USC Book Club 2016

2016 Reviews

December 2016

Dear Pope Francis

By Pope Francis 

Review: Though a picture book, Dear Pope Francis is spiritual panacea for readers of any age. The 70-page release from Loyola Press features Pope Francis’ responses to 30 unfiltered letters and illustrations from children around the world, some of whom ask some pretty tough questions. But Francis—with humility, humor, and grace—answers them all.

The children wonder about all kinds of things (“If God loves us so much … why didn’t he defeat the devil?” and “Why are there not as many miracles anymore?”), and Francis celebrates and validates each child’s spiritual depth by thoughtfully answering each question, no matter how small . For many, Francis’ words offer not only answers but also a challenge. “I can’t resolve all the conflicts in the world,” Francis says to 9-year-old Michael from Nigeria. “But I’m going to try. And I ask you to try too.”

Sarah Butler, Associate editor, U.S Catholic

Loyola Press says: “In this unprecedented book, questions from children from across the world are presented to Pope Francis — and the Pope himself answers each letter.”

Hardcover: $18.96

Available at bookstores or from Loyola Press at 1-(800)621-1008 or

General Book Club Guidelines

November 2016

American Catholics in Transition 

By William V. D’Antonio; Michele Dillon and Mary L. Gautier

Review: Today, more than 75 million people in the United States identify as Catholic. But with an increasingly diverse church population—culturally, geographically, and even linguistically—what does being a Catholic today really mean?  Using data collected over the past 25 years, William V. D’Antonio, Michele Dillon, and Mary L. Gautier try to shed light on just that.

In this fifth volume of surveys conducted since 1987, D’Antonio, Dillon, and Gautier hear from everyone—pre-Vatican II Catholics to Millennials—to explain not only the changes in attitudes toward Catholic identity but also the continuities in core beliefs. Especially timely during this election year, American Catholics in Transition is an enjoyable and informative read for anyone curious about how Catholics in the United States have viewed their faith over the last quarter-century.

   —Rosie McCarty, Assistant editor, U.S Catholic

Roman & Littlefield says:American Catholics in Transition paints a vibrant picture of the diverse church today, outlining changes in the past as well as looking toward continuity and change in the future.”

Hardcover: $33.00

Available at bookstores or from Roman and Littlefield at 1-(800) 282-1865 or

General Book Club Guidelines

October 2016

Reclaiming Francis

By Charles M. Murphy 

Review: When Pope Paul VI originally pointed to evangelization as the church’s essential mission, he said that “people listen more to witnesses than to teachers.” In Reclaiming Francis: How the Saint and the Pope Are Renewing the Church, Monsignor Murphy proposes St. Francis of Assisi as a preeminent saintly model for the new evangelization. Through thoughtful reflection on key aspects of Francis’s life and spirituality, Murphy reminds us that the priority of God, the preferential love of the poor, voluntary poverty, care of creation, and the pursuit of peace are the ways by which the Church will be rebuilt. As Pope Francis continues to call for the rebuilding of the Church, this book will contribute significantly to contemporary discussions of the New Evangelization.                              

John Molyneux C.M.F., editor-in-chief, U.S. Catholic

Ave Maria Press says: “As Pope Francis continues to call for the rebuilding of the church, Msgr. Charles M. Murphy offers a timely look at what today’s church can learn from St. Francis of Assisi about evangelization and renewal.”

Paperback: $13.95

Available at bookstores or from Ave Maria Press at 1-(800) 282-1865 or

General Book Club Guidelines

September 2016: 

The Preferential Option for the Poor beyond Theology

Edited by Daniel G. Groody and Gustavo Gutiérrez

Review: It’s been 43 years since Gustavo Gutiérrez wrote A Theology of Liberation. His book forever changed the face of Catholic theology, and yet the poor around the world are still suffering. Therefore, it is not enough to hold on to the theological idea of a preferential option for the poor; we need to put the idea in practice while acknowledging the multifaceted nature of poverty.

The essays in this volume show how poverty affects every aspect of human existence. Contributors write on law, economics, film, science, and education—to name a few of the many topics addressed—examining how their own lives and vocations have been shaped and guided by the option for the poor, no matter what their industry or academic discipline. Anyone, no matter their career or location in life, can live out a commitment to the world’s poor and marginalized.

Emily Sanna, associate editor, U.S. Catholic

University of Notre Dame Press says: “How can one live a Christian life in a world of destitution? This book addresses the option for the poor and the ways it can shape our social, economic, political, educational, and environmental approaches to poverty.”

Paperback: $30.00

Available at bookstores or from University of Notre Dame Press at 1-(800) 621-2736

General Book Club Guidelines

August 2016: 

The Psalms: Songs of Faith and Praise

by Gregory J. Polan, O.S.B

Review: The psalms, though ancient in form, always remind me how everything old is new again. These songs of prayer give voice to my spiritual praises and laments when I don’t quite have the words. But delving into scripture and personal prayer can be daunting. And so, the Revised Grail Psalter is where I turn when I need some assistance praying.

In this revised commentary and guide to the psalms, Benedictine Father Gregory J. Polan offers a brief but thorough introduction that makes the very prayers Jesus would have uttered relevant and accessible. Polan’s reflections on each psalm are at once inspiring and enlightening; they are an opportunity for intellectual and spiritual learning.

Meghan Murphy-Gill, managing editor, U.S. Catholic

Paulist Press says: “Graceful and inspiring, here is an insightful and moving introduction to the Book of Psalms as prayer.”

Paperback: $24.95

Available at bookstores or from Paulist Press at 1-800-218-1903 or

General Book Club Guidelines

July 2016: 

The Gospel of Happiness: Rediscover Your Faith Through Spiritual Practice and Positive Psychology

by Christopher Kaczor

Review: What is true happiness? Does Christianity provide happiness in a way other self-improvement paths cannot? In The Gospel of Happiness, Dr. Christopher Kaczor highlights seven ways in which positive psychology and Christian practices together can lead to personal and spiritual transformation. Focusing on studies that point to the wisdom of many Christian teachings, Kaczor provides not only practical suggestions on how to become happier in everyday life but also insights on how to deepen Christian practice and increase our love of God and neighbor in new and bold ways.

If you’re tired of flipping between best-selling self-help books that never seem to fully address your whole person—mind, body, faith, and soul—The Gospel of Happiness might be the “whole-person” answer for which you’ve been searching.

Laura Whitaker, associate editor, U.S. Catholic

Image Books says: “A simple approach to seven ways positive psychology can help us lead more spiritual, effective, and loving lives.”

Hardcover: $22.00

Available at bookstores or from Image Books at 1-800-733-3000 or

General Book Club Guidelines

June 2016: 

Pope Francis, Life and Revolution: A Biography of Jorge Bergoglio

by Elisabetta Piqué

Review: To truly know Pope Francis, you must first know Padre Jorge. Few offer a better introduction than Argentine journalist Elisabetta Piqué, whose friend Jorge Bergoglio became Pope Francis virtually overnight. Piqué, who first met Pope Francis during an interview in 2001, paints a portrait of Francis in Pope Francis: Life and Revolution that’s based on more than 75 interviews with people who knew him before he became the Bishop of Rome in 2013. It’s this unparalleled insight that reveals Pope Francis’ personality, motivations, and revolutionary vision for the church. Piqué’s captivating narrative details unsung episodes of Pope Francis’ life that show why his peace and patience energizes so many.
Sarah Butler, assistant editor, U.S. Catholic

Loyola Press says: “Written by Vatican correspondent Elisabetta Piqué, who has known the Pope personally since 2001, Pope Francis: Life and Revolution offers unique insights into the Pope, his work for the poor, and his vision for the church.”

Paperback: $16.95

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

General Book Club guidelines

May 2016:

Word by Word: Slowing down with the Hail Mary

edited by Sarah A. Reinhard

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Most Catholics can easily recite the words of the ever-familiar Hail Mary prayer. But how many of us take time to reflect on what we are saying, to truly internalize the profound beauty and meaning behind each word? In Word by Word, editor Sarah Reinhard invites us to intentionally examine each part of the Hail Mary to revitalize our understanding of the beloved prayer. In deliberately slowing down and meditating, Reinhard says, “a calmness is cultivated” that urges you “to live in the present moment in a way so few things in modern life of gadgets and responsibilities require.” Anyone looking for restored vitality in their prayer life, or even anyone simply seeking stillness amid a hectic lifestyle, should read Word by Word. It will comfort, enlighten, and inspire you to examine things with new eyes, especially those things—like the Hail Mary prayers—that may be overlooked or under appreciated.

—Rosie McCarty, editorial assistant, U.S. Catholic

Ave Maria says: “Sarah Reinhard compiled forty of the most popular Catholic voices to write a brief reflection on each word of the Hail Mary, one of the most important prayer traditions in Catholic life.”

Paperback: $14.95

Available at bookstores or from Ave Maria Press at (800) 282-1865 or

General Book Club guidelines

April 2016: 

The Jesuits
A History from Ignatius to the Present

by John W. O’Malley, S.J.

As the first Jesuit pope, Francis has piqued new or renewed interest in the Society of Jesus. As the Society closes in on the 500th anniversary of its founding in 1540, Jesuit church historian John W. O’Malley offers a short, accessible, and sweeping history of the religious order from its foundation to the present—from Ignatius of Loyola to Pope Francis. Father O’Malley is a master at distilling the scholarship on which this work is based and presenting it clearly and concisely. I was personally grateful for O’Malley’s treatment of the modern and postmodern era, particularly the Pedro Arrupe era. This slim volume will be of interest to anyone interested in church or world history and includes an annotated reference section for further reading. As Father O’Malley says in his preface, the purpose of this book is to whet the readers’ appetites to read further into the fascinating history of the Jesuits.

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

Rowman & Littlefield says: “O’Malley has once again written a lively and accessible historical introduction to the Society of Jesus.”

Hardcover: $22.00

Available at bookstores or from Rowman & Littlefield at

General Book Club guidelines

February 2016:

Between the Dark and the Daylight: Embracing the Contradictions of Life

by Joan Chittister

Review: Joan Chittister’s signature wisdom and spirit are at it again in Between the Dark and the Daylight, her new book that speaks not only to seekers of faith but also of comfort. “There is a part of the soul that stirs at night,” Chittister writes, “in the dark and soundless times of day, when our defenses are down and our daylight distractions no longer serve to protect us from ourselves.” In these soul-soothing pages the beloved author of The Gift of Years dives into the chaos of life, exploring the questions and contradictions that mess with our minds and hurt our hearts. Chittister doesn’t have all the answers but willingly embraces the conundrum of life so that we might better understand ourselves, one another, and God. Her short reflections and simple meditations are the remedy for a ravaged soul. They’ll help you sleep better, too.

—Sarah Butler, assistant editor, U.S. Catholic

Image Books says: “Getting at the heart of what it means to be human, Between the Dark and the Daylight is not about finding all the answers, but rather surrendering to self so that we can find rest in the arms of God.”

Paperback: $20.00

Available at bookstores or from Image Books at

General Book Club guidelines

January 2016:

Fly a Little Higher: How God Answered a Mom’s Small Prayer in a Big Way

By Laura Sobiech

Review: When her 17-year-old athletic, fun-loving, and musical son, Zach, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, Laura Sobiech turned to God to help her and her family remain strong throughout the mental, physical, and emotional battle with Zach’s grueling disease. After given just one year to live, Zach decided the best way to say goodbye to his friends and family was by writing and performing music. His song, “Clouds,” became a huge success and helped his family turn such a devastating diagnosis into a joyous celebration of their son’s vibrant life. 

Fly a Little Higher chronicles the Sobiech’s faith-filled journey with Zach’s cancer and provides a refreshingly honest example of serenity and perseverance throughout great pain and sadness. Laura emphasizes that, “To Zach, it was all very simple: use what you have to make another person happy, and joy will be returned to you.”

—Rosie McCarty, editorial assistant, U.S. Catholic

Thomas Nelson says: “Read the story of a mother’s love, a son’s battle with cancer, and the hit song that touched the lives of millions.”

Hardcover: $24.99

Available at bookstores or from Thomas Nelson at (800) 834-7828 or

General Book Club guidelines