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Catholics and American Culture: Fulton Sheen, Dorothy Day, and the Notre Dame Football Team

by Mark S. Massa

Buy the book: Mark S. Massa. Catholics and American Culture: Fulton Sheen, Dorothy Day, and the Notre Dame Football Team

Release Date: September, 2001

Edition: Paperback


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Buy the book: Mark S. Massa. Catholics and American Culture: Fulton Sheen, Dorothy Day, and the Notre Dame Football Team

Fascinating thesis, but chapters can get a bit dry

Massa's catchy title made this book appealing to me at first, and he takes a pretty thorough look at the overwhelming changes in the American Church during the Cold War years and how those changes paralleled the transformation of American Catholics from a closed society with its own schools, social institutions, etc., to a mainstream American religion and more importantly, a mainstream American social group (Massa refers to the assimilated Catholic as part of an "ethnic group" in America).

I found the first half of each chapter quite fascinating, as Massa describes the days of Thomas Merton, Notre Dame's rise to academic excellence under Rev. Ted Hesburgh, the first Sunday of Advent, 1964 (the first week when the Vatican II Mass was conducted in churches across the US), and more.

Unfortunately, Massa would fill up the second half of each chapter with analysis from (what he called) "famous" sociologists. I haven't taken sociology since my undergrad days, so other than Andrew Greeley and Max Weber, I heard of none of these "famous" people. Massa's lapse into dry academic language each chapter slowed down the book considerably, and I found myself skimming over those sections after reading a few chapters. At times, his book read like a sociology textbook.

Charles Morris' _ American Catholic : The Saints and Sinners Who Built America's Most Powerful Church_ makes similar assertions as Massa's book, but it is far more readable and deals heavily with 19th century America more than the Cold War. However, it eventually is Massa who makes a more forceful argument and deals more in detail with the transformation of the American Church after World War II (_American Catholic_ goes into very little detail about these changes, oddly enough).

All in all, an uneven but promising work better suited for a sociology class than for a general reader. If you read it, I recommend Morris' book as a worthy complement.

From Amazon.com

"Oh, the Irony of It All"

Utilizing irony, humor, and a breadth of knowledge, Dr. Massa's latest opus is excellent from cover to cover. And though his academic credentials may seem daunting, Massa writes with an easy lucidity that makes his subject matter interesting and enjoyable. As a non-Catholic who had no prior knowledge of what "BVMs in a bathtub" were, I nonetheless was able to relate to the uncomfortable assimilation process experienced by his second and third generation American Catholics.

Massa's interdisciplinary approach expands this work beyond mere religious or cultural history. The chapter on JFK ranks with some of the best political writing I've seen, and the section on the results of Vatican II contains superb theological analysis. The truths revealed in this chapter alone have serious implications for Christians of all traditions.

A must-read for all those interested in American culture during the latter half of the twentieth century.

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