The Grace of Everyday Saints

How a Band of Believers Lost Their Church and Found Their Faith

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Julian Guthrie wrote a three-part series called "The Lost Parish," for the San Francisco Chronicle in 2007. The series, nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, brought to life the decade-long struggle by a group of Catholics to save their church, St. Brigid. It was the backbone for Ms. Guthrie's new book, The Grace of Everyday Saints: How a Band of Believers Lost Their Church and Found Their Faith.


The San Jose Mercury News review of August 30th

"In 1993, the Catholic Archdiocese suddenly and without warning ordered St. Brigid Church, one of San Francisco's architectural treasures, to close its doors. The order came as a surprise to its loyal congregation, and a group quickly came together to try to save the 130-year-old church. What followed was a dramatic David-and-Goliath tale, as the resistors -- led by a lawyer, a priest and a reformed Catholic -- took on the Vatican and uncovered some devastating truths. Guthrie, a San Francisco Chronicle reporter, covers the story in riveting detail."

O Magazine, September

"An inspiring true story set in the 1990s tells how a Catholic congregation in San Francisco, including its anti-Establishment priest, worked together to save their church—from the Church."

As reviewed by the New York Journal of Books

Julian Guthrie crafts her narrative as if it were a novel. She follows three main protagonists, among a cast of dogged parishioners who combined to challenge the Archdiocese, the Vatican, and state and city boards when bureaucratic as well as hierarchical opposition to this grassroots movement to "Save St. Brigid" stiffened.

With a wide variety of parishioners from Burma, China, the Philippines, and Latin America added to the Irish and Italian families historically resident in the parish, the cosmopolitan makeup of San Francisco itself serves as a microcosm for the challenges facing the Church in the City. Historic St. Brigid’s—with its stained glass by famed Irish artist Harry Clarke and its sculptures by renowned craftsman Seamus Murphy—stands as a long-lived, elegant sanctuary.

Ultimately, the parish meets its fate. The moral Ms. Guthrie provides can be summed up in her subtitle: How a Band of Believers Lost Their Church and Found Their Faith. It appears that those who choose to remain or become Catholic will encounter, whether or not they face the closing of their own parish, a similar tension between basic human values of decency and fidelity and those values proclaimed by concentration of clerical wealth, dogmatic certainty, and institutional privilege.

- Reviewer John L. Murphy coordinates the Humanities sequence at DeVry University in Long Beach, CA. He researches medieval and modern literary, musical, religious, and popular culture

A July 15th review of The Grace of Everyday Saints, by Kirkus Reviews

A dramatic David vs. Goliath account of a church under siege by its own power structure. San Francisco Chronicle journalist Guthrie begins with the unexpected 1994 closure of St. Brigid Catholic Church, a beautiful landmark built more than a century ago by Irish immigrants in one of San Francisco’s busiest areas. The closure did not make sense—the magnificent Romanesque building had survived earthquakes, fire and both World Wars, and boasted 21 active parish groups and nearly three-quarters of a million dollars in funds—but the Catholic leadership ordered it closed nonetheless. Along came the faithful—people like Lily Wong, a blind woman who knew the exact number of steps it took to get from her house to St. Brigid’s—and their vigilant struggle to have the church reopened. Guthrie’s exhaustive research and interviews with more than 75 parishioners delve below the surface, and allow her to paint a striking portrait of their struggle and strength. Led by unlikely saints such as Father O, an offbeat priest who waved a white towel while urging parishioners to not “throw in the towel,” they kept a candle burning and petitioned for a decade to save their beloved St. Brigid. The odds seemed insurmountable and faith-shaking. Some of the people, like Carmen Esteva, originally held church officials’ decisions in godlike reverence; she later became the group’s spiritual leader. Through myriad twists and turns, Guthrie’s smoothly written narrative uncovers powerful church secrets—and a pillar of community faith. Engaging proof that ordinary people can do extraordinary things.

As reviewed by Publisher's Weekly

Award-winning San Francisco Chronicle reporter Julian Guthrie tells the story of a small group of everyday Catholics who dared—for more than a decade—to challenge the official Roman Catholic hierarchy’s decision to close their historic parish church, St. Brigid in San Francisco. The diocese insisted the closure was a response to the expense of repairs to an aging church and declining membership. But as parishioners dug deeper, they gradually discovered a darker set of motives. ...A gripping story, this book paints lay Catholics as heroes—and is unlikely to be popular with the Catholic hierarchy.

Stephen Amidon
Author of The Sublime Engine: A Biography of the Human Heart

"Julian Guthrie’s deeply compelling debut is about many kinds of faith – in God, in community, in truth. Writing with a journalist’s precision and a poet’s heart, Guthrie depicts a disparate group of San Francisco worshippers as they take their battle to save their church all the way to an often indifferent Vatican. Like St. Brigid itself, The Grace of Everyday Saints is a real treasure."

Madeleine Blais
Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Uphill Walkers

"…must reading for anyone who struggles with the meaning of faith in these turbulent modern times. The author has written both a hymn of praise for a community of believers who refuse to let go of their vision, as well as a heartfelt prayer for a better world."

Ken Auletta
Author and media critic, The New Yorker

"Julian Guthrie has crafted a gem of a book. With the gift of an accomplished story teller, she tells of an amazing community of people come together to save their church. The story of their struggle is waged against a foe their Archbishop and his minions dare not mention: the church's sexual abuse scandal. Many trees have been felled to expose the pedophilia of too many clerics and the stony silence of church officials. This book shines a very different light on this scandal, and at the same time introduces readers to individuals we'd welcome as our shepherds."

James Carroll
National Book Award-winning author of Jerusalem, Jerusalem

"Julian Guthrie's moving and eloquent book offers a parable of authentic faith, how resistance and reverence open to one another. A new image of belief - and just in time."

Beth Kephart
Author of A Slant of Sun

"This is the story of a candle that burned on the steps of a fabled, shuttered church and of the people who kept that flame—and their own faith—alive, even as those vested with ‘higher’ authority failed believers everywhere. What is sacred? Who can be trusted? Can communities save us when hierarchies cannot? This brave and engrossing book seeks answers. It sanctifies a truly moving quest."

T.J. Stiles
Author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt

"A vivid, compassionate account of the battle waged by the men and women of a historic San Francisco parish against orders to close their church. Ranging from family gatherings to the halls of the Vatican, Julian Guthrie tells a story of community, faith, and resilience in the era of clerical child-abuse scandals and ecclesiastical intransigence."

Jason Berry
Author, Render Unto Rome: The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church

"This beautiful book about the resilience of a small group of Catholic parishioners against the shutdown of their church is a parable of larger convulsions caused by unjust bishops. Pope Benedict would learn a lot from Julian Guthrie's eloquent reportage."

Maxine Hong Kingston
National Book Award-winning author of I Love a Broad Margin to My Life

"Must a religious community depend on a physical structure for it's reality? Or do the people themselves make sacred ground wherever they gather? The exiled congregation of St. Brigid have not given up their church. Their story will reverberate long after this amazing book ends."

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The Marina Times
Review by Bruce Bellingham

San Francisco Chronicle
Review by Don Lattin