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   A Philadelphia Catholic in King James's Court

A Philadelphia Catholic in King James's Court
by Martin de Porres Kennedy

Category: Fiction / Literary
317 pages; ISBN: 0967149215

Rating: 9/10  (Ratings explained)
Reviewer: Kathryn Lively


Michael O'Shea is surviving a bittersweet summer; the untimely death of his father has sent him spiraling into a grief that only prayer seems to quell, and at the behest of his maternal uncle his family is urged to leave the familiarity and comfort of their Philadelphia home to heal in rural Kentucky. There the only comfort is found in the welcoming smiles and hospitality of strangers, as Michael learns his mother's brother's family are staunch "Bible-believing" folk who choose to live as "plain" people. Socializing among the Amish of that region, Michael's extended family's existence is founded upon a lack of material wants and needs and an abundance of faith.

Gradually Michael and his family come to relax and enjoy the company of their relatives. Creature comforts fade into memory, for playing a game of baseball and tucking into homemade ice cream on the front porch appears to yield more enjoyment than a night in front of the television. However, Michael senses something amiss, particularly every time his uncle brings up issues of faith and challenges the boy to validate his own beliefs. As if dealing with the death of his father was not enough to bear, Michael soon realizes his uncle's ulterior motive for bringing his family to Kentucky -- to persuade Michael's mother of the error she made in converting to Catholicism by first converting her children to his beliefs. Michael, a lukewarm student of his own Catholic faith, is suddenly shocked to hear people dismiss the Catholic Church as "pagan" and "unChristian."

Explanations outside of actual Bible quotes (KJV version, mind you) fall upon deaf ears, and Michael is self-propelled into a crash course in apologetics, with only the Bible and the prayers of his mother to sustain him. As Michael prepares to successfully defend the Faith against the local nay-sayers, many of whom know much of the Bible by heart, his confidence grows, and it is his knowledge of the faith through God's Word which helps establish an atmosphere of tolerance which some in this tight-knit community are more willing to embrace than others.

Like the works of Bud MacFarlane, Jr., Kennedy's "Philadelphia Catholic" is a teaching novel, an apologetics tool in the guise of an engaging coming-of-age story. Kennedy's eye for detail is evident in his descriptions of Amish country and portrayals of life among the "plain" people, and Michael's dialogue and evangelization is well woven into Kennedy's prose. Kennedy delivers the facts of the faith without making it sound as if the "Philadelphia Catholic" is regurgitating lines from a textbook; the reader should not feel as if he/she is being lectured, and considering the tense climactic scene where Michael faces his challengers as a witness standing trial, Kennedy should be commended for a plausible conclusion to the story. With "Philadelphia Catholic" Kennedy leaves us to decide the validity of the Catholic faith, and through Michael O'Shea he offers convincing arguments bracketed by a touching story.


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