French Catholic Clergy and National Identity in World War I
Published by: University of Oklahoma Press
Imprint: University of Oklahoma Press
176 Pages | 6 x 9
The letters and diaries of these priests reveal how they adapted to the battlefields of World War I. Influenced by patriotic ideals of bravery, they went into the war hoping to make converts for the Catholic Church, which had long been marginalized by the Third Republic’s secularizing policies. But through direct fraternal contact with their fellow soldiers, they came out with a sense of common identity and comradeship. Historian Anita Rasi May documents how these clergymen used their religious values of sacrifice to define the meaning of the war for themselves and for their comrades, even as the discipline of military life effectively transformed them from missionaries into soldiers. In turn, their courage and solicitous care for their fellow soldiers won them new respect and earned the Church renewed esteem in postwar French society.
These clergymen’s story, recounted here for the first time, elucidates a unique milestone of church-state relations in France. Their experiences—their hopes and fears, their struggles to reconcile their mission of peace with the demands of war, and their sense of belonging to France as well as to the Church—reveal a new perspective on the Great War.
“Patriot Priests draws upon a rich collection of correspondence and memoirs to explore how priests, conscripted to serve in the French Army during the First World War, responded to this ‘unpriestly’ responsibility. Anita May sensitively documents the many material and moral comforts that front-line priests provided the men with whom they served, earning their respect and gratitude. Patriot Priests further illuminates how the Great War undermined, without fully erasing, the anticlerical character of the early Third Republic.”—Martha Hanna, author of The Mobilization of Intellect: French Scholars and Writers during the Great War
“Anita Rasi May’s Patriot Priests will initiate a new era of research on the role of French priest combatants, probably the most important religious phenomenon on the First World War’s western front. No group experienced as intensely the dilemma of reconciling a religion of charity with a war among nations.”—Joseph F. Byrnes, author of Catholic and French Forever: Religious and Modern Identity in Modern France
Patriot Priests is a rich account of the experiences of French priests during World War I. Anita May chronicles how the hell of war, from the home front to the front lines, reforged the priests’ humanity and commitment to France during a time of tragedy.”—Annette Becker, author of War and Faith: The Religious Imagination in France, 1914–1930