In November 1884, America's Roman Catholic bishops assembled in Baltimore for a series of meetings. They debated topics ranging from the appointment of church leaders to the burial of members of their flocks in non-Catholic cemeteries.
But none of the questions raised at what was called the Third Plenary Council seemed more urgent than how best to educate the next generation.
Public education, the bishops feared, was becoming increasingly secular. Once public school primers had begun lessons on the alphabet with "in Adam's fall, we sinned all." But in the church leaders' judgment, it appeared that many educators saw intellectual and religious development as separate matters. "If ever in any age, then surely in this, our age," the prelates warned, "the church of God and the spirit of the world are in a certain wondrous and bitter conflict over...
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