Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Guardian of America: The Life of James Martin Gillis

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Guardian of America: The Life of James Martin Gillis

Article excerpt

Guardian of America The Life of James Martin Gillis, CS.P By Richard Gribble, C.S.C. (New York; Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press. 1998. Pp. iv, 368. $22.95 paperback.)

To underscore his belief that the "art of biography" had fallen on hard times, the renowned biographer Lytton Strachey once observed that "we do not reflect that it is perhaps as difficult to write a good life as to live one.' Father Richard Gribble's life of James Martin Gillis, C.S.P, ably demonstrates that, all difficulties notwithstanding, the art of biography is not dead, and still serves as a fine vehicle for illuminating both the particular and the universal lessons of the past.

In the chronicles of American Catholicism, the contribution of Gillis, surely one of the leading clergymen of his time and the outstanding representative of his Paulist community, has been insufficiently appreciated by historians. (Fittingly, the book was published by the Paulist Press.) Building upon and superseding the earlier biography written by J. E Finley, C.S.P,forty years ago, Gribble set out to correct that oversight; he has succeeded admirably by writing a prodigiously researched and balanced account of Gillis' life, properly rooted in the rich soil of the American religious landscape during the critical middle years of the twentieth century.

Thoroughly analyzing the conflicted life of his subject in all of its facetsmissionary, journalist and editor of the Catholic World, syndicated newspaper columnist, and charismatic preacher (in both the traditional pulpit and as a featured speaker on the "Catholic Hour" radio broadcasts)-Father Gribble succinctly summarizes the essential James Martin Gillis as a Paulist priest who "voiced his tightly held convictions in his perceived role as GUARDIAN OF AMERICA." Always controversial and conservative, Gillis projected his personal tensions and demons onto an American society in desperate need of religion.

The key to understanding Gillis-and much of American Catholic history during the tumultuous times of the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War-is to be found in his dualistic world view. This dualistic lens was one shared by many of his famous, or infamous, Catholic contemporaries and fellow priests-the parallels between Gillis and the more famous Fulton Sheen come immediately to mind (as noted on the back cover publicity capsule of the book). …

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