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Recent studies of the Roman Catholic Church in America have brought into focus the emergence of Catholics into mainstream culture and the colorful particularities of the faith in various parish neighborhoods. O'Toole, a historian at Boston College, follows this trend of telling the story "from below," but begins his narrative from the birth of the nation in the 1770s. For many, the biggest revelation in the book will be O'Toole's designation of the colonial church as "priestless." While that was not entirely the case-a handful of priests did serve the small number of Catholics who had settled here-many did not see a priest more than once a year. As Catholics today are aware, the church currently faces a similar priest shortage. For readers who are familiar with the church, the primary joy of this book will be found in checking their own experiences against those described by O'Toole. Still, the genial style of writing together with a plentiful amount of fascinating tidbits will keep all but the most jaded expert going. (Apr.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.