A personal and historical examination of white Catholic anti-Blackness in the US told through 5 generations of one family, and a call for meaningful racial healing and justice within Catholicism

Product Code: 3195
ISBN: 9780807007334
Format: Paperback / softback
Publisher: Beacon Press
Pages: 272
Published Date: 11/15/2022
Availability:In stock
Price: $19.95

Excavating her Catholic family’s entanglements with race and racism from the time they immigrated to America to the present, Maureen O’Connell traces, by implication, how the larger Catholic population became white and why, despite the tenets of their faith, so many white Catholics have lukewarm commitments to racial justice.

O’Connell was raised by devoutly Catholic parents with a clear moral and civic guiding principle: those to whom much is given, much is expected. She became a theologian steeped in social ethics, engaged in critical race theory, and trained in the fundamentals of anti-racism. And still she found herself failing to see how her well-meaning actions affected the Black members of her congregations. It seemed that whenever she tried to undo the knots of racism, she only ended up getting more tangled in them.

Undoing the Knots weaves together narrative history, theology, and critical race theory to begin undoing these knots: to move away from doing good and giving back and toward dismantling the white Catholic identity and the economic and social structures it has erected and maintained.

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Mattering: St. Vincent de Paul

Witnessing: St. James

Aligning: Christ’s Church

Grafting: St. Agnes

Manufacturing: St. Charles Borromeo

Maneuvering: St. Stephen’s

Defending: The Church of the Gesu

Homesteading: St. Francis of Assisi

Doubting: Catholic Higher Education



“[The author’s] willingness to examine her actions while coming to the realization that, while her intentions have always been good, they do not address the problem, is incredibly refreshing . . . Though the material may be uncomfortable to digest, it is an absolutely necessary read to foster antiracism.” —Booklist

"Recommended for readers interested in assimilation issues faced by Irish Catholic immigrants as well as the varied aspects of racism in the United States." —Denise J. Stankovics, Library Journal

"O’Connell’s…revelation offers some hope to the reader: traditions are constantly evolving. Although Catholicism and anti-Blackness remain entangled, O’Connell believes that connection can be unwound." —Emma McDonald, Commonweal Magazine

"[A] book that will challenge white Catholics to draw on the personal to see beyond it and confront systemic racism in the Church—possibly for the first time." —Dr. Tia Noelle Pratt, curator of the #BlackCatholics Syllabus and assistant vice president for Mission Engagement and Strategic Initiatives, Villanova University

"Maureen O'Connell's important book. . . offers a model for how white Catholics can face up to our histories and find a way forward as people who pursue racial justice." —John Gehring, National Catholic Reporter

"In unearthing the church’s troublesome history around racism through the lens of her own family, Maureen O’Connell invites us to join her on an intellectual, emotional, and spiritual journey that will give us the tools we need to show up for racial justice in our communities, especially our faith communities. A superb book by a gifted writer, a talented theologian, and a thoughtful observer of our contemporary world." —James Martin, SJ, author of Jesus: A Pilgrimage

Undoing the Knots is a bold, brave, courageous prayer and plea for us to create ‘a new earth.’ O’Connell’s incisive writing leads the reader into a soul excavation, one that peels back self-righteousness and makes you grapple with the destructive underlying scripts—from church doctrine to family conversations—that inform racism at its most personal level. This is a book that compels the reader to engage the conversation on race with head and heart, and to manifest that heart transformation through a commitment toward structural change within Catholic communities and the Church itself.” —Rev. Natosha Reid Rice, founder of Fresh Rain for Life Ministries and Global Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Officer for Habitat for Humanity International

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