A Journey into the Priesthood
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A winning ethnographic portrait of 28 American Catholic priests. Journalist Kunkel has ventured into biography once before, with Genius in Disguise: Harold Ross of the New Yorker (1995). This collection of essays is as engagingly thoughtful, but more personal; Kunkel writes as a Catholic seeking to understand the tumultuous changes of the post—Vatican II Church. To find the answers, he turns to the same source many Catholics do: the priesthood. Kunkel based these short chapters on extensive interviews with dozens of priests, and the diversity represented here offers a valuable window on the changing face of the Catholic Church. The multiracial priests come from inner-city, suburban, and rural churches; some parishes are affluent, while others are struggling to survive. But one strand connects these very different clergymen: They are members of what seems to be a dying breed. The American Catholic priesthood is aging, and with so few young seminarians stepping up to renew it, in ten years there may be only one priest for every 3,000 American Catholics. The priests interviewed here often serve several parishes. They may also be social workers, administrators, school principals, fund-raisers, and authors, in addition to their ecclesiastical duties. One Jesuit father is a medical doctor and an AIDS activist; another priest is executive director of a children’s rescue agency in Chicago. These priests actively embrace a changing clientele of blacks, Filipinos, and Hispanics; they are open to the charismatic renewal movement. But they also manifest a strain of traditionalism, especially (and surprisingly) the few young priests. Their “back to basics” approach seeks to adopt the best legacies of Vatican II but not abandon the core doctrines of the Church (reverence for the host, for example). Kunkel’s priests are energetically combining radical change and conservative standards. With economy and sensitivity, Kunkel brings these priests to life, portraying them as both fully human and a breed apart. Essential for thoughtful Catholics.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-8133-3464-0
Page count: 208pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1998


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