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Thursday, May 23, 2024
The Observer

Launch celebrates Provost McGreevy’s new book on history of Catholicism

On Friday, Notre Dame celebrated the launch of Dr. John McGreevy’s new book, “Catholicism: A Global History from the French Revolution to Pope Francis.” The event represented a collaboration among numerous campus organizations, including the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism, the College of Arts & Letters and Provost McGreevy’s own home department, the Department of History.

The launch opened with a welcome from Kathleen Sprows Cummings, professor of American Studies and history and director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism. She commented on the longstanding tradition of the Department of History to mark colleagues’ book publications with events that are “both scholarly and celebratory.” 

Following an introduction by Professor Elisabeth Koll, chair of the department of history, the event’s guest speaker, Samuel Moyn, began his remarks. Moyn is the Chancellor Kent professor of law and history at Yale University and has written widely on themes such as international law, the law of war, human rights and European intellectual history. 

In his speech, Moyn commended McGreevy’s work and remarked on the significance of Catholicism as a previously underrecognized framework for global history. He went on to highlight nine key precepts that distinguish the significance and skillful delivery of McGreevy’s latest book. 

To start, Moyn commented on the sophistication and precision of McGreevy’s writing, which came across as effortless without distracting from his purpose. He further admired McGreevy’s construction of each chapter as “a complete story in itself,” featuring thoughtful selections of characters and clear illustrations of broader takeaways. 

In addition to these underlying skills, Moyn reflected on McGreevy’s portrayal of the Church’s global history and personal nature, providing a variety of Catholic personifications “while avoiding tokenism and representation for its own sake.” 

According to Moyn, McGreevy adroitly depicts the interplay between Catholic tradition and innovation in the modern age, while also contextualizing the faith in the cultures that surrounded it and illustrating its significance to secular figures and events. McGreevy honestly reflects the challenges that the Church has faced and divisions within it without trying to advocate for one view over another. 

Moyn pointed out that McGreevy’s scholarship of the material in his field and thorough degree of research are on full display, topped off with some sources from Notre Dame. Even while crafting his own work, McGreevy demonstrates a true sense of collaboration and community with other intellectuals in his field.

Finally, Moyn concluded his speech by acknowledging McGreevy’s way of connecting this history with the current era, making it relevant to both the present and future. 

McGreevy took the floor following Moyn’s speech. He first thanked his family and colleagues and then turned his attention to answering, as he said, “Why this book? Why now?”

He described his motivation as twofold, one of which was to illustrate the significance of the Catholic Church on the global and historical stages. As he said, “A better understanding of Catholicism enhances our grasp of the modern world.”

“No institution is as multicultural or multilingual. Few touch as many people…only the Catholic Church includes extended networks of people and institutions in Warsaw, Nairobi and Mexico City as well as the most remote sections of the Amazon.” 

He went on to emphasize Catholicism’s truly universal nature, remarking, “Nation states matter for the study of modern Catholicism… but people, devotions and ideas cross national borders with surprising ease.”

He recounted the second part of his motive by depicting the combination of “vibrancy” and “turmoil” that characterizes the current Catholic Church, explaining its implications for those at Notre Dame. 

He acknowledged how grateful he is, and as we all should be to attend, or work at such a premier Catholic institution, adding, “This good fortune means that we have an opportunity, maybe a responsibility, to confront the challenges we all now face.”

He finished with a recognition of the change currently happening within Catholicism and the world, as well as the potential of everyone at Notre Dame to contribute to its new identity. 

The event concluded with lunch and a book signing. When asked his thoughts on the event, McGreevy described it as “thrilling,” saying he was “really honored to be [there].”

Contact Keira Stenson at