Education, Evangelization, and Conversion
This chapter argues that in order to fully understand why African Americans converted to Catholicism, it is important to avoid functionalist answers that attempt to reduce conversion to a choice on the part of the convert and instead attend to the many overlapping practices, pressures, experiences, and relationships that shaped the process of becoming someone new. Intervening in debates in theories of religion, it further argues that scholars should take seriously the claims made by Black Catholics that “faith” made them Catholic, which should then lead scholars to consider what conditions make faith possible in the first place. It discusses “the Chicago Plan,” devised by Fr. Martin Farrell and Fr. Joseph Richards, in which missionary priests and sisters explicitly linked the enrollment of non-Catholic children in Catholic schools with mandatory religious education of the family in order to promote the conversion of African Americans. It then explores in depth the inner lives of African American children and parents in Catholic schools who became Catholic as they learned new ways of living in and experiencing the world.
Keywords: education, evangelization, conversion, missionary, women religious, Catholic schools, religion, belief, Robert Orsi, Talal Asad