In the late 1850s and early 1860s, the attention of the Catholic and Protestant religious communities around the world focused on a few small settlements of French Canadian immigrants in northeastern Illinois. Soon after arriving in their new home, a large number of these immigrants, led by Father Charles Chiniquy, the charismatic Catholic priest who had brought them there, converted to Protestantism. In this anthropological history, Caroline B. Brettell explores how Father Chiniquy took on both the sacred and the secular authority of the Catholic Church to engineer the religious schism and how the legacy of this rift affected the lives of the immigrants and their descendants for generations. This intriguing study of a nineteenth-century migration of French Canadians to the American Midwest offers an innovative perspective on the immigrant experience in America.
Brettell chronicles how Chiniquy came to lead approximately one thousand French Canadian families to St. Anne, Illinois, in the early 1850s and how his conflict with the Catholic hierarchy over the ownership and administration of church property, delivery of the mass in French instead of Latin, and access to the Bible by laymen led to his excommunication. Drawing on the concept of social drama a situation of intensely lived conflict that emerges within social groups Brettell explains the religious schism in terms of larger ethnic and religious disagreements that were happening elsewhere in the United States and in Canada. Brettell also explores legal disputes, analyzes the reemergence of Catholicism in St. Anne in the first decade of the twentieth century, addresses the legacy of Chiniquy in both the United States and Quebec, and closely examines the French Canadian immigrant communities, focusing on the differences between the people who converted to Protestantism and those who remained Catholic.
Occurring when nativism was pervasive and the anti-immigrant Know-Nothing Party was at its height, Chiniquy s religious schism offers an opportunity to examine a range of important historical and anthropological issues, including immigration, ethnicity, and religion; changes in household and family structure; the ways social identities are constructed and reconstructed through time; and the significance of charismatic leadership in processes of social and religious change. Through its multidisciplinary approach, Brettell s enlightening study provides a pioneering assessment of larger national tensions and social processes, some of which are still evident in modern immigration to the United States."