The Encyclopedia of American Catholic History

Article excerpt

The Encyclopedia of American Catholic History. Edited by Michael Glazier and Thomas J. Shelley. (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press. 1997. Pp. xi, 1567. $79.95.)

This sizable volume provides a valuable resource to both professional historians of the Catholic Church in the United States and to the more casual reader who would like to learn more about that history. The historian will be grateful for the breadth and detail of the material covered; the novice to the field will be fascinated by the richness of the story of American Catholicism that emerges from the varied entries.

The editors set as a goal for the massive project to tell the story of the immigrant Catholics and their descendants. The main characters in the story are much more varied than the traditional church histories that focus primarily on the hierarchy and the religious (though they are also covered thoroughly). In this encyclopedia, Catholics of all walks of life are introduced and their contributions to U. S. life and culture are described and evaluated. Thus we meet, for example, Josephine Baker, African-American dancer and singer who helped bring jazz to 1920's Paris; Mother Marianne Cope, who led a small group of Franciscan sisters to establish hospitals for leprosy patients in Hawaii along with Father Damian De Veuster; and Walker Percy, Southern novelist, to name just a few. Living individuals do not merit an entry but may be mentioned in articles on other topics.

The contributing authors are generally the most respected scholars on the subject treated. They accomplished very well the primary aim set by the editors to provide basic information in concise and readable entries, while providing ample cross-references and bibliographic information to direct the reader to a fuller treatment of the subject. This work opens for the reader a vast library of literature in the field of American Catholic history. It was also evident that the purpose of the book was to present a true picture of the events and individuals rather than to focus only on the more edifying or positive elements of Catholicism in the United States. …