The Power of the Catholic Voice: In the Words of Chicago Catholics
I am reading this book a few days after Fr. Helmut Schüller’s talk in Philadelphia. When you read this review, he will be long gone, back to Austria. I hope you had a chance to listen to him—the leader of the reform group known as the Austrian Priests’ Initiative was banned from speaking on Archdiocese of Philadelphia property, but the video of his speech is available at catholictippingpoint.org, and he did speak at Chestnut Hill College here. You can also catch some of Schüller’s reforming spirit and his message about parishes by reading An Irrepressible Hope: Notes from Chicago Catholics. It’s a book by and about Catholics in Chicago, but in some ways it could be about Catholics anywhere.
Reading An Irrepressible Hope in a public place had me, a Philadelphia Catholic, trying to hide my tears. So much resonated with my own deep feelings of connection and love and mission, formed in parishes early in my life and affirmed in early adulthood. This connection is examined in “Welcome,” the first section of the book. After that comes “Struggle,” which contains -stories of people who left the church or suffered because of it due to a lack of welcome, especially regarding women’s and LGBTIQ issues. These narratives reveal the pain that a deeply loved institution can cause. “Redemption,” the third section, manages to be imaginative, hortatory and fun, for the most part.
This collection of notes from Chicago-area Catholics started as a project to gather thoughts on the qualifications desired in a new archbishop after Cardinal Francis George submitted his pro-forma resignation on his 75th birthday. (He’s still there, just in case you thought you missed some news.) In the introduction, Claire Bushey writes that these “essays from pew-sitters and pulpit-pounders alike would document the splendid variety and vibrancy of the Chicago Catholic church.” Tales of Father Jack Egan, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin and parish life reinforce the distinctive Chicago story. If the city is anything like Philadelphia, people sometimes know the parish geography better than the neighborhoods. This geographical backdrop grounds these vignettes.
Do we have any hope that the next arch-bishop of Chicago will take these descriptions of vibrant parish life seriously?
But do we have “irrepressible hope” for the Catholic church today? Are our tears more about our despair? Marian Ronan’s book on baby-boomer Catholic writers’ failure to mourn, Tracing the Sign of the Cross: Sexuality, Mourning, and the Future of American Catholicism (Columbia University Press, 2009), probes this sadness that seems to overwhelm us, mostly unacknowledged. Do we have any hope that the next archbishop of Chicago will take these descriptions of vibrant parish life seriously? Some reform groups are proposing that bishops be elected. Will that happen? Will it matter? Will priests as well as “Catholic citizens” follow Helmut Schüller and make vibrant parishes?
Irrepressible Hope identifies the various authors by parishes or other current faith locations—and by baptismal dates, which range from 1925 to 2000 and are well distributed. It doesn’t contain all Vatican II people, in other words, but rather the real age profile of Catholics today. In the interests of full disclosure, I was baptized in 1943 in New Jersey and have been a part of an intentional Eucharistic community in the Philadelphia suburbs since 1978. Yet I still believe in the power of the parish. I commend the writers in this anthology for identifying the strength and compassion that these real sites of Christian community can model for the universal church.
An Irrepressible Hope: Notes from Chicago Catholics
Claire Bushey, editor; artwork by Franklin McMahon
(Acta Publications, 2012, 84 pp)