American and Catholic {My October column, The Catholic Post}

Here is my column that appears in this week’s print edition of The Catholic Post.

St. Catherine of Siena famously said, “If you are what you should be, you will set the whole world ablaze!”

Less well-known is a quote by St. Edith Stein. She didn’t say it about American Catholics, but definitely fits: “The nation doesn’t simply need what we have. It needs what we are.”

Neither of those quotes are in The American Catholic Almanac: A Daily Reader of Patriots, Saints, Rogues, and Ordinary People Who Changed the United States.

But they explain the appeal of this treasury that explores how a varied cast of characters and events shaped the nation and its Catholic culture.

The American Catholic Almanac is ably written by two authors—Emily Stimpson, an author with local roots (her family has roots in the Quad Cities, and her cousin is Peoria Notre Dame Chaplain Fr. Adam Stimpson), and Brian Burch.

For each day of the year, one notable American Catholic person or event in American Catholic history, with some connection to that date, is featured. The book spans from the earliest explorers in the late 15th and early 16th century, through to the present day. And, true to its title, the book explores patriots, saints and rogues, though I would argue there are no ordinary people among the 365 notables, obscurity notwithstanding.

I loved this book, and look forward to exploring it even more. Virtually every entry is filled with quirky, awe-inspiring, or just plain interesting, Catholic history.

Admittedly, I’m a history nerd. But you don’t have to geek out on history to love The American Catholic Almanac. Here are several reasons why:

*You’ll be surprised again and again by people you didn’t realize were Catholic, and even more surprised by “how” they were Catholic, whether throughout their lives, or at the end of life. I knew Andy Warhol was Catholic, but Jack Kerouac?

*You’l be astonished by the little-known events that helped shaped and knit Catholics into the fabric of American life. Did you know there was a 19th century Irish Catholic Colonization Association started by Peoria’s Bishop Spalding and others, to help re-settle Irish immigrants from tenements onto farms in the Midwest?

*You’ll find yourself wanting to know more about our rich Catholic heritage—the good, the bad, and the ugly.

This book inspired me to think more about the heroes in our own midst right now, and who might be included in a future volume of The American Catholic Almanac.

I really hope there is a future volume, although hearing from author Stimpson of the tremendous work that went into this one, it may be awhile.

We may not be colorful firebrands like Mary Fields (October 17, “Stagecoach Mary”), a whiskey-drinking former slave who served Ursulines, or tireless priests like local son (Alleman High School was named after him) Father Alleman (May 10, “The Big Priest”), who personally chopped the wood for churches he founded in southeastern Iowa and western Illinois. But The American Catholic Almanac makes clear that anyone, from celebrities and intellectuals to humble folk, religious and lay, sinners and saints, can have a big impact on culture and history.