Coughlin and Cleveland

Masters of Arts Paper by Karen G. Ketchaver, John Carroll University, 2009

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Father Charles E. Coughlin was one of the most prominent, and most controversial, figures in the United States in the 1930s and in the early years of the 1940s. This Canadian-born cleric rose from the life of an ordinary parish priest to becoming one of the leading radio phenomena of his day, masterfully using the new medium to command a vast audience. Coughlin began his radio career addressing religious subjects, but he expanded into the realm of politics by the early 1930s. His views became more and more extreme, and, by the latter part of the decade, he became increasingly anti-Semitic, stridently anti-communist, a fervent isolationist, and an admirer of European fascism. While millions of Americans were enthralled by the man who came to be known as “the Radio Priest,” others viewed him as a dangerous demagogue. The city of Cleveland, Ohio, figured prominently in Coughlin’s career. His radio broadcasts were highly popular throughout the Cleveland listening area, and the priest made a number of high-profile appearances in the city throughout the 1930s. In particular, two of Coughlin’s speeches in Cleveland in 1936 received wide national attention when the priest’s Union Party aspired to influence that year’s presidential election. However, it was not only politicians who struggled with the appeal of the Radio Priest. The increasingly controversial Coughlin became a thorny problem for the leader of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, Bishop Joseph Schrembs. This thesis examines the Cleveland connections of Father Charles E. Coughlin. The first part describes Coughlin’s origins, his rise to prominence, and the reaction he garnered. The second part reviews the way three Cleveland newspapers reported on and editorialized about Coughlin. The complex Coughlin-Schrembs relationship as revealed through diocesan correspondence from 1928 to 1940 is explored in the third part. The thesis concludes with an analysis of the part Cleveland played in Coughlin’s career and the impact he had on the city.


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