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  • O God of Players: The Story of the Immaculata Mighty Macs
  • Michael J. McNally
Byrne, Julie. O God of Players: The Story of the Immaculata Mighty Macs. (New York: Columbia University Press. 2003. Pp. xix, 291. $59.50 clothbound; $22.50 paperback.)

In this book, a reworked dissertation, the author examines religion by analyzing a nonreligious activity, namely, women's collegiate basketball. Specifically, Byrne explores the meaning behind the winning of the first three women's national college basketball championships from 1972 to 1974 by Immaculata College, a small Catholic women's college near Philadelphia, which had a student population of 800. The "Mighty Macs'" amazing accomplishment was possible because Catholic girls played basketball in their urban Philadelphia neighborhoods with their brothers, because pastors encouraged girls' basketball in parish schools and CYO programs, because Immaculata had a tradition of women's basketball going back to 1939, because the team had some great coaches, and because the young players found the game both "fun" to play and part of their identity as Catholic women. The book is arranged thematically, since the author maintains that during the period under study, from 1939 to 1974, there was "relatively little institution change" either in Catholic Philadelphia or at Immaculata. The chief primary sources used by the author are surveys and interviews of about 130 former Immaculata players and others connected with Immaculata basketball from 1939 to 1974. The author typifies it as history "from way, way below" since it centers on the memories of how players and those associated with the team perceived themselves. Consequently, the book raises some methodological questions. Is it sports history, women's history, social history, intellectual history, American Studies, or theology? To what extent do the author's preconceived notional categories impose themselves on the interpretation of the interviews? Notwithstanding, this study suggests that Philadelphia Catholicism and Catholic women's relationship to it were complex realities of accommodation and resistance. The author makes a creative contribution to the understanding of Catholic women's history and history of Catholicism, especially in Philadelphia, and invites further scholarship on these topics.

Michael J. McNally
St. Charles Borromeo Seminary—Overbrook


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