The Chicano Movement in the US Catholic Church: Grassroots Activism and Dialogical Ecclesiology

Jason Steidl, Fordham University


The Chicano Movement in the Catholic Church initiated dialogue with the Catholic hierarchy through grassroots activism that ranged from the prophetic to the quotidian. Chicano organizations were led by Catholics whose experiences of the Church gave rise to their advocacy for racial justice, equal representation, and culturally appropriate ministries. Visions for the Church originating in the fields and barrios grew into a movement that challenged racism against Mexican Americans at local, diocesan, and national levels. Many Chicanos held that there was an inseparable connection between their cultural and spiritual lives. They asserted their place within the faith community and demanded the pastoral care that Anglo Catholic leadership denied them. Chicano Catholics pressured the Church with strategies they learned from community organizing, the Chicano and Black Liberation Movements, and the Feminist Movement. They did so in a way that made Catholic doctrine, rhetoric, and rituals central to their campaign and set them apart from secular branches of movimiento activism. Chicano Catholics valued the social, economic, and spiritual power held by the Church and were determined to redistribute it among Mexican American communities. Decades after the peak of the Chicano Movement, its history in the Church is ripe for theological reflection. As a historical study, this work augments secular histories that have neglected the religious, theological, and ecclesiological foundations of the Chicano Movement. Theologically, this dissertation will encourage existing ecclesiologies to take seriously grassroots perspectives of the Church that animate dialogue, including the unconventional, controversial, and often provocative means that the Chicano Movement used to instigate dialogue between the center and peripheries of the US Catholic Church. Lessons from the Chicano Movement are invaluable for a Church within a political, social, and ecclesial milieu that continues to exclude vulnerable communities.

Subject Area

American history|Theology|History|Hispanic American studies

Recommended Citation

Steidl, Jason, "The Chicano Movement in the US Catholic Church: Grassroots Activism and Dialogical Ecclesiology" (2018). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI10846575.