USC Book Club 2015

2015 Reviews

December 2015:

What Are We Doing on Earth for Christ’s Sake?

by Richard Leonard, SJ

Review: Richard Leonard tries to avoid conversations with strangers on long flights. Inevitably, a fellow passenger will ask Leonard what he does for a living, and the Australian Jesuit dreads the reaction he will hear upon saying he’s a Catholic priest. Leonard thought he’d heard them all—that is, until he met a young man named Thomas on a flight from New York to Los Angeles.

Their resulting conversation inspired this book, in which Leonard employs his engaging storytelling, wit, and wisdom to provide, as he calls it, “an accessible argument for faith.” The book tackles common questions Leonard hears from both nonbelievers and lapsed Catholics like Thomas, offering a powerful reminder that true faith is never without doubt, but rather it is a constant search for answers.

Scott Alessi, former editor, U.S. Catholic

Paulist Press says, “Addressing the world in which Christians live, bestselling author Richard Leonard asks who we are before God and how we can be more confident in our faith in a loving God.”

Paperback: $14.95

Available at bookstores or from Paulist Press at 800-218-1903 or

General Book Club guides

November 2015:

This Economy Kills: Pope Francis on Capitalism and Social Justice

by Andrea Tornielli and Giacomo Galeazzi

Review: When Pope Francis wrote in Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) that the economy of the West is one that “kills,” he was immediately branded a Marxist by some conservative Catholic commentators from the United States. In This Economy Kills, two of the most informed Italian journalists covering the Vatican today explore the pope’s teaching and witness on the topic of the economy, and provide context and background from Catholic social teaching that help us understand what he is saying. Perhaps best of all, they let Francis’ own words speak for him, including an interview in which he addresses capitalism and social justice. This book should remind us all that care for the poor and forgotten is at the heart of the gospel and Christian mission.

—John Molyneux, C.M.F., Editor-in-Chief, U.S. Catholic

Liturgical Press says: “This fascinating book includes the full text of an extended interview the authors conducted with Pope Francis on the topic of capitalism and social justice, appearing here in English for the first time.”

Paperback: $19.95; Ebook: $15.99

Available at bookstores or from Liturgical Press at 800-858-5450 or

General Book Club guides

October 2015:

Five Years in Heaven: The Unlikely Friendship That Answered Life’s Greatest Questions

By John Schlimm

Review: All too often, friendship carries connotations of jockeying for position, of “fitting in,” or of hiding your true nature in order to not be alone. But in Five Years in Heaven, John Schlimm reminds us that at its best, friendship is a relationship that can reveal the presence of God.

This memoir centers around the unexpected relationship between the author and Sister Augustine. Schlimm, in his early 30s and disillusioned with his fast-paced career and unsatisfactory life, finds insight in the life of Sister Augustine, an 87-year-old artist. The book invites us into their friendship and to learn, side-by-side with Schlimm, a grounded wisdom that reveals profound truths about the world.

Five Years in Heaven reminds us that friendship can be found in surprising places. Opening ourselves to unforeseen moments of human connection teaches us about others, God, and ourselves.

—Emily Sanna, Associate Editor, U.S. Catholic

Image Books says, “What is heaven on earth? What if you had the chance to learn the answers to life’s greatest questions? This is the story of such an encounter…an unlikely pair and the journey they take.”

Paperback: $23.00

Available at your favorite bookstore or online retailer or by visiting

General Book Club guides

September 2015:

Mercy in the City: How to Feed the Hungry, Give Drink to the Thirsty, Visit the Imprisoned, and Keep Your Day Job

By Kerry Weber

Review: I will start volunteering as soon as I finish getting the house clean. If you’ve ever used a similar excuse, Kerry Weber’s Mercy in the City belongs on your nightstand. In her honest, funny, and incredibly down-to-earth book, Weber—a young, single New Yorker—recounts her attempt to complete all seven Corporal Works of Mercy in 40 days (while acknowledging that life would be easier if she could instead achieve spiritual enlightenment by abstaining from ice cream). 

Despite its “how-to” tagline, Mercy in the City isn’t a manual. Acts of mercy, we discover, can’t be rote or simplified. Instead, even the smallest actions are often laden with intent and meaning. Weber’s encouraging and insightful journey shows that when it comes to answering the call of faith, there are many ways to say yes.

—Sarah Butler, Assistant Editor, U.S. Catholic

Loyola Press says: A modern, young woman lives a “regular” life amid the daily pressures of New York City while also living a life devoted to service and practicing real works of mercy in a meaningful manner. 

Available at bookstores or from Loyola Press at 800-621-1008 or

General Book Club guides

August 2015:

Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? …and Other Questions from the Astronomers’ In-Box at the Vatican Observatory

By Guy Consolmagno S.J. and Paul Mueller, S.J.

Review: What really happened to Galileo? Why did Pluto get bumped from being a planet? Jesuits Guy Consolmagno and Paul Mueller serve up an engaging and funny treatment of the science questions that people fire at these two Vatican astronomers. Especially refreshing is the pair’s understanding of how nonscientists tend to react to complicated scientific ideas like the big bang—Mueller likens it to how he, a non-artist, can feel alienated from a painting by abstract artist Jackson Pollock. 

You will learn a lot of science along the way, but even more important, the book does a great job of shooting down the tired but unfortunately still popular view that science and religion are somehow opposed or contradictory. Au contraire.

—Catherine O’Connell-Cahill, Former Senior Editor, U.S. Catholic

Image Books says: A book about what it’s like when science encounters faith on friendly, mutually respectful terms sharing with the reader the joy, hope, and fun in exploring science and living with  a real faith.

Imagine if a Martian showed up, all big ears and big nose like a child’s drawing, and he asked to be baptized. How would you react?”  —Pope Francis, May, 2014

Hardcover: $25

Available at your favorite bookstore or online retailer or by visiting

General Book Club guides

July 2015:

Dear Young People… Inspiration from Pope Francis for Everyone

By Brother Michael O’Neill McGrath, O.S.F.S.

Review: Pope Francis is already one of the most quotable people on the planet, but somehow Brother Mickey McGrath found a way to make the words of Francis even more accessible and appealing. With his vivid illustrations, McGrath injects new life into papal quotes on topics ranging from poverty and peace to family and faith.

Dear Young People… is an excellent resource for introducing children to the Catholic faith through the eyes of Francis. But as McGrath notes in the introduction, the book could just as easily be called Dear Everybody Who Is Young At Heart. Indeed, readers of all ages are sure to find inspiration in McGrath’s artistic interpretation of an already inspiring figure’s words.

Scott Alessi, Managing Editor, U.S. Catholic

World Library Publications says: Brother Mickey McGrath presents a new book for young people (of all ages!) containing inspiration from Pope Francis in the form of quotations and tweets.

Paperback: $20

Available online at or by calling 1-800-566-6150

Order now from World Library Publications.

General Book Club guides

June 2015:

Making a Case for God: Faithful Encounters

By William Clark, O.M.I. 

Review: In this brief, clear, and creative work, Oblate Father William Clark reflects on the hiddenness of God, the possibility of making a case for God, and what encountering God involves. These reflections stem from two sources: faith and reason. Through examples from scripture and philosophy, Clark tries to understand God and what that means to an individual.

In the end, the examples of encountering God in Making a Case for God: Faithful Encounters show that our understanding of God is not about whether God exists, but how God exists in our lives. This little book will be of interest to all of us who struggle with “the problem of God.”

Father John Molyneux, C.M.F., Editor, U.S. Catholic

Liguori Publications says: Does God exist? Father William Clark, O.M.I. uses scripture, philosophy, and literature to help us look beyond the question of God’s existence to how we can be open to and recognize encounters
with God.

Paperback: $10.99

Available at bookstores or from from Liguori Publications at 1-800-325-9521 or

Order now from Liguori Publications.

General Book Club guides

May 2015:

Framing Faith 
From Camera to Pen: An Award-Winning Photojournalist Captures God in a Hurried World

By Matt Knisely

Review: In our increasingly distracted and plugged-in world, it’s tough to find moments to stop, slow down, and be present. But in Framing Faith, photojournalist Matt Knisely reminds us that although we have eyes, we often fail to see. Those spare moments exist, but they often pass us by as we flit from Twitter to Facebook, email to Instagram. Rather than filling our days with these distractions, Knisely encourages us to find God in those often overlooked spare moments. Framing this faith journey with photography, Knisely challenges us to shift our eyes from our screens and look through his lens. Not only does he show us what he’s found—he helps us realize what we’ve been missing.

—Sarah Butler, Assistant Editor, U.S. Catholic

Thomas Nelson says: Framing Faith is a book for people seeking to focus their lives, to find a deeper knowledge of God, and a more authentic Christian faith.

Paperback: $15.99

Available from Thomas Nelson at 800-251-4000 ex. 1176 or

April 2015:

Master of Ceremonies: A Novel

By Donald Cozzens

Review: As a former vicar for priests, Donald Cozzens knows and understands the inner workings of the Catholic Church, and especially the clerical culture, better than anyone. In recent years his honest, courageous, and insightful writing has shed much light on the root causes and the cultural and systemic failures that led to the clergy sexual abuse crisis.

In his first novel, Master of Ceremonies, Cozzens now uses all that inside knowledge to spin a page-turning tale around the consequences of clergy sexual abuse, the machinations of a secret society of careerist and hypocritical priests and bishops, and a few good Catholics working to uncover the truth. There is scandal, murder, love, and intrigue—you’ll have a hard time putting it down.

—Meinrad Scherer-Emunds

ACTA Publications says: Father Donald Cozzens has written an unflinching story of clergy sexual abuse and its very personal consequences. A thriller of a novel, not for the squeamish or faint of heart.

Hardcover: $24.95

Paperback: $19.95

Available at bookstores or from ACTA Publications: 1-800-397-2282 or shop online at

Order now from ACTA Publications.

What do you think? Once you have read the book, discuss it on

General Book Club guides

March 2015:

Just call me Lopez: Getting to the Heart of Ignatius Loyola

By Margaret Silf

Review: A simple happenstance can change the course of the future. When Rachel finds herself injured in a bicycling accident, she’s lifted up by a stranger named López, whom we recognize as St. Ignatius of Loyola.

Margaret Silf’s Just call me López follows the unlikely friendship between the 16th-century saint and the 21st-century woman. Their journey together in this historical fiction centers on transformation: St. Ignatius’ shift from being a raucous youth to a devoted pilgrim of God, and Rachel’s change as her newfound friend gently guides her through the daily struggles of life. Their grace-filled and reflective conversations—over many cups of coffee—will slowly shape your heart and soul as well.

—Caitlyn Schmid, Assistant Editor, U.S. Catholic

Loyola Press says: In Just call me López, a twenty-first-century woman, Rachel, meets the man who becomes the saint, and both are transformed by their unlikely friendship and series of thought-provoking conversations.

Hardcover: $14.95

Available at bookstores or from Loyola Press: 800-621-1008 or shop online at

Order now from Loyola Press.

February 2015:

The Wisdom of the Beguines: The Forgotten Story of a Medieval Women’s Movement

By Laura Swan

Review: This fascinating account tells the story of a little-known but surprisingly widespread movement of medieval women that started in the early 1200s. The beguines, active across Europe, were laywomen who formed their own communities, served the poor and sick, ran successful businesses, preached, wrote spiritual tracts, and achieved an unusual degree of independence.

Some of their medieval visions, practices, and reported miraculous occurrences may sound strange to modern ears, but Laura Swan tells the stories of these strong women leaders—their great resilience and success, as well as the envy, criticism, and persecution they suffered—with great sympathy. In the process she makes a compelling case that the beguines offer readers “hope and a fresh path … to live with prophetic courage.”

—Meinrad Scherer-Emunds

BlueBridge says: Beguines were medieval laywomen defined by their visionary spirituality, unusual business acumen, and strong commitment to the poor and marginalized. The beguines invite us to seek out their wisdom and to discover them anew.

Hardcover: $16.95

Available at bookstores or from BlueBridge: 800-343-4499 or shop online at

Order now from BlueBridge.

General Book Club guides

January 2015:

When Saint Francis Saved the Church: How a Converted Medieval Troubadour Created a Spiritual Vision for the Ages

By Jon M. Sweeney

Review: Jon M. Sweeney’s compact book sets the poor man of Assisi in the context of the church and society of his day, demonstrating how Francis often trod on dangerous ground—and why no pope had taken his name for 800 years. Early on, the author dispatches our weak, pious notions of Francis. In their place he describes a man whose revolutionary approaches to friendship, poverty, spirituality, death, nature, and people on the margins drew many to his side, even though few could hack what it really meant to follow him.

Sweeney deftly shows how Francis, ahead of his time, is also a man for our time, less interested in doctrines and debates than in how humans ought to treat the world and one another.

—Catherine O’Connell-Cahill, Senior Editor, U.S. Catholic

Ave Maria Press says: Bestselling author Jon M. Sweeney offers a surprising new look at the world’s most popular saint, showing how this beloved, but often-mythologized character created a spiritual vision for the ages and may very well have rescued the Christian faith.

Hardcover: $22.00

Available at bookstores or from Ave Maria Press: 800-282-1865 or shop online at

Order now from Ave Maria Press.