The Catholic University of America

Final Examination of

Susan White Baumert

for the degree of

Doctor of Philosophy

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

10 a.m., Caldwell Room 125




Texts and Contexts:

A History of Religious Education in American Catholic High Schools, 1929-1969

Director: Christopher J. Kauffman, Ph.D.


Religious education in Catholic high schools underwent dramatic changes in the United States over the course of the twentieth century. Between 1929 and 1969, Catholic priests, women religious, and lay leaders affiliated with various movements wrote significant religion textbooks that were widely circulated and often departed from the traditional question-and-answer structure common to the Baltimore Catechism. Each chapter of this dissertation highlights a thematic context and its influence on religion textbooks.  This study contributes to the history of American Catholic life by examining this highly transformative period of religious education in the United States.

In the late 1920s, religion books, which were precursors to religion textbooks, were popular in Catholic high schools. They sought to make the catechism more applicable to students’ lives by de-emphasizing memorization and stressing character development. However, textbooks inspired by popular Church movements soon replaced them. Catholic Action leaders wrote textbooks in the 1930s and 40s that sought to restore the Kingdom of Christ through the theology of personalism and the Mystical Body of Christ. At the same time, leaders of the Liturgical Movement wrote textbooks that encouraged students to participate actively in the liturgy. In the 1950s and early 1960s, leaders of the Kerygmatic Movement brought an integrated message of divine grace based on salvation history, the liturgy, Scripture, and the proclamation of the Gospel. Finally, religion textbooks in the mid- and late 1960s were influenced by the anthropological and political stages of the Catechetical Movement, as well as Liberation Theology and the reinterpretation of Divine Revelation. Hence, this dissertation reflects the changing texts and contexts of religious education in the mid-twentieth century.