Faith of old can fuel faith of today

Book shares how Catholics built the Church in America

TheAmericanCatholicAlmanac_printWhile many recognize the name of Bishop Joseph Machebeuf, Colorado’s pioneer shepherd, author Emily Stimpson recently shared why he is one of her favorites when it comes to the history of the Church in America.

“He actually reminds me of a yellow Labrador,” Stimpson, co-author of “The American Catholic Almanac: A Daily Reader of Patriots, Saints, Rogues, and Ordinary People Who Changed the United States,” told the Denver Catholic. “He had so much love for people, and so much enthusiasm, and he was so loyal. Wherever he went, wherever he got sent, he would embrace it wholeheartedly (saying) ‘Alright, these are my people, I’m loving them. Now these are my people.'”

Father Machebeuf, originally from the mountains of France, was transferred to Colorado in 1860. He spent most of the next 29 years traveling through Colorado’s mountains in a specially outfitted wagon. Named bishop in 1887, he bought property, built parishes, hospitals and schools, and recruited religious orders.

“He had such a wonderful view of what his job was,” Stimpson said. “People always asked him why he didn’t build a cathedral like most bishops. He would reply that his job was the care of souls, and the souls in his area were so lost, and the needs of his flock many.”

“Come on Denver, let’s start his canonization proceedings!” she added.

Bishop Machebeuf is just one of the Catholics who helped shape the country highlighted in “The American Catholic Almanac.” The book, released last September, was co-authored by Stimpson and Brian Burch, president of, a nonprofit political advocacy group based in Chicago.

The page-a-day history shares 365 inspiring stories that celebrate historic contributions of “saints and sinners” including clergy, religious, patriots, politicians, artists, athletes and ordinary people. About two-thirds of the stories highlight individuals including Buffalo Bill, Vince Lombardi, Dorothy Day, Fulton Sheen and Andy Warhol—and the other third share pivotal events and places, including the building of the Cathedral of the Plains on the Kansas prairie by Volga Germans, the birth of the new evangelization following World Youth Day in Denver in 1993, and the role of Catholics in the struggle for civil rights.

Credit for the idea to write it goes to Burch and, Stimpson explained.

“In the thick of HHS (Health and Human Services) controversy, ( was looking at how many people just didn’t seem to bat an eye at the fact that our religious liberties were being infringed,” she said. “People don’t seem to understand what we have, because some people don’t understand how others worked to get that freedom for us.”

While the stories draw on American history, they also provide a guide for today’s new evangelization.

“Catholics find themselves at a loss about how best to lead others to Christ. But the men and women in this book can show us the way,” the co-authors wrote in the preface. “What we see are men and women who thought little about their own comfort and much about Christ … They prayed. They loved. They served.”

That humility, service and sacrifice built the Church in America from the ground up, and brought people to the faith as “it changed minds, and it transformed hearts.”

“People are still people, and what worked to convince people of the truth and beauty and power of the faith 100, or 200, or 500 years ago will still work today,” Stimpson said.

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Did you know?

– The first immigrant to arrive in America via Ellis Island was a 15-year-old Irish Catholic girl.

– Al Capone’s tombstone reads “MY JESUS MERCY.”

– Andrew Jackson credited victory in the Battle of New Orleans to the prayers of the Virgin Mary and the Ursuline Sisters.

– Five Franciscans died in 16th-century Georgia defending the Church’s teachings on marriage.

– Jack Kerouac died wanting to be known as a Catholic and not only as a beat poet.

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.

Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash