In a detailed and remarkable manner, the author narrates the individuals, groups and events that successfully overcame obstacles of internal Catholic Church politics, governmental and bureaucratic red tape, the shortages of the Second World War and many other unforeseen problems to finally provide a home for American Catholicism that incorporated the multicultural notions and ideals of a growing American Catholic Church.

Most interesting are the various unrelated groups such as Catholic schoolchildren, Catholic women, various influential American prelates and multiple groups representing Catholic immigrants that joined forces to finance, plan and finally achieve the magnificent edifice we today call the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Through his exposition of the various dynamics of these many groups, Tweed presents an interwoven historical redaction of the story of American Catholicism through the prismatic view of the construction of a national shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary that not only united American Catholics but allowed them to display the many political, social and religious assets they bring collectively to American society in the 20th century.

Often when we Catholics visit the national shrine in Washington, we neglect to remember the great struggles on many levels that allowed American Catholics to achieve a presence in the United States on equal par with other religious denominations. The narrative history presented by Tweed shows not only the struggle endured by American Catholics in achieving social and political harmony, it also illustrates the great advances toward Catholic theological understanding that were made in the 20th century and continue in the present day.

“America’s Church: The National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and Catholic Presence in the Nation’s Capital” is a significant work of historical scholarship that exposed the monumental tasks that accompanied not only the building of a Catholic place of worship, but also the great skills employed by American Catholics to become a civil and religious presence in the nation’s capital and in all aspects of American society.

Geraldine M. Rohling, archivist and curator for the national shrine, told Catholic News Service, however, that Tweed’s book “is an academic work which focuses on the discussion of religion and civic space.”

“Although select moments in the history of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception are interpreted and hypothesized by Tweed within the framework of the development of American Catholicism, the book is not a history of the … national shrine and is not supported as such by the administration of the basilica,” Rohling added.

McNichol is a Catholic theologian and historian. He lives in Wilmington, Del., and writes for multiple Catholic media outlets.