DENVER — “Is the Catholic Church good for America?” That was the question recently posed to Americans on the streets of major cities across the United States by the nonprofit advocacy group CatholicVote.org.
It is also the challenge CatholicVote.org takes up its new book, The American Catholic Almanac.
“There [is] a serious deficiency or a serious lack of appreciation for the role that religion, more generally, but Catholicism, in particular, has played in the history of our country,” explained CatholicVote.org President Brian Burch in a recent interview with CNA.
“If you look at the relevancy of the Catholic faith to every area of American life, there’s sports, movies, schools, church, state. You have all these people whose Catholic faith was central to them playing a role in the development and history of American culture.”
The American Catholic Almanac hit bookstores last week, offering 365 page-long reflections on U.S. clergy, religious and laypeople who have played a role in the nation’s culture and history.
The book explores the Catholic roots or influences of some of the most well-known movers and shakers in U.S. history. Included are profiles of both Catholics and prominent non-Catholics who were strongly influenced by Catholicism during their lives.
Some names are familiar, such as Archbishop Fulton Sheen, Thomas Jefferson and Cesar Chavez. Others are a bit more surprising: Andy Warhol, Mary Harris “Mother” Jones and past Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi.
“We thought we knew what stories we were going to tell,” said co-author Emily Stimpson. “But what we discovered was that what we knew barely scratched the surface of the American-Catholic story.”
One of Stimpson’s favorite stories is that of 19th-century laywoman Margaret Haughery, who is remembered as “the mother of the orphans” in New Orleans. Haughery was a penniless, illiterate widow who ended up donating more than $600,000 during her lifetime to orphans in the city.
“It wasn’t hard to find the Catholics who did amazing things,” Stimpson said. “But what was shocking was how their stories haven’t been preserved. There are so many great stories that are in danger of being lost that we were able to include in this book.
“That was a great joy, because these laypeople deserve to be known. They’re real witnesses to the New Evangelization and to American Catholics today.”
Burch’s favorite story is that of filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock, who lived most of his life struggling with his Catholic faith. The almanac details Hitchcock’s emotional reception of holy Communion on his deathbed.
“I don’t think you can understand his storytelling through movies without recognizing that it was related to the Catholic sensibilities that he had,” Burch said. “The sense of mystery, the sense of sin and darkness and redemption.”
“That is part of the rich tapestry of the faith manifested in movie-making that he was able to give to the American public,” he added.
Burch and Stimpson said they hope the book inspires modern Catholics to defend religion in the United States.
“We can’t appreciate what we have … when we don’t know where we come from,” Stimpson explained. “And if we can’t appreciate what we have, we’re not going to fight to preserve it. We’re not going to treasure it.”
Burch said the idea for the almanac developed from watching U.S. Catholics respond to the federal contraception mandate.
“We recognize that part of this fight over religious liberty is not just a question of laws and policies and court judgments, but also a part of a cultural struggle,” Burch said.
“One of the best ways to recover some of this cultural inheritance is to tell stories.”
The American Catholic Almanac is available in stores and online. For more information, visit www.americancatholicalmanac.com.