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American Catholic: The Saints and Sinners Who Built America's Most Powerful Church (Vintage) [Paperback]

By Charles Morris (Author)
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Item description for American Catholic: The Saints and Sinners Who Built America's Most Powerful Church (Vintage) by Charles Morris...

Morris vividly recounts the rise of the Catholic Church in America, bringing to life the personalities that transformed an urban Irish subculture into a dominant presence nationwide. 53 photos & illustrations.

Publishers Description
"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

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Vintage
Pages   511
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 7.9" Width: 5.2" Height: 1.2"
Weight:   1.05 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Oct 27, 1998
Publisher   Vintage
ISBN  0679742212  
ISBN13  9780679742210  

Availability  0 units.

More About Charles Morris

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Charles Morris currently resides in New York, in the state of New York. Charles Morris was born in 1962.

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > History > Americas > United States > General
2Books > Subjects > History > Americas > United States
3Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Catholicism > General
4Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Catholicism
5Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Church History > Church History
6Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Church History > General
8Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Religious Studies > History

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Reviews - What do customers think about American Catholic: The Saints and Sinners Who Built America's Most Powerful Church (Vintage)?

American Catholic - Saints and sinners who built America's Most Powerful Church  May 25, 2008
Excellent reading material for all who wish to learn more about the growth of a nationality or the Catholic Church. Being Irish and Catholic the book had a profound meaning for me as my parents (both born in Ireland) often spoke of the hardships and devastation of the potato famine in 1846. It was interesting to learn that the famine itself was not the immediate cause that brought death to millions and caused the immigration of a million people to America and Canada primarily. The English has been persecuting the Irish for years and famine was the last devastation. Before the famine most immigrants to America were not Catholic. The conversion to Catholic religion came several years after with the building of St. Patrick's Catheral in 1858. Because of financial difficulties the Catheral was not completed until 1908. Ireland provided America with most of the priest and nuns that ultimately grew the Church in America. Charismatic priests and nuns forged a culturally and ethnically cohesive Catholic state-within-a-state. I realized that the church in American during the late 1800' was more Irish than Roman.
Self-Loathing Sinner writes about his church  Apr 30, 2007
The title was so catchy that I couldn't help reading it. Mr. Morris is writer whose probably too old to see that his feelings are getting in the way of his facts.

His interpretation of the Church's decisions and teachings are tainted by his own prejudices. For instance, he is opposed to traditional teachings on a celibate male priesthood, so he tells us why the church is so stupid to uphold that belief. The same hold true for artificial birth control, women's ordination etc. To him the old white men in Rome are simply stupid and out of touch.

These ideas coupled with the loathing for the Irish paints a terrible picture of the Church. Why would anyone want to remain in the Church that he describes.

I read the whole thing. Yes I did, because I couldn't believe that he could so serious about the Church he says he loves. I have no problem with anyone pointing out the failures of Catholics, my problem is that Morris, for all his labor, gets so much of the history wrong.
If You've Read It Before, Read It Again  Aug 20, 2006
When AMERICAN CATHOLIC was published in the late 1990's, it received a great deal of critical praise and was widely read by a good number of readers. The praise was justified. The author, Charles Morris, compiled a readable, all encompassing book about the beginnings and growth of the Catholic Church in the United States. With a historian's expertise and a storyteller's touch, Morris shows us the varied ways in which the church grew in this country and he does a particularly good job describing the different varieties of Catholicism. There are a number of books that discuss the growth of Catholicism in large urban areas such as New York, Boston, Los Angeles or Chicago but few include the growth of the Church in more remote areas. He also notes the tensions between a people used to Democracy and Rome's distrust of the United States in the early twentieth century, changes in the Catholic population after World War II and the impact of the election of John F. Kennedy as President. It discusses many of the great Church leaders in the United Sates and includes some of the colorful back stories of these same leaders. The book is also balanced. It discusses figures such as Dorothy Day and her antithesis Senator Joseph McCarthy or Bishop Fulton Sheen who used the media to spread his message of hope and faith as compared with Fr. Charles Coughlin's use of the radio for messages of vitriol.

I took a look at the book recently and while I remembered the material on Church history rather well, I had forgotten about the third part of the book which discussed in frank terms what was known of the Church sex abuse crisis at the time, issues regarding sexuality that have since come to the forefront, and other matters concerning Catholicism today. Prior to this second reading I know I had an appreciation of the Church where we have been and where we are now, but at a time when we as Catholics are trying to determine where we should be going, Morris' book gives an excellent foundation not just of history but also of the issues facing the Church today.

If you've read it before, it is worth rereading again.
Fascinating for predictions about Benedict XVI too!  Apr 21, 2005
I put down this book the night before the papal election, exactly at the point where Morris discusses how Ratzinger actually put the rein on some of John Paul II's more forceful moves towards declaring statements blocking women's ordination as infallible; carefully nuanced exegesis by Morris reveals very subtle but nonetheless wiggle room for future movement away from some of the last pope's more dogmatic pronouncements. He fits this into a battle between cardinals and the episcopate promoting a collegial right to establish doctrine based on their accumulated experience as part of the Church's magisterium against the centralisation of papal power. This data which may indicate the new pope's ability to create flexibility despite what on surface may appear to the casual observer only more rigidity, buried inside a footnote on pg. 349, is typical of the wealth of detail--you must read the extensive endnotes as well as the text proper to appreciate how thorough has been the author's research--found in this popular yet scholarly treatment of the Church from about the mid-19 c to the late 1990s.

In retrospect, some of the concerns Morris finds diminishing in his 1997 study have only increased, such as the pedophilia (or more often adolescent boys rather than pre-teens with priests, Morris and many critics parse) scandals that grew more prominent rather than less so in the beginning of the current decade. Vocations appear to keep tumbling at least in the West; non-compliance with Catholic teaching by the rank-and-file grows in the American segment due to democratic tendencies constantly eroding the earlier, pre-assimilationist culture that codified American Catholicism mid-20 c. These tendencies, as Morris shows, created tension from the later 19 c onward, and the battles with Rome by the U.S. bishops are far from new. Also, the role of the Hispanic church seems, despite many references, to be diminished (perhaps reflecting an East Coast orientation naturally taken for the majority of the narrative). As a related correction, St Thomas the Apostle parish in L.A. is not on its Eastside--typical of Morris's scholarship, this was a rare mistake in an admirably solid resource that taught me an enormous amount about everything from John Stuart Mill's liberalism to moral theology to John Ireland's far-reaching impact upon the course of the national Church. However, I was disappointed to find that two sources that would've aided Morris' often moving depiction of life in the triumphal, dogmatic, and secure mid-20c decades were absent from his notes: Garry Wills' "Bare Ruined Choirs," and Jubilee Magazine, a forerunner of the liturgical and cultural renaissance that the post-Vatican II era either expanded or truncated.

When describing how Fulton Sheen lectured, how the old Mass flowed, or how theologians battle it out over birth control, Morris never loses sight of the telling quote to illuminate larger issues. His discussion of subsidiarity and how polarised opposites Dorothy Day and Fr Coughlin could argue from this same basis of natural law and social justice doctrine fascinated me! From the Irish famine to Americanist vs. separatist controversies, through the dispersal of urban ethnics into suburbia, the connection between sex and rural ethos in traditional Catholicism, to current dichotomies in various dioceses in a time of fewer priests and more lay people running parishes, Morris is excellent. He's fair to all sides, although he shows a bit of bias against the hardest right-wing and left-wing factions both. His model is one of adaptation without dilution, certainly a challenge for such a vast institution on the one hand suffering losses to not only non-practicing millions but evangelical sects, on the other struggling to avoid the fate of mainstream Protestantism, which has, according to Morris, seemingly lost its moral and cultural clout in today's nation. Although on the Americanist controversy and the labor movement in the mid 20c, he bogs down in too much detail, at other moments, as in his travels in late-20c American parishes, his mastery of minutiae to explain big issues winningly works well.

As he warns, the tug of secularism--whatever one's view on the current state of Catholicism--presents a warning to those who want the Church to adjust totally to its surroundings. He takes heed of the fate of Episcopalians--fewer in all of America than Catholics in Los Angeles: "Once a religion assimilates to the culture, it almost invariably diminishes into a social center or a low-cost therapy program." (411)
An excellent view of the Church in America  Mar 15, 2003
I greatly enjoyed this well-written history of American Catholicism. The earliest chapters, primarily about the influx of Irish immigrants (and the reasons behind it) were particularly fascinating.

However, this book primarily focuses on America from the Victorian age on. There is almost no discussion of Catholicism in the colonial period (the founding of Maryland, the denial of rights to Catholics, etc.), which I feel should have been included.


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