Eileen P. Sullivan
In The Shamrock and the Cross: Irish American Novelists Shape American Catholicism, Eileen P. Sullivan traces changes in nineteenth-century American Catholic culture through a study of Catholic popular literature. Analyzing more than thirty novels spanning the period from the 1830s to the 1870s, Sullivan elucidates the ways in which Irish immigration, which transformed the American Catholic population and its institutions, also changed what it meant to be a Catholic in America.
In the 1830s and 1840s, most Catholic fiction was written by American-born converts from Protestant denominations; after 1850, most was written by Irish immigrants or their children, who created characters and plots that mirrored immigrants’ lives. The post-1850 novelists portrayed Catholics as a community of people bound together by shared ethnicity, ritual, and loyalty to their priests rather than by shared theological or moral beliefs. Their novels focused on poor and working-class characters; the reasons they left their homeland; how they fared in the American job market; and where they stood on issues such as slavery, abolition, and women’s rights. In developing their plots, these later novelists took positions on capitalism and on race and gender, providing the first alternative to the reigning domestic ideal of women. Far more conscious of American anti-Catholicism than the earlier Catholic novelists, they stressed the dangers of assimilation and the importance of separate institutions supporting a separate culture. Given the influence of the Irish in church institutions, the type of Catholicism they favored became the gold standard for all American Catholics, shaping their consciousness until well into the next century.
“In The Shamrock and the Cross, Eileen P. Sullivan demonstrates a splendid command of her subject. Her book is required reading for anybody interested in the subject—an unduly neglected one—and, indeed, it deserves to be widely consulted as an essential work by anyone working on immigrant literature in American culture in general.” — J. Joseph Lee, Glucksman Professor of Irish Studies, New York University
“Eileen Sullivan’s The Shamrock and the Cross redresses the lack of sufficient attention paid to the role that popular nineteenth-century Irish American fiction played in constructing Irish American identity. The fiction presents alternative ideas about the characterization of Irish American women, a characterization that linked religion with ethnic identity and resulted in Catholicism emerging as the identifying marker of Irish American identity. This excellent book explains the origin of the memorable twentieth-century matriarchs who animate the fiction of Elizabeth Cullinan, Mary Gordon, and Alice McDermott.” — Maureen O. Murphy, Hofstra University
“Eileen Sullivan seeks to understand the mind-set of Irish American Catholics in the middle of the nineteenth century by examining popular novels written at the time with them as both the audience and the major characters. It is an imaginative approach for a political scientist to employ literature to grasp attitudes of a distinct portion of the American population at a particular period in American history.” — John P. McCarthy, emeritus, Fordham University
“The Shamrock and the Cross is a richly researched, gracefully written study of the main authors and texts of nineteenth-century Irish American literature. Eileen Sullivan makes a very convincing case that these novelists and novels were both shaped by, and gave shape to, the larger contours of American Catholicism in its decades-long struggles with Protestantism and nativism. Hers is a story that took place on both sides of the Atlantic, and a book that contributes significantly to both Irish and Irish American cultural history." — Martin J. Burke, The City University of New York
“Sullivan has produced a fascinating work exploring how fictionalized accounts of Irish American Catholicism shaped the growth and role of the church in American society in the nineteenth century. . . . The work addresses a neglected area of Irish and American Catholic studies and on that ground alone deserves a wide audience.” — Theological Studies
“This book studies popular fiction written by and for Irish Catholic immigrants to the United States in the mid-nineteenth Century. . . . Sullivan discovered that these writers fell into the American Catholic—as opposed to American Irish—tradition of encouraging readers to view themselves as Irish Catholics and thus establish an identity both within and apart from American society. Indeed, Sullivan argues that this body of fiction ‘suggests some of the reasons why the Church was able to gain its prominent place’ in America.” — The Catholic Historical Review
2017 Catholic Press Association Book Award, First Place in Immigration