Since before the founding of the United States, Catholics have struggled to blend in with the greater American society, and therefore occupy a strange position in the social fabric. However, the notion that Catholics have never been treated as full citizens is incorrect. They have been important to the development of the American middle class throughout history and have utilized their voice in order to fight for equal rights particularly through labor unions.
In America’s history, Catholics have oftentimes not been accepted due to their religion. When they first began to immigrate to the U.S., there were laws prohibiting them from practicing their religion, and they were not offered full rights as citizens. However, in the 20th century, their position began to improve. The Irish-American Catholics were quite visible in daily life, so other immigrants frequently interacted with them. They became an example of how Americans act, and so were quite influential on socializing newly arrived immigrants to American life. This is noteworthy as Irish Catholics values and norms are spread through larger society this way, and it is significant that by this time, the Irish are a sort of model for who Americans are and what they should be even though a century previously they were persecuted and had to fight to publicly practice Catholicism.
Catholics have simultaneously worked to remain separate from the rest of the population, meaning Protestant, in a few regards such as education. The desire to educate their children within the values of Catholicism led to the creation of the private, Catholic school system. Persecution in schools is another reason for this action, as children were reprimanded for saying the Lord’s Prayer in the Catholic way as opposed to the Protestant version as well as for other offenses. This school system has remained a staple in American, and Catholic, life for decades, and continues to influence the education system greatly.
Much of the push to unionize was led by Catholics, and today that leadership has continued. Whether it is with Catholic workers themselves, such as James Connolly, or Catholic clergy, there is much support for unions and workers’ rights. The strides achieved since the formation of the first unions have been pivotal and would likely not have been possible without Catholics. That was only possible because they had enough rights to peacefully assemble and fight for better working conditions.
Besides culturally, Catholics have earned a permanent place in America through gains made in political power. With the election of Kennedy, Catholics gained a prominent voice in the political sphere, not just in elected office, but as a voting bloc. The ability to vote grants citizens power and allows them to participate in American civic life which is necessary to be a complete citizen. Catholics have had to work for their citizenship, but I believe that today they are treated as full citizens.