BOSTON CATHOLICS by Thomas H. O’Connor

BOSTON CATHOLICS

A History of the Church and Its People

KIRKUS REVIEW

A well-crafted local history that moves beyond institutional growth to capture the spirit of the people in the pews. O—Connor has made a career of Boston history (The Boston Irish, 1995; Civil War Boston, 1997) and teaches at a Catholic college, so it seems only natural that he should eventually synthesize these interests into a book about the city’s most conspicuous religion. He follows the Church’s rise from a minority sect despised by the Puritans, through its tentative acceptance after the Revolution, to its quashing again by the resurgent “nativism” of the 1840s and ’50s, when tens of thousands of Irish fled the Potato Famine by teeming onto Boston’s shores. In the late 19th century, Boston’s Irish turned inward somewhat, building their own institutions, such as churches, parochial schools, and hospitals. They also faced a renewed campaign of ethnic opposition—not from the Old Guard this time, but from the new Italian and southeast European immigrants who began arriving in droves in the 1880s. (O—Connor can be faulted for focusing overmuch on the Irish experience, neglecting these other Catholic immigrant groups.) By the 20th century, Catholics, especially the Irish, dominated local politics, symbolized by the election of JFK’s grandfather John F. Fitzgerald as Boston’s mayor. O—Connor traces how WWII stimulated Catholicism’s numeric growth just as it did for Protestants (from 1944 to 1960, the number of Boston Catholics was growing by 50,000—60,000 per year). O—Connor also demonstrates the short-lived nature of this surge by including graphs depicting the archdiocese’s decline in priests, schools, and other institutions since the 1970s. However, the cycle of immigration and renewal seems to be repeating itself. Southeast Asian immigrants are filling the empty parishes, and the archdiocese now offers Mass in 15 different languages. Strong overall, replete with local texture, and geared toward the general reader. (33 b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Oct. 30th, 1998
ISBN: 1-55553-359-0
Page count: 338pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1998




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