This book by Jeremy Bonner is the first biography of Bishop Victor J. Reed, the fourth Catholic bishop of Oklahoma (1958-1971). Bonner was given access to Reed’s papers and other documents in the Archdiocesan Archives of Oklahoma City by Archbishop Eusebius Beltran. He had access to other documents provided by the Reed family and others, and he was assisted by Fr. James White, a historian of the Diocese of Tulsa. Fr. Paul Donovan helped to fund the research for this book. Jeremy Bonner is an independent scholar who has come at this project from a neutral point of view, without any agendas other than presenting the biography of Bishop Reed and the events in the Catholic Church in Oklahoma after the Second Vatican Council.
Bishop Victor Joseph Reed was born on December 23, 1905, in Montpelier, Indiana to Victor Larue and Henrietta Mary Collins Reed. Victor Larue Reed converted to Catholicism in order to marry Henrietta. The family moved to Bald Hill, Oklahoma in 1910, because of the oil industry in which Victor Larue Reed worked for 35 years. Victor Joseph Reed was sent, at the age of seven in 1912, to St. Joseph’s College in Muskogee, Oklahoma, operated by the Brothers of the Sacred Heart. He expressed interest in the priesthood and was subsequently sent to St. John’s Seminary in Little Rock, Arkansas. In 1928, Bishop Francis Clement Kelley sent Reed to continue his studies at the Urban College of the Propaganda in Rome. He lived at the North American College during his time there and was ordained a priest on December 21, 1929. He returned to Oklahoma as assistant pastor at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Oklahoma City. Reed joined Fr. Stephen Leven’s (the future bishop of San Angelo, Texas) involvement in Catholic Action. These two priests would preach on the street to anyone who would listen, although Reed did not consider himself to be as effective as Leven.
Bishop Kelley sent Reed and Leven to pursue further studies at the American College at Louvain, Belgium. While in Belgium, Reed was exposed more to the teachings and example of Catholic Action in Europe. In 1939, as he was finishing up at Louvain and making plans to return to Oklahoma, the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. offered him a position with them. Reed decided he was needed more in Oklahoma. He was assigned to Stillwater, Oklahoma. In 1948, he was assigned to be the rector of Holy Family Co-Cathedral in Tulsa. He remained in that position until he was appointed bishop. Kelley’s successor, Bishop Eugene McGuiness, died on December 27, 1957, and Pope Pius XII on January 29, 1958 appointed Victor Reed to be the new bishop of Oklahoma City-Tulsa. He was consecrated bishop at Holy Family Co-Cathedral on March 5, 1958 and installed as bishop at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cathedral in Oklahoma City two weeks later.
On January 25, 1959, Pope Blessed John XXIII convoked the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). Bishop Reed attended all of the sessions of the Council. He was involved in the discussions on the liturgy, and he spoke on November 12, 1962, before the Council. He also took part in ecumenical discussions at the Council.
After the Council’s conclusion, Bishop Reed tried to implement the renewal of the Council in his diocese. Some clergy and laity were supportive; others opposed them. Some clergy and laity, according to this book, wanted to go too far. Bishop Reed had to work with both extremes; he and the Church were in new waters. Some thought he allowed too much experimentation, while others claimed he did not allow enough. He was caught in the middle; still, Reed was determined to implement Vatican II.
Reed allowed the experimentation of new parishes and allowed the laity to cross over parish boundaries and attend the church they wanted to. Parish councils were a source of controversy for Reed, who had to intervene in disputes between some parish councils and their pastors. He allowed the laity to be more involved in the finances of their parish. He wanted more democracy in the parish structure following Vatican II’s call for more lay participation in the Church.
Liturgical renewal was important to Bishop Reed, but this was a major cause of conflict among him, his clergy and the laity. Again, people on both extremes of the liturgical spectrum were in dispute, which drew the bishop into it since he would receive letters of complaints from them. He and others considered Oklahoma to be ahead of other dioceses in the liturgy. He allowed several priests to experiment with the liturgy. Some of these were home Masses, folk Masses, or Masses allowing girls to have a part as servers. Bishop Reed was considered open-minded, but even he had a limit to what he would allow.
Bonner discusses how Catholics dealt with ecumenism in Oklahoma, where they were a small minority. Oklahoma Catholics were involved in discussing religion with others. Bishop Reed also encouraged Catholics to work with other religions on common issues or causes. One of those was civil rights.
Bonner includes a chapter on the Church in Oklahoma becoming involved with a mission in Guatemala, Santiago Atitlan, with which it is still involved to this day. Bishop Reed supported clergy and laity preparedness to be of service to that mission. Oklahoma Catholics were also involved in the anti-war movement of the 1960s; Reed was one of the first American bishops to sign a petition for the government to negotiate a peace in Vietnam, for which he received much criticism.
The book reveals that Reed allowed his priests considerable latitude in their ministries, but he did not like it when what they caused “problems”. Oklahoma Catholics were considered progressives, according to Bonner. Priests and religious, though, began to leave the priesthood and religious life in the mid to late 1960s. Some left because they considered the Church to be moving too slow in renewal. Bonner discusses this and several other reasons why clergy and religious left. He also explores how the priesthood had changed with Vatican II.
Bishop Reed had a heart attack in a movie theater on the night of September 7, 1971, and died just after midnight on September 8 at Baptist Hospital in Oklahoma City. A funeral was held at Holy Family Cathedral in Tulsa then another at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cathedral in Oklahoma City. Several cardinals and bishops were in attendance. Reed had recommended that Oklahoma be divided into two dioceses. This came about in 1973, when Oklahoma City was raised to the rank of Archdiocese and Tulsa to the rank of a Diocese.
Jeremy Bonner’s research project was to study a bishop and his diocese and how it implemented the Vatican II renewal of various aspects of the Church. Bishop Reed spent most of his life as a bishop as a Council Father, one of those who implemented the Council’s renewals. Many considered him to be an open-minded person and willing to move the Church forward, but he was also a person who knew what he was about. He knew what he was called to do as a bishop, and he would act as such when he thought it was needed. His time as bishop was not an easy one, since he had to deal with many conflicts in his diocese. This may have led to his early death at the age of 65.
Bonner divides The Road to Renewal into four parts: the biography of Bishop Reed; Reed becoming a bishop and dealing with the issues of renewing diocesan structures, education, parish life and the postconciliar Church; liturgy, ecumenism, racial equality, Oklahoma’s mission in Guatemala and the Vietnam War; and the priesthood of the postconciliar times, female religious life in Oklahoma, the laity and its identity. The conclusion examines Bishop Reed’s term as bishop of Oklahoma to see what was done and what was left unfinished.
Bonner’s book contains some photographs from the Reed family and the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City as well as some maps. There is a bibliography and an index, and many footnotes throughout the book. Bonner and his associates interviewed several people who knew Bishop Reed or were involved in certain events related to Reed. Bonner copiously used material from the Reed papers, from the Archives of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, and from the Reed family, which are primary sources. The combination of these sources and others provides a readable narrative. General readers may not appreciate this book, finding it a bit dry and academic, but it is not aimed at a general audience.
This book will be of great interest to Oklahoma Catholics and to other Oklahomans, too. Those interested in the tumultuous times after Vatican II will want to read this book as it gives the history of what happened in an American diocese that was not one of the major archdioceses like New York or Chicago, where things would have been quite different and on a much larger scale. Research into what happened in the rest of the 1970s in the Catholic Church in Oklahoma should be of interest for a future researcher into this topic.