The Catholic Question: Was JFK the answer?

Senator Kennedy’s return home, Barnstable Municipal Airport, Hyannis, Massachusetts, July 1960. via © Paul Schutzer (Courtesy The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

The presidential campaigns of Al Smith and John F. Kennedy were paralleled in their obstacle of answering the “Catholic question”, JFK succeeded in answering the American public where Smith could not.

Al Smith 1920 via George Grantham Bain Collection/Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Both candidates struggled with moving focus from their religions to their policies, and having the American people view them not as Catholics but as viable candidates. JFK was applauded for how he dealt with the question of his Catholicism impacting his presidency, however Smith did not address the issues of religion that were presented to him in the same manor that JFK did, and many historians believe this could have impacted his lack of popularity in comparison to JFK. In Michael J. Hostetler’s meta-analysis: Gov. Al Smith Confronts the Catholic Question: The Rhetorical Legacy of the 1928 Campaign, he reviews the differences in campaigning that ultimately led to JFK’s success and Smith’s failure. The analysis also focuses on how JFK openly spoke about his religion, while Smith gave “thin” background and did not want religion to be a focal point of his campaign.

Pope Paul VI greets President John F. Kennedy at the Vatican in July 1963 via CNN

However, it is argued that Smith’s campaign in 1928 laid the groundwork for JFK’s success in 1960. Smith’s major problem in his candidacy was people did not believe that “dual allegiance” with respect to church and state would be an obstacle he could overcome. Moreover, it was said that the Catholic principles the Church demands of their congregation would sway the candidate away from American issues and towards Catholic issues.

Political cartoon depicting Smith and the Pope via Ad Orientem

These arguments were all used when JFK ran as well, however he was prepared to answer them in a manor that would calm the American people in the 1960’s. Smith spoke about the Catholic question sparingly very early in his campaign, and refused to answer questions regarding his religion as the election approached. JFK approached the situation exactly the opposite, he spoke often about his Catholicism and welcomed questions and concerns — establishing his position and reassuring the people often that it would not affect his judgement should he be elected. Smith believed his religion would not play a significant role in his campaign, but JFK knew it would be instrumental, and detrimental if he did not address it.

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LA Times article via ProQuest

There of course were other factors in play other than just addressing the public, a change in politic climate, a greater toleration for Catholicism by the American people, and so on. However, the rhetoric used during the campaigns seems to have played a huge role, and that can be seen even in the way people spoke about JFK as opposed to Smith. Smith was viewed in a harsher light, while JFK was beloved even by those who did not necesarilly support him. In a January 1960 post by the Los Angeles Times, Alexander Holmes wrote an editorial titled: Candidate Kennedy, a Man of QualityIn this newspaper article, Holmes explicitly states that Kennedy is not his first choice for the presidency, (In fact, he was not even in his top 3) however, Holmes wrote “Win or lose, he is as good a guy as the country has around”.  He continued citing Kennedy’s intellectual integrity, policies, successful career, and finished his piece with “He’s a man of quality, this Kennedy”. This is remarkable, especially when comparing it to today’s political climate. I could not imagine a member of an opposing party speaking so highly of a candidate in such a fashion today.  The coverage on Kennedy was positive, even from those who did not support his policies, which differs greatly from Smith’s campaign.

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New York Times article via ProQuest

This does not mean that Kennedy did not face issues in answering the Catholic question, as can be seen in other newspaper articles from 1960. “Problem of Religion posed for Democrats: Kennedy makes it clear he will not accept vice-presidency as Catholic Vote Deal” an article posted in New York Times also in January of 1960, examined JFK’s refusal to accept a VP nomination when he was qualified to run for the presidency. At the time, the Democratic party probably did not believe he could win as a Catholic, so because he was so loved, they thought he would better serve under a protestant candidate and pull in the Catholic votes. JFK saw through this, and refused to be a part of it — he said he either would run as president or not at all. His strength is definitely something to be applauded here, and this article exemplified some of the challenges he was facing at the time, even from his own party. I think this strength and honesty with the people is what people loved about him. It seems there was more open bigotry to Catholics during Smith’s run, as can be seen above in the political cartoon — people were not shy in expressing their distrust in his religion and policies. The largest difference, among many others, is in how the candidates chose to address the public, even those who did not agree with JFK, liked him. Though there was still hostility towards his religion from many at the time, JFK was able to overcome the barrier that the Catholic question posed for Al Smith.



Primary Sources:

Holmes, A. (1960, Jan 28). Candidate kennedy, a man of quality. Los Angeles Times (1923-1995) Retrieved from

By, A. K. (1960, Jan 10). PROBLEM OF RELIGION POSED FOR DEMOCRATS. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from

Secondary Source:
Hostetler, M. J. (1998). Gov. Al Smith confronts the Catholic question: The rhetorical legacy of the 1928 campaign. Communication Quarterly, 46(1), 12–24. Retrieved from


via Loyola History Department

This week the Ramonat’s attended Midterm Postmortem Round-Table: Behind the Tweets.  We discussed finding where the average voter can relate in this political climate and voting environment as well as how political parties have been turned into religions. People identify with their political party more-so than their religions in some cases, and this identification could be one of the reasons why it is so difficult to discern the “Catholic vote“. Catholic voter’s pillars are things such as life and dignity of the human person, solidarity with nations, and care for God’s creation among others. The Catholic pillars are divided between the parties, and it becomes a pick-and-choose of which issues are most important to them because both parties focus fall under different pillars. Some of the speakers believed the 2016 election was something of a thought experiment on the population of the United States.

However, when it comes to the Catholic vote – as discussed in previous weeks, after Vatican II when emphasis was placed on anti-abortion it is very interesting that Catholics would vote for a party that coincides with one of their most influential pillars. The pro-life movement is not a new movement, it has been advocating for anti-abortion since the 1970’s after Planned Parenthood of Missouri v. Dan forth (1976) reached the Supreme Court according to Mills (Journal of Church and State).

Midterm elections via

According to news sources, the Catholic vote was split in half during this year’s midterms – not surprisingly because of the divide in Catholic pillars among the parties. No one party completely embodies issues that are important to Catholic’s, each individual must decide which issues are most important to them. In 2014, the Catholic vote was 54% Republican and 45% Democrat, however this year it was 50% Democrat, and 49% Republican – aside from a few states that are still counting – the difference is still significant. Polls had been predicting a blue wave, especially within Catholic communities, and while there was not a wave it is significant to have religions as well as the rest of the country, split down the middle on which issues are most important to focus on.

Seminary Co-Op: Good Intentions

Seminary Co-Op via Laura Enachescu

This week, the Ramonat Scholars went over to the University of Chicago campus to the Seminary Co-Op Bookstore for a discussion with the author of Good Intentions, Steven P. Milles. In previous weeks, the Scholars tried to analyze if there was in fact a “Catholic Vote” – this is difficult to discern, being that Catholics range as a group and it can be difficult to predict (as all polls and predictions are usually inaccurate either way ). Millies himself said the “Catholic vote” is something that he could not predict, and his book mainly focused on white, immigrant Catholics, focusing on Irish and Italian Catholics.

Steven P. Millies @ Seminary Co-Op via Laura Enachescu

That being said, it can be difficult to determine how different ethnic and sociocultural groups who are Catholic would vote in an election. With the upcoming midterms, it is especially relevant to talk about the Catholic vote. In my opinion, I think the Catholic vote in places like Chicago would follow a past theme in this class being that “politics are local”. I say this because a Catholic in Chicago would probably vote Democrat, however a Catholic in southern Illinois may vote Republican. There are so many different influences on the voter, while religion plays an important part – it is evident that social factors influence voters as well. If religion was the only aspect Catholics focused on, I believe there would be a large majority of Catholics voting Republican based on the pro-life movement which is an important issue to Catholics around the world, however this is not the case.

Seminary Co-Op via Laura Enachescu

The Catholic vote has evolved greatly over time, in the past primary focus was on Unions and worker’s rights, and today it has shifted greatly to issues of healthcare, whether it be pro-life or physician assisted suicide. Catholics want to protect those without a voice, and those who cannot protect themselves, and that population has changed over time. I agree with Millies that Catholics can be a “swing vote” in an election depending on the climate and issues at hand. He embarked on assessing the Catholic vote from Roe v. Wade to the election of President Trump. Millies argues that Roe v. Wade shaped the Catholic identity and eventually through the decisions of the Catholic church, like focusing on anti-abortion movements, is what eventually led Catholic voters to lean towards Trump in the 2016 election. Vatican II is also believed to have had an impact on the road that led to President Trump’s election, the church began to be more involved with politics and the world, which gave Catholics more lee-way in their activism.

Outside of the Seminary Co-Op via Laura Enachescu

In my opinion, there is no Catholic vote, and there will never be a Catholic vote regardless of the political topics or climate at hand. I think voting choices are a direct result of local politics, and many Catholics tend to live among one another, (i.e. the neighborhood around St. Sabina – there was a huge Catholic population there, I saw a catholic church or charity on every city block). So again, we return to the topic of whether politics are local, and while politics may be religious sometimes, I believe locality always affects the “Catholic vote.”

1968 Symposium: Days of Past Present

photo via Loyola History Dept

Although 50 years have passed since 1968, it seems there are many parallels between the events occurring then and now. On Wednesday, I attended the Resistance and Riots, Murders and Martyrs panel which compared the problems of 1968 to today. One presentation I found especially interesting was Don Steman’s talk about crime in the 60’s as compared to today. I was shocked that crime had been at an all-time high in 1991 – I would’ve thought the highest point was 2018 especially with all the focus on Chicago’s crime. There were also presentations given on gun control, and the history of neo-Nazi’s and the KKK. Thinking of resistance in 1968 brought me back to the Catsonville Nine – who in opposition to the draft for the Vietnam War burned all the draft files. The parallel to the Catsonville Nine in today’s resistance movements would be things like gun control protests, and the Me-Too movement. The Family, the Gospel, and the Catholic Worker, (McKanan, 2007) also touched on how Dorothy Day was criticized for lack of support for families, because Catholics view community and family as an important aspect of life – this was a significant complaint. The parallel to this can be seen today however as well, when politicians disagree on a topic, a very popular counter is that it is “an attack on the American family” – this is a powerful counter that resonates with many Americans, and it was seen in 1968 and in 2018.



photo via Loyola History Dept

Thursday’s panel: Struggles for Justice: Race, Class, Gender, and Immigration in 1968 was one I enjoyed immensely as well. When we think of 1968, we often do not think of the implications and events that were going around in the entire world. From student riots against Polish communism, to Mexican student riots in attempts to fight against a corrupt government- there were struggles for justice worldwide. Struggling for justice is inherently Catholic –  we can again think to the Catsonville Nine, Daniel Berrigan, the Catholic Workers fighting for Unionization and Labor laws, child welfare and so on. The presentations. When I think about these presentation, there has been huge changes since 1968 but the problems that plagued 1968 either carried over 50 years later, or they changed the climate of the current state. In Mexico, the government is still corrupt and there are still brave people who are trying to make changes. Poland is no longer communist – however the struggles that were encountered in the 60’s shaped the political climate and infrastructure of the country today.






Open House Chicago 2018


“Re-chapalized chapel” via Laura Enachescu

Catholic Charities: (Gold Coast) The first site I visited was the Catholic Charities located at 721 N LaSalle Dr, Chicago, IL 60654 . The organization was started in 1917, however the building was built in 1927 due to the high demand of parishes trying to aid the poor in their communities. Hoping to alleviate the demand and provide services to their parishioners Catholic charities began as a home to unwed mothers, an orphanage, and an asylum for young girls. Though they no longer have an orphanage or provide adoption services, they still provide social services for families, and helping the “poor and vulnerable”. “Whether in a city or suburbs, therefore, a Chicago area parish helps Catholics answer the crucial questions: Who are you? Where are you from?” This quote is from one of the readings for this week: Catholicism, Chicago Style (Skerrett, Kantowicz, & Avella, 1993). I felt it truly embodied what the Catholic Charities has and continues to do for Chicagoans.

Baptism Basin via Laura Enachescu

During my tour of Catholic Charities, the guide told a story of a woman who had gone there for business and was overwhelmed by emotion because Catholic Charities was the place she had been born and adopted from. The building originally housed a chapel, however it was turned into office space, then later again returned to a chapel. The guide dubbed it “the re-chapalized chapel”. To this day, there are still baptisms performed in the chapel. There was art and imagery everywhere, from the inside to the outside of the building. One especially powerful piece was the statue & plaque commemorating Francis Cardinal George right outside the entrance to the building. On the plaque is a quote from Matthew 25:35, It was really powerful and I believe it was intended to be in order to remind those around who walk by it to help those in need. Catholic Charities is undeniably “local” while still being a national organization at the same time. They deal with everyday Chicagoans and their issues, while also operating on Catholic and national issues of poverty and general welfare.



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City Hall via Laura Enachescu



City Hall: (Financial District): Chicago’s City Hall located at: 121 N LaSalle St, Chicago, IL 60602 and has a very long interesting history! This building is actually two buildings that looks like one – it houses Chicago’s City Hall as well as the County Building. Chicago’s City Hall was originally built in the 1830’s but was reconstructed after the Chicago Fire in 1870’s. (There have been seven different City Hall buildings in Chicago’s history.) The current building was built in 1907. Seeing this building and all of it’s history drew me back to the conversation of “Are Politics Local?” Many people disagree on this topic, but especially in a metropolitan hub like Chicago, I think local politics are important. This building itself exudes that, from all the planning it took to create the building, from even moving it seven times – that is something that would affect the people of Chicago greatly. Andrew Gelman of the NY Times stated that “Politics is less local than it used to be” but alternatively I think that politics are becoming more local than they used to be. I see more advertising for voting in local elections now than ever before, walking down any Chicago block you will see signs on peoples lawns showing their vote, and so on.









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Blessed Aloysius via Laura Enachescu




Blessed Aloysius Stepinac Catholic Church: (West Ridge) This site is located at 6346 N Ridge Ave, Chicago, IL 60660 the church was built in 1905, and was originally a German Catholic Church – and the neighborhood’s first church. In 1972 it became a Croatian Church, and is named after Aloysius Stepinac who was named Cardinal by Pope Pius XII in 1953 even after his government forbade him from continuing his duties based on his trials where we was falsely accused of being a Nazi-collaborator. Stepanac dedicated his life to Catholicism and the welfare of his fellow Croatians- as well as others who had been persecuted or were vulnerable. He offered refuge to people of all backgrounds during World War II, and became a huge symbol in the Croatian community. There is a statue commemorating him outside of the church pictured below. It is difficult to process that Croatian issues could be local when Croatia is 4800 miles away, but there is a large Croatian population in Chicago, and various nationalities attend Blessed Aloysius Church. Undeniably it is an important aspect of the local community, it was West Ridge’s first church, and it is one of only two Croatian churches in Chicago.


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Hairy Who? via Laura Enachescu



Art Institute: Hairy Who Exhibit: The Art Institute of Chicago’s new exhibit is on the 6 Chicago artists who exhibited together in the 1960’s. This exhibit has not been shown since, so for the first time in 50 years all the works are together on display at the museum. The art all embodies each artist’s unique personality, humor, as well as concerns facing society at the time. This exhibit was insanely local, because it has never been shown anywhere but Chicago.











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Saint Sabina


Photo via Laura E

The mass at Saint Sabina was unlike any other experience I have ever had. The feeling of community and love could be felt as soon as I walked through the church doors. The imagery in the church was powerful, like the portrait of an African American Jesus – which the speaker Dr. Pierre Johnson mentioned helped him growing up see himself through God.

Photo via Laura E

Dr. Pierre Johnson was there for college day, to encourage children from the community to take their education seriously and help give them resources to succeed, like monthly scholarship oppurtunities. Father Pfleger, St. Sabina’s priest, has been working and advocating for St Sabina for 40 years.  It is evident that Father Pfleger deeply cares for his parish, throughout the service he involved the audience, especially the children, and gave them messages of hope and inspiration. The mass exemplified problems Catholic African Americans face – from difficulties in getting an education, to safety, and even how much of an impact having religious figures that look like the parish can impact the church. Pfleger has fought for civil rights his entire career, even as I walked into the church I was handed a flyer about the killing of Laquan McDonald. Pfleger uses his position to inspire, but also to inform and care for the community. His influence reflects Catholic values, but also reflects the values of his community and their needs.


Photo via Laura E

Berrigan Week


Daniel Berrigan via NY Times

This week Loyola hosted Berrigan week, which included a showing of the documentary, Seeking Shelter, and an exhibit on Daniel Berrigan’s life. Daniel Berrigan was a Jesuit priest in New York, who was an outspoken anti-war activist. He is most well known from his resistance efforts against the Vietnam War. Berrigan was also a poet, using art as a powerful tool in his activism, from writing poetry to letters. Although he was a pacifist, he was arrested on many occasions for burning draft letters and involvement in destroying other records. Berrigan held a complicated position in the Catholic community, he was like many other Catholics against the war, however many of them did not agree with his methods of activism.


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Catsonville Nine via National Catholic Reporter

Catholics, generally believe war is not acceptable, unless it is a just war – so many were torn on whether the Vietnam War did in fact constitute as a just war. Berrigan became a fugitive of the law after destroying government records, and found shelter in Block Island, Rhode Island with his friend William Stringfellow. They were “veterans of peace, and social justice movements.” Although they advocated for Catholic goals, they were often criticized for their radical methods, but they still remain legends in Catholic resistance.

The documentary was a beautiful account of his efforts, and the support he received from the Block Island community when many other Catholics had turned their back on Berrigan and the resistance. I really enjoyed watching it, and it warmed my heart that Berrigan was able to find such support and love during such a difficult time both personally and historically.

Damen Fireplace exhibit on Daniel Berrigan via Laura Enachescu