We have had several histories of monasteries read at table over the years and Miracle on High Street: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, N.J. was especially engaging for a couple of reasons. The first has to do with local connections, given that St. Mary’s in Newark was the Motherhouse of Saint Anselm’s. The second was that the author, Thomas McCabe, was able to fashion a story that has an appeal to an audience larger than monastic devotees. He sets the beginning and end of his story in the context of the urban changes in Newark over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, bookended by accounts of the riots in 1854 and 1967, the first religious in nature and the second racial. The monks and Saint Benedict’s adapted to the changing religious, ethnic, and racial dimensions of the neighborhood and the city and their own student population. The story becomes especially interesting given that the Prep school actually closed for one year before reopening in 1973.
I still feel the book could have used some finer editing to deal with chronology problems, with self-standing chapters on athletics and school discipline, albeit interesting in themselves, interrupting the flow and repeating key information. At times even within chapters there was some jumping around which could confuse the reader and/or listeners, or a key piece of information would not be forthcoming. However, overall the book was well received and works well for a monastic audience.