A motley crew rises to the challenge of a Jesuit priest’s desire for a place to hold midnight mass on Christmas Eve, with long-reaching effects on all involved.
Demetrius de Mara has been charged with spreading the faith and serving the Catholics of the American West. Newly arrived in the mining town of Muddy Creek, Mont., on Christmas Eve in 1865, he’s disappointed to find no available place in town to hold midnight mass. He does, however, witness a shoot-out and a brawl and is quickly called upon to perform last rites. Finding himself in Reece’s Music Hall and Liquor Emporium, Father de Mara approaches saloon owner Jack Langford about using the building for mass. Feeling guilty about his role in the shoot-out, Langford consents, and the preparations begin. A diverse group of mixed Christian faiths (which includes miners, a merchant, clerk, freight runner, artist and dancing girl) pitch in with eager hands to achieve this small bit of civilization in a rural mining town. It’s only the local gambler, with an eye for taking advantage of the situation, who threatens to disrupt the unusual show of unity and goodwill in the lawless frontier. As each character makes his or her own special contribution to midnight mass in the form of carved Nativity figures, gathered evergreen boughs, a treasured keepsake and even an outhouse-cum-confessional, historian Bartlett allows them introspection that reveals deferred hopes and broken dreams. Each character’s engaging narrative is firmly rooted in the common American experiences of the day–from Sang Lee’s emigration from China, to Irishmen Pat, Teague and Boyd’s disembarkation in New York City into a draft riot, to Tinsley’s narrow escape from danger among the Kansas prairies where the issue of slavery was incendiary. The characters’ gentle self-assessment during this unexpected opportunity for spiritual renewal prompts positive, long-reaching actions that alleviate their personal suffering and transform Muddy Creek from an American West outpost into a true town.
An endearing seasonal read with a wide-angle look at the Civil War-era American West.