Did you remember to celebrate Slovak Day?

I was the only kid I knew whose family packed an accordion to go to the amusement park. It happened once a year.  My ordinary life was passed in upstate New York, but summers included at least one visit to my grandparents in Pittsburgh.  Pittsburgh in a 1970s summer: hot, grimy, noisy, stirring.  Pittsburgh, a [Read More...]

Looking for a Good Hermit

The Swiss city of Solothurn is advertising for a hermit.  The location is a handsome, snug hermitage nestled in rock over St. Verena gorge.  Job qualifications: must be outgoing, good with people, willing to dispense wisdom to passersby.  A winsome Wall Street Journal piece this Thursday broadcast the opening to an even broader pool, though [Read More...]

Why is that church so ugly?

Though America’s religious history is lively and contains record of fidelity, courage, even sanctity, previous generations of Christians here—even recent ones—built some awful-looking churches. Churches that look like gymnasiums or strip malls, churches made of corrugated steel or dun-colored brick, churches crusted with decoration or lurid with lives of the saints: they make us ask [Read More...]

Making Saints of Two Popes

This weekend’s big event, the first-ever double papal canonization–two living popes making saints of two towering twentieth-century ones—wears its historical significance on its sleeve.   In a New York Times article covering the event, Jim Yardley quotes 54-year-old Kansan Mary Ellen Watson: “This is a moment in the history of the church that has never happened [Read More...]

Embryos Unbound

April’s First Things boasts not one but two worthy articles on embryos.  I agree with much in each.  One, “The Ancients on Abortion” by Sarah Klitenic Wear, gives a history lesson on ancient embryology to observe that Greeks then—not unlike Americans now—debated whether souls were present before or after birth.  The other, Jennifer Lahl and [Read More...]

Thoughts on That Last Thin Mint

Cookie Poster

This week closes Girl Scout cookie season in Massachusetts.  (There are people out there who politely beg off buying a box with the excuse that they still have some of last year’s in the freezer: that’s just wrong.) The Girl Scouts have successfully avoided much of the controversy dogging the Boy Scouts, although they have [Read More...]

Hispanic America Is Our America

Good timing: January brought another round of Washington debate over immigration policy, and I found myself again in opening weeks of teaching a U.S. history survey course—1492-1846—just when Felipe Fernández-Armesto’s Our America: A Hispanic History of the United States was released. By location, I could get away perfectly well with an eastern history of the [Read More...]

Waiting for the Christmas Witch

santa climbing window

After twelve days of feasting the Christmas Witch sneaks in to slip coal or candy into stockings. What? Not in your country? Perhaps you should be living in a different Nativity. The Nativity sets most us probably just packed away originate with St. Francis of Assisi, credited with making them part of Christian seasonal observance.  [Read More...]

On Pilgrimage in Advent

On his pilgrimage to Rome in 1263 Peter, a priest from Bohemia, stopped in the ancient Etruscan-Roman city of Bolsena.  He celebrated Mass at the lakeside church of Santa Cristina. Peter had been doubting transubstantiation, doubting the reality of Christ’s presence in Eucharist: was He really there, given as food for sinners, in the bread [Read More...]

When death comes before life

Martin Luther, mindful of the trials and blessings of family life, offered balm to women suffering one of its sorrows: the death of a child before birth.  He counseled pastors “not to frighten or sadden such mothers by harsh words because it was not due to their carelessness or neglect that the birth of the [Read More...]


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