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The Faithful: A History of Catholics in America Paperback – April 29, 2010


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press (March 30, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674034880
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674034884
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #641,231 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

The Faithful is a truly original and mature work that gives us a rich history of American Catholics. There is simply no comparable book. (David O'Brien, Holy Cross)

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. (Robert Orsi, Northwestern University)

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. (R. Scott Appleby, University of Notre Dame)

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. (Leslie Tentler, Catholic University of America)

O'Toole's history, focusing especially on personal narratives, makes for captivating reading...A history worth reading. (Kirkus Reviews 2008-02-15)

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. (Publishers Weekly 2008-02-11)

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. (Augustine J. Curley Library Journal 2008-03-15)

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. (Katherine A. Powers Boston Globe 2008-04-20)

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. (Claude R. Marx St. Petersburg Times 2008-04-25)

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. (Rich Barlow Boston Globe 2008-05-07)

[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. (Kathleen Cummings America 2008-09-15)

[A] splendid new history of Catholics in the United States. (Rodger Van Allen Commonweal 2008-09-12)

Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 34 people found the following review helpful By R. C Sheehy on June 14, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This book is an excellent, concise view of the cultural experience of American Catholicism. Mr. O'Toole does a great service to readers by avoiding the ecclesiastical issues when ever possible to focus on the human development of the Roman Catholic Church in this country. Rather then seeing the names of famous cardinals, though they are in there, you are given examples of how the people of the United States expressed their faith and how it impacted their lives.

Mr. O'Toole does a wonderful job of guiding the reader through the post WWII tumult that the church went through and does so with an open mind yet clearly drawn conclusions. His narrative is very crisp and clear and the work itself is very enjoyable and highly readable. I would recommend this to any Catholic in the US who would like to learn how their faith arrived at where it is.
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15 of 20 people found the following review helpful By John L Murphy TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 6, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This history professor at Boston College appears ideally placed to write this introduction. While thoroughly documented with a wealth of scholarship, learning's integrated fluently. Six chapters convey the essence of three hundred years of American Catholicism, combining personal stories with academic analyses.

It looks as if the future of the Church will return to its beginnings here. A largely priestless nation, with laity assuming roles in liturgical celebration and devotional perpetuation while a few priests-- often foreign-born-- travel from parish to parish wearily saying Mass, anointing the sick, and, if anyone bothers anymore, hearing confessions. The one shift from colonial to contemporary practice most striking (besides the leadership of women) seems the abandonment of capitulation to a sense of shame, in favor of autonomy and maturity by a believer not content with conformity to orthodoxy-- "correct belief" as opposed to orthopraxy, or "correct action."

One aside deserving mention is how leading figures we may not associate with anti-Catholicism gained important roles early on. John Jay proposed for the New York constitution to bar Catholics from voting or owning land; Margaret Fuller the Transcendentalist hated Catholic power; Lyman Beecher, father of Harriet Beecher Stowe, may have opposed slavery but he also inflamed Cincinnati's residents with rumors of an papal plot to take over the Mississippi Valley. This enraged the locals to burn down a convent school-- where most students were from affluent Protestant families. However, O'Toole places such outbursts in context and does not sensationalize them.

Catholics, scattered and thin on the ground as they were in such a country, even when pre-19th c.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Susan C. Clopton on January 17, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
O'Toole is mostly clear and engaging, but the way he strings together anecdotes, correspondence, and statistics sometimes feel random.

Some glaring omissions: People of color hardly warrant more than a paragraph mention, until the final chapter, which condescendingly explains that the future Catholic of the US is "a woman named Maria". There is proportionately much more information about the northeast than the south or west.

The book is statistics heavy, which readers might see as either a feature or a bug.

Despite these hesitations, I would say O'Toole's book draws attention to interesting trends in US-ian Catholicism: the changing relationship of the priests and the laity, the decline in popularity of Confession and the rise in popularity of receiving the Eucharist, the Church's beginnings in the colonies as largely priestless and led by the laity, to the height of clerical power, to the reality at the beginning of this century--fewer and fewer priests and sisters are present to minister to US Catholics, so once again, the laity are assuming many important responsibilities in the parish.

Good discussion also of Catholic social action, and movements like Voice of the Faithful, Call to Action, and Catholic Worker.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By D. Coombs on December 9, 2013
Format: Paperback
If you want to know about Catholics of a liberal bent and the role they played in American life, this book will give you the important figures. However, the author seems utterly lacking in the ability or interest to document the varied diversity of American Catholicism. To include Joseph McCarthy and then leave out Henry Hyde, William Buckley, William Clark and Alexander Haig is more than odd: it is an expression of political bias.

The book is fine for what it does, but it certainly doesn't live up to it's billing as portraying a History of Catholics in America. To do that would have required describing a diversity of thought beyond the author's purview.
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First, to evaluate my review below, you need to know my own viewpoint. My worldview is a philosophy of reason, not religion. My viewpoint shows up in my two books. The first is The Aristotle Adventure: A Guide to the Greek, Arabic, & Latin Scholars Who Transmitted Aristotle's Logic to the Renaissance. The second is The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith. I am also collecting notes on my weblog, _The Main Event_, for my next book, a look at the war between reason and mysticism in the USA in our time.

In an August 5, 2013 post on my weblog, _The Main Event_, I reviewed _The Faithful_. I said in part:

**********

SUBJECT AND THEME. To completely know what a thing is we should study how the thing came to be. In large part, describing the development of today's Catholic laity is the task of Catholic historian James M. O'Toole in writing _The Faithful: A History of Catholics in America_. Through six periods, beginning with the colonial, he describes the ever-changing mass of laymen, and he is generally sympathetic to them--but willing to face facts.

In O'Toole's terms, the laity of the Church are the 99% of the Catholic movement, the followers of the Church, the "sheep" guided by the priestly shepherds. (p. 3) The hierarchy are the 1% of the Church; they are the individuals--the priests, bishops, cardinals, and popes--who are mystically ordained to perform sacred tasks such as conducting a Mass, receiving a confession, and giving "last rites" to the dying.
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