SIU Department Name | Page Title

siu logo siupress logo

SIU logo


Main Content Area

Following Father Chiniquy

Following Father Chiniquy

Immigration, Religious Schism, and Social Change in Nineteenth-Century Illinois

Add to Cart

Caroline B. Brettell


E-book (Other formats: Paperback)
13 illustrations


Additional Materials

About the Book

Winner, ISHS Certificate of Excellence, 2016

In the late 1850s and early 1860s, the attention of the Catholic and Protestant religious communities around the world focused on a few small settlements of French Canadian immigrants in northeastern Illinois. Soon after arriving in their new home, a large number of these immigrants, led by Father Charles Chiniquy, the charismatic Catholic priest who had brought them there, converted to Protestantism. In this anthropological history, Caroline B. Brettell explores how Father Chiniquy took on both the sacred and the secular authority of the Catholic Church to engineer the religious schism and how the legacy of this rift affected the lives of the immigrants and their descendants for generations. This intriguing study of a nineteenth-century migration of French Canadians to the American Midwest offers an innovative perspective on the immigrant experience in America.

Brettell chronicles how Chiniquy came to lead approximately one thousand French Canadian families to St. Anne, Illinois, in the early 1850s and how his conflict with the Catholic hierarchy over the ownership and administration of church property, delivery of the mass in French instead of Latin, and access to the Bible by laymen led to his excommunication. Drawing on the concept of social drama—a situation of intensely lived conflict that emerges within social groups—Brettell explains the religious schism in terms of larger ethnic and religious disagreements that were happening elsewhere in the United States and in Canada. Brettell also explores legal disputes, analyzes the reemergence of Catholicism in St. Anne in the first decade of the twentieth century, addresses the legacy of Chiniquy in both the United States and Quebec, and closely examines the French Canadian immigrant communities, focusing on the differences between the people who converted to Protestantism and those who remained Catholic.

Occurring when nativism was pervasive and the anti-immigrant Know-Nothing Party was at its height, Chiniquy’s religious schism offers an opportunity to examine a range of important historical and anthropological issues, including immigration, ethnicity, and religion; changes in household and family structure; the ways social identities are constructed and reconstructed through time; and the significance of charismatic leadership in processes of social and religious change. Through its multidisciplinary approach, Brettell’s enlightening study provides a pioneering assessment of larger national tensions and social processes, some of which are still evident in modern immigration to the United States.


Caroline B. Brettell is a University Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and the Ruth Collins Altshuler Director of the Dedman College Interdisciplinary Institute at Southern Methodist University. She is the author, coauthor, editor, or coeditor of fifteen books.


“Full of insights and wonderful detail, this well-written book tells a fascinating story of an often forgotten figure in American immigration history. By focusing on the French Canadian religious leader Charles Chiniquy in the mid-nineteenth-century Midwest and using impressive skills in anthropology and history, Brettell brings fresh perspectives to the study of French Canadian migration as well as the analysis of broader theoretical issues of social conflict, identity formation, and charismatic leadership.”—Nancy Foner, coauthor of Strangers No More: Immigration and the Challenges of Integration in North America and Western Europe

"With an extensive bibliography, endnotes, and a lengthy index, Brettell has made a worthwhile contribution to the ethnology of religious schism and its aftermaths and to the literature of Franco-American religion. I recommend the book to university libraries with a strong programme in North American religious history and immigration."—Paul Laverdure

"The first half of Brettell’s study provides a fine-grained anatomy of the initial French Canadian migration to Illinois’s Kankakee Valley, an understudied facet of immigration history, especially when compared to the more widely researched French Canadian immigrants in New England. The author also explores Chiniquy’s pre-migration and post-migration career as both a Catholic priest and a Presbyterian minister, devoting ample space to analyses of Chiniquy’s interactions, both positive and negative, with fellow immigrants and with allied and opposing religious leaders."--William S. Cossen, The Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science, and Technology