Monday, August 01, 2011

Review: The Grace of Everyday Saints

The Grace of Everyday Saints: How a Band of Believers Lost Their Church and Found Their Faith

About the Book:
St. Brigid Church was one of San Francisco’s great landmarks in the early 1990s. The church itself had weathered depressions and natural disasters, epic earthquakes and a massive fire. Its loyal congregation was active, vibrant, and growing. But in 1993, without warning, the Catholic archdiocese mysteriously ordered its doors to be closed.

The Grace of Everyday Saints is the story of how a ragtag group of believers came together in a crusade to save their church. What they discovered would be devastating: that around the country, parishes like theirs were threatened by the higher echelons of the Church, all to hide a terrible secret. Soon there were near-daily headlines that shocked the world. But still this unlikely group of heroes—led by a renegade lawyer, a reformed Catholic, and an antiestablishment priest—continued to meet weekly, to fight, to prove that their beloved St. Brigid was worth saving.

A dramatic narrative that takes readers from the streets of San Francisco to the halls of the Vatican, The Grace of Everyday Saints is about injustice and betrayal, redemption and grace.

My Comments:
NetGalley has two buttons under each offered book--one for more information about the book, the other to request it.  I meant to push the "More Info" button, but pushed the request button instead, so I decided to read this book.  In short, it is the story of a parish that was closed by the Archdiocese of San Francisco despite a well-organized, well-financed campaign by its parishioners to save it.  It was the organizers' and author's belief that St. Brigid's and other churches were being closed so that the money gained could be used to pay off victims of the priest abuse scandal.  

I'll be the first admit that my history with my parish is "only" about 25 years old, and that despite that, I'd be unhappy if that less than lovely 1960's era parish was shuttered.  It is obvious looking at  a calendar that mass parish closings often hit about the time of the priest abuse scandal and maybe I'm not cynical enough, but I do question the author's conclusion that the scandal with behind the closings.  For one thing, as many parishioners have learned in recent years, Canon Law dictates that the assets of a closed parish follow the parishioners to the new territorial parish--they do not inure to the benefit of the Archdiocese.  For another, while there are signs in some places that the number of seminarians is increasing, the reality is that there are still more old men than young in the priesthood and plans need to be made with that in mind.  

You  don't have to read Catholic blogs very long before you learn that closing parishes is a bad thing. If you read conservative blogs you learn that if they would only say mass in Latin and get women out of positions of authority in the diocese then they would get more priests and wouldn't have a problem.  If you read liberal blogs then you'd realize that if they would only ordain women, married men and homosexuals and be  more diverse and inclusive, then the pews and the sanctuary would be full.  Frankly, I don't think either of them are right.  The reality is that, at least at the time of the events featured in this book (late 1990's) population was moving away from the inner cities where most of these closed parishes were.  The churches are close to other churches and were built in a time when these city neighborhoods were full of small houses with big families.  Now those houses hold single adults, retirees or couples who never have kids.  Churches that used to have big schools and several full Sunday masses now rent out the school building and have one or two half-(or more) empty masses each weekend.  Parishes in far-out suburbs are growing--they are where the great-grandchildren of those who built the inner-city parishes are choosing to raise their families.  

As far as the number of priests goes, even if most dioceses were able to double the number of seminarians, given the lack of men ordained in the last twenty years, turning the ship around will take time.   As far as ordaining women or married men, that decision is out of the hands of the local bishop.  The Church says it has no authority to ordain women, so at the very least, it will be a very long time before that happens (and my money is on never).  As far as married men go, IF that day ever comes, they will need a lot more of them than  they do celibate men who have no family responsibilities, so again, no quick cure.  

Oh, back to the book.  If you are looking for a book that praises the efforts of members of one parish to keep that parish open, if you are anti-authoritarian and believe power should be in the hands of the people, then you'll probably like the book.  It is well-written, though obviously partisan in its presentation of the events surrounding the closing of St. Brigid Church.  You can see their website here.  


  1. I love your analysis of what will and won't fill up the pews and the sanctuary. :) Or, more specifically, the analysis of people's oversimplified ideas of what will fill up the pews & sanctuary.

    The more time passes, the more I come to believe that all the problems we face, within and without the Church, are wrapped up together in a flawed view of life and its purpose, and a compartmentalization of the various aspects of faith and life. But that's a post for another day.

  2. Not only did you hit the nail on the head- so did Kathleen. Thank you for the review AND commentary:>)

  3. Janette, if you don't read Kathleen's blog you should... it's a good one

  4. Great post and analysis. And comments are good too!

  5. Thanks for this first-class review & commentary.


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