76 books directly related to the Catholic Church 📚

All 76 Catholic Church books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

Virgins

By Caryl Rivers,

Book cover of Virgins

Why this book?

Gah! Virgins! I should mention that this book was actually written in the 80s and flashes back to the 50s, but in the spirit of this list (and simply because I flipping love it), I’m including it here. Peggy and Sean are two good little Catholic teens navigating their senior year of high school. Sean is slated to enter the priesthood upon graduation, testing the limits of the pair’s carnal restraint in the final days of their relationship. I don’t think there’s a book in the world that has influenced my storytelling more than this one. It’s hot, hilarious, and heartbreaking… and pretty much serves as the blueprint for my own book. Highly recommend.


Catechism of the Catholic Church

By No author,

Book cover of Catechism of the Catholic Church

Why this book?

Speaking of ancient wisdom: Here you have a manual of right and wrong. You’re not going to agree with all of it, or even most of it. But what I got out of reading this, before I became Catholic, was that some very smart people over the course of hundreds of years had thought through the basic norms of correct action and written them down. The catechism embeds rules for living within a larger framework of reality, built on faith in Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God. Again, most of you aren’t going to believe that, as I didn’t when I first read the Catechism. But the critical thing is the coherence and accountability in this document. Nothing is out of place. Every rule for right action has some connection to the overarching scheme. There are no inconsistencies (this is the church’s theory, not its actions).

And by this book, you can hold yourself accountable in very specific ways. Are you flirting with someone at work? Look in the index for divorce and delve into what adultery means. Are you drinking too much? Look up addiction and dive into the theory of gluttony as a sin. Wandering around in life? Read up on acedia, the sin of letting yourself get bored. I’m not recommending this because of the content, though. I recommend it as a method because it makes you put everything together: Your beliefs, your commitments, your strategies, and your actions. The catechism shows that it is possible in this whiny age to have moral commitments that make sense and are firm as steel.


The Clown

By Heinrich Boll, Leila Vennewitz (translator),

Book cover of The Clown

Why this book?

The title was sufficient to draw me in for I warm to life’s absurdities, and clowning is one form of absurdity. For decades, I have been actively involved with Humanism, so the absurdities in Clown of the hypocrisies in Catholicism naturally appealed, yet more so were the exposures of hypocrisies in love, relationships, and social and political pronouncements indeed, in being human. Yes, Catholicism is attacked here, but so, also, Humanity. To quote:  “Goodbye,” I said, “and thank you for so much humanity.”


The Rose Ring

By Anne Faye,

Book cover of The Rose Ring

Why this book?

This is a touching story about love and forgiveness, of oneself as well as of others. The novel is partially historical: the narrative shifts between the 1940s and the present day. The storylines are linked by a beautiful rose ring that is important to the heroines in both eras. Both storylines include love, loss, and love re-found, but not before the modern-day heroine must face what her heart is truly telling her. More than one character finds the redemption that true forgiveness can bring, but each also discovers the journey can be challenging. This novel drops a surprise twist in the middle, so keep your eyes open! I had tears in my eyes when the stories converged and brought closure.


Pensées

By Blaise Pascal, A.J. Krailsheimer,

Book cover of Pensées

Why this book?

I am cheating a bit here since this was never a complete work, but a set of notes that Pascal was using for a far greater text. It confuses some people to hear that one of the greatest scientific and mathematical minds of his age was also a devout Christian, but that should not trouble someone with an open mind and an open heart. His intention was to show that there is a gaping hole inside of all of us, and that no diversion can ever fill it, except for a desire to know and to love what is Absolute. 

“All of humanity's problems stem from a man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”


Why I Am a Catholic

By Garry Wills,

Book cover of Why I Am a Catholic

Why this book?

Garry Wills, a scholar of Jefferson, Lincoln, modern politics, and religious history, is a major thorn in the side of the Catholic Church. He’s critical of that institution’s checkered past, the questionable primacy of the pope, and the social and political narrowness of its bishops. Yet he is a devout Catholic, a confirmed believer. He sees no contradiction in that. This is a blunt, persuasive book about reconciling an urge to faith in a higher, transcendent power with a sharply critical perspective on an institution that, in Wills’ view, is often less about the teachings of Jesus than a corporate structure pretending to more spiritual authority and infallibility than it has any right to assert.


Catholics

By Brian Moore,

Book cover of Catholics

Why this book?

Some might question my choice of a work of fiction here, but I have always been a great admirer of this fine writer's work. Catholics best displays the transitional period from the economically dreary 1930s-1950s, to the often-painful thrust of Ireland into the modernity of a European Union and growing national prosperity. The plot vehicle Moore uses is the story of a crisis of faith as monks living in virtual medieval isolation on an island off Co. Kerry (and indulging in the now forbidden Latin mass) are dragged into conformity by a Vatican plenipotentiary who is determined to break them. In the process, he destroys the foundations of their entire spiritual lives, shatters their traditions, and shows little remorse in doing so. I don't know if Moore, who died in 1999, meant his book to be a metaphor of the New Ireland, but it succeeds in showing a country turning its back, metaphorically speaking, on a rich though sad and troubling past, and marching into an uncertain future.


Whose Heaven, Whose Earth?

By Thomas Melville, Marjorie Melville,

Book cover of Whose Heaven, Whose Earth?

Why this book?

How did a U.S. priest and nun who went to Guatemala to convert the poor to “proper” Catholicism and to fight communism join a revolutionary movement?

The married couple Thomas and Marjorie Melville explain how they shared the anti-communist views of the U.S. government and the Catholic Church but living among the poor led them to question both institutions’ roles in supporting inequality in Guatemala. At the time of the book’s publication, 1970, the two were in jail as part of the Catonsville Nine. They, along with other Catholics, broke into a Maryland draft board and poured homemade napalm on stolen files to protest U.S. imperialism, including in Vietnam, and the Catholic Church’s support for it.


Dark Night of the Soul

By St. John of the Cross,

Book cover of Dark Night of the Soul

Why this book?

The Dark Night of the Soul can feel like a frightening experience for those who don’t know what is happening to them and why things look so dark, cold, and empty. This book takes you back to a place of inner peace and comfort, helping you realize that you aren’t crazy and depressed, nor are you all alone on this path you are now walking. You are always guided, safe, loved, and protected. And even though things may look dark now, they won’t be dark forever. The darkness will eventually turn into light and when it does, you will see that everything happened for your cleansing, healing, freedom, and purification.


Awareness: Conversations with the Masters

By Anthony De Mello,

Book cover of Awareness: Conversations with the Masters

Why this book?

In Awareness, de Mello blends Christian spirituality, Buddhist parables, Hindu breathing exercises, and psychological insight into easily-read, bite-sized chapters designed for thoughtful reflection. As the title suggests, we need to wake up to the world around us as it actually occurs. Our mental, emotional, and spiritual health depends on this. I love how simple and practical he makes this concept. And for all of the examples of where I fall short, he never made me feel stupid or beyond hope for my previous unconscious choices. This book has inspired me to be more present more often and given me practical suggestions on how to do exactly that.


Loving Gabriel (Faith & Kung Fu)

By T.M. Gaouette,

Book cover of Loving Gabriel (Faith & Kung Fu)

Why this book?

I’ve enjoyed the entire Faith & Kung Fu series. It’s contemporary Christian fiction with teen characters that face teen challenges. Even though I’m not a teen, I can relate to each of the characters in one way or another, through their challenges, weaknesses, attitudes, or hopes. But I especially love how faith comes into each story. This final book in the series includes several fun-to-read moments with Gabriel and Tanner, but they soon face challenges to their relationship, which at times seem insurmountable. In addition to the theme that we are all a work in progress—which I can relate to—I love how this story tackles the preparation and considerations one should make when considering the sacrament of marriage.   


Where You Lead

By Wahl Leslea,

Book cover of Where You Lead

Why this book?

This is an incredibly fun mystery with a great combination of action, adventure, and growing tension. The main characters are well-developed, likable, and positive role models. Eve is romantic, talkative, and doesn’t try to be like everyone else. Nick is level-headed, resourceful, and charming. Plus, he comes from a big and very interesting family.

As a history lover, I enjoyed the tidbits about the Civil War and the “virtual tour” of Washington D.C., visiting museums, monuments, cemeteries, and other historical places with the characters as they tried to solve this unique mystery. Several wonderful messages are weaved through this story, too, like trusting in God even when we can’t understand His plan and realizing that the smaller missions from God are just as important as the bigger missions.


Rightfully Ours

By Carolyn Astfalk,

Book cover of Rightfully Ours

Why this book?

Well-written and enjoyable, this story takes an honest look at the physical, spiritual, and emotional aspects of teens in relationships. As the characters’ feelings for each other grow, they confront new emotions and urges that they don’t always know how to deal with. Like every child raised Christian, they know what they are “supposed” to do but they don’t always understand “why”. Sometimes they make poor choices, but through all the temptations, challenges, and even failures, they both develop an understanding of the value of chastity. By the story’s end, they have a clear, solid, and mature grasp of its worth. I appreciate the message of developing a strong conviction about waiting for marriage, rather than allowing oneself the temporary thrill of partaking in something that isn’t “rightfully ours”.


The Vicar of Christ

By Walter F. Murphy,

Book cover of The Vicar of Christ

Why this book?

I am lucky to have lived a few lives – I am a lawyer, was a television consultant and analyst, and am now an author.  But that’s nothing compared to this book’s protagonist, a man who was a medal of honor winner, then a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, then a monk, and finally the Pope. Creatively told and excellently written, this book inspires me to think that anything, any path is possible. 


Titanic Love Stories: The True Stories of 13 Honeymoon Couples Who Sailed on the Titanic

By Gill Paul,

Book cover of Titanic Love Stories: The True Stories of 13 Honeymoon Couples Who Sailed on the Titanic

Why this book?

Gill Paul’s Titanic Love Stories tells the fate of the thirteen honeymoon couples that boarded the doomed ship. It tells stories from society’s elite to third-class passengers from a small country Irish town. Beginning with JJ Astor, Paul tells the story of a man who risked everything for a woman he loved more than anything, showering her with flowers and books to win her favour. In Madeleine, Astor found a future that promised happiness – something he had not had in his previous marriage. Madeleine would love him in a way Astor had never been loved before, who had suffered through a contentious divorce brought by his ex-wife’s extramarital affair. The book finishes with Neal and Eileen McNamee, a newlywed couple that fell in love the moment they met, with Eileen teasing Neal about his moustache and “funny” accent. Eileen converted to Catholicism in order to marry the man she loved, and she was overjoyed at the idea of honeymooning on the Titanic while travelling to America where Neal would be starting a new job at Lipton’s store in New York. 

Each newlywed couple’s story is marred with love, hope, and pain. Paul feeds life into Titanic by exploring the ship through the eyes of people who loved each other fiercely. After all, Isidor and Ida Straus were not the only couple who chose to die together. 

I was reading Titanic Love Stories when inspiration struck for my protagonists, Georgiana and William. I had a vision of where they’d end up, how their story would develop, and it would represent all the love Titanic’s passengers had felt for each other. If you’re a romantic at heart, you’ll love this non-fiction novel, however, you should be aware: You’ll need tissues. 

And lots of them.


Julia's Gifts

By Ellen Gable,

Book cover of Julia's Gifts

Why this book?

Sometimes what we seek is right in front of us, while we’re looking and wondering elsewhere. That’s what happens to the heroine of Julia’s Gifts by Ellen Gable. She’s so determined to bring a daydream to life that she almost misses the real thing. This first book in the Great War Great Love series takes place during World War I. The story reminds readers that the light and hope of love remain bright even amid the horrors of war. You’ll cheer for the hero and heroine to stay connected when the war threatens their love just as it starts to grow. A special element in this book is the inclusion of beautiful, original sonnets, something I’ve never before encountered in a historical romance.


Brother Wolf

By Eleanor Bourg Nicholson,

Book cover of Brother Wolf

Why this book?

Brother Wolf represents one of the rarest of rare combinations: great horror, great humor, and a coherent Catholic metaphysics that underlies the fantasy. The daughter of a dull, disillusioned academic finds adventure in the company of a mysterious young woman who reads minds, a Breton nun, a Dominican vampire slayer, and an English gentleman-warrior who are in hot pursuit of a feral Franciscan werewolf. Murderous gypsies and demon goddesses dog their heels. With a cast of characters like that, how could any horror-lover resist? Eleanor Bourg Nicholson is truly one-of-a-kind, showcasing an encyclopedic knowledge of literature, mythology, and Catholic doctrine alongside her inimitable prose and rollicking sense of fun. You can’t go wrong with her books.


Is the Pope Catholic? A Woman Confronts Her Church

By Joanna Manning,

Book cover of Is the Pope Catholic? A Woman Confronts Her Church

Why this book?

From the back cover: "Drawing on her experience as a teacher in the Catholic school system, a former nun, and an outspoken advocate of women's equality, Joanna Manning powerfully articulates how John Paul's views on women are not only a disaster for the Catholic Church, but are also a threat to the well-being of all women, regardless of belief." Well-put. (I imagine there are, and if not, there should be, at least one of these books for each religion/sect... Certainly the Jewish and the Islamic religions are misogynistic as well...)


Love and Living

By Thomas Merton,

Book cover of Love and Living

Why this book?

This was one of the last pieces Merton wrote before his life was cut short in 1967 and I believe that he outlined both the problems with education in the modern world as well as a possible solution in an accessible way. I often go back to the first chapter in this work as a foundation for my own understanding of teaching and learning. It is truly inspiring!


The Baby Laundry for Unmarried Mothers

By Angela Patrick,

Book cover of The Baby Laundry for Unmarried Mothers

Why this book?

I was so struck by this candid memoir from Angela Patrick about what happened to her when she became pregnant in the early sixties at nineteen that it made me consider my mother’s lucky escape when the same thing happened to her. Both were Catholic and unmarried, but Patrick, unlike my mother, turned to her family for help and was exiled to a mother and baby home. It’s a tale of shame and sorrow, coldness and cruelty – and the scars that remain when a baby is given up.


Flannery O'Connor Collected Works

By Flannery O'Connor,

Book cover of Flannery O'Connor Collected Works

Why this book?

If you’re older, you probably read O’Connor’s short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find” for one or more lit classes; if you’re younger, you may have never heard of her as she is now “problematic” according to the unfunny woke-on-steroids crowd. I love O’Connor because I love characters with moral failings, I love mordant humor, and I love the possibility that even the most irredeemable among us can experience moments of grace. The brief details in her stories do such heavy lifting in terms of irony, for example when a Wellesley undergrad hits Mrs. Turpin in the head with a copy of Human Development in the short story “Revelation.” The action itself – a privileged white college student from an elite school inflicting violence upon a rural white woman – also speaks to our ongoing culture wars. 


The Habsburgs: To Rule the World

By Martyn C. Rady,

Book cover of The Habsburgs: To Rule the World

Why this book?

Martyn Rady has an extraordinary ability to tell stories that make sense. His jaw-dropping anecdotes about the men and women of the world’s most inbred royal dynasty help us to understand how and why the Habsburgs managed to keep reinventing themselves and their global pretensions for seven hundred years. By the time you’ve finished laughing and wincing at their antics, you’ll also understand why the Habsburgs’ Central European heartland became far more than the sum of its diverse parts.


Disappeared: A Journalist Silenced

By June Carolyn Erlick,

Book cover of Disappeared: A Journalist Silenced

Why this book?

June Carolyn Erlick, editor-in-chief for ReVista, the Harvard Review of Latin America, casts a seasoned journalist’s eye on the 1980 abduction of  Guatemalan journalist Irma Flaquer. Returning home, Flaquer was pulled from her car and was never seen again. Flaquer, a popular and respected journalist with an influential column, Lo Que Otros Callan or "What Others Don't Dare Write",  was also the founder of the first Guatemalan Human Rights Commission. Throughout her career, Flaquer survived beatings, car bombs, and drive-by assassination attempts that did not daunt her from doing her job as a reporter to expose Guatemalan suffering at the hands of their corrupt U.S.-backed government and the cost the Guatemalan people paid as Cold War pawns.


To Each His Own

By Leonardo Sciascia, Adrienne Foulke (translator),

Book cover of To Each His Own

Why this book?

A double homicide in Sicily. Innocent, eccentric, small-town characters. The Mafia, the church, and a stifling, frightening nightmare world portrayed with humor, humanity, and a diamond-tipped eye for detail: that’s Leonardo Sciascia’s 1960s detective novel classic, To Each His Own (A ciascuno il suo). The writing is clean, clear, nervy, and seductive—some of the best crime writing, period. It even survives translation. This book is at least as good as The Godfather and better than anything by Andrea Camilleri. As you turn the pages, you’re not only transported to off-the-beaten-track, real-deal Sicily. You feel the grit. You smell it. You enter the heads and hearts of Sicilians. Written over 50 years ago, To Each His Own needs no refreshing. That world never changes.


Kristin Lavransdatter

By Sigrid Undsett,

Book cover of Kristin Lavransdatter

Why this book?

When I discovered Kristin Lavransdatter was 1000 pages, I never expected to fininsh it (I'm a slow reader). However, about 50 pages into it, I was hooked and was at a loss when I read the final chapter. Religion is pervasive but delivered indirectly. The Catholic Church in the Middle Ages was an absolute authority with an iron grip on the main character Kristin. Undset was not judgmental in the book, but I was in reading it. 


Illustrated History of the Acadians of Prince Edward Island

By Georges Arsenault,

Book cover of Illustrated History of the Acadians of Prince Edward Island

Why this book?

In both English and French, Georges Arsenault has written many books on different aspects of the Acadian history of PEI. This 2019 book is the author’s most recent (French title: Histoire illustrée de l’Acadie de l’Ile-du-Prince-Édouard). It’s aimed at general interest readers and provides an overview of the three centuries of French and Acadian presence on the Island since 1720. Topics addressed include the early settlement period, the mass deportation in 1758, and the subsequent resettlement by Acadians. The author also looks at the role of the Catholic Church, French-language education, the economic changes across time, and the struggles to ensure a vibrant French-speaking Acadian culture on the Island.


The Most Dangerous Enemy (The Elizabeth of England Chronicles)

By G. Lawrence, The Book Cover Machine (illustrator),

Book cover of The Most Dangerous Enemy (The Elizabeth of England Chronicles)

Why this book?

The third book of The Elizabeth of England Chronicles has Elizabeth finally becoming Queen of England and trying to unite a divided country. A Protestant queen surrounded by Catholic kings, all she has to do is marry well and secure the succession. Gemma Lawrence has a talent for developing convincing characters and evoking a compelling sense of time and place.


Secret Love

By F. Burn,

Book cover of Secret Love

Why this book?

In Secret Love by F. Burn, Richard Cunningham is a different kind of bad boy—a student in his final year of high school who develops a crush on learning support assistant Francesca Gabel. Richard is a challenging guy, pushing the limits and not giving up on chasing Francesca, despite dating someone else closer to his age. When he finishes school and travels, their friendship continues, but he wants more from Francesca, who is a young woman trying to find her path in life. I was hooked all the way to the end, and loved the tease in each chapter, not knowing if the two will end up together until the end. The relationship suspense was brilliantly plotted. 


The Song of the Bird

By Anthony De Mello,

Book cover of The Song of the Bird

Why this book?

Short interesting titles to profound short stories. Each story offers a lesson to clearer soulful understandings. Humor, insights, simplicity – all the things I treasure and hope to be as a writer. Anthony deMello has influenced my world with new ways of looking at old things. I find this in children too – their new eyes looking at old things reminds me of how important fresh perspectives are to enjoying and appreciating life.


Lithuania Ascending: A Pagan Empire Within East-Central Europe, 1295-1345

By S. C. Rowell,

Book cover of Lithuania Ascending: A Pagan Empire Within East-Central Europe, 1295-1345

Why this book?

This is a look at the evolving Lithuanian state at a key moment in its efforts to fight off western crusaders, expand to the east against Russians and south against Mongols, and accommodate its society and religious practices to its allies and subject peoples.

This was the era when the modern states of Belarus and Ukraine were forming under Lithuanian rule or protection. The cities of those regions, as well as the princes, were all Orthodox Christians, but they preferred being governed by tolerant pagans who lived among them than being heavily taxed by Muslim nomads who despised them.

In the decades to follow, Lithuanians would be deeply influenced by Polish culture and religious thought, so the conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1387 came as no surprise.


Blessed

By Maggie Blackbird,

Book cover of Blessed

Why this book?

I’m not a religious person, but I learned a lot about Catholicism and its complex history with Indigenous tribes reading this book. But first and foremost, the book is a steamy second chance M/M (male/male) romance about two men caught on opposing sides of the tribal schism between followers of the Catholic church versus traditional Ojibwe culture. It’s a great Native same-sex romance read.


The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society

By Henri J. M. Nouwen,

Book cover of The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society

Why this book?

Whether you’re a person of faith, someone who identifies as spiritual, but not religious, or one who simply strives to approach the world in the most loving way, this book is for you! Nouwen explains, in straightforward terms, that until we can acknowledge, accept, and embrace our own shortcomings, failures, and woundedness, we cannot ever really be compassionate toward others. By wearing our vulnerability on our sleeves, we can stand in solidarity with others, empowering them to better face their own challenges. As a parent and as a friend, acknowledging rather than hiding my wounds and shortcomings has opened my heart to become more of a “wounded healer” to those I love the most.


Christina, Queen of Sweden: The Restless Life of a European Eccentric

By Veronica Buckley,

Book cover of Christina, Queen of Sweden: The Restless Life of a European Eccentric

Why this book?

Christina of Sweden, known today primarily through Greta Garbo’s portrayal of her in the 1933 film, became queen at age six when her father was killed in battle; she received the education of a prince, including the study of statecraft, for which she read the Latin biography of Elizabeth I. Initially deemed a boy at birth, Christina’s habit of crossdressing, her refusal to marry, and her romantic attachments to both women and men bespeak her ambiguous sexuality. Veronica Buckley’s biography does justice to this idiosyncratic and controversial figure who abdicated her throne, converted to Catholicism, and moved to Rome. Although she took Alexander the Great as her model and sought to rule Naples and Poland-Lithuania after her abdication, she revealingly recorded in her memoirs her thoughts concerning the predicament she faced as a female sovereign: “Women should never be rulers... Women who rule make themselves ridiculous one way or the other... I myself am no exception.” 


Whisper Music

By J.B. Toner,

Book cover of Whisper Music

Why this book?

Part horror novel, part hard-boiled detective story, part Hollywood summer blockbuster, Whisper Music is an eclectic grab bag of a story that probably shouldn’t work, but it does. J.B. Toner has an unmatched ability to integrate soaring, lyrical prose with low-brow cop-speak in a book where a vampire does battle against the Virgin Mary. With both the blood of the Virgin and the blood of Satan in her veins, Danyaela Morrigan finds herself uniquely positioned to play both sides of a great spiritual battle, while at the same time being torn between them. Hold on to your hats. You’re in for a treat.


Faith

By Jennifer Haigh,

Book cover of Faith

Why this book?

Hemingway once said that a writer should “convey everything to the reader so that he remembers it not as a story he had read but something that happened to himself.” As a reader, I don’t always need to feel like the story has happened to me, but when a book is written in first-person narrative, I do enjoy feeling like it really happened to the narrator. I love it when the main character sounds authentic and the author fades to the background, making it seem like a memoir. Such a book is Faith, by Jennifer Haigh. Although Faith isn’t categorized as crime-fiction, it involves an Irish Catholic family in Boston in 2002 during the height of the church’s pedophile scandals. As the narrator navigates her family dynamics after her half-brother is accused of sexual assault, she becomes a woman caught between faith and doubt, and she explores this limbo superbly. The story unfolds masterfully precisely because the fictional narrator seems so perceptive and so human, and all the emotional details along with descriptions of place, captivate. The narrator ends up offering shades of gray, and it is this nuanced area, of being suspended between believing in her half-brother and doubting him, that works so brilliantly. 


He Do the Time Police in Different Voices

By David Langford,

Book cover of He Do the Time Police in Different Voices

Why this book?

My all time fav Humorous Murder Mystery (now out of print but still available currently in the anthology He Do The Time Police In Different Voices) British author David Langford's The Spear of he Sun is set on a spaceship. This gem is simultaneously a terrific Locked Room murder mystery; the best Father Brown story I have ever read (and I've been a Father Brown fan for decades); a wonderful cozy mystery; and a fantastic parody-pastiche of GK Chesterton, The Roman Catholic Church imprints, and Isaac Asimov's SF Magazine, all three at the same time. It's tears-of-laughter-pouring-down-your-cheeks funny, and a Hall-of-Fame-Quality of murder mystery if read straight. Don't miss it.


Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches' Sabbath

By Carlo Ginzburg, Raymond Rosenthal (translator),

Book cover of Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches' Sabbath

Why this book?

I first picked up this book hoping to find whether Western Europe ever had agrarian fertility rituals/beliefs equivalent to those I was studying in Eastern Europe. But then I simply couldn’t stop reading, because it was so compellingly written as well as chock full of fascinating information relating to my interests. Ginzburg presents both the historical records and his deeply perceptive insights into the processes by which age-old farmers’ customs (including dancing), aimed simply at having enough food for the year, were reinterpreted as evil witchery and Satanism by Roman Catholic officials attempting to eradicate everything outside the Christian church as they knew it. (Eastern Orthodox officials, with far more territory to convert, confined themselves largely to condemning murder, adultery, and incest, and reallocating people’s entrenched customs to Christian saints.)


The Habit: A History of the Clothing of Catholic Nuns

By Elizabeth Kuhns,

Book cover of The Habit: A History of the Clothing of Catholic Nuns

Why this book?

This book explores the origins and evolution of nuns’ habits, explaining why religious women initially chose distinctive attire and how their relations to what, in the end, we must call fashion, evolved. There is great stuff here on schisms between progressive feminists who called for reform and traditionalists who insisted on elaborate and cumbersome clothing. The book is broadly sympathetic to its subject—unlike some religious studies work that adopts a stance of cosmopolitan opposition to religious faith. But it is also probing and savvy: Kuhn highlights the inherent tension between a garment that is supposed to reflect modesty but is also conspicuous and stylized striking comes through.  


Man & Woman He Created Them

By Pope JohnPaul II,

Book cover of Man & Woman He Created Them

Why this book?

St. John Paul II was also a brilliant philosopher and theologian. Here is his answer to errors of our modern age. Here is his antidote to the deconstruction and disintegration of the family, marriage, manhood, womanhood, and even sex, itself. I would list it higher, but it's not precisely about his life—though it is his greatest life's work. Like the falling of small stones that start an avalanche, this book is slowly restoring the world.  


Urban Exodus: Why the Jews Left Boston and the Catholics Stayed

By Gerald Gamm,

Book cover of Urban Exodus: Why the Jews Left Boston and the Catholics Stayed

Why this book?

Gamm’s book goes beyond just a study of urban Jews to juxtapose Jews and Catholics to figure out the paradox of his title. The book cover, just to drive home his point, shows the entry stairs to a flourishing Catholic church filled with people juxtaposed to the front of a massive, abandoned synagogue. Gamm argues for the significance of religion in shaping Jewish and Catholic practices. From the portability of Torah scrolls and the congregational structure of synagogues, Judaism facilitated mobility. By contrast, parish boundaries and a church hierarchy encouraged rootedness among Catholics. It’s a fascinating and persuasive comparison that illuminates Boston but also helps to make sense of other cities. 


A World Such as Heaven Intended

By Amanda Lauer,

Book cover of A World Such as Heaven Intended

Why this book?

A person needs self-knowledge before loving another. That’s true for the hero and heroine of A World Such As Heaven Intended, an American Civil War novel by Amanda Lauer. They meet briefly at the start of the book. Both realize their lives have been changed by the encounter, even though the heroine is loyal to the Confederacy and the hero to the Union. The hero and heroine then are separated. That allowed me to follow each one’s journey as they navigated life in a war-torn country. The tension caused by different loyalties remains strong when they reunite. But they’re thrown into a life-and-death situation that made me wonder if they’d find their happy ending! This novel is first in the Heaven Intended series.


Priest Under Fire: Padre David Rodríguez, the Catholic Church, and El Salvador's Revolutionary Movement

By Peter M. Sánchez,

Book cover of Priest Under Fire: Padre David Rodríguez, the Catholic Church, and El Salvador's Revolutionary Movement

Why this book?

What persuaded a priest to join El Salvador’s largest guerilla organization, the FPL (Popular Liberation Forces)?

This biography explains the metamorphosis of “Padre David,” as he was known. The book also places his experience within the larger context of the role progressive priests and nuns played in helping the poor to realize their worth, which inspired many to then demand change in society. Because the state crushed all peaceful opposition, especially through violence, many Salvadorans concluded that the only way to work for change – and to simultaneously protect themselves – was to join an armed movement. Padre David was no different. He felt an added sense of responsibility because he trained catechists to work for change who were later killed because the state saw them as threats to the status quo.


Lazarillo de Tormes / The Guide Boy of Tormes

By Anonymous,

Book cover of Lazarillo de Tormes / The Guide Boy of Tormes

Why this book?

Published way back in 1554, this revolutionary novel is irreverent, amusing, and gloriously critical of the hypocrisy of 16th century Spanish society and, by extension, our own times. The main character is a destitute scoundrel named Lazarillo who seeks to better his fortunes while in the service of a brutal priest and host of other unseemly characters. By creating an anti-hero who is a witty misfit and outcast, and by portraying Spanish society as morally bankrupt, the author earned the wrath of the Spanish monarchy – which banned the novel – and the Catholic Church, which placed it on its Index of forbidden literature. My novel is also on the Church’s list of forbidden books, so I feel a special kinship with the unnamed author of this groundbreaking work.    


Transforming Post-Catholic Ireland: Religious Practice in Late Modernity

By Gladys Ganiel,

Book cover of Transforming Post-Catholic Ireland: Religious Practice in Late Modernity

Why this book?

Why, from the 1990s, did the Irish Catholic consensus so suddenly disappear? And what might be the effect of this sudden-onset secularisation? This brilliant account of the recent revolution in Irish religion describes the effects of the clerical scandals that brought down a government, demoralised a denomination, and drove social change on a massive and structural scale. Ganiel shows how the older religious monopolies that did so much to shape the institutions and culture of Ireland, north and south, have given way to a much more fluid religious market, in which individuals can believe without belonging just as much as they might formerly have belonged without believing.


The Knot of Vipers

By Francois Mauriac,

Book cover of The Knot of Vipers

Why this book?

I studied this book at school and found myself coming back to it again and again long after I had grown into adulthood. It’s inspired by a part of France that the author knew well and loved deeply. It was a place of pine forests and great summer heat, and you can smell the trees and feel yourself in that landscape on every page of the work. The book is about an old man nearing the end of his life. He is not a good man nor a kind one: quite the reverse. And yet in these pages, there is redemption: he finds himself and he finds the peace he has longed for all the days of his life.


Saint Cloud of Gaul, The Prince Who Traded Kingdoms

By Susan Peek,

Book cover of Saint Cloud of Gaul, The Prince Who Traded Kingdoms

Why this book?

I love all of Peek’s Saint stories, but this one really speaks to me. It’s an action-packed story that starts strong—with great tragedy—and goes deep. While the saints inspire me, biographies don’t suck me in and keep me turning the pages late into the night. This story does, and it brings the saint to life. In some ways, Cloud is an ordinary man. He struggles with grief, fear, anger, doubt, and even jealousy, making him easy to relate to. But he does not rely on his strength alone. He turns to God, grows in his love for God, and rises above his faults, becoming what we are all called to become: a saint! And that’s what inspires me.


Mandy Lamb and the Full Moon

By Corinna Turner,

Book cover of Mandy Lamb and the Full Moon

Why this book?

I’m a fan of many of this author’s books, though I haven’t read them all yet. But I love this story because it is so unique and entertaining. Mandy is the world’s only half-sheep girl, and while she has a few sheepish qualities, this character is not weak at all, and she doesn’t let differences stand in the way of making friends. This story is packed with excitement but also with solid messages and Christian themes. It speaks to an issue relevant to everyone: regardless of the strength of the temptations we face, we need to work hard to rise above our impulses and do the right thing. And the least likely characters in this story are the greatest examples of resisting nearly overpowering urges.


The Bad Catholic's Guide to Wine, Whiskey, & Song: A Spirited Look at Catholic Life & Lore from the Apocalypse to Zinfandel

By John Zmirak, Denise Matychowiak,

Book cover of The Bad Catholic's Guide to Wine, Whiskey, & Song: A Spirited Look at Catholic Life & Lore from the Apocalypse to Zinfandel

Why this book?

This could be the most bizarre monograph you will ever have on your bookshelf. The subtitle is no lie: for every letter of the alphabet, Zmirak has assembled an entertaining assortment of food recipes, drinking songs, history lessons, wine suggestions, or one of the Ten Commandments impishly explained. In the dedication, Zmirak and contributing author Denise Matychowiak list as their inspirations Pope Benedict XVI, food authors Paula Wolfert and M.F.K. Fisher, and Weird Al Yankovic. Need I say more?


Priest

By Sierra Simone,

Book cover of Priest

Why this book?

Look. I could tell you it’s a modern-day gothic. I could tell you it wields its heresy to illuminate the true meaning of God. I could tell you she writes with the clarity of an imprisoned martyr watching the pyre being assembled outside her window. But, really, I just want you to know that I read Sierra Simone with a goofy smile on my face, marveling at how she makes the bonkers believable. She’s a surreal realist. There’s an energy here that’s simply unmatched. The book vibrates. And if you make it through Priest, might I suggest her New Camelot trilogy, which tackles the only thing more sacred than the Catholic church: the American presidency.


Forsaking All Other

By Catherine Meyrick,

Book cover of Forsaking All Other

Why this book?

This well-researched story of duty, honour, and love is an exploration of Elizabethan marriage and religious and intolerance highlights how women were a way of advancing the land, wealth, and influence the status of their families. I liked the accomplished storytelling and the use of historical details of the clothing, food, and domestic routine of a Tudor household to bring the period to life.


Meditation and Contemplation: An Ignatian Guide to Praying with Scripture (Crossroad Book)

By Timothy M. OMV Gallagher,

Book cover of Meditation and Contemplation: An Ignatian Guide to Praying with Scripture (Crossroad Book)

Why this book?

This is one of the first books I read about Ignatian meditation and contemplation, and my copy is well worn; in fact, I used it as a primary source for my own book on imaginative prayer. (Ignatian meditation is a way of prayerfully reflecting on the meaning of Scripture, while Ignatian contemplation is a way of entering the world of a Scripture passage through the imagination.) Gallagher closely follows the methods and terminology used by St. Ignatius in his Spiritual Exercises, but he “translates” that material for modern readers in a clear, simple way. I found it especially helpful that Gallagher includes lots of first-hand accounts from the experiences of ordinary people; these offer practical models for what each step looks like, and make the whole book more interesting, too.


Character Building: A Guide for Parents and Teachers

By David Isaacs,

Book cover of Character Building: A Guide for Parents and Teachers

Why this book?

Reading this book is like taking a course from a wonderful teacher who opens your eyes to how much more there is to a subject than you ever imagined. David Isaacs was director of the School of Education at the University of Navarre, has published ten books and is the father of six children. This enduring classic, originally published in Spanish in 1976 but available in English, provides a clear, concise chapter on the meaning and importance of each of 24 teachable virtues: good judgment, orderliness, respect, responsibility, obedience to legitimate authority and rules, industriousness, moderation, modesty, justice, generosity, patience, friendship, and more.

Isaacs helpfully groups these virtues into four developmental periods (early and middle childhood, early and late adolescence) and tells us which virtues to emphasize during each period based on the characteristics of children at that age. His vision of virtues is also informed by his Catholic view of the human person (“We owe respect to every human being as a child of God”). But as he makes clear, the universal and practical value of these “human virtues” transcends differences in religious belief.


The Sword Bearer: John Knox and the European Reformation

By Stewart Lamont,

Book cover of The Sword Bearer: John Knox and the European Reformation

Why this book?

My upbringing taught me to believe that John Knox was the Antichrist but that only piqued my curiosity to know more about the Thundering Scot. What fired his driving ambition? Why did the ordained priest reject the Roman Catholic Church? How did he become leader of the Scottish Reformation? Was the twice married preacher who wrote The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women really such a rampant misogynist? How did his public persona differ from the private family man? Rev Lamont answers these questions and more in an exciting non-fiction account that reads more like an adventure thriller than a history.

While Jane Dawson’s comprehensive biography tackles the theological issues, this short book looks beyond the caricature of the pulpit-thumping Calvinist to reveal a complex, contradictory character.


Occasions of Sin: Sex and Society in Modern Ireland

By Diarmaid Ferriter,

Book cover of Occasions of Sin: Sex and Society in Modern Ireland

Why this book?

The author is one of Ireland’s most respected historians. In this superb analysis, he explores the public and private worlds of Irish sex. 

Over the decades, Irish society, hand-in-hand with a dominant Catholic Church, succeeded in silencing generations of women.

We are still trying to come to terms with the iniquitous system of Magdalen Laundries and mother and baby homes, where pregnant young girls and women were hidden from sight so that the public would not be shamed by their sexual transgressions.

The text is accessible and illuminating. It explores hidden areas of modern Irish society and is a must-read, in my view, for anyone interested in this country.


Hide Me Among the Graves

By Tim Powers,

Book cover of Hide Me Among the Graves

Why this book?

Tim Powers is an acknowledged modern master of the preternatural, but many readers probably don’t know he’s also a practicing Catholic. In Hide Me Among the Graves, his passion for the Romantic poets brings poor Christina Rossetti, her family, and others both historical and fictional under the sway of her vampire-uncle John Polidori, author of The Vampyre. Powers’s wild imagination casts the Thames River as Purgatory, songbirds as soul-catchers, and vampires as the ancient Biblical Nephilim. It’s a kitchen sink approach to fantasy that will keep readers guessing until the end.


Soldier of Christ

By Robert A. Ventresca,

Book cover of Soldier of Christ

Why this book?

The leading expert on the Holy See during World War II, Ventresca offers us an immensely readable and authoritative biography of the elusive Eugenio Pacelli. In many ways, it surpasses all previous biographies in its comprehensive and convincing analysis of its central subject, Pope Pius XII. Ventresca adeptly bores through the polemical and problematic arguments that encompass the decades-long “Pius Wars” and offers us a balanced portrait of Pacelli, who is neither a condemned reprobate nor an exalted saint. Rather, Ventresca shows that Pacelli was a man of his time, burdened with nearly insurmountable challenges, who nevertheless consistently preferred to address them through a diplomatic path of prudence and caution that always placed the needs of the institutional Church before all other concerns.  


Pope and Devil: The Vatican's Archives and the Third Reich

By Hubert Wolf, Kenneth Kronenberg (translator),

Book cover of Pope and Devil: The Vatican's Archives and the Third Reich

Why this book?

Wolf argues that many conclusions that historians have made about Eugenio Pacelli’s conduct during the 1920s and 30s are valid, having confirmed this in his own investigation of the records released by the Vatican Secret Archive from Pius XI’s pontificate. At the same time, Wolf provides much-needed contextualization to trace the debates within the Vatican around central decisions taken by the Church’s hierarchy in the face of authoritarian regimes. Primarily utilizing four archival record groups from the Nunciatures of Munich and Berlin, Papal Secretariat of State, the Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs, and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Wolf reconstructs Rome’s view of Germany from 1917-1939. He shows clear patterns in the choices that Eugenio Pacelli made as Nuncio in Munich and Berlin and as the Holy See’s Cardinal Secretary of State. Wolf’s writing style – made available in this fine translation – makes this complex history accessible and uncovers the mystery surrounding Vatican archival sources.


In Pieces

By Rhonda Ortiz,

Book cover of In Pieces

Why this book?

In Pieces is the first of a two-book series. The romance develops in this book while subplots thicken. I was quickly drawn to the characters and early American setting. I felt immersed in the ambience of the Boston waterfront during the Federalist years. Themes of redemption, forgiveness and understanding weave through the novel and affect more than the hero and heroine. For example, the hero’s family grapples with his growing interest in Catholicism. As the love story reaches resolution, another subplot deepens: a need for American spies to help protect the young country. I ended the book feeling as though the characters had become friends. In Pieces is subtitled Molly Chase Book 1 and fits the Christian historical fiction genre as well as Catholic historical romance.


The Battle for Middle-earth: Tolkien's Divine Design in The Lord of the Rings

By Fleming Rutledge,

Book cover of The Battle for Middle-earth: Tolkien's Divine Design in The Lord of the Rings

Why this book?

There’s a paradox at the heart of The Lord of The Rings. Tolkien wrote that it is “a fundamentally religious and Catholic work,” yet Middle-earth is pre-Christian and has little-to-no trace of religion evident within it. So how to reconcile the two? In The Battle for Middle-earth, Rutledge, a priest, brings his own knowledge and understanding of scripture to bear on The Lord of the Rings, to reveal how Tolkien’s plots, themes, and characters can be understood from a Catholic perspective. One thing shines clear from this book: just what a great storyteller Tolkien is. He never seeks to dictate or persuade (unlike C.S. Lewis in his Narnia series), but allows each reader to discover for themselves the treasures within his stories. 


Dave Allen

By Carolyn Soutar,

Book cover of Dave Allen

Why this book?

I was drawn to this book because I had always loved Dave Allen's humour.  

Through Ms. Soutar's book I learned of his early life in Ireland and how his attendance at strict Catholic schools run by nuns helped to shape his later stand-up comedy routines. Not everybody enjoys Dave's kind of irreverent humour, but for me he was a comedy legend.


The Power and the Glory

By Graham Greene,

Book cover of The Power and the Glory

Why this book?

Graham Greene creates a completely convincing scene in just a few words, deftly transporting the reader into a different world. His characters are credible, and tension underlies every word he writes. The Power and the Glory is a master class in demonstrating how a writer can ‘show’ not ‘tell’ the reader what is happening in the world of the book. Although the novel doesn’t fall into the conventional crime genre, Greene writes about people’s ability to treat others with both inhumanity and humanity, exploring the depths and also the best of human potential. 


Brideshead Revisited

By Evelyn Waugh,

Book cover of Brideshead Revisited

Why this book?

Especially when dealing with often highly abstract matters of spelling and grammar in ancient manuscripts and inscriptions, as I do most of the time, it is essential to cultivate the affective side of one’s personality in order not to become a boring number cruncher. Brideshead Revisited offers much more than a melancholic farewell to the lost world of the old British upper class through the eyes of a history student-turned painter and his special friendship with an ill-fated noble family. The playful tone camouflages many profound reflections on art, friendship, and conversion. As I received my undergraduate training at Oxford, like the two protagonists, and am myself a convert to Catholicism, this book also appeals to me for biographical reasons. A hardcover edition for regular re-reading is strongly recommended.


Black Saints in Early Modern Global Catholicism

By Erin Kathleen Rowe,

Book cover of Black Saints in Early Modern Global Catholicism

Why this book?

This brand-new, prize-winning book is a gorgeous synthesis of some of the most important trends in current Iberian studies. Early modern empire-building, missionary efforts, and the African slave trade fostered a new cult of black saints, which Rowe documents through stunning photography from tiny and forgotten churches across the peninsula. In focusing on black saints and their devotees—a largely understudied part of early modern Catholic culture—Rowe not only centers and elevates the diverse and often marginalized individuals who shaped global Catholicism, but also emphasizes important conversations about race and inclusion in early modern society.


Abortion in Early Modern Italy

By John Christopoulos,

Book cover of Abortion in Early Modern Italy

Why this book?

Who would have thought Catholic Italy in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries would have tolerated widespread abortion? John Christopoulos brilliantly shows that, despite the moral proscription and legal prohibition of abortion from church and state leadership, women across the social spectrum from elites to peasants practiced abortion with the tacit or explicit support of key people in their communities. Compelling mini-narratives about individual women’s abortion stories are interwoven with an expert analysis of the legal, religious, and scientific knowledge and attitudes.


The Miracle of St. Anthony: A Season with Coach Bob Hurley and Basketball's Most Improbable Dynasty

By Adrian Wojnarowski,

Book cover of The Miracle of St. Anthony: A Season with Coach Bob Hurley and Basketball's Most Improbable Dynasty

Why this book?

Jersey City hoops this time, but Wojnarowski’s book details the dedication of Bob Hurley (father of Duke star and NBA player Bobby Hurley) who is the head coach at a small Catholic school in Jersey City. Under his leadership, this tiny school wins championship after championship. For Hurley, the championships are a sidebar. His focus is on the players as human beings. He knows them--where they came from, where they are, where they could be headed--good and bad. Tough love at its best. A remarkable book about a remarkable man. The flip side of The Last Shot.


Death Comes for the Archbishop

By Willa Cather,

Book cover of Death Comes for the Archbishop

Why this book?

Cather’s love of the land here is apparent here as missionary Father Jean arrives from France in the 1800s following the annexation of New Mexico to bring his faith to the reluctant indigenous people, Spanish settlers, and skeptical Mexican priests set in their own hybrid ways. I had to read this book in high school and as an adult in 2021 I have a wholly different take on its whole colonialism thing. But, by the end, even after he retires Father Jean chooses to stay in New Mexico than go back to France (!!) which truthfully speaks to how New Mexico grabs a hold of you. Plus his life’s dream was to build a grand church in Santa Fe like those he knew in Europe and then when he dies he gets to lie in state, right there, in his dream. 


Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas

By Etienne Gilson,

Book cover of Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas

Why this book?

Etienne Gilson was the leading intellectual historian of the medieval Church in France, and this is the clearest, most lucid exposition of St. Thomas Aquinas’s thinking that I have read. Perhaps because the Roman Catholic Church has often used Aquinas’s thinking to justify conservative positions, we often forget that he was a world-class genius who radicalized religious and ethical thought in the Middle Ages, and whose work helped inspire later movements of reform like the Vatican II Council. Gilson’s sympathetic treatment of Aquinas restored this understanding of his thinking and helped produce the modern neo-Thomist movement. It is worth reading – and it is readable!


The Exorcist

By William Peter Blatty,

Book cover of The Exorcist

Why this book?

As monumentally terrifying as the film version is, the novel has some moments which easily rival the creepiness and revulsion of its cinematic counterpart. Actually, since reading a book requires extracting the image from the thought (whereas the film does the opposite), this makes The Exorcist novel just about as disturbing of an experience as can be had from reading.  


Northern Crusades, the Baltic and the Catholic Frontier, 1100-1525

By Eric Christiansen,

Book cover of Northern Crusades, the Baltic and the Catholic Frontier, 1100-1525

Why this book?

This wide-ranging, erudite, and witty account remains the most enjoyable survey of the era. His explanations of complex ideas and events cut through many of the difficulties involved in understanding a very different time and different places than our own. I especiallly liked the way he could  tie the crusades in the Baltic to what was happening elsewhere in Europe and in the Holy Land, and to show how contemporaries wrestled with difficult, even contradictory, ideas.


Mary of Guise (Scots' Lives)

By Rosalind Marshall,

Book cover of Mary of Guise (Scots' Lives)

Why this book?

The more I learnt about Mary of Guise, mother of Mary Queen of Scots, the more I admired this inspiring woman whose life is overshadowed by that of her more famous daughter. The French widow who spurned Henry VIII’s advances in favour of James V proved to be a wise, sharp-witted politician ruling as regent for Mary. Despite suffering great personal sorrow–the loss of two husbands and four sons–she held her daughter’s throne against opposition from the Scots lords until her premature death in 1560.

I often wonder how Mary’s life would have turned out had she been brought up by her shrewd and politically astute de Guise mother.

This is more a sketch than a full-length portrait but, like all Dr. Marshall’s studies, offers a wealth of information and telling details.


The Chocolate War

By Robert Cormier,

Book cover of The Chocolate War

Why this book?

If you haven’t read The Chocolate War by age 25, there may be something seriously wrong with you. Jerry Renault is a regular kid, struggling through adolescence at his Catholic high school; for reasons both simple and complex, hinted at but never fully explained, he refuses to sell chocolate bars for his school’s annual fundraiser. He is then targeted by a teacher and a secret society headed by a sinister sociopath. An all-out war is waged on three fronts: between Jerry and his conscience, the school at large, and the secret society. The brutal ending upset many readers (particularly parents and school administrators), but this story, after all, is a tragedy. It presents an unsettling but accurate portrayal of human cruelty and conformity within the confines of a Catholic school.


This Thing of Darkness

By K.V. Turley, Fiorella De Maria,

Book cover of This Thing of Darkness

Why this book?

After Bram Stoker and Vlad the Impaler, the real person most closely associated with vampires has to be Bela Lugosi—so why not write a horror novel with him as the villain? This book underscores the important role that unsettling and dramatic occurrences can play in shaking us out of our own accustomed vices, as well as the difficulty we often face when trying to discern the difference between the works of evil and the truly mundane. After all, Bela Lugosi is nothing more than a tired, sad old man still pining for his glory days on the silver screen—isn’t he?


Priestdaddy: A Memoir

By Patricia Lockwood,

Book cover of Priestdaddy: A Memoir

Why this book?

The author’s chronicle of growing up the child of a married Catholic priest—who lives in his boxer shorts, plays ear-crushing electric guitar, worships action films, and once got arrested at an abortion clinic sit-insomehow manages to be beautiful, cringe-inducing, jaw-dropping and absolutely hilarious at once. When circumstances force the author and her husband to move back in with her Priest-dad in her parents’ rectory, their worlds collide in an explosion of soulful, moving family madness. Woven through the entire saga are strains of love, faith, and the enduring, hysterical bonds of family.


From Enemy to Brother: The Revolution in Catholic Teaching on the Jews, 1933-1965

By John Connelly,

Book cover of From Enemy to Brother: The Revolution in Catholic Teaching on the Jews, 1933-1965

Why this book?

In From Enemy to Brother, John Connelly, observes, “If there was a neighbor needing a Good Samaritan in the 1930s it was the Jew, yet the day’s moral theology placed Jews on the lowest rung of the ‘hierarchy of love’: after family, after other Catholics, and after members of one’s nation and race.” Jews who converted to Christianity failed to advance much higher. As Connelly shows, at least in Central and Eastern Europe, some Catholic theologians taught that conversion did not immediately free Jews of their Jewish heritage. It could take generations before Christianity completely took hold. Catholic anti-Judaic deicide teaching, fueled by centuries of Christian antisemitism, bore and nourished such a negative outlook toward Jews. In the 1930s, Catholic theologians only had to take one step further to link their primitive view of Jews and Jewish converts to the prevailing National Socialist racial teaching. The result produced an annihilative theological worldview that undergirded state-mandated racism – a racism that led to the exclusion and murder of Jews.

Therefore, one cannot, like the Vatican, separate the legacy of Christian antisemitism from the Holocaust. As Connelly succinctly argues, “Clearly the Holocaust was unthinkable without the ancient Christian legacy of deicide as well as the related idea that Jews were cut off from divine grace, destined to wander the earth until they turned to Christ.” Connelly’s masterful book sheds light on the progression of this negative teaching under National Socialism and shows how a small but vigilant group of Catholics, mostly converts from Judaism and Protestantism, challenged prevailing Catholic antisemitism and, after the war, ultimately changed the way the Church views Jews. 


Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years

By Diarmaid MacCulloch,

Book cover of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years

Why this book?

Christianity did not begin with Christ. MacCulloch, world expert on the history of the church, begins his epic tale a thousand years before the birth of Christ. Early chapters reveal Christianity’s antecedents and, over the next 1,000 pages, he takes us through the twists and turns of the early Christian church, the trials and tribulations of its members, and those who patronized and persecuted them. He explains the esoteric theological debates that tore communities apart, he follows the early missionaries into China, and he describes the divisions that formed the Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant branches. Passionate and critical, MacCulloch gets as close as seems possible to explaining what Christianity really is.


Playing by Heart

By Carmela Martino,

Book cover of Playing by Heart

Why this book?

I didn’t realize Playing By Heart was a Young Adult book until I finished reading. I was too engrossed in the story about a musical prodigy in 18th century Italy. The romance arc is central but subdued, as the heroine is still a young teenager when this coming-of-age story begins. Her behavior is shaped by family, faith and cultural restrictions. The story placed me in the world of Italian nobility as I followed the heroine and her sisteras they received above-average educations for their time. (Their father has a reason.) Mature adults will enjoy this book. At least I did! I was delighted to learn the main character and her sister are based on real sisters who were 18th century Italian musical and academic prodigies.