"They that go down to the sea in ships … see the deeds of the Lord. They reel and stagger like drunken men, they are at their wits' end." — Psalm 107
Gloucester, Massachusetts, is a tough town of 28,000 people, squeezed between a rocky coast and a huge tract of scrub pine and boulders called Dogtown Common. Local widows used to live in Dogtown, along with the forgotten and the homeless, while the rest of the community spread out along the shore. Today, a third of all jobs in Gloucester are fishing related, and the waterfront bars—the Crow's Nest, the Mariners Pub, the Old Timer's Tavern—are dark little places that are unmistakably not for tourists.
One street up from the coastline is Main Street, where the bars tend to have windows and even waitresses, and then there is a rise called Portugee Hill. Halfway up Portugee Hill is Our Lady of Good Voyage Church, a large stucco construction with two bell towers and a statue of the Virgin Mary, who is looking down with love and concern at...