Book Review by Ann Jonas, Tradebook Buyer - CSB/SJU Bookstores
this review was published in the St. Cloud Visitor
My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir by Colleen Carroll Campbell; Image/Random House Books; October 30, 2012; 224 pp.; $22.99
Colleen Carroll Campbell has encountered numerous challenges to her Catholic faith, many of which are struggles familiar to contemporary women of faith everywhere. Her new spiritual memoir, My Sisters the Saints, chronicles her transformation from a confused young college student to a woman of faith and conviction.
While in college, Campbell, suffering from a hangover after a night of partying, decided she needed to change her lifestyle. Her decision was the start of a fifteen-year journey, in which she wrestled with issues common to many members of her generation: confusion over relaxed sexual mores, how to balance professional success with committed love, and decisions concerning marriage and motherhood.
Campbell credits six female saints as the source of her inspiration: Teresa of Avila, Therese of Lisieux, Faustina of Poland, Edith Stein of Germany, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and Mary of Nazareth. Her book gives a brief biography of each of these saints and how Campbell found them.
Campbell's parents gave her a strong spiritual foundation, having read and shared many biographies of saints with each other and their daughter. As a result, during her youth Campbell had an interest in the saints, particularly women saints. However, this interest fizzled when she entered college. Bored during one of her college breaks, Campbell read a biography of Teresa of Avila and felt connected to her. In Saint Teresa, she found "a woman of passion and purpose whose journey was all the more compelling for its detours," whose life was a "spicy, messy, and meandering spiritual journey."
While Campbell was still in college, her father was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Dorothy Day's biography of Therese of Lisieux and Therese's own letters and account of her life helped Campbell make sense of her father's descent into dementia. Therese's father had suffered from progressive confusion and disorientation after a series of strokes; thus Campbell felt a powerful bond with her. Therese's little way of love inspired Campbell to treat her father and other people with disabilities with love and dignity. Then, as his health declined, Campbell found inspiration by reading Mother Teresa's private writings describing her desolation and suffering.
After college, Campbell met John, her future husband. Soon after their engagement, Campbell had the opportunity to work in the White House as a speech writer for President George W. Bush. The job offer meant she would have to relocate from St. Louis, where John was attending medical school. Campbell called on Maria Faustina Kowalska to help her reconcile her desire for a prestigious career with her yearning to marry. Faustina's Divine Mercy chaplet and prayer "Jesus, I trust in you" offered Campbell the comfort and inspiration to leave the White House after a year and return to St. Louis to marry John.
For several years after their marriage, the couple struggled with infertility. Campbell searched for resources to help her make sense of her womanhood, in light of her faith and fertility struggles. The writings of Edith Stein offered her strategies for coping in a prayerful and insightful manner. While dealing with infertility, Campbell also turned to Mary, the mother of Jesus. When Campbell became pregnant with twins, she faced the possible loss of her unborn children and prayed more fervently than ever for Mary's intercession.
My Sisters the Saints is Campbell's second book; she also wrote The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy. She is a talented journalist, frequent contributor to national publications and television, and a deeply faithful woman. Her new book is inspirational and engaging.