Monday, October 6, 2014

The American Catholic Almanac: A Daily Reader of Patriots, Saints, Rogues, and Ordinary People Who Changed the United States

The American Catholic Almanac: A Daily Reader of Patriots, Saints, Rogues, and Ordinary People Who Changed the United StatesThe American Catholic Almanac: A Daily Reader of Patriots, Saints, Rogues, and Ordinary People Who Changed the United States by Brian Burch

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm a sucker for daily readers whether they are devotionals, writings of the saints, or historical almanacs. So if you combine American History with Catholicism naturally I'm going to be interested. I grew even more interested when a cursory glance revealed that General Longstreet, Buffalo Bill, and General Sherman were all Catholics. I did know that John Wayne became Catholic but not that famed director, and Wayne's longtime friend, John Ford was Catholic. Some of these famous men were more devout than others, some were late comers to the faith, but Catholicism helped define who each of them were.

The American Catholic Almanac by Brian Burch and Emily Stimpson looks not only at famous Catholics but at famous people who flirted with the faith in one way or another (Ronald Reagan and Mark Twain among them) although they never went all the way. It also tells us about people and events who are much less known but should be remembered by all of us today.

I was really interested to see how many "modern" hot button topics were a struggle for Catholics much earlier in our history. Separation of church and state became a Catholic issue in 1828 when schismatic priests appealed to President Andrew Jackson complaining the pope was acting like a "sovereign ruler." Nuns of today who shed their habits as a sign of "freedom" might be surprised to learn that in 1843 the Sisters of Mercy longed for the freedom to wear their habits but had to wear secular clothing because of the prevalent anti-Catholicism. The eugenics enthusiasts of 1927 would be openly approving of today's ability to test for such things as Down's Syndrome and would approve even more of the modern trend to abort any baby who the test shows might have it. We haven't really progressed as far as we'd like to think in that area. And those who lambast today's courts for not holding the high ideals of old times, might be surprised to learn that the Supreme Court supported Virginia's eugenics law with only one justice, a Catholic, dissenting. The authors don't make those comparisons for us, by the way. They leave us to draw our own conclusions and simply present the facts for our perusal.

It's not all serious, of course. In addition to tales of the famous people I mentioned above, there are stories of explorers, tales of churches, celebrations of faithful Catholics, and reminders of those who were not a credit to the faith. There is no telling when something will pop up to remind you how you are connected to the faith throughout our history and across our country. I was surprised to learn there is a cathedral in Dodge City, Kansas, where I lived for a year and a minor basilica in Victoria, Kansas. My husband and I were interested to read about the founding of St. Mary's in Galveston, Texas, because that is the church his grandmother fled to as a child during the devastating 1900 hurricane. It stood and she survived.

Speaking of my husband, I must praise the cover for this book which caught his attention and made him begin perusing it. He's not given to reading about Catholicism but this grounding of it in American history is right down his alley. Chalk one up for the value of having a printed book around to pique interest and keep him asking, "Who is it about today?" when he sees me pick it up for breakfast reading.

The one flaw is that it needs an index. There are a few appendices but if you want to find Sherman or Longstreet or Edgar Allen Poe then you've got to page through the book hoping they aren't too buried in the pages. Hopefully there will be a reprinting and this lack can be rectified.

Regardless of the lack of an index, this is a really great book and I highly recommend it.

I received a review e-book and print copy of this work. My comments, as readers here know, are solely my own opinion.


  1. When I read "The Day of Battle" by Rick Atkinson a couple years ago I remember being struck by how many of the military figures in WWII were faithful Catholics. I don't think the author was deliberately making that a point, but it was something I took away from the book. Your husband might enjoy Atkinson's trilogy if he hasn't aready read it.

    1. I hadn't heard of those. I'll definitely look for them. Thank you! :-)

  2. Thanks! Lists of Catholics - including the infamous one! - are always fascinating reading.