Synopses & Reviews
The 1950s was a boom time for the Catholic Church in America, with large families of devout members providing at least one son or daughter for a life of religious service. Boston was at the epicenter of this explosion, and Bill Manseau and Mary Doherty -- two eager young parishioners from different towns -- became part of a new breed of clergy, eschewing the comforts of homey parishes and choosing instead to minister to the inner-city poor. Peter Manseau's riveting evocation of his parents' parallel childhoods, their similar callings, their experiences in the seminary and convent, and how they met while tending to the homeless of Roxbury during the riot-prone 1960s is a page-turning meditation on the effect that love can have on profound faith.
Once married, the Manseaus continued to fight for Father Bill's right to serve the church as a priest, and it was into this situation that Peter and his siblings were born and raised to be good Catholics while they witnessed their father's personal conflict with the church's hierarchy. A multigenerational tale of spirituality, Vows also charts Peter's own calling, one which he tried to deny even as he felt compelled to consider the monastic life, toying with the idea of continuing a family tradition that stretches back over 300 years of Irish and French Catholic priests and nuns.
It is also in Peter's deft hands that we learn about a culture and a religion that has shaped so much of American life, affected generations of true believers, and withstood great turmoil. Vows is a compelling tale of one family's unshakable faith that to be called is to serve, however high the cost may be.
"This is a strange and marvelous story, told with unerring grace. In the Manseau family, the call to religious service is like the call of the ancient Sirens. And yet they survive. Peter Manseau's writing is keen-eyed, lyrical, muscular, and more, and while andlt;iandgt;Vowsandlt;/iandgt; is a story about big ideas -- religion, devotion, sacrifice -- it is above all a love letter to his own family." andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt; -- Stephen J. Dubner, coauthor of andlt;iandgt;Freakonomicsandlt;/iandgt; and author of andlt;iandgt;Turbulent Soulsandlt;/iandgt;
"With the grace of a gifted storyteller and a son's love for his parents, Peter Manseau tells a story that's not been previously told....andlt;iandgt;Vowsandlt;/iandgt;...isn't sensational or hostile, but rather a revelatory and nuanced exploration of his parents and their relationship with the Catholic Church, which has both blessed them and wounded them." andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt; -- Paula Voell, andlt;iandgt;The Buffalo Newsandlt;/iandgt;
"There are moments in andlt;iandgt;Vowsandlt;/iandgt;...when the prose is so achingly beautiful that the reader must stop for a moment.... If you've ever graced a pew or wondered about the people who do, andlt;iandgt;Vowsandlt;/iandgt; goes a long way toward explaining faith." andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt; -- andlt;iandgt;Hartford Courantandlt;/iandgt;
"An elegant, sonorous story of how faith can turn and bite you clean through, from a son of the bitten....Manseau's work is a powerful narrative history of a vocation steeped in earthly influences."
-- Kirkus Reviews
"This is a love story about a family, about a way of being in the world, and, ultimately, about the nature of institutionalized faith. The fact that it is also full of facts, keen catenations, and almost surgical analyses does not matter nearly so much, however, as does the sheer beauty and cordial grace with which Manseau delivers these summa bona to us as his readers."
-- Phyllis Tickle, compiler of The Divine Hours
"What seems remarkable to me about so many American Catholics in the twenty-first century is their longing to love the church that doesn't necessarily wish to love them back. Lives change, histories get complicated -- even or especially for "cradle Catholics." And yet this palpable longing to be connected, to be welcomed home. That tension is at the center of Peter Manseau's heartfelt memoir -- his father an estranged priest, his mother a former nun, both parents deeply faithed. It is the son telling what he can tell, without bitterness, with much love."
-- Paul Hendrickson, author of Seminary: A Search and Sons of Mississippi
"Peter Manseau's spectacular memoir, at once darkly comic and serious as a crucifixion, ranks itself instantly as one of the great reflections upon the life of faith and American Catholicism. A superbly written page-turner and a contemporary historical document for the ages. I can think of five ecclesiasts -- Catholic and non-Catholic, practicing and lapsed -- whom I will buy it for immediately."
-- Wilton Barnhardt, author of Gospel
andlt;iandgt;"[Vows]andlt;/iandgt; forms a history of how the priesthood evolved -- and how people navigate the boundaries between religious tradition and modern life. In the process, Manseau paints a picture of liberal -- and devoutly religious -- Catholics facing up to the church's authority." andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt; -- Terry Gross, andlt;iandgt;Fresh Airandlt;/iandgt;
Profiling mid-twentieth-century Boston as a time in which devout families routinely provided children for a life of religious service to the Catholic church, the son of a former priest and nun describes how his parents met while ministering to the inner-city poor and fought to continue serving in the priesthood after their marriage. Reprint. 35,000 first printing.
andlt;iandgt;Vowsandlt;/iandgt; is a compelling story of one family's unshakable faith that to be called is to serve, however high the cost may be. Peter Manseau's riveting evocation of his parents' parallel childhoods, their similar callings, their experiences in the seminary and convent, and how they met while tending to the homeless of Roxbury, Massachusetts, during the riot-prone 1960s is a page-turning meditation on the effect that love can have on profound faith.
About the Author
andlt;bandgt;Peter Manseauandlt;/bandgt; is the author of andlt;Iandgt;Vowsandlt;/iandgt; and coauthor of andlt;Iandgt;Killing the Buddhaandlt;/iandgt;. His writing has also appeared in andlt;Iandgt;The New York Times Magazineandlt;/iandgt;, andlt;Iandgt;The Washington Postandlt;/iandgt;, and on National Public Radio's andlt;Iandgt;All Things Consideredandlt;/iandgt;. A founding editor of the award-winning webzine KillingTheBuddha.com, he is now the editor of andlt;Iandgt;Search, The Magazine of Science, Religion, and Cultureandlt;/iandgt;. He lives with his wife and two daughters in Washington, D.C., where he studies religion and teaches writing at Georgetown University.
Table of Contents
Brick and Mortar
According to Thy Will
Brides of Christ
Prophets of Doom
From Many Wounds
City on a Hill
june 14, 1969
Ex Damnato Coitu
In Search Of
The Word Made Strange
Smoke and Mirrors
"My Life Has Always Been Secret"
In the Beginning Was the Word
Epilogue: Exiles at Rest
List of Illustrations
Reading Group Guide
READING GROUP GUIDE
Vows: The Story of a Priest, a Nun, and Their Son
Questions for Discussion
1. Is Vows a story of vows made, or vows broken? How would you describe this book -- as a love story, a religious journey, or both? Discuss the symbolism of the title, and the dual meaning that is implied.
2. Author Peter Manseau follows his mother and father through their childhoods, details their years of religious training, and recreates their inner worlds. How, as a writer, does Peter accomplish this? How does he give voice to each individual character? Discuss the unique use of language and narrative structure in Vows.
3. If the Manseaus' story had been told by someone other than their son, how might it have been different? Would you have felt differently about these characters had you read about them in a newspaper, or heard about them on the news? And if so, do you think you would have been more or less interested? Sympathetic? Opinionated?
4. Peter believed that his family had been shaped "first and foremost by the fact of [his] father's vocation" -- until he uncovers the evidence of his mother's scandalous secret in the form of correspondence, press clippings, and legal documents. Discuss the journalistic process through which Peter learns the truth about his mother...and his own family history.
5. Mary's religious training dates back to her early years at St. Margaret's Elementary where she was taught -- as the school pamphlet from the time puts it -- "the love of God, and all that love implies and demands in the way of self-control and obedience to the Ten Commandments and the practice of Catholic truth." In your opinion did Mary follow or stray from these teachings throughout the course of her life? Discuss the evolution of Mary's religious identity.
6. It can be said that the one thing every religion has in common is storytelling -- from the Greco-Roman myths to the Old and New Testaments. What is so powerful about a story? How sacred is the written word? What can be revealed from the Manseaus' story? Is there a "moral" to Vows?
7. Many stories have emerged in recent times about the subject of sexuality in the priesthood. How, if at all, does the story of William Manseau's time in the seminary change or confirm your ideas about the state of the Church in America? Discuss the ways in which Vows puts such controversial issues as the sex-abuse scandal, celibacy, homosexuality, gay marriage, even abortion into new context.
8. What questions are you left with after reading Vows -- about William and Mary Manseau, the author, and yourself? How might you, as a group, go about answering them? Do you think the subject of religion is best kept private? Or do you believe that discussing our beliefs can help us to better understand, respect, and tolerate one another?