American Catholic: The Saints and Sinners Who Built America's Most Powerful Churchby Charles Morris
Before the potato famine ravaged Ireland in the 1840s, the Roman Catholic Church was barely a thread in the American cloth. Twenty years later, New York City was home to more Irish
"A cracking good story with a wonderful cast of rogues, ruffians and some remarkably holy and sensible people." --Los Angeles Times Book Review
Before the potato famine ravaged Ireland in the 1840s, the Roman Catholic Church was barely a thread in the American cloth. Twenty years later, New York City was home to more Irish Catholics than Dublin. Today, the United States boasts some sixty million members of the Catholic Church, which has become one of this country's most influential cultural forces.
In American Catholic: The Saints and Sinners Who Built America's Most Powerful Church, Charles R. Morris recounts the rich story of the rise of the Catholic Church in America, bringing to life the personalities that transformed an urban Irish subculture into a dominant presence nationwide. Here are the stories of rogues and ruffians, heroes and martyrs--from Dorothy Day, a convert from Greenwich Village Marxism who opened shelters for thousands, to Cardinal William O'Connell, who ran the Church in Boston from a Renaissance palazzo, complete with golf course. Morris also reveals the Church's continuing struggle to come to terms with secular, pluralist America and the theological, sexual, authority, and gender issues that keep tearing it apart. As comprehensive as it is provocative, American Catholic is a tour de force, a fascinating cultural history that will engage and inform both Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
"The best one-volume history of the last hundred years of American Catholicism that it has ever been my pleasure to read. What's appealing in this remarkable book is its delicate sense of balance and its soundly grounded judgments." --Andrew Greeley
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Morris (The AARP and You, 1996, Iron Destinies, Lost Opportunities, 1988, etc.) treats his subject with great respect and a certain wistfulness. Part I traces the path (already well trod by scholars) of Catholicism's American rise through WW I, focusing heavily on the Irish example (to the unfortunate neglect of Italians and Germans). In the rest of the book, however, Morris offers an ethnographer's clear perspective on the challenges of 20th-century Catholicism. He claims that the 1950s represented the "triumphal era" for American Catholics, who had mastered their own well-defined subculture and were venturing forth into the mainstream. (This era was symbolized in part by by the rise of Joe McCarthy, a Wisconsin Catholic who dictated the terms of patriotism in the 1950s, defining what all other Americans should be.) Yet Catholic assimilation came at the price of secularization; Morris notes that the chaos that ensued from Vatican II's massive changes had actually been brewing a decade before. Today, Morris claims, American Catholics are still trying to negotiate the legacy of Vatican II and to cope with the new institutional stresses facing their Church: Priests and nuns are aging, with few young people replenishing their ranks; a huge influx of Hispanic parishioners is challenging the norms of an Anglo religious establishment; and the debates over contraceptives, abortion, and women's roles in the church are intensifying. Through all of the current controversies, Morris finds that the vitality of the parish is relatively unchanged. It is not the grassroots, but the "middle and upper management" of the Church that needs to adapt, he asserts.
In all, a valuable synthesis of the American Catholic tradition; some of his insights on the Church's contemporary struggles are downright inspired.
- Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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- Random House
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Engaging, informative and relevant.
American Catholic is a wonderful, concise, well-researched, and well-written history of the Catholic Church in America. It addresses Her short-comings and successes, Her trials and errors, Her peaks and valleys, as She (the church) grew as an institution in America. Not only does the book tackle the history of the church, but it also addresses some large obstacles she is facing as the 21st century unfolds. This book provides a wonderful history of the Church in America, and makes the reader question what direction the church is heading in now. This book is a must read for anyone interested in the Church, or in the development of American Society.