Date of Award


Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Robert P. Hay

Second Advisor

Patrick W. Carey

Third Advisor

Ralph E. Weber

Fourth Advisor

Michael Phayer

Fifth Advisor

Athan G. Theoharis


This dissertation examines American Catholic liberalism through the career of lay editor Humphrey J. Desmond and his newspaper, The Catholic Citizen, a weekly published in Wisconsin from the 1880s to the mid 1930s. Previous scholarly studies have concentrated on leading American Catholic liberal clerics. This work focuses on a layman who, as editor of the Citizen and a chain of related newspapers, addressed a large readership and helped forge his fellow American Catholics' response to critical issues. Independent of clerical control, Desmond emerged as a liberal lay spokesperson whose outlook was similar to that of some of the leading clerical Americanists. Although a number of clerical liberals backed away from the limelight after the 1899 papal condemnation of liberalism, Testem Benevolentiae, Desmond's journalistic viewpoints bear weighty evidence to the thesis that American Catholic liberalism continued strong into the twentieth century. To delineate Desmond's thinking on key issues this study uses the pages of the Citizen as well as the numerous books he authored. On issues such as immigration, education, the relationship of the Vatican with the American church, the approach of the church both to American society and the modern age, Desmond urged dialogue with the American situation without the sacrifice of Catholic principles. In common with the leading clerical Americanists, Desmond had a positive outlook on the modern age. Despite that positive stance, Desmond at times found it necessary to go on the defensive. Enemies of parochial schools, anti-Catholic bigots and proponents of American foreign policy that undermined Catholic interests drew him into battle. In an America grappling with increasing industrialization, Desmond urged his church to ally itself with the worker and his needs. On socialism, Desmond called church leaders to discern and deliberate rather than condemn the program outright. Seeing good citizenship as allied with the faith and Catholic moral influence as contributing to society's overall well-being, Desmond advocated Catholics' involvement in politics, education, and labor. Loyally devoted to the faith tradition in which he had been born, over a long and distinguished career the lawyer, legislator, educator and editor Desmond helped to fashion and maintain the liberal strands of that Catholic tradition in America.



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