The American Catholic Experience

Course Description

Created by Dr. Jay Dolan, a Notre Dame History Professor, this course will introduce students to the history of American Catholicism from the age of John Carroll to just prior to the Second Vatican Council (1780-1960). It will focus on some of the major immigrant groups that have made up the Catholic mosaic. In addition, a subtext of the course will be the themes of democracy, ethnicity, and religion, and devotional Catholicism. It will be more of a social history of Catholicism rather than an institutional history.

Course Content

Unit 1: Catholicism in an Age of Democracy: 1780-1820

  1. A New Beginning
  2. Bishop John Carroll
  3. The Search for an American Catholicism

Unit 2: The Immigrant Church--Irish and Germans: 1820-1880

  1. Immigrant Catholics: A Social Profile
  2. The Irish in Chicago
  3. German Catholic Immigrants
  4. Immigrant Catholic Life in New York

Unit 3: The Immigrant Church--Italians and Polish: 1880-1920

  1. The Parish in Urban Catholicism and the Rise of Devotionalism
  2. An Italian Religious Festival
  3. The Catholic Ethos

Unit 4: Consolidation of the Immigrant Church: 1920-1960

  1. Mexican Catholics in California
  2. Interaction of the Institutional Church and the Mexican Catholic Community

Unit 5: A Desire for Reform: 1920-1960

  1. Religion, Education, and Reform
  2. American Catholics and the Intellectual Life

Course Format

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

Required Texts

  • All course materials are available in the course.

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

5 to 7 hours per week, depending on your learning style and schedule.

Course Certificate

A certificate of completion awarding 35 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