The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) was perhaps the most important event in twentieth-century religious history. While there are many fine books about Vatican II, they focus either on the session debates or on the ideas contained in the Council documents. What I wondered about was how Vatican II influenced the lives of average American Catholics. What was parish life like before and after the Council? Did Vatican II really change anything?
It really is impossible to speak of “the American Catholic,” because of the ethnic, class, and regional differences. So, I decided to use my mother as the narrative thread to look at how certain Catholics negotiated the changes of the past century. I wanted to shift the discussion to girls, women, nuns, and parish life because the sex abuse scandals had yet again reduced Catholicism to a story of boys, men, priests, and bishops. I also thought that it was about time that religious historians take seriously mobile, middle-class life in the suburbs, especially in the western United States.