Customer Reviews: Lamy of Santa Fe
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Apart from Paul Horgan fans, probably most people coming to this book will be doing so to learn more about the real life archbishop who inspired Willa Cather's great novel DEATH COMES FOR THE ARCHBISHOP. And just as Cather's novel concerns the friendship and work of two major characters--Archbishop Jean Latour and his vicar Father Joseph Vaillant--so Horgan's biography necessarily tells the story not only of Juan Bautista Lamy but also Joseph Machebeuf.
Horgan's biography succeeds magnificently in two ways. First, for those who will be coming to the book from reading Cather, one will find vastly greater depth and detail than was possible in that novel. So, the book is a boon for Cather fans. Second, even if one has not read Cather, the book tells a magnificent story of a truly heroic man and his closest friend. Their story is also the story of the West as a whole, and Santa Fe in particular.
There are biographies that record the rote facts about an individual, and unfortunately most fall into this category. And the there are biographies that almost manage to bring you into contact and introduce you to someone you have never met. Lamy emerges almost as someone you know, instead of someone you merely know things about.
I heartily recommend this book to anyone interested in either history of the American West or in Willa Cather's great novel. Although I am not myself Roman Catholic, it would probably also be enjoyed by those whose main interest is in Church History. It is a tragedy that this book is not currently in print. With so many much weaker and less interesting biographies available, it is unfortunate that many of the truly excellent ones are not.
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on November 3, 1998
If there is proof that religion is cultural Paul Horgan demonstrates it in this work which is more than a single biography, but two. Lamy's initial dilemma, besides getting to his Santa Fe assignment, was to overcome the politics of Mexican Catholicism, and bend its will to his own. It was not the good Church defeating evil so much as it was Lamy's determination to arrange things in their proper order while at the same time creating an infrastructure to benefit his parishioners. His monument is the cathedral at Santa Fe in front of which is a stature to his memory as a man beloved by all. Still, Lamy shows a natural reluctance to relinquish habitual authority after retirement. The Archbishop was a man, after all, but a man with a calling he was determined to fulfill. Incidentally, when a character from one book shows up in another unrelated work (Lamy's eventual successor, in Tucson), 'On the Border With Crook,' it lends co-incident authenticity to both.
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on March 25, 1998
It would be difficult if not impossible to overpraise this book. As a narrative of what the southwestern United States was like during the nineteenth century, as a triumph of research into a multitude of different sources spread out all over the United States and western Europe, and as a biography of an undeniably great man (the first Roman Catholic Archbishop of Santa Fe, whose life this book tells from his departure from France around 1839 to serve as a missionary to the United States to his death in New Mexico the late 1880s), this book succeeds wonderfully. It's one of the best books I have ever read.
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on October 6, 1997
This outstanding book on the first Archbishop of Santa Fe - the French-born Jean Baptiste Lamy , details Lamy's tireless efforts at rebuilding the Catholic church in New Mexico from the state of shocking neglect which he found it to be in. It delineates the work Lamy did to improve both the spiritual and material lives of the people under his care. It also enumerates the many hardships Lamy endured. Evidence of the tremendous devotion, unwavering faith and sterling character of this man of God can be found throughout the book. If there is one word which can best describe Lamy, that word would be - Saint!
Author Paul Horgan won a Pulitzer prize for this book and it is not difficult to see why. It was readily apparent that Horgan had done exhaustive research from the numerous details contained in the book.
All in all, a meticulously researched book on a most remarkable individual of the American Southwest written by a diligent author.
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on June 3, 2006
Growing up in New Mexico in the 60's, 70's and early 80's three things were extremely evident: the historical confluence of the Mexican and native cultures about the place and the layered influence of the Catholic Church on top of it all. Not growing up Catholic, much of this culture was a mystery to me at the time. Now being older, much more mindful of historical influences and a convert to Catholicism, the influence of the Catholic Church in my native state of New Mexico is of great interest to me personally.

Imagine my feeling of good fortune then when I discover a copy of Lamy of Santa Fe by Paul Horgan, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for History in the bargain bin at the college bookstore of my neighboring university. Much better than the implied dust covered status of my find, Horgan wrote brings to life in biographical form the historical life of Bishop Lamy. Lamy was not only the first Bishop of Santa Fe, he was one of the most important, influential, and civilizing figures of late 19th Century western expansion of our country. Adding to his significance is that fact that his presence can still be felt all over historical and modern day New Mexico.

This well written book isn't just for people interested in the historical influence of the Catholic Church; it has something to say to anyone interested in the history of the United States in general and the Southwest in particular. Mr. Horgan did a sympathetic and masterful job of bring this man's life into focus for his readers.
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on February 10, 2006
Jean Baptiste Lamy has indeed been fortunate to have two major writers present his life in so strong a light: Willa Cather in DEATH COMES FOR THE ARCHBISHOP, where Lamy is portrayed fictionally in the character of Jean Latour, and in this magnificent biography by Paul Horgan. It was Lamy's tremendous force of character, his inner strength in knowing to his bones what was right and being able to call up the courage to act upon it, that one gets from both Cather and Horgan.

Lamy came to Santa Fe in 1850, having been a missionary and vicar in Ohio till then. Catholicism had stagnated in New Mexico, and Lamy instituted sweeping changes upon his arrival. His main goal was to re-establish the Church as the center of life in the southwest; to do so he needed to get rid of priests who were corrupt and spiritually counter-productive. Two of them, Jose Gallegos and Antonio Martinez, objected strongly to Lamy's ways, and caused much mischief for him. But Lamy, through his bravery, persistence, and authority in what he felt was right, became the spiritual light that illuminated the affairs of the southwest during the second half of the 19th century.

Horgan's account of Lamy is as magisterial as his subject; his admiration and respect for the archbishop resonates in almost every paragraph. It's a wonderful achievement - a delight to read. A most deserving winner of the Pulitzer Prize.
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on October 6, 2014
This biography of Santa Fe's first Archbishop is a compelling narrative of one of the most remarkable men to define and shape the American Southwest, notably New Mexico. A young priest who arrived in America in 1839, first assigned to new settlements in Ohio, and then chosen less than nine years' later to become Santa Fe's first American Bishop in 1851. His diocese extended over a huge distance, including most of present-day New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and southwest segments of Texas in dispute with Mexico. His story is intertwined with Father Joseph Machebeuf, a life-long friend from their seminary days in France who traveled to America with him and eventually became Denver's first Bishop. Father Lamy was a distinguished appearing man - quiet, unassuming yet brilliant, with an intrepid will, excellent administrative skills, and a vast vision for improving the lives and destinies of the families of his far-reaching diocese. With a small group of Loretta nuns from Kentucky, Santa Fe's first convent, schools, hospital and orphanage were established, later a college. He encouraged the establishment of public schools. He doggedly advocated for the extension of the railroad to Santa Fe. He re-introduced crops and farming methods long abandoned after the exodus of the Spanish driven out by the Pueblo revolts of 1680. Gardening was a passion and his only recreation. He gave freely of his gardening endeavors - sapling fruit trees and grape-vine cuttings brought over the vast prairie by mule-teams and an Atlantic Ocean voyage from Europe - were given to citizens of Santa Fe and beyond. Finding the means to finance his vision was a constant struggle in one of America's most impoverished dioceses where barter was the norm, and currency in rare supply. He endured many hardships - imagine a 3,000 mile round-trip journey starting the autumn of 1851 on a mule, with a guide as his only companion, from Santa Fe to Durango, Mexico endeavoring to transition a smooth transfer of bishopric responsibilities to Santa Fe from Mexico. It became a long struggle lasting decades, wrangling over border boundaries in dispute between the two countries and other issues. I've been so taken with this biography, I'm reading it for a third time. I'm surprised Archbishop Lamy hasn't been considered for canonization - perhaps he has and, as a non-Catholic I'm not aware of it. The author, Paul Horgan, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for this biography. He also won the Pulitzer Prize for the Great River (Rio Grande), another compelling historical narrative that provides a broader base for appreciating Archbishop Lamy's biography. Also the Life of the Right Reverend Joseph P. Machebeuf, by William J. Howlett, published in 1908, is recommended reading.
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on December 14, 2013
It is a story about commitment against overwhelming odds set against the history of the Southwest, which Horgan tells in his usually brilliant fashion making us see (and feel) the humanity of all his characters.
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on May 15, 2015
This is the Pulitzer Prize winning account of Bishop Lamy's beginnings in a small village in rural central France and his eventual appointment as Archbishop in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Lamy is a compelling and even heroic figure. This is a powerfully written narrative and trumps Willa Cather's fictional account of Lamy in Death Comes to the Archbishop. I recommend reading this book in combination with Horgan's Great River - a comprehensive history of the Rio Grande.
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on September 22, 2014
Paul Horgan created a wonderful "page turner" book about the development of the southwest, particularly, but by no means limited to,Santa Fe. Based on research from original documents and records, it creates an understanding of the times as well as the rich and varied cultures. You are transported back in time as though you were reading a novel, but the beauty of the book is that it is actually carefully researched history, seen through the experiences of two French priests who left France to do missionary work in the United States.
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