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Catholicism panel discusses the Church in the 21st century Global South

A March 6 panel discussion, “Global Catholicism: The Past, Present, and Future of the Church,” drew upon Provost John McGreevy’s book “Catholicism: A Global History from the French Revolution to Pope Francis” and featured comments from several experts.
Provost John T. McGreevy
Provost John T. McGreevy

“Most of my life, to my amazement, has been spent studying in, teaching at, writing about, and administering now, Catholic institutions. On an almost daily basis, I get asked, ‘How did we get here?’ And so I became interested in that long sweep of the 19th-century Catholic revival,” said John T. McGreevy, the Charles and Jill Fischer Provost and Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame, during a March 6 panel discussion titled “Global Catholicism: The Past, Present, and Future of the Church.”

The panel drew upon McGreevy’s book “Catholicism: A Global History from the French Revolution to Pope Francis” (W. W. Norton, 2022) and featured comments from Jeremy Adelman, the Henry Charles Lea Professor of History and director of the Global History Lab at Princeton University, and Rev. Stan Chu Ilo, research professor of world Christianity and African studies at the Center for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology at DePaul University. The event was moderated by Anna Bonta Moreland, the Anne Quinn Welsh Endowed Chair and Director of the University Honors Program at Villanova University, and included a response by McGreevy. The de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture and the Nanovic Institute for European Studies sponsored the afternoon’s conversation, which drew a crowd of 150 attendees.

“[Provost McGreevy’s] book ‘Catholicism’ has deservedly received a great deal of attention and praise, and several events have been organized to celebrate its publication and explore its many layers,” said O. Carter Snead, director of the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture. “We chose to dedicate the entirety of this conversation to matters concerning the Church in the Global South, first, because there has not yet been an academic event on John’s book with such a singular focus, and second, because the subject deserves its own treatment, given the complexity and importance of this particular history, both for understanding the current moment as well as the future of the Church more broadly.”

Panelists discussed questions about missionary activity in the Global South, the subsequent decolonization movement of the 20th century, inculturation, the relationship between the Church and emerging democratic nation-states, ultramontanism, the Second Vatican Council and the historian’s challenge of telling the story of a global institution composed of local communities.

“The book is a story of the ways in which the Church has wrestled with the challenge of modernity, and in so doing, has shaped the modern world,” said Adelman. “I take it as a book that invites a conversation among Catholics, with and among non-Catholics, about the Church itself.”

“John has a nose for sifting what matters from what is inconsequential in both the minor and the major history of global Catholicism,” said Father Ilo. “He has an extraordinary ability to present this complex history with a hermeneutic of generosity, telling the story in a way that allows the events to speak for themselves, without interposing the judgment of the historian on the account.”

Reflecting on the panel’s comments, Clemens Sedmak, the director of the Nanovic Institute for European Studies, added: “Pope Francis said that ‘every event is both harvest and occasion for sowing seeds.’ There’s no question about the harvest. The seeds sown today are seeds for hope in the future of a colorful and wide Church.”

McGreevy concluded the conversation by reflecting on Notre Dame’s role in the 21st-century Church. “I think Catholicism as an institution will be reimagined in the 21st century much as it was after the French Revolution in the 19th century, and much as it was, courageously, at the Second Vatican Council. Notre Dame, maybe some of the people in this room, will play an important role in that reimagining. If this book, and some of the commentary that’s been provided today, provides a savvy baseline as that reimagining occurs, it will have certainly served its purpose.”

A recording of the panel can be viewed at

The de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture is committed to sharing the richness of the Catholic moral and intellectual tradition through teaching, research and public engagement, at the highest level and across a range of disciplines – both on campus at the University of Notre Dame, and as Notre Dame in the public square. The center publishes four book series with the University of Notre Dame Press, which each feature first-rate scholarship that brings a distinctive voice to the most important conversations in elite academia, including Catholic Ideas for a Secular World, the Center for Ethics and Culture Solzhenitsyn Series, Studies in African Theology and Studies in Medical Ethics and Bioethics. For more information, visit

Originally published by Kenneth Hallenius at on March 16.

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