John Stokes and American Catholicism

By Stephanie Shreffler and Olivia Gillingham

American Catholicism before and after Vatican II differed in many ways. Prior to the Council, it tended to focus on individual piety and prayer. Afterward, movements such as civil rights and ecumenism gained strength within Catholicism due to the teachings of the Council.

Throughout his lifetime, John S. Stokes Jr. saved hundreds of articles, pamphlets, and newsletters related to religion, social justice issues, and other interests. Many of these documents demonstrate the changing nature of American Catholicism in the twentieth century. Stokes collected several issues of Impact, the newsletter of the National Office for Black Catholics, which was formed as the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 70s gained strength. Published in the 70s and 80s, Impact spread awareness of civil rights issues within the American church.

Impact newsletter cover

Prompted by the Second Vatican Council’s decree on ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio), American Catholics began to reach out in greater numbers to Eastern Orthodox and Protestant Christians. A pamphlet titled “What is the Ecumenical Spirit?” from Stokes’ collection describes the movement, and promotes religious unity among Christians of all denominations.

pamphlet cover

While many of the documents Stokes collected and saved dealt with larger issues at hand within society as a whole, several were also concerned with religious well-being in the nuclear family. Pamphlets like “Spiritual Check-up for the Married” and “The Magnificent Catholic College”, published in 1960 and 1954, respectively, demonstrate the great value Catholicism places on the home and family life. They ask couples to examine the spiritual health of their marriage and refocus their lives on God, and encourage young Catholics to attend college, particularly Catholic colleges.

Spiritual Check-up for the Married pamphlet cover

The Magnificent Catholic College cover

Learn more about American Catholicism pre- and post-Vatican II through the collection of John Stokes on display on the second floor of Roesch Library as part of the Mary’s Gardens exhibit.

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