US Catholic Faith in Real Life

‘Fearless' showcases the heroism—and humanity—of the saints

By Catherine O'Connell-Cahill | Print this pagePrint |
By Alice Camille and Paul Boudreau (Franciscan Media, 2014)

For Mother Théodore Guérin and her sisters, the journey through the wilds of Indiana in 1840 couldn’t have gotten much worse. The road was under water; they worried the horse might actually drown. When they pulled up at their new “home” in the middle of the forest, the promised convent had not been built and the chapel had just burned down.

Tales like this fill the aptly named Fearless: Stories of the American Saints by Alice Camille (a columnist for this magazine) and Paul Boudreau. The coauthors chronicle 14 women and men who served, across four centuries, either in the United States or in areas that would later become part of our nation.

In part one, Camille and Boudreau do a great job explaining how their accounts will differ from the (unfortunately) common portrayals of saints as people who appear to “float above history and its gritty concerns.” The reader gets a speedy tour of the issues in American Catholic history that these men and women would bump into, including anti-Catholicism, immigration, slavery, and racism. No “floating above history” here. And we learn that these saints’ stories are intertwined: They deal with the same bishops and popes, travel the same roads, and run into many of the same problems: illness, failure, betrayal.

Most striking are the accounts of women who contended with churchmen who tried to thwart them or made promises they did not keep. Guérin for years endured the bizarre behavior of a bishop who withheld the deed to the sisters’ land, tried to force her community to elect someone else as the superior, and sought to throw her out of her order.

The authors make it quite clear that these saints are not unreachable heroic figures but rather quite human people who risked much—for some, their very lives—to spread the good news about Christ. The book’s aim? That “all of us might find our place among these heroic hearts.”

This review appeared in the February 2015 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 80, No. 2, page 43).