Brett C. HOOVER. The Shared Parish: Latinos, Anglos, and the Future of U.S. Catholicism. New York / London: New York University Press, 2014. pp. 304. $49.00 cloth. ISBN: 9781479854394. Reviewed by William A. CLARK, SJ, College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, MA 01610


In the course of his research for this book, Brett C. Hoover created the term “shared parish” to describe a specific sort of local Roman Catholic church community, not only in its structure or composition but in its process. A shared parish is one that serves two or more culturally diverse communities; although the sharing groups live in the same general area, use the same parish facilities, and fall within the same canonical jurisdiction, they typically have distinct community and leadership structures and more or less limited or formalized interactions with each other. Hoover's terminology attempts to evoke both the distinct characters of the sharing cultures, and the challenge of the interrelationship which the sharing arrangement represents. While many such parishes exist in the U.S. (particularly in areas with recent Latino immigration), it is also clear that church officials – and, indeed, scholars of American religion – have just begun to acknowledge and pay attention to them as a phenomenon with potentially great significance for the life of the Church.

In this volume, Hoover offers something much richer than a mere description or pastoral “how to.” Rather, he addresses the sociological origins, theological foundations, and ecclesial future of such an approach to local church, beginning with a detailed account of his own ten-month ethnographic study of “All Saints Parish” in “Havenville,” an undisclosed Midwestern location. (The extreme care he has taken to preserve the complete anonymity of his study subjects is one of the striking and admirable features of his work.) All Saints became a shared parish when growing numbers of Mexican workers began settling in Havenville and seeking pastoral services from its "typical" Euro­American parish. In describing how the shared parish evolved, the cultural clashes that have developed, the use that is made of sacraments and devotions to express identity, how boundaries and cooperation are negotiated, Hoover provides historical context, both local and national, and sets his discussion in the context of current sociological research on both religion and immigration, offering an array of concepts, theories, and critical assessments. While using a full scholarly apparatus, including a careful description of his research method, Hoover manages to maintain an accessible, jargon-free discourse from which a wide range of readers will be able to benefit.

Hoover approaches All Saints as a potential window on the situation of U.S. Catholicism today, and the shared parish phenomenon as an opportunity to address important challenges inherent in that situation. The transition from a small-town “social parish” with a Euro-American culture to a multicultural urban parish has come in a long series of largely unplanned, ad hoc responses to ongoing demographic changes. Hampered in some ways by their lack of the flexibility that more congregationally-based churches have (as assumed in much American research on religion), Catholic communities like All Saints have tended to welcome newly-arrived Catholics without immediately recognizing or providing for their cultural and linguistic differences, for the inevitable misunderstandings and, most especially, for the often hidden power differentials that can keep diverse sub-communities “encapsulated.” Trapped within their own worldviews, parishioners of all groups can have great difficulty imagining the experience of other groups, and so are very slow to recognize the prejudices and assumptions that very significantly shape those worldviews andexperiences. One important and unfortunate result, which Hoover observed All Saints struggling to overcome, is pressure toward “assimilation” as the only acceptable long-term outcome of the sharing arrangement.

The existence of shared parishes, from Hoover’s point of view, also represents an opportunity for Catholics, drawing on their ecclesiological tradition, to nurture a new “folk paradigm” of communion rather than assimiliation. “Assimilation,” he writes, “at least theologically, is what happens when believers give up on the Holy Spirit as a means of bonding them together and depend instead on cultural uniformity. Without a doubt, a communion approach proves risky and complicated.” What he hopes for is that American Catholics could see the shared parish as a vehicle moving them toward cultural diversity, “not as a problem or temporary distraction but as part of the very experience of church.” The shared parish, therefore, could become a way of experiencing an aspect of catholicity that the de facto congregationalism of American parishes – and the related “parish shopping” phenomenon of recent years – have made distant and difficult. Beyond questions of diocesan policy and parish management, therefore, Hoover’s work moves toward understanding the parish as a potentially radical cultural force challenging the unequal power structures and cultural encapsulation that too often go unnoticed.

Brett Hoover’s The Shared Parish is a remarkable bridging of many usually separate, even isolated, fields: ethnography, social theory, religious studies, and ecclesiology, as well as practical and pastoral theology and the more specific areas of cooperative leadership and local church engagement, that can carry a parish beyond static institution to dynamic community. Scholars and general-interest audiences of all of these areas will find here a careful work that addresses their concerns and invites them to imagine new possibilities.