The following review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Encyclopedia of U.S. Catholic History. The Catholic Company is the best resource for all your seasonal needs such as First Communion gifts as well as ideas and gifts for the special papal Year of Faith.

The Encyclopedia of US Catholic History by Matthew and Margaret Bunson

The Encyclopedia of US Catholic History by Dr. Matthew Bunson and (his mother) Mrs. Margaret Bunson

Timothy Cardinal Dolan includes in his introduction to The Encyclopedia of U.S. Catholic History a quote from Cicero:

the first duty of a historian is not to tell a lie, and the second duty is not be afraid to tell the truth.

The volume by Dr. Bunson (co-written with his mother, Margaret, just before she died) is very much a true look at the Catholic Church and its impact on the history of the United States. Starting with the founding of the Americas by Chistopher Columbus, through the turbulent years of the Civil War (where the Church was not united in their choice of sides), devoting a long entry to the clerical scandal and coming right up to 2011, this book is just what it states on the cover — encyclopedic!

The book opens with a chronology, a brief overview of the history of the Catholic Church, both here and abroad, that impacted the establishment of, first, the colonies, and then ultimately the United States of America. Catholics were involved in the signing of the Declaration of Independence, in the Emancipation of Slaves, and in the Civil Rights movement; Catholics were also involved in the clerical scandal and political chicanery of the 20th century. And the Bunsons aren’t afraid to tell the good, the bad and the sometimes ugly.

The “A to Z” entries, which make up the bulk of this 1000-page reference, cover the history of the diocese and archdiocese in the country, the movers and shakers in the clerical world and the political, social and academic leaders of America who were affected by their Catholicism, including such luminaries as Kit Carson, Bing Crosby, and the Kennedys.

A number of appendices conclude the volume:

  1. overviews of the missionaries of the Americas (with shortened biographies)
  2. the Catholic Saints who influenced the Americas (including my personal hero, the Blessed Junipero Serra)
  3. a listing of the 13 famous Catholics represented in Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol
  4. a listing of the cathedrals, shrines and basilicas in the United States.

entry for Kit Carson - frontiersman, Indian agent and convert (at the age of 34)

entry for Kit Carson – frontiersman, Indian agent and convert (at the age of 34)

This is a text-dense tome that isn’t meant to be read in one sitting. There are no glossy colored pictures or even much white space — this book is a serious overview of the people and places that have effected American History. But don’t let this dry-sounding description fool you — the entries are written with a wonderful, story-telling style that engages the reader. I found myself looking up entry after entry as I read; jumping from one thing to the next as I followed the rabbit trails from one subject to the next. I’ve placed this book on the coffee-table and “caught” my children thumbing through, reading an entry here and there.

So, although this volume seems dry and dull, I highly recommend it for all Catholic homes. It’s a great proof of the mostly positive impact the Catholic Church has had on the peoples, places and overall history of the United States. WONDERFUL!

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