April 6, 2023 — When Susan Bigelow Reynolds was studying theology in grad school at Boston College, she saw an advertisement for free housing at St. Mary of the Angels Church in the Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood. In exchange for the place to live, she’d have to provide a few hours of parish work per week. That seemed like a good deal, so she moved right in. Little did she know that her decision would come to shape her academic focus, lead to six years of ethnographic research in the parish, and bring about the publication of her incredible new book, which is titled “People Get Ready: Ritual, Solidarity, and Lived Ecclesiology in Catholic Roxbury.”
Throughout her research, both during her time living at the parish and in the years since, Susan explored how a diverse community of Black, Caribbean, Latin American and Euro-American Catholics at St. Mary of the Angels Church have constructed rituals of solidarity as a way of building bridges across difference. She argues for a retrieval of Vatican II’s notion of ecclesial solidarity as a basis for the mission of the local church in an age of migration, displacement and change.
Susan’s book is a must-read for a few reasons. For one, it’s a beautifully written volume that combines memoir, theology and ethnography in a fascinating yet accessible way. Further, “People Get Ready” is essential for anyone interested in American urban Catholicism at all, especially in light of the challenges and opportunities posed by cultural diversity, social justice issues and parish mergers and closures. Finally, the story of this parish community is a powerful testament to how ritual can foster friendship, power, peace and survival amid suffering and marginality.
AMDG is a production of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States.