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Faith Reels: ‘Brooklyn’ … love, growth and the 1950s church

Faith Reels: ‘Brooklyn’ … love, growth and the 1950s church


by Dan Webster and Bonnie Anderson


So much of ‘Brooklyn’ revolves around how an immigrant church in the 1950s was the support for those displaced economic refugees yearning to be free in America. The main character, Eilis (Saoirse Ronan), is a young woman in search of opportunity she can’t find in her native village in Ireland. Her sister contacts a Catholic priest she knows in Brooklyn who helps her find a job, lodging, and an education.


Throughout this story it’s the church that supports Eilis and many more immigrants. There are scenes of the Latin Mass, of course, but also parish dances and serving holiday meals to the older Irish men who dug the tunnels and built the bridges that connect Manhattan to the rest of the world. Not much difference than the undocumented laborers today visiting church food pantries or soup kitchens.


This is a believable story inspired by the novel of the same name authored by Colm Toibin. We think so because the Catholic Church in the ‘50s was a big support to us but in different ways. We both grew up about 90 miles apart in Southern California. We weren’t immigrants from another country but we might as well have been; we both came from Nebraska. The church offered dances (or mixers), outings, and other family activities. It was a community center as well as a sacramental one.


‘Brooklyn’ is a love story with many moving parts. Filmgoers can see why Eilis is enamored with Tony (Emory Cohen). Cohen has a charismatic screen presence that easily captures the audience.  Father Flood is gently played by Jim Broadbent. The rooming house where he places Eilis is run by Mrs. Kehoe, sternly and expertly played by Julie Walters. There’s already talk of a supporting actress Oscar for her. Nick Hornby’s screenplay captures the uncertainty of leaving home, taking risks and struggling to grow beyond the world left behind.


But the thread running through all these characters is a church that sees a role of meeting the needs of the communities it serves. There’s a lesson for those who ask why can’t we be like the church we grew up in? Just figure out how to serve those around you; be an indispensable community asset. That’s how your church will thrive.


Bonnie Anderson is a very active lay leader in her parish, diocese and in the wider Episcopal Church. She is an experienced community organizer and lives in suburban Detroit. Dan Webster is an Episcopal priest in Baltimore, Maryland and a former broadcast news executive. But don’t expect only east coast urban perspectives here. As it turns out, they both grew up in Southern California.  They blog about films and faith at Faith Reels


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