Through the account of a miraculous healing, Schultz (English/Salem State Univ.; Fire and Roses, 2002, etc.) dissects the religious history and culture of early-19th-century America.
In the spring of 1824, Ann Mattingly, a devout Catholic and the sister of the Washington, D.C., mayor, was dying of breast cancer when her family learned of a popular German cleric who was said to possess divine powers of healing. Enter Prince Alexander Hohenloe, who intervened with prayers and offerings, and Mattingly was instantly cured. Schultz takes this controversial incident as a launching point for a discussion of many of the issues plaguing citizens of the newly established United States, including religion, women's changing role in society and slavery. The focus of this brisk and engaging history, however, remains the founding of the Catholic Church in America, the subsequent tensions between Protestants and Catholics and the wave of anti-Catholicism that swept the nation. Mattingly and her family history—a melange of divisive infighting, tragedy and faith that would make good box-office fodder—makes for fascinating reading, but it's the author's ability to draw her characters in a specific point in history that truly shines. Photographs and paintings of early America sporadically illustrate the book.
Regardless of their religious beliefs or skepticism of miracles, readers will find this book well worth their time.