Theses Doctoral

The Suburban Church: Catholic Parishes and Politics in Metropolitan New York, 1945-1985

Koeth, Stephen M.

This dissertation explores the effects of postwar suburbanization on American Catholicism by studying the dioceses of metropolitan New York, especially the creation and expansion of the Diocese of Rockville Centre in suburban Long Island. Throughout the 1960s the Diocese of Rockville Centre was one of the fastest growing Catholic communities in the country and was hailed as the nation’s first suburban diocese and a model for the future of the U.S. Church. The project details how Catholic pastoral leaders grappled with the rapid exodus of the faithful from urban ethnic neighborhoods to newly built suburbs, and how Catholic sociologists and intellectuals assessed the effects of suburbanization. I argue that postwar suburbanization revolutionized the sacred space of the parish, the relationship between clergy and laity, and conceptions of Catholic education. In suburbia the communal life of the ethnic parish yielded to the nuclear family and the home, the dominance of the clergy gave way to lay leadership and initiative, and devotion to parochial schools declined in favor of participation in public education. Suburbanization was thus a crucial catalyst of religious reform even before the Second Vatican Council. Similarly, suburbanization transformed Catholic participation in American politics. The economics of suburbia drove Catholic voters to prioritize tax relief and local control of public schools over the bishops’ demands for state funding of private schools. Suburban Catholics thus contributed to the growth of postwar conservatism and to the development of the culture wars that reconfigured American politics through the 1960s and 70s.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Katznelson, Ira
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 24, 2020