What does it mean to be a community of difference?
St. Mary of the Angels is a tiny underground Catholic parish in the heart of Boston’s Egleston Square. More than a century of local, national, and international migrations has shaped and reshaped the neighborhood, transforming streets into borderlines and the parish into a waystation. Today, the church sustains a community of Black, Caribbean, Latin American, and Euro-American parishioners from Roxbury and beyond.
In People Get Ready, Susan Reynolds draws on six years of ethnographic research to examine embodied ritual as a site of radical solidarity in the local church. Weaving together archived letters, oral histories, stories, photographs, newspaper articles, and newly examined archdiocesan documents, Reynolds traces how the people of St. Mary’s constructed rituals of solidarity as a practical foundation for building bridges across difference. She looks beyond liturgy to unexpected places, from Mass announcements to parish council meetings, from the Good Friday Via Crucis through neighborhood streets to protests staged in and around the church in the wake of Boston’s 2004 parish shutdowns. Through ethnography and Catholic ecclesiology, Reynolds argues for a retrieval of Vatican II’s notion of ecclesial solidarity as a basis for the mission of the local church in an age of migration, displacement, and change.
It is through the work of ritual, the story of St. Mary’s reveals, that we learn to negotiate the borders in our midst—to cultivate friendships, exercise power, build peace, and, in a real way, to survive.