Subsidiarity in America: The Legacy of Bishop Bernard James Sheil

Date of Award


Degree Name

Ph.D. in Religious Studies


Department of Religious Studies


Vincent Miller


The principle of subsidiarity is a signature concept in Catholic social doctrine and papal teaching. Yet, an incomplete understanding of the full principle and papal refrain from prescribing policies or concrete examples of the principle has created difficulties in developing subsidiarity within specific social and cultural situations. This project uses theological and historical methods to investigate the social work and thought of Bishop Bernard James Sheil, his collaboration with Saul Alinsky, and the results of their collaboration in the institutionalization of Alinsky-style community organizing in the American Catholic Church in the form of the Campaign for Human Development, to determine how Catholic subsidiarity is influenced by an adaptation to American democratic culture and the demands that Catholic subsidiarity makes on American liberal democratic social imagination. This study shows that Bishop Sheil’s collaboration with Saul Alinsky represents a full embodiment of the structural pluralism, structural-pluralistic subsidiarity and associational subsidiarity that make up the principle of subsidiarity while also attending to American democratic culture’s focus on the liberal individual. In short, Bishop Sheil’s legacy, in the form of the institutionalization of his collaboration with Saul Alinsky in the CCHD, is representative of a distinctly American and wholly Catholic form of subsidiarity.


Subsidiarity, Bernard James Sheil, Saul Alinsky, Community Organizing, Catholic Social Ethics, Catholic Campaign for Human Development, Social Justice

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