Deidre CORNELL, American Madonna: Crossing Borders with the Virgin Mary. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2010. pp. 190. $18.00 pb. ISBN 978-1-57075-874-3.
Reviewed by Christopher Rupert S.J., LaStorta Jesuit Residence, 2320 Liverpool Rd., Pickering, ON L1X 1V4.

American Madonna is a landmark book for Mariology. Making copious use alternately of her right and left brain Deidre Cornell leads us to an understanding of Mary’s place in the lives of the faithful through three case studies: as the Virgin of Junquila, as the Virgin of Guadalupe, and as the Virgin of Soledad.

These case studies after an illuminating introductory chapter are placed in many contexts – historical, personal, local, ethnographical, theological, and psychological, and how they have been transplanted north of the Rio Grande. Throughout, American Madonna maintains an objective reportage and commentary. It illustrates movingly the role of Marian devotion as lived and inculturated as it assists its followers wherever they live to cope with life’s blessings and travails. Because of its clear grounding in anthropology the reader can easily use these studies as templates to contemplate devotions, especially shrine-based ones, anywhere. The concluding chapter helps one understand the appeal of devotions and what contributes to their growth, persistence, or atrophy.

The Guadalupan Mary presents herself as the pregnant mother of Jesus, God’s Son being enfleshed, and mother of all be they white, native or mixed race; the Virgin of Soledad as our Mother of Sorrows; and the Virgin of Junquila as Mary come to visit and be with us. These three presentations give Mary a deep appeal to anyone seeking sympathy, solace, and hope as Ms Cornell’s insightful reporting shows.

This book will appeal to any reader interested in Mary such as the student who wishes to understand how devotions work, or the person in the pew who wishes to experience Mary more deeply, or the outsider who wonders ‘why Mary.’ I, myself, will use it as a core book in the course I teach on Mary and the Saints. I concur with Sully Cunneen who says, “this wonderful book promises to stand with the very best of works on Mary.” One item I would appreciate for this book would be an appendix giving the pronunciation of the Mexican Indian tribal and place names sprinkled throughout.

Orbis Books, the publisher, endeavors “to publish works that enlighten the mind, nourish the heart, and challenge the conscience” and “to explore the global dimensions of the Christian faith an missions, to invite dialogue, and serve the cause of reconciliation and peace.” American Madonna succeeds superbly in all these aspects. As an introduction to the lived faith among immigrants and oppressed peoples today it is a must read. I look forward to more work from Ms. Cornell’s pen.

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