Book Review: Patriot Priests: French Catholic Clergy and National Identity in World War I


by Anita Rasi May

Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2018. Pp. x, 164. Notes, biblio., index. $24.95 paper. ISBN: 0806159081

French Priests and Monks at War

Independent scholar May, formerly Director of Oklahoma Humanities Council, has who has specialized in French and religious history, and in this work offers a ground-breaking look at the role of France’s Roman Catholic clergymen in military service during the Great War, at a time when relations between the Third Republic and the Church were extremely hostile. She opens with a look at the fierce anti-clericalism of the Third Republic, and then goes on to discuss why the Church and its clergy rallied in support of the war.

Then May gives us a look at the role of Catholic clergymen in the war, drawing on the letters, diaries, memoirs, and other writings of some of the 33,211 priests and monks who served, some as medics, nurses, and stretcher bearers, but – surprisingly -- most as combat soldiers and even officers. She notes that in addition to their other duties, these men were also informal chaplains to the chaplainless French Army.

May concludes that the service of these men helped reconcile the Republic with the Church, a trend symbolized by the long-awaited canonization of Jeanne d'Arc in 1920. In the two decades following the war, nearly 70 percent of newly appointed bishops were veterans, and some of these men rose to high status in the church, such as Teilhard de Cardin and Eugene Tisserant. While May’s sample is slender, little more than 30 voices are heard, her work provides important insights into the role of French clergymen in the war, during which an uncertain number of these men died

Patriot Priests will be of use to anyone interested in modern French history, church-state relations, or warrior-clerics.


Note: Patriot Priests is also available in several e-editions


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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