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Vows: The Story of a priest, a Nun, and Their Son.

VOWS: THE STORY OF A PRIEST, A NUN, AND THEIR SON By Peter Manseau (Free Press, 2005)

In this richly textured family history, religion writer Peter Manseau tells the story of his parents' and his own complex Catholic lives.

His mother, Mary Doherty Manseau, had spent a decade as a Sister of St. Joseph. His father, William Manseau, was an activist Boston diocesan priest who started an experimental inner-city ministry. They met there in 1968 and a year later married. That was not uncommon; more unusual was that William ("quiet in manner but hell-bent on shaking up the ecclesiastical status quo") attempted to combine his two vocations.

"Dad never thought of himself as anything other than a Catholic priest," Manseau writes, and his most important commitments were with church reform movements and what his son calls the "Married Priest People" Mary initially shared her husband's activist enthusiasm, but she eventually wanted a more traditional Catholic life for herself and their three children.

Peter's childhood love for the church faltered under the weight of "teenage dissent" and "a nagging feeling that the church we were raised to place at the center of our lives did not in fact want us." Thus he was surprised to become a religion major in college and even more surprised when, in his senior year, he felt called to discern a possible monastic vocation.

Manseau tells this story well, holding together three familial and religious biographies in their social and historical context, including the sex abuse scandal. Ultimately, though, the book fails because of its lack of modesty. On the basis of the experience of this one family, a relatively young man draws sweeping conclusions about American Catholicism, clerical culture, ministry, and (his real subject) vocation. Precisely because these themes are so integral to the Manseaus' lives they deserve a fuller and less polemical treatment than a memoirist, even a talented one, can offer.
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Author:Linner, Rachelle
Publication:U.S. Catholic
Article Type:Book review
Date:Feb 1, 2006
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