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Witness of St. Ansgar's Hardcover – February 7, 2006

5.0 out of 5 stars 1 rating

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Nielsen, who died 15 years ago and published his other works under a pseudonym, offers this fictionalized account of his adolescent years in a Bavarian Catholic parish in Manhattan in the 1930s. Though the subtitle calls it a novel, it is largely a series of vignettes that do not connect to any overarching plot. They all have the same setting—either St. Ansgar's church or Stanley Street, home to tenements full of Irish, Italian and German families. The witness of the title is Mario, a German-American teenager who is assistant to Friar Benigno, sacristan of St. Ansgar's and one of the many Franciscan brothers who minister to the parish. Told from Mario's perspective, the stories are poignant and personal—a secret history. While they do include a number of clichés and stereotypes (the pedophilic priest, the ennobled working-class immigrant), they paint an affectionate, textured portrait of imperfect friars and troubled parishioners. Some of the vignettes are heartbreakingly beautiful, particularly one that features Lizzie Talbot, a notoriously lazy housewife whose close friendship with a handsome young friar betters her as a person, but ultimately leads to tragedy. Central to each story is the abiding friendship between Mario and Benigno, both of whom evolve into endearing characters by the end of the book. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"The Witness of St. Ansgar's is a heart-warming gem. . . . Nielsen supplies a colorful grab bag of characters and plots involving rebellious daughters, authoritarian fathers, local gangsters, Tammany Hall henchmen, cops on the take, neighborhood lovelies . . . There's writing to savor . . . And Nielsen effectively conveys the temptations faced by those -- young men, in many instances -- who enter holy orders, not just from rich widows and lonely housewives, but from self-doubt, guilt complexes, pride, and, in one case, predatory homosexuality. . . . As Friar Benigno says: 'By jingo neddies, the church knows about people.' So does Francis Nielsen. The Witness of St. Ansgar's is definitely one for the shelves."
The Hamilton Spectator

''The Witness of St. Ansgar's is a strangely old-fashioned little book. . . . Set chiefly during the Depression, the stories are told from the point of view of a boy, Mario, who, at around the age of 6 or 7 becomes the assistant to the church's sacristan, an old Franciscan friar, Benigno. The old man is a rough saint whose greatest failing is his temper, though he has pretty well mastered it. He jealously watches over his little world, the church, performs his duties scrupulously, and is a fount of humble observation on the ways of men and women in this vale of tears."
The Boston Globe

"The life of a Manhattan Catholic parish throughout the 1930s and after is lovingly etched in this posthumously published semi-autobiographical novel. . . . A lovely book . . . Arguably, in fact, a minor classic. "
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Told from Mario's perspective, the stories are poignant and personal - a secret history. . . . They paint an affectionate, textured portrait of imperfect friars and troubled parishioners. Some of the vignettes are heartbreakingly beautiful. . . . Central to each story is the abiding friendship between Mario and Benigno, both of whom evolve into endearing characters by the end of the book."
Publishers Weekly

"When I finished this book I wanted to read it all over again. It's that kind of work. . . . The power of these stories lies in the tutorial brilliance of a simple friar who mentors a boy he comes to love as the son he can never have. We connect viscerally because Benigno is the kind of guide we ourselves would like to have. . . . By the time I turned the last page of the book, I felt that I had experienced my own minor miracle."

— Edward L. Beck in The Christian Century Magazine

Product details

  • Hardcover : 256 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 158642100X
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1586421007
  • Product Dimensions : 5.9 x 0.87 x 8.82 inches
  • Item Weight : 14.7 ounces
  • Publisher : Steerforth; First Edition (February 7, 2006)
  • Language: : English
  • Customer Reviews:
    5.0 out of 5 stars 1 rating

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