From Fr. C. John McCloskey's review in the National Catholic Register of Russell Shaw's new Ignatius Press book : Russell Shaw is one of the best Catholic writers and historians in the Catholic world. In his new book, Catholics in America, he offers the reader the opportunity to go from the very beginnings of Catholicism in the United States up to our own times, through a series of 15 portraits of important American Catholics. The group of the leading figures includes Archbishop John Carroll, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Orestes Brownson, Isaac Hecker, Cardinal James Gibbons, Al Smith, Dorothy Day, Cardinal Francis Spellman, John F. Kennedy, and others. Collectively, their story is the story of the building and shaping of the largest religious body in the United States. He describes these major Catholic players, the influence that they had, their understanding of the congeniality or uncongeniality of the American project to Catholicism, and the difference they made — for better or worse — in the Church in the United States today. He then takes a look at how the situation of the Church in America may look in the future.
But it is also something more. Catholics in America reflects the ongoing, often controversial, effort to work out the Catholic identity for American Catholics in the context of sometimes hostile, sometimes all-too-inviting American secular society.
The book poses a fundamental challenge to the conventional wisdom of Catholic Americanist historiography which takes cultural assimilation for granted. The oldest question in the history of the Catholic Church in the United States may be this: "Is it possible to be a good Catholic and a good American?" Catholics in America documents the variety of answers that have been given to date, and why the question is more timely now than it has ever been before. History, human interest, and the drama of faith lived out in action come together in these portraits to tell an exciting story that stretches back two hundred years and continues today.
Russell Shaw is a widely published author and journalist who has written over twenty books, including American Church and Nothing to Hide: Secrecy, Communication, and Communion in the Catholic Church. For 18 years, Shaw directed media relations for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and the United States Catholic Conference. From 1987 to 1997 he oversaw media relations for the Knights of Columbus.