William L. Smith,
Irish Priests in the United States:
A Vanishing Subculture

(University Press of America, 2004)

Those interested in any book on Irish Catholics will want to look at this book on Irish priests in the U.S. William Smith had done a survey of Irish priests in the United States to get a better understanding of them and to preserve their history since they are declining in numbers.

Smith has a doctorate in sociology from the University of Notre Dame and is a professor of sociology at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Ga. He conducted this survey from a sociological point of view -- and made some interesting discoveries. Smith discovered that more than 4,000 Irish-born and Irish seminary-educated priests have served in the U.S. and nearly 1,250 are currently serving in the U.S. -- mainly in the South, West and Southwest. Some went on to become bishops and archbishops.

Smith began his survey by contacting seminaries in Ireland to obtain lists of priests educated there who came to the U.S. Ireland had too many men who wanted to be priests and did not need them all to take care of the parishes in Ireland. Those who stayed in Ireland may have been sent to Great Britain first, then returned to Ireland. They also moved up the chain of command very slowly since there were so many priests.

While many immigrants from Ireland to the U.S. wanted priests from their homeland, some of the priests ran into opposition from native-born clergy and other nationalities. They also ran into anti-Catholicism. Still, Smith in his survey discovered that most were happy that they came to the U.S. Life was better for most of them here, where they could move up the church hierarchy faster than in Ireland.

Smith's survey questions also asked what Irish priests thought about the Church since Vatican II, what they thought were some problems facing the Church and what good things were going on in the Church.

Fewer Irish priests are coming to the U.S. now because there are fewer vocations in Ireland and they now need them to stay there. Other countries like Poland and those in Asia and Africa are taking Ireland's place providing priests to the States.

Smith's book has helped to preserve for the Catholic Church the history of the Irish priests who had a great impact on the Church in America. The book is a bit dry and academic since it is relating the results of a sociological survey, but still there is much that can be gained from it. The book is recommended to those interested in U.S. Catholic Church history and in Irish Catholicism.

- Rambles
written by Benet Exton
published 16 July 2005

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