Shaken by the ongoing clergy sexual abuse scandal, and challenged from within by social and theological division, Catholics in America are at a crossroads. But is today’s situation unique? And where will Catholicism go from here? With the belief that we understand our present by studying our past, James O’Toole offers a bold and panoramic history of the American Catholic laity.
O’Toole tells the story of this ancient church from the perspective of ordinary Americans, the lay believers who have kept their faith despite persecution from without and clergy abuse from within. It is an epic tale, from the first settlements of Catholics in the colonies to the turmoil of the scandal-ridden present, and through the church’s many American incarnations in between. We see Catholics’ complex relationship to Rome and to their own American nation. O’Toole brings to life both the grand sweep of institutional change and the daily practice that sustained believers. The Faithful pays particular attention to the intricacies of prayer and ritual—the ways men and women have found to express their faith as Catholics over the centuries.
With an intimate knowledge of the dilemmas and hopes of today’s church, O’Toole presents a new vision and offers a glimpse into the possible future of the church and its parishioners. Moving past the pulpit and into the pews, The Faithful is an unmatched look at the American Catholic laity. Today’s Catholics will find much to educate and inspire them in these pages, and non-Catholics will gain a newfound understanding of their religious brethren.
[O’Toole] relies on a wide range of source material, writes in vivid detail and, above all, pays a great deal of attention to religious practice and ritual. It is this last that distinguishes The Faithful from previously published histories of American Catholicism… He is certainly not the first to write Catholic history from the perspective of the people in the pews. But it is true that his narrative eschews, to a much greater extent than other surveys, expositions of ideological or political conflict among the church hierarchy. Instead, he frames his book in a manner designed to capture the myriad ways in which ordinary American Catholics have lived, prayed and practiced their faith… It is the Catholic faithful more broadly who stand to gain the most insight from reading this book… [It] deserves a wide readership.
Especially timely… This is not so much a history as, in this case, a penetrating, deftly worked summary of organizational and liturgical developments, formal and informal, in the American Catholic Church with emphasis on the role and influence of the laity.
[A] splendid new history of Catholics in the United States.
O’Toole crams an array of stories, profiles and statistics into his book that will make it a welcome addition to the shelf of anyone interested in the country’s religious culture. His focus is on how the relationship between rank-and-file Catholics and the church has changed since the country’s colonial era… O’Toole’s prodigious research and engaging writing ensure that The Faithful: A History of Catholics in America will be the authoritative work on this subject for quite some time.
An intriguing book, brimming with wisdom. It studies the evolution of U.S. Catholicism by dividing it into a half-dozen historic segments, from the Colonial ‘priestless church’ to the muscular, immigrant-fed church a century ago, to the reformist, post–Vatican II church and beyond.
O’Toole’s history, focusing especially on personal narratives, makes for captivating reading… A history worth reading.
O’Toole deftly tells the history of lay Catholics in America. Beginning with the priestless church of the Colonial period, he goes on to explore the church in the democratic republic, the immigrant church, the church of Catholic Action, the church of Vatican II, and the church in the 21st century.
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.
Solidly researched, engagingly told and insightfully interpreted, The Faithful is the first comprehensive history of lay Catholic prayer, politics and creative fidelity to church teaching, even in times of crisis such as the present. It could not come at a better time, as American Catholics struggle to reclaim a legacy of moral leadership and stalwart service to the nation.
The Faithful is a truly original and mature work that gives us a rich history of American Catholics. There is simply no comparable book.
An ambitious narrative history of American Catholicism, written with great historical range and attention to lived experience. It has profound contemporary resonance. This courageous book, unafraid to explore the story’s darker moments, is destined to become the new standard text on American Catholicism.
O’Toole surveys the lay Catholic experience in America with remarkable breadth and mastery. Lively and accessible, this book provides a valuable introduction to American Catholic history.
- 2008, Winner of the James P. Hanlan Book Award
- 384 pages
- 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
- Belknap Press
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