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Reviewed by:
  • Archbishop Lamy: In His Own Words
  • Lynn Bridgers
Archbishop Lamy: In His Own Words. Edited and translated by Thomas J. Steele, S.J. (Albuquerque: LPD Press. 2000. Pp. vii, 271. $29.95 paperback.)

As first Archbishop of Santa Fe, Jean Baptiste Lamy (1814-1888) left a divided legacy. Perhaps no figure in New Mexico history has provoked so much controversy, criticism, and devotion as Lamy. In this book Thomas Steele, S.J., known for his substantial scholarship in New Mexican culture and religious tradition, excavates the real Lamy from myth and fiction.

Steele does so in two ways, each corresponding to a section of the book. First, he challenges the fictional portrait of Lamy presented in Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop. Contexting his life through historical analysis of the French ecclesiastical culture that produced him, Steele then profiles Lamy and explores his spirituality. Secondly, Steele examines existing manuscripts of Lamy's sermons and selected characteristic sermons to create a facsimile of the liturgical cycle during which Lamy usually preached. Steele uses the sermons to allow us to see Lamy "in his own words."

One of the most intriguing chapters explores Lamy's psychological profile. The portrait emerging of Lamy, as an extroverted guardian with a strong sense of adventure and great respect for authority, stands in stark contrast to the introverted, intuitive soul of Jean Marie Latour, the title character in Cather's book. Steele's research suggests that Latour's personality actually reflected Cather's personality more than Lamy's. Since Lamy's personality has so long been hidden behind Latour's, Steele constructs a more accurate portrayal through the profile, elements of his spirituality, and the voice emerging from the sermons.

The sermons themselves are presented in two sections. Steele has selected representative sermons in English, most of which are from Lamy's time on the Ohio Frontier, in Covington, Kentucky, and Danville, Ohio. They give us a glimpse of the younger Lamy, before the demands of the episcopacy added political undercurrents to his pastoral duties. In the second section of sermons, Steele has selected representative sermons in Spanish, presenting them alongside the English translation. Here we see Lamy as he preached in New Mexico—deeply grounded in Scripture, urging his listeners to "conform to the rules of this very faith," seeking the "grace of God in this life and a blest eternity in the other" (p. 169). [End Page 360]

Those seeking the romanticized version of Lamy that captured popular imagination will find little to support that fantasy in Steele's book. We find instead a portrait of Lamy that consistently reflects what his Sulpician formation in the Grand Séminaire de Montferrand hoped to instill, the characteristics of a generation of French priests who so shaped nineteenth-century American Catholicism. Lamy was fond of elaborate devotional practices, dutiful, obedient, respectful of authority, and somewhat dualistic, with Jansenist tendencies not too far beneath the surface of his spirituality. He was also, however, a figure who has intrigued and challenged us for over a century, and continues to do so.

Students of New Mexican history will find an interesting perspective on the motivation behind some of Lamy's more controversial acts, but this volume will also be helpful to those pursuing larger questions in terms of nineteenth-century religious history. A fully searchable CD-ROM (for both PC and MAC) of Lamy's complete sermons in English and Spanish is also available.

Lynn Bridgers
Spring Hill College


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pp. 360-361
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