in American Catholicism during the first decade of the 21st Century from the sexual abuse crisis to the new wave of immigration from Latin America, Asia, and Africa.

Course Format

  • Created by Notre Dame Professor.
  • Six weeks in duration, with one week for orientation.
  • Typically 15-20 students in each course.
  • Supplemental readings are provided to encourage further exploration of topic
  • Written assignments (150-200 words) required.
  • Facilitator moderated chat sessions with students in course.

Required Texts

  • All participants must have their own copy of The Faithful: A History of Catholics in America by James M. O’Toole (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2008).
  • All other course materials are available online. Supplemental readings and resources will also be provided.

Participation Requirements

  • Read assigned texts; keep notes, questions, and comments for class discussion.
  • Participate in the class discussion using the Forums area: post at least 2 comments, questions, or responses per unit.
  • Write 150-200 words in response to the assignment in each unit.
  • Participate in at least 3 scheduled chat sessions throughout the course.
  • Complete the course evaluation.

Time Expectations

4 to 6 hours per week, depending on your learning style and schedule.

Course Certificate

A certificate of completion awarding 30 contact hours will be sent upon completion of all course requirements.

Meet the Developer

Dr. Jay P. Dolan

Dr. Jay P. Dolan

A member of Notre Dame's faculty since 1971, Dr. Dolan received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. He founded the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism in 1977 and was the director until 1993. His areas of scholarship include American religious history, American Catholicism, immigration history and the history of the Irish in the United States. He has served as associate editor of Harper Collins Encyclopedia of Catholicism and American National Biography and on the editorial boards of publications such as Church History and Religion and American Culture. Dr. Dolan's honors include the John Gilmary Shea Award, American Catholic Historical Association, for best book in Catholic church history, 1975 (The Immigrant Church: New York's Irish and German Catholics,1815-1865); the Fulbright Award, University College, Cork, Ireland, 1985-1986; serving as President of the American Catholic Historical Association,1995; and an Honorary Degree from Lewis University, 2001. He is the author of many books including The American Catholic Experience: A History from Colonial Times to the Present, and most recently, A Search for an American Catholicism.

S.T.L. Gregorian University (Rome), 1962; Ph.D. University of Chicago, 1970