Catholic Culture Podcasts
Catholic Culture Podcasts

Theodore Maynard (1890-1956): A Historian of American Catholicism

by T.W. Hendricks


T.W. Hendricks examines the contributions of Theodore Maynard (1890-1956) in writing the history of Catholicism in the United States.

Larger Work

Modern Age


37 – 48

Publisher & Date

Intercollegiate Studies Institute, Inc., Wilmington, DE, Winter 2003

Theodore Maynard had a long career as a poet, literary critic, and historian in England, where he was raised, and in the United States, where he lived after 1920. Although he considered himself primarily a poet, during his lifetime Maynard was best known and most influential as a historian of Roman Catholicism, especially of Catholicism in the United States. Maynard was responsible for twenty-seven books of Catholic history and biography in all, as well as nine collections of his own poems and numerous other literary works. Although he was widely read by both Catholics and non-Catholics in the United States and Britain in the 1930s and 1940s, Maynard has been neglected since his death. When his old friend, the historian Robert F. McNamara wrote an article on Maynard for Moreana in 1973, he tellingly titled it, "Who Was Theodore Maynard?"1 Maynard is mentioned in books by William Halsey, Arnold Sparr, and Patrick Allitt.2 However, none of these scholars has examined Maynard's historical work in detail or evaluated his contribution to the writing of United States Catholic history.

Maynard's first book of history, DeSoto and the Conquistadores, appeared in 1930. Maynard, then forty, had already made a name for himself in both Britain and the United States as a literary figure. He was born in India to parents who were missionaries for the Plymouth Brethren. They sent him to school in England and expected him to follow them into the missionary field. However, Maynard broke with the Brethren and became a Baptist. After leaving school he found a job in London, where he read G. K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy (1908). He claimed that that book was decisive in bringing him to Catholicism: "I was sliding at the age of nineteen from the Calvinist theology in which I had been brought up into a vague humanitarian scepticism, when I read Orthodoxy. And that work began in me a reaction which by the grace of God three years later carried me into the Catholic Church."3 Chesterton offered Maynard an alternative to evangelicalism: he showed Maynard that faith could come through reason as well as through revelation and that a church could guide reason with an authoritative body of doctrine. These principles were the basis of Maynard's understanding of Catholicism.

Maynard worked at odd jobs in the United States between 1909 and 1911. Returning to England on a cattle boat, he settled in London and took up Unitarianism, and made plans to enter the Unitarian seminary at Oxford. At about the same time, he began reading the New Witness, the weekly edited by G.K. Chesterton's brother, Cecil. Cecil Chesterton was a Catholic, as was one of his major contributors, Hilaire Belloc. The New Witness attracted Maynard because of its attacks on political corruption, but he was also impressed by Cecil Chesterton's portrayal of Catholicism as the true religion of Europe. Maynard met Belloc late in 1912 and Cecil Chesterton soon afterwards. The following spring Maynard underwent his last conversion: he was received into the Catholic Church just before Easter, 1913.

Conversion, he later claimed, channeled and concentrated his creative energy. As a Catholic, Maynard had an audience, a point of view, and an intellectual structure for his thinking. He began publishing poetry, reviews, and essays in the New Witness, the London Poetry Review, the Month, the New Age, and occasionally, the London Times. His first collection of poems, Laughs and Whifts of Song, was published in 1915; it had the benefit of an introduction by G.K. Chesterton. Over the next four years, Maynard published two more collections of poetry, a book of essays, and an anthology of drinking songs. He also acquired a reputation, as he ruefully put it later, as a "robustious imitator of G.K. Chesterton and Belloc."4

The circumstances under which Maynard joined the Catholic Church shaped his understanding of Catholic history. From G.K. Chesterton, he learned to think of Catholicism as the religion of reason and tolerance. From both Chesterton brothers and from Belloc he learned to think of Catholicism as a force for democracy and equality, especially in its disapproval of the concentration of wealth. Even before he entered the Church, Maynard had taken up Distributism, G.K. Chesterton's program for awarding small tracts of farmland to deserving individuals. He claimed that Distributism led him "logically to Catholicism" and advocated its basic ideas for the rest of his life.5 From the Chestertons and Belloc he learned to regard Catholicism as the unifying force in European culture. Finally, having come from a religious culture that combined a "sense of social inferiority" and "a natural antagonism to the Anglican establishment," Maynard tended to think of Catholicism as similarly embattled and misunderstood.6

Maynard married Sara Casey, herself a novelist and playwright, in 1918. In the spring of 1920, a month before the birth of their second child, Maynard left by himself to lecture in the United States. As a result of an appearance at the Dominican College of San Rafael, in California, he was offered a teaching position there. He accepted and settled in San Rafael with his family in 1921. During his California years, Maynard published another book of poems and a notable volume of critical essays on contemporary British and American poets, Our Best Poets: English and American (1922). While vacationing in Carmel in 1922, he met Van Wyck Brooks, who became a lifelong friend. Brooks stimulated Maynard's interest in American history and literature, and his books gave Maynard an idea of how to write thoughtful history for the general reader.

Maynard was never happy in California, and in 1925 he brought his family to New York, which seemed to be the center of a Catholic intellectual revival. In particular Maynard had high hopes for Commonweal, which had begun publication the year before. Although Maynard recalled his years in New York as exciting and creative, they were also anxious and exhausting. Maynard and Sara had three children by then and no steady income. Maynard was disappointed in Commonweal; he stated that he expected the magazine to be "more aggressive and outspoken on social and economic matters than has been the case."7 Maynard was a regular contributor but never a major one. Most of his income came from teaching part-time at Catholic colleges in New York and New Jersey. He obtained his bachelor's degree from Fordham and started work on a master's so that he could qualify for a regular teaching position.

His fortunes improved in the spring of 1927. Henry Holt published Maynard's anthology, The Book of Modern Catholic Verse that year and a companion to it, The Book of Modern Catholic Prose, the year after. That same year, he contracted with Longmans Green for De Soto and the Conquistadores, and Georgetown University offered him the post of chairman of the English department. Although he was reluctant to leave New York, Maynard accepted — he had four children by then, and Sara was expecting a fifth. The family moved to Washington in September 1928.

Maynard finished De Soto and the Conquistadores at Georgetown, handing in the book as his master's thesis. He intended DeSoto and the Conquistadores as a reply to the view that the conquistadors were motivated by greed and were brutal to the native Americans. Maynard argues that evangelical zeal, not greed, drew men like Pizarro and Soto to the New World. In their treatment of the natives, the conquistadors were acting in the tradition of the Spanish nobles who had recovered Spain from the Moors: they "had preserved the Faith at home by the use of arms; they could not be expected to have much compunction at extending it in their provinces by the same means."8

De Soto and the Conquistadores attracted the attention of both popular and academic reviewers. The former were generally friendly, although the New Republic was especially harsh: "That Mr. Maynard, in the present volume, should have softened De Soto into a hero of the Catholic Church, is a fact to be regretted."9 The praise from academic reviewers was restrained. A.C. Wilgus, chairman of the Hispanic-American history department at George Washington University, wrote in Historical Outlook that "the author makes many positive assertions concerning facts which have never been proven." Wilgus suggested that Maynard's liberty with historical method "may be classed as poetic license, coming as it does from a professor of English literature."10 Maynard was to hear the last criticism throughout his career. Nevertheless, the reception of De Soto and the Conquistadores showed Maynard that historical studies aimed at the general reader could be used to present the Catholic point of view to both Catholic and non-Catholic audiences.

Maynard's biography of Soto appeared in the course of an upsurge of interest in Catholic history and in the place of Catholicism in the United States. 1926, the year when Gerald Shaughnessy's Has the Immigrant Kept the Faith? was published, was a watershed year. Shaughnessy's work was followed by a stream of historical and critical books on American Catholicism, such as George Shuster's The Catholic Spirit in America (1927), Peter Guilday's The Life and Times of John England (1927), and Winfred Ernest Garrison's Catholicism and the American Mind (1928), a sympathetic survey by a Protestant historian. Interest in Catholicism in the United States was widespread and not confined to Catholics. Maynard himself was planning to write a "magnum opus on Catholic tradition" when he moved to Washington.11 In June 1929, he accepted a five hundred dollar advance from Longmans for "a Work entitled CATHOLIC SPIRIT OF HISTORY." Maynard never completed the book, but throughout his time at Georgetown he was writing on Catholic history and on social issues for a variety of periodicals.

Georgetown University did not renew Maynard's contract when it expired in 1934. Maynard claimed that the reason was that his salary was considered "fabulous," but he had been increasingly unhappy at the university. He disliked Washington and complained that "even at the university there was too much social and too little intellectual activity" to satisfy him.12 Furthermore. Maynard never accustomed himself to the routine of teaching and departmental administration; he missed having the freedom he had as a free-lance writer. Maynard took a temporary post at Mount St. Mary's College in Emmitsburg, Maryland, and taught there until 1936.

The success of DeSoto and the Conquistadores suggested to Maynard that he might make a living writing popular histories and biographies. In fact, he had been planning a biography of Saint Francis Xavier before he left Georgetown. That book, The Odyssey of Francis Xavier was published in the fall of 1936. Events in Spain help raise interest in it. Francis Xavier and the biography that followed, Apostle of Charity (1939), a life of Saint Vincent de Paul, deal with figures who strongly appealed to Maynard, individuals who gave up promising careers to undertake missionary or charitable work. Francis Xavier was notable for Maynard's restrained position on the miracles attributed to the saint. While Maynard did not deny that Francis could have performed miracles, he dismissed the reports of them as unreliable and depended chiefly on Francis's letters for information about his activities.

The Odyssey of Francis Xavier was at least a critical success, and it was a bright spot in a year of difficulties and discouragements for Maynard. In January 1936, his seventh and last child, Kevin, was born. The boy was born severely retarded, and in spite of the devoted care he received from his family, he was never able to live independently. That same month, the Dial Press published Man and Beast, Maynard's first collection of poems in eight years. However the collection's reception was lukewarm, and Maynard was never to regain the stature he had as a poet a decade earlier. In August of that year Maynard suffered a nervous breakdown and entered Sheppard Pratt Hospital, near Baltimore. Then he developed tuberculosis, and remained hospitalized for almost three years in all.

During the years Maynard spent in hospitals he wrote Apostle of Charity and his autobiography, The World I Saw (1938). Apostle of Charity was favorably noticed by several non-Catholic periodicals, including the New Republic.13 The World I Saw was published by the Bruce Publishing Company of Milwaukee, arising Catholic publisher. Most of The World I Saw is devoted to the religious search that brought Maynard to the Catholic Church. He presents his passage through the Protestant denominations he belonged to — the Brethren, the Baptists, the Congregationalists, and the Unitarians — as a natural progression toward Catholicism. As an account of his personal life and career, the book is sketchy and evasive, especially about dates. It may have originated as a therapeutic exercise; it reads like the work of a man trying to regain his self-confidence. He is vague about the reason he was dismissed from Georgetown University, and he makes no reference to his hospitalization. He says a good deal about his parents — he devotes a chapter to his mother's bitter reaction to his conversion to Catholicism — but very little about Sara and his children.

Maynard does say a good deal about his dissatisfaction with life in the United States: the human emptiness of California, the provinciality of Washington. He claims that "Americans lack the emotional depth of Europeans," which "results in their greatest positive faults — those of fickleness and ingratitude."14 Maynard is also critical of the "terribly low average of American Catholic thought and feeling," which he attributes to the shallowness of American Catholic journalism and publishing.15 Most of all, he is distressed by the complacency of American Catholics: "Few Catholics are so badly instructed as those in this country or more easily fall away from the Church when it suits their convenience."16 Maynard was to develop these criticisms of American Catholicism in The Story of American Catholicism, especially the claim that the laity and leadership had become only too willing to shrug off the Church's social principles when there was money to be made.

Maynard returned to his family, who had moved to Westminster, Maryland, from Emmitsburg, in the spring of 1939. He stayed there until he was again hospitalized with tuberculosis in the spring of 1945. Those years were lonely and worrisome ones for Maynard. He was isolated in Westminster; beginning in 1943 he spent long periods away from home doing research, writing, and giving lectures. The family was chronically short of money. Maynard's uncertain future, the lack of money, and later, his absences, placed Sara under considerable strain. In 1944 her health began to fail, and she was hospitalized the following year. In spite of these difficulties, Maynard worked as hard as ever. In 1940, Bruce published Queen Elizabeth, the first of six biographies he was to write of figures of the English Reformation.17 In those books, Maynard presents the Reformation from a Catholic point of view. Following Belloc, he treats England's break with Rome not as a victory for liberty but a calamity, brought about by fanaticism and greed, which cut Britain off from the body of European culture.

Queen Elizabeth was followed by the two books for which Maynard is remembered today, The Story of American Catholicism and Orestes Brownson: Yankee, Radical, Catholic. Macmillan published The Story of American Catholicism in 1941. Symbolically, perhaps, Maynard became an American citizen that year. Although it was not, as the publisher announced, the first one-volume history of the Church in the United States, American Catholicism was the first general book on the subject since the turn of the century. More important, it was the first to present the history of American Catholicism in the context of the history of the United States.

Maynard's first aim in writing The Story of American Catholicism was apologetic: he intended to correct the widespread misconception that "the roots of American civilization . . . lie in Puritanism" and that "Americanism is basically Protestant and that only Protestantism is truly American." Maynard also intended to show that far from being an "alien institution in America," the Catholic Church is, in fact, "the natural upholder of American institutions.18 Although the Church and the government of the United States are separate and distinct, they share a common ideal, that of human equality. Consequently, the American Church has a unique mission, to uphold that ideal by supporting the American political process.

Maynard believed that the Church in the United States supports the political process in three ways: by developing educated and cultured citizens, by protecting the poor and marginal from exploitation, and by restraining what he believed was democracy's natural tendency toward extremism. Accordingly, he emphasizes three themes in The Story of American Catholicism: the Church's commitment to education, especially of immigrants, the Church's advocacy of social justice, and the Church's role in "the maintenance of order and discipline in society."19 In fact, the features of the Church's mission in the United States that Maynard concentrates on, education, justice, and the provision of authoritative doctrine, are the same qualities that attracted him to Catholicism in the first place.

Since the Church has been part of the American political process, it follows that the history of the Church and the nation are interrelated. Consequently, Maynard's method in The Story of American Catholicism was to follow the chronology of the national history while showing how developments in the American Church were linked to it. Maynard uses the opening chapters to demonstrate that North America was discovered, explored, and first settled by Catholics. Echoing the position he had taken in De Soto and the Conquistadores, he argues that the Spanish and French explorers were as committed to evangelizing the American natives as they were to claiming territory. The work of the French and Spanish missionaries could have brought the American natives into the mainstream of United States history if the Protestant settlers had not dispossessed or exterminated them instead.

The chapters on the colonial period argue that it was the Catholic founders of the Maryland colony, not the New England Puritans, who brought the ideal of religious liberty to North America. Maynard claims that the principle of equality in the Declaration of Independence came to Jefferson from St. Thomas Aquinas through John Locke. After the Revolution, according to Maynard, the national effort to define the nature and scope of the Federal government was paralleled by the effort of American Catholics to define the structure of the Church government in the new nation. The political turbulence of the period illustrates the darker side of democracy: "the wine of independence went to many unstable heads and liberty was wildly misunderstood." Likewise, the Church had to build an organization "in the face not only of stiff material difficulties but also of an unruliness among both priests and people."20 According to Maynard, the American Church came of age only when John England established a method of governance that would recognize the authority of bishops over the parishes.

The nativist reaction to the wave of Irish immigration in the 1830s and 1840s demonstrated, in Maynard's view, the importance of the Church's effort to help immigrants become responsible citizens. He claims that a stronger Catholic voice would have tempered the debate over slavery that led up to the Civil War; the Catholic call for gradual emancipation of the slaves was drowned by Southern greed and Northern self-righteousness. The real winner in the Civil War, according to Maynard, was the principle that the national government should have ultimate authority over the states. He is proud of the fact that the Catholic Church in the United States did not split during the Civil War, unlike most of the Protestant denominations. Even though Catholics fought on both sides, allegiance to the Church transcended regional loyalties.

As Maynard traces the course of American history after the Civil War, he becomes more critical of the American Church. He observes that because of Catholics' racial prejudice, the Church failed even to evangelize the former slaves, much less contribute to their assimilation into American society. Maynard interrupts his narrative to call for missionary work among African-Americans; he calls it "a responsibility we cannot shirk except at our utmost peril." He observes, however, that the Church will first have to commit itself to obtaining full civil rights for African-Americans: "Nothing we do will be of much use unless the Church come to the defence of the negro's rights as a human being."21 The chief recognition Maynard got for that call was a stiff letter from the editor of the Colored Harvest, the magazine of the Society of St. Joseph, protesting a reference to "darkies" and complaining that "negro" ought to have been capitalized in the book.22

Maynard observes that the American Church had its own period of reconstruction, which culminated in the participation of the United States hierarchy in the first Vatican Council and their support for the definition of papal infallibility. According to Maynard, American support for ratification publicly demonstrated "American loyalty to the Holy See."23 For Maynard, the Council's vote meant "there could be no exclusive form of nationalism within the Church."24 The American Church was firmly anchored to the European Church. Furthermore, by promulgating papal infallibility as a dogma, the Church had ended "uncertainty and hesitation" among Americans, just as it had done for Maynard.25

Maynard devotes a chapter to Catholic missionary work in the West, exemplified by the careers of Pierre De Smet and Rose Philippine Duchesne, to show that the Church offered an alternative to the exploitation of native Americans. He admits, however, that the Church eventually gave up its effort among the native Americans and "came to neglect the Indian almost as much as it came to neglect the negro."26 He portrays the post-Civil War industrial expansion in the light of the rise of Catholic labor activism. He reminds his readers that the Church has always deplored the accumulation of private wealth at the expense of the common good. He claims that the Church leadership could have done more to support the labor movement, but concedes that "[t]hey thought in terms of anti-clerical European radicals . . . and knew that any upheaval would be detrimental to the work of the Church."27 Maynard applauds the effort of Cardinal James Gibbons to have the Knights of Labor exempted from the Vatican's ban on secret societies, and he claims that the Vatican reversed itself for the first time because of Gibbons's representations. Nevertheless Maynard recognized that the chief effect of the labor movement had been to make the workers perceive themselves as incipient capitalists. Consequently, although American Catholics knew they "could not worship success beyond a certain point and remain good Christians; yet they came, like the rest of their fellow countrymen, to worship success a great deal too much."28 He deplores the fact that immigrants, especially the Irish, were being concentrated in the large eastern cities to the destruction of their faith and morals, and devotes a chapter to the homesteading projects intended to give recent immigrants farms in the West, schemes that recall Chesterton's Distributism.

The establishment of a permanent apostolic delegation in Washington, Maynard felt, "indicated a recognition by the Holy See that the Church in this country had reached full maturity."29 The appointment of the apostolic delegation, "so far from leading to further subservience to Rome, actually led to a higher status for the American Church."30 More important, in Maynard's view, was the fact that the American public received the appointment with indifference. Americans no longer feared that Rome was establishing a shadow government in the United States. He even described the condemnation of "Americanism" by Leo XIII in the encyclical Testem Benevolentiae as a "salutary" warning to the American hierarchy "against resorting to 'streamlined'" apologetics.31 The encyclical actually had more to do with conditions in Europe than in the United States, and American Catholics wondered why it had been directed at them. But in Maynard's eyes, the Americanism controversy, which had originated as a dispute among the bishops over how rapidly the American Church should move to assimilate immigrants, had raised questions about the best means of teaching and promulgating Church doctrine. Maynard claimed that the Vatican had headed off the beginnings of a genuine heresy by asserting its authority.

Maynard ends his narrative of American Catholic history with the death of Cardinal James Gibbons in 1921. In Maynard's estimation, Gibbons was "the very embodiment in the eyes of the whole nation . . . of Americanism and Catholicism."32 Under Gibbons's leadership, American Catholics had increased threefold and had learned to play an important role in national affairs. At the same time, the American Church became influential in the Catholic Church as a whole: Maynard claims that Gibbons was decisive in persuading Guiseppe Sarto to accept the pontificate as Pius X.33 Maynard concludes the chapter on "The Age of Gibbons" by observing that "For the United States, the pontificate of Pius X was a period of expansion and peace."34 In Maynard's view, the strength of Catholicism in the United States, which came from its relationship with the Church as a whole, was an important factor in the well-being of the nation.

Reviewers of The Story of American Catholicism for Catholic periodicals generally praised Maynard for providing an up-to-date popular history of Catholicism in this country. Commonweal pointed out that Maynard put the history of American Catholicism "into America's political history and social background in a book that is without a dull page."35 Joseph McSorley, in the Catholic World, observes that the book "fills a real need" for "a popular account of a vastly important chapter in Church history." However, Maynard is "not always precisely accurate" and "sketches backgrounds too lightly."36 In a long review in the Catholic Historical Review, Leo F. Stock, a fellow at the Carnegie Institute in Washington, cited a long list of factual errors. He objected to the book's "lack of proportion, its individuality, its tone of personal conviction, and its frequent excursions into realms other than history." Nevertheless, Stock acknowledged that Maynard's book was accessible and admitted that "books that are read do more good than books that are not read."37

Protestant reviewers, on the other hand, were put off by Maynard's polemic tone. A.C. Zabriski, the president of Virginia Theological Seminary, dismissed The Story of American Catholicism as "very clever propaganda in historical form."38 Writing in the Christian Century, Conrad Moehlman, a professor at Colgate-Rochester Divinity School and a Baptist, described American Catholicism as "mythology, anti-Protestant polemic, propaganda, history, and criticism blended into a literary masterpiece." He warns that "this 'Story' revives criticisms of American Catholicism long since forgotten and may become an arsenal for a new 'Know-Nothing' crusade."39 William W. Sweet, of the University of Chicago, summarized Maynard's background and observed, "As was to be expected, coming from such a source, the book possesses a distinct literary flavor as well as an easily recognized 'convert' bias." Sweet also pointed out that Maynard was "often critical of his adopted Church" and that Maynard's "intelligent and timely" criticisms "ought to bear fruit among his co-religionists."40 On the whole, Protestant intellectuals felt that American Catholicism was a setback for ecumenical understanding.

The following year, Maynard published two books, The Reed and the Rock, a biography of Simon Brute, the first bishop of Vincennes, Indiana, and a collection of poems, Not Even Death. In The Reed and the Rock, Maynard emphasizes the point that Brute had given up a rewarding secular career to serve the Church, eventually, at fifty-five, facing the hardships of frontier life in the Indiana territory. The poems in Not Even Death reflect the seventeenth-century English religious poets, principally George Herbert and Henry Vaughan. They were written during Maynard's darkest years, during his hospitalization and immediately afterward. Under those circumstances it is not surprising that Not Even Death was Maynard's first collection since his first book in which virtually all of the poems were religious in content.

In 1943, Macmillan brought out Maynard's other major study in United States Catholic history, Orestes Brownson: Yankee, Radical, Catholic.41 The careers of Maynard and Brownson were similar. Both grew up in Calvinistic denominations, and both came to Catholicism after belonging to increasingly liberal Protestant churches. Both were interested in social reform; both mistrusted capitalism and industrialism and considered a nation of small farmers the ideal. Both had been preachers, then journalists. Both were largely self-educated. Both Brownson and Maynard endured, in their mature years, ill health, poverty, and as Maynard believed, misunderstanding from their coreligionists.

He attacked the prevailing view that Brownson's conversion to Catholicism, after a long association with the Transcendentalist movement, was the aberration in his career. He points out that Brownson was a Catholic for most of his adult life, for far longer than he had been involved with Transcendentalism. He argues that Brownson's conversion was not the result of disillusionment with human nature as Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., had suggested in his biography of Brownson, but the logical outcome of his religious thinking. According to Maynard, Brownson came to the Church through the concept of communion, his idea that humans come to know and love God by knowing and loving each other. This idea had been behind Brownson's social thinking since the 1830s; when it occurred to Brownson that Christ was the link between human communion and communion with God, he had no choice, according to Maynard, but to accept Catholicism.

Maynard devotes almost three-quarters of his book to Brownson's years as a Catholic. He shows that Brownson found no peace in the Church; he was almost constantly involved in controversies with other Catholics. Brownson's support for Americanization angered the Irish, his support for public schools embarrassed Archbishop Hughes of New York, and he was delated to Rome for his theological opinions. On the other hand, Maynard admits that Brownson was not an effective apologist for the Church. Brownson tended to attack the logic of Protestantism; he never understood that "the true line . . . is to show that all forms of Protestantism are nothing but eccentric or attenuated or impoverished forms of Catholicism."42 Maynard also emphasizes the unhappiness of Brownson's personal life in his later years. He suffered from gout and had to endure the deaths of his wife and five of their eight children. He quarreled with his daughter and was disappointed in his surviving sons.

Orestes Brownson was widely reviewed, for the most part appreciatively. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., claimed that Maynard had misjudged the depth of Brownson's disillusionment with political activism, but nevertheless he praised the book as a "keen and stimulating study of a keen and stimulating man."43 Writing in the Saturday Review of Literature, Thomas H. Johnson concluded that Brownson was "both ahead of his times and ahead of the American Catholic public, who neither wished for nor cared to use the mind and spirit he brought them."44 Those words could sum up the careers of many convert intellectuals.

None of Maynard's books had earned him very much money. The Story of American Catholicism, up to then his best-selling book, sold only 8000 copies in its first three years in print, netting Maynard about $4,000. Maynard finally produced a best-seller in 1945 with Too Small a World, a biography of Mother Francesca Cabrini, the first American citizen to be canonized. The success of Too Small a World was overshadowed by Maynard's personal difficulties that year. His tuberculosis flared up in March 1945, and he returned to the sanatorium at Sabillasville, Maryland in June. Sara had also contracted the disease; she joined Maynard at the sanatorium in August. Sara went back home in September and died in November. Maynard remained at Sabillasville until October 1946, when he married Kathleen Sheehan. She had been a student of his at Manhattanville College and later helped research A Fire Was Lighted, his 1948 biography of Nathaniel Hawthorne's younger daughter, Rose Hawthorne Lathrop. Maynard and Kathleen settled in Port Washington, New York, where Maynard died, of a heart attack, on October 18, 1956.

Maynard wrote another twenty books between 1945 and 1956. He wrote and dictated A Fire Was Lighted while lying immobile in bed at Sabillasville. He had had just enough time to go over Rose Hawthorne's papers at Rosary Hill, New York, before he entered the sanatorium. Kathleen Sheehan and her secretary transcribed the text from Maynard's Ediphone recordings and notes written in his minute handwriting.45 A Fire Was Lighted replies to the impression that American honesty and enlightenment stand in contrast to European superstition and cynicism. Rose Hawthorne spent her early life in Europe and converted to Catholicism at forty, along with her husband, George Lathrop. They separated three years later, and soon afterwards Rose Hawthorne began caring for destitute cancer sufferers in New York City. That vocation led to the founding of the Rosary Hill Home and the establishment of a Dominican order of sisters dedicated to the care of cancer patients. According to Maynard, the experience of Europe gave Rose Hawthorne the emotional depth that led her to join the Church and to dedicate her life to helping others.

Macmillan brought out Maynard's Collected Poems in 1945. Van Wyck Brooks typed out the poems and canvassed Maynard's friends for favorable comments. Two more collections followed.46 Maynard also wrote biographies of Saint Philip Neri, Saint Francis Assisi, Mother Frances Schervier, Mother Theresa Demjanovich, Fray Junipero Serra, Saint Benedict, Saint Ignatius Loyola, and the English Reformation figures previously mentioned.47 A book of essays on exemplary Catholics, Saints for Our Time, came out in 1952. He returned to the subject of Catholicism in modern society in two books that came out in 1952 and 1953, The Catholic Way and The Catholic Church and the American Idea. A book of biographical sketches, Great Catholics in American History, appeared the year after Maynard's death.

Even before his death, Maynard had fallen out of favor with the rising generation of American Catholic intellectuals. His polemics and his carelessness about points of fact were embarrassing to the scholars and critics who were trying to raise the level of Catholic intellectual work. In 1955, John Tracy Ellis complained, in a passage aimed in part at Maynard, that Catholic intellectual activity had been hampered by "an overeagerness in Catholic circles for apologetics rather than pure scholarship."48 Garry Wills referred to Maynard as one of the "breezy debaters spawned in England by Chesterton and Belloc" who seemed to him to have cast a spell over American Catholic intellectual life.49 After Maynard died, the three most prominent Catholic periodicals in the United States ran tributes to him. Commonweal and America described the obstacles he had overcome but were cool in assessing his work. Commonweal all but overlooked Maynard's work in American Catholic history, describing him as "a recognized historian, with an abiding interest in the Elizabethan period."50 According to the unsigned half-column in America, "no one of his works was a truly great book (The Story of American Catholicism was certainly a pioneering effort, however)."51 The Catholic World, for whom Maynard had written more than any writer since Brownson, was more generous in space and praise: "In leading Catholic biography out of the saccharine era he benefited not only the Church in America but history as well."52

Throughout his historical career, Maynard insisted that professional historians unfairly criticized him. In a letter to John Tracy Ellis, Maynard referred to some comments Ellis had made about The Story of American Catholicism. Maynard wrote that "of course every book should be judged by what it attempts to do, and I was definitely wishing to avoid anything like a work of specialized research (though I tried to utilize the best scholarship) but aimed at a single volume for the general reader. As such, I tried to make it readable — even 'breezy' in style, if you like, and though I do not profess to have wholly succeeded, and though I know it contains a number of mistakes, I confess that I wonder at times how I managed to produce such a book at all."53 While from the point of view of the historian, bad history is bad history, no matter what the author intended, Maynard did at least try to bridge the gap that Garry Wills complained about in the essay quoted above, the gap between the Catholic intellectual tradition and the meager intellectual fare offered the average American Catholic layperson of his time. Whatever its failings, Maynard's work at least prepared an audience for writers like Ellis and Wills.

His support for a strong Church hierarchy also alienated the new generation of Catholic intellectuals. Maynard had personal reasons for emphasizing it — he never forgot the anguish of his youthful religious uncertainty. More important, however, was his belief that Catholicism and capitalism were fundamentally incompatible, and that it would take a determined and confident Church to stand up to capitalism's abuses. Still, Maynard never lost his faith in the ability of the American political process to protect human freedom and dignity, provided the Church continued to take an active part in that effort. When Maynard criticized the complacency of American Catholics, it was because he felt that they were neglecting the mission of the Church as well as that of the nation. To a large degree, his criticisms of American Protestants were addressed to American Catholics; he wanted to point out that their material success was undermining the Church's real mission, the protection of liberty and equality.

End Notes

  1. Moreana Vol. 39 (September 1973), 5-13.
  2. William Halsey, The Survival of American Innocence: Catholicism in an Age of Disillusionment, 1920-1940 (Notre Dame, Ind., 1980); Arnold Sparr, To Promote, Defend, and Redeem: The Catholic Literary Revival and the Cultural Transformation of American Catholicism (Westport, Conn., 1990); Patrick Allitt, Catholic Converts: British and American Intellectuals Turn to Rome (Ithaca, 1997).
  3. "The Chesterbelloc, II," Catholic World, Vol. 110 (December 1919), 330.
  4. "A Literary Freelance in London," Catholic World, Vol. 133 (May 1931), 135.
  5. The World I Saw (Milwaukee, 1938), 137.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid., 270.

  8. De Soto and the Conquistadores (New York, 1930), 8-9.
  9. New Republic, Vol. 64 (September 17, 1930), 134.
  10. Historical Outlook, Vol. 21 (May 1930), 241.
  11. Mary Colum to Maynard, n.d. Collection of Philip Maynard.
  12. The World I Saw, 273.
  13. New Republic, Vol. 100 (August 30, 1939), 111.
  14. The World I Saw, 309.
  15. Ibid., 271.
  16. Ibid., 312.
  17. The others are: Humanist as Hero: The Life of Sir Thomas More (New York, 1948); Henry VIII (Milwaukee, 1949); The Crown and the Cross: A Biography of Thomas Cromwell (New York, 1950); Bloody Mary (Milwaukee, 1954); The Life of Thomas Cranmer (Chicago, 1956).
  18. The Story of American Catholicism (New York, 1941), ixx.
  19. Ibid.
  20. Ibid., 163.
  21. Ibid., 392.
  22. James F. Didas, S.S.J., to Maynard, April 9, 1945. Collection of Philip Maynard.
  23. American Catholicism, 396.
  24. Ibid., 394.
  25. Ibid., 397.
  26. Ibid., 398.
  27. Ibid., 432.
  28. Ibid., 429.
  29. Ibid., 489.
  30. Ibid., 496.
  31. Ibid., 517.
  32. Ibid., 543.
  33. Ibid., 548.
  34. Ibid., 542.
  35. Commonweal, Vol. 25 (January 16, 1942), 316.
  36. Catholic World, Vol. 154 (January 1942), 502.
  37. Catholic Historical Review, Vol. 28 (April 1942), 94-103.
  38. Christendom 7 (Summer 1942), 413.
  39. Christian Century, Vol. 59 (January 7, 1942), 17.
  40. Church History, Vol. 11 (March 1942), 75-77.
  41. Orestes Brownson: Yankee, Radical, Catholic (New York, 1943).
  42. Ibid., 175.
  43. New England Quarterly, Vol. 17 (March 1944), 128.
  44. Saturday Review of Literature, Vol. 27 (January 29, 1944), 6.
  45. "I Write Flat on My Back," Catholic Digest, Vol. 12 (March, 1948), 11-13.
  46. The Last Garland (New York, 1949); The Fifteen Mysteries (Paterson, N.J., 1956).
  47. Mystic in Motley (Milwaukee, 1946); Richest of the Poor (Garden City, N.Y., 1948): Through My Gift: The Life of Mother Frances Schervier (New York, 1952); The Better Part: The Life of Theresa Demjanovich (New York, 1952); The Long Road of Father Serra (New York, 1954); St. Benedict and His Monks (New York, 1954); St. Ignatius and the Jesuits (New York, 1956).
  48. "American Catholics and the Intellectual Life." Reprinted in Catholicism in America, ed. Philip Gleason (New York, 1970), 117.
  49. Bare Ruined Choirs: Doubt, Prophecy, and Radical Religion (Garden City, N.Y., 1972), 41.
  50. Commonweal, Vol. 65 (November 2. 1956). 119.
  51. America. Vol. 96 (November 3, 1956), 115.
  52. Catholic World, Vol. 184 (December 1956), 165.
  53. Maynard to Ellis, August 8, 1948. Collection of Philip Maynard.

Theodore Maynard's books are out-of-print but many are available used from Amazon at reasonable prices.

T.W. HENDRICKS received his doctorate from Catholic University of America. He teaches English at Villa Julie College in Stevenson, Maryland.

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