Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Ryszard Kapuscinski, 1932-2007.

It's sometimes said that deaths come in threes, and perhaps that explains why this is the third obituary I've posted in the last couple weeks. Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski, justly hailed as "the doyen of foreign correspondents everywhere" and "an unsurpassed chronicler of the Third World," died in Warsaw on January 23rd. I only got the news a couple ago, when I spied a terse memorial tribute published in the New York Times by Kapuscinski's American publisher, Alfred A. Knopf. As a reporter for the Polish Press Agency, Kapuscinski witnessed many of the assassinations, civil wars, coups and revolutions that accompanied the Third World's transition from colonialism to independence. Beginning in the late-1970's, Kapuscinski penned a series of lyrical and deeply reflective books on his experiences. He first began to attract widespread notice at home and abroad with the publication of The Emperor, an impressionistic account of the fall of Ethiopia's Haile Selassie that struck many Poles as an allegorical indictment of their own country's Communist rulers. In The Emperor and in a subsequent book on the 1979 revolution in Iran, Shah of Shahs, Kapuscinski sought to explain events through the testimony of people who lived through them, eschewing a comprehensive narrative in favor of revealing (and often very poignant) vignettes. In other books like Another Day of Life, The Soccer War, and The Shadow of the Sun, Kapuscinski wrote in his own voice but retained his concern for the impact that political turmoil has on individuals' lives. With the fall of Communism, Kapuscinski was at last able to write freely about life under Soviet domination in Imperium and in other books that have yet to be translated into English. (Though Kapuscinski's translated work has attracted widespread acclaim in the West, only a fraction of his total output is available in any language other than Polish.) Through his work, Kapuscinski sought to bridge the gap between different nations and cultures. However, near the end of his life he expressed concern that "in spite of advances in communication and communication technologies, our knowledge of each other - contrary to the common myth - remains highly superficial, most often non-existent... We do not live in a global village, but rather in a global metropolis, a global train station inundated with 'a crowd of loners' - anxious people who would wish to know each other and develop close relationships."

I was introduced to Kapuscinski's work as a junior in high school, when I read The Emperor for a paper I was writing on Haile Selassie. That book got me hooked, and in short order I read everything else I could find by Kapuscinski. As a teenager with a thirst for foreign travel and a particular desire to go to Africa (where I still have not been), I was enthralled by Kapuscinski's accounts of a fascinating and sometimes dangerous world. In time, I grew to appreciate more and more the literary craft of his work even as I continued to enjoy his accounts of harrowing escapes and meetings with unusual people. As a senior at Georgetown, I almost went to see Kapuscinski give a talk at the National Press Club in conjunction with the American release of The Shadow of the Sun. For reasons I no longer remember - perhaps I had a paper to write or an exam the following day - I chose not to attend that talk, to my everlasting regret. Though all of Kapuscinski's books deserve multiple readings, the one I most appreciate going back to is Another Day of Life, an account of the end of Portuguese rule in Angola. I commend Another Day of Life - as well as Kapuscinski's other books - to your attention. With the death of Ryszard Kapuscinski, the world has lost a literary titan. While I am sad that he is no longer among us, I will always be grateful for the gift of his work. Requiescat in Pace. AMDG.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Decline and renewal in Rome's Jewish ghetto.

As today's New York Times reports, Rome's fabled Jewish ghetto - the very first "ghetto," established in the 1500's - is managing to hold on to its identity as a center of Jewish life even as its Jewish population has declined due to gentrification:

As a boy, in October 1943, Pacifico Disegni watched from his window as two German trucks hauled people away from the ghetto in Rome, a city where Jews have lived for 2,000 years.

Last year, in blessedly more peaceful times, a rich visitor from Boston took in the view from that same window. A magnificent front-row view of the Theater of Marcellus, first planned by Julius Caesar, somehow salves the sting of history.

Mr. Disegni, now 78, said the man produced a blank check and offered to buy the apartment on the spot.

"He said, 'You write how many millions you want,'" Mr. Disegni said.

Mr. Disegni, who is Jewish, refused. But these bookend events at his window cast light on a paradox in the city with the oldest Jewish population in Europe. High real estate prices, not violence or bias, are driving the last Jews from their homes in the old ghetto, which is slowly transforming itself into a trendy enclave for the rich and famous.

Experts say only 200 or 300 Jews remain, in a neighborhood that numbered 9,000 after the deportation of 2,000 during World War II.

But there is a second paradox. Even as the number of Jews living in the ghetto drops to near nothing, Jewish life is thriving.
To read the rest, click here. The bottom line, as NYT reporter writes several paragraphs down in the article, is that even though the Jewish population has dwindled "Jews who live around Rome worship in the ghetto, socialize there, work there, because commercial space is not as pricey as apartments." Reading this story, I thought of the American phenomenon of what I like to call "Potemkin village" ethnic neighborhoods, which retain their character as commercial, cultural and religious centers for the groups that lend them a sense of definition long after all (or nearly all) the people who gave the area its ethnic identity have moved away. You can find neighborhoods like this in most major American cities - examples I've encountered include the historically Italian North End in Boston, Manhattan's Little Italy, Detroit's Greektown and even Chinatown in Washington (which has many more Chinese restaurants and shops than it does Chinese residents). There's a certain kind of artifice in the preservation of these neighborhoods - hence the "Potemkin village" moniker - but I applaud the efforts of the groups that work to maintain them as cultural and social centers even after they've ceased to become ethnic neighborhoods in the truest sense. Reading about how this is apparently happening in Rome, I wonder whether the "Potemkin village" ethnic neighborhood is becoming a global phenomenon. AMDG.

Sox sign Drew.

After protracted negotiations and a fair amount of legal wrangling, it's official: the Red Sox are signing J.D. Drew. For a long time I had doubts about the Sox management's wisdom (what else is new?) in pursuing the injury-prone Drew, but today's deal apparently includes some sound provisions allowing the Sox to void Drew's contract if he hurts his shoulder again. To read more about it, check out what the Globe and the Herald have to say. Go Sox, AMDG.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Abbé Pierre, 1912-2007.

One of the most admired and beloved churchmen of his time, the French Catholic priest and social activist Henri Antoine Grouès, better known as Abbé Pierre, died yesterday at the age of 94. Born into wealth, the man who would become Abbé Pierre decided at an early age that he wanted to live and work among the poor. Inspired by the example of St. Francis of Assisi, he joined the Capuchins at 19 and was ordained to the priesthood at 26. After ill health forced his departure from the Capuchins, the young Father Grouès was incardinated into the Diocese of Grenoble and spent several years as a parish priest and hospital chaplain. Active in the French Resistance during World War II, he acquired the nom de guerre "Abbé Pierre," a moniker he kept for the rest of his life. After the war, Abbé Pierre turned his attention to the problem of homelessness, founding the Emmaus Movement in 1949 to provide housing and work for homeless people in Paris. As Emmaus grew, Abbé Pierre also became a highly visible and increasingly outspoken housing-rights activist. Regarded by many as a kind of national conscience, Abbé Pierre used the media to pressure the French government to do more to fight poverty and inspired many by his example. At times controversial, Abbé Pierre nonetheless won widespread admiration for his sincere and wholehearted dedication to the poor whom he served in emulation of St. Francis.

Befitting a man who was regularly voted France's most popular public figure in annual polls, the Paris dailies Le Figaro, Le Monde and Libération all give Abbé Pierre prominent treatment in today's editions. Abbé Pierre's death also attracted notice in today's New York Times and Washington Post, but the French priest unsurprisingly receives a lot more attention in today's Guardian and Independent as well as a full obituary in The Times of London. Pope Benedict XVI paid tribute to Abbé Pierre today, as did the Bishop of Grenoble. (Abbé Pierre remained a priest of the Grenoble Diocese until his death, even though he spent most of his priestly life elsewhere.) In the Independent obituary cited above, John Lichfield explains the appeal of Abbé Pierre in these terms: "Why was he so popular? Only just more than half of the French now say they are Catholic. Only one in 12 of those goes to church. The French church is, mostly, conservative and unadventurous. And yet, Abbé Pierre managed to be popular with traditional Catholics and militant non-Catholics alike. The French love a passionate rebel. To non-Catholics, he made the censorious mainstream church seem hypocritical. To Catholics, he gave flesh and blood to their faith." As I pray today for the eternal repose of Abbé Pierre, I pray also that many others will continue to be inspired by his example of service. Requiescat in Pace. AMDG.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Parish closings, mergers announced in New York.

The Archdiocese of New York yesterday announced a number of parish closings and mergers as part of a multi-year realignment process initiated in response to changes in demographics and the declining number of available priests in the United States' second-largest Catholic diocese. Reflecting the growing Catholic population in the suburbs north of New York City as well as a declining number of urban churchgoers, the realignment plan includes the establishment of several new parishes and construction of new church buildings for growing suburban congregations as well as the closing of a number of inner-city churches. As an article in today's New York Times notes, some parishes that were recommended for closure last year were left off yesterday's list and have apparently been reprieved. However, a majority of the parishes on last year's list - 21 out of 31, to be precise - will be closed or merged with neighboring parishes.

Among the 21 New York churches still marked for closure or merger is Nativity Parish on the Lower East Side, a storied Jesuit parish whose expected demise I wrote about last March and again in November, when the last Jesuit pastor stepped down. Also on the closing list is St. Vincent de Paul Church in Chelsea, a French national parish established in 1841 and still serving a francophone congregation - a congregation that has grown in recent years as the parish has drawn many French-speaking African immigrants. When announced last year, plans to close St. Vincent de Paul attracted notice in the French press and raised the ire not only of parishioners but also of preservationists, who feared the destruction of a 19th-century church building that has seen a lot of history (including one of Edith Piaf's two marriages). Though the Archdiocese intends to find another home for St. Vincent de Paul's francophone parishioners, many will still be saddened by the loss of their historic home. Of course, similar emotions are also being felt by parishioners of all the other parishes marked for closure. My prayers are with them in this time of great loss, and I hope yours are too. AMDG.

Chaldean bishop fears growing divisions in Iraq.

Always up-to-date on the situation of the Church in Iraq (and in many other countries), Rome-based AsiaNews has an interview with the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Kirkuk, Msgr. Louis Sako. As Iraq has become more and more divided and Iraqi Christians have been further and further marginalized, Archbishop Sako has acted as a courageous advocate for national unity and for the rights of all Iraqis. His voice has been too little heard, and it would be worth your while to read what he has to say. Here's Archbishop Sako's assessment of the overall situation in Iraq:

Iraq is sliding towards division. Ongoing clashes show that and the Americans are doing nothing to stop that. The north is Kurdish (Kurdistan), the south is Shia (Shiastan), and the centre is occupied by Sunnis (Sunnistan). Internet sites and papers are already publishing the new political maps! This will have serious consequences for neighbouring countries like Turkey, Syria and Iran, where the local Kurdish population is demanding autonomy or independence but where local governments are opposed. The division of Iraq is not a solution and will not bring peace and stability.

The effort to divide Iraq into ethnic and sectarian enclaves fails to reflect the diversity found in each region. Take, for example, Archbishop Sako's city of Kirkuk:

Huge interests and dangerous tensions gravitate around Kirkuk. The city is not homogeneous, nor ethnically uniform. Residents are Muslim, Christian, Kakai, Kurdish, Arab, Turkmen, Chaldeans, Assyrians and Armenians. Will it be an independent political and administrative entity? Annexed by Kurdistan? Or by the neighbouring Sunni province? Everyone is waiting for the referendum which won't be easy to pull off.

On January 13 rebels shot dead two businessmen and blew up a Shia mosque under construction in the Nida neighbourhood, on the city's east side. There are thieves or people who just demand money without carrying out kidnappings. Five Christian
families have paid a ransom; others are planning to move to the north or to Syria. Things are going from bad to worse and the population is living in fear and uncertainty, not knowing where they will live!

Regarding the situation of Iraqi Christians and proposals to create a "safe zone" for them, Archbishop Sako had this to say:

Christians are confronted with increasing difficulties. For some time, some people have been thinking of gathering them in a specific area, the Nineveh plain. They would have their own territory, but to be viable the idea of a protected zone . . . needs an end to the violence and remains in any event a dangerous plan. The Nineveh plain is largely surrounded by Arabs and Christians [and] would serve as a useful and undefended buffer zone between Arabs and Kurds. In my opinion it would be preferable to work at the constitutional level and [in] each area to guarantee religious freedom and equal rights for believers of all faiths throughout the land, including Christians, who can be found everywhere.
At a time when most people concerned with the situation in Iraq seem resigned to balkanization, Archbishop Louis Sako offers a prophetic voice. We would all do well to heed his call for unity and equality in Iraq. AMDG.

NYT profiles "enigmatic wild card" General Aoun.

Today's New York Times includes an interesting profile of General Michel Aoun, a controversial Maronite politician who would like to be Lebanon's next president but stands accused of fomenting divisions within his country's embattled Christian community:

In this land of divisive politics and sectarian tension, few have embraced controversy quite the way the Christian leader Gen. Michel Aoun has.

Currently, General Aoun is one of the leaders of the opposition demonstrations that have overtaken Beirut and have threatened to bring down the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. But this gambit is just the latest in a decades-long series of political surprises and controversies that have made him a political wild card here, breaking all the rules of Lebanese politics while charging the country's political debate.

To his supporters, he is a Lebanese de Gaulle seeking to unite a fractious country and rebuild trust in its institutions. To his critics, he is a divisive megalomaniac willing to stop at nothing to become Lebanon's president.

Some accuse him, a Christian, of splitting Christians in Lebanon into rival camps, further weakening them, while others blame him for abetting Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shiite militia. But most of all, many say, General Aoun has embraced a populist agenda for personal gain.

General Aoun, as always, is unfazed by the critics. "You could say I brought Lebanese politics back to life," General Aoun, 71, said in his home atop the hills overlooking Beirut. "Until now, politics here has been moribund."

A former army commander and longtime opponent of Syrian influence in Lebanon, General Aoun returned to his home country in 2005 after fifteen years in exile and almost instantly became a political lightning rod. While some Christians hailed Aoun as a savior, others detected a softening in his rhetoric toward Syria and were stunned by his alliance with Hezbollah. If some saw this move toward détente as crass opportunism, Aoun depicts himself as a political realist seeking stability. The NYT quotes him as saying: "It's not like I love Hezbollah. I am not trying to defend Hezbollah as much as I am trying to find a solution with them, because a clash with them would ruin us." Whether General Aoun's gamble will pay off for his country and for the Christian community to which he belongs remains to be seen. I'm going to keep watching, and all the while I'll be praying for the people of Lebanon. AMDG.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

It was the first snow of the season . . .

Looking out the window as I write this post, I see the first flakes of snow to hit New York this winter. Someone told me that New York hasn't gone this long without snow since the 19th century, and one could reasonably query whether the stuff falling right now really counts as snow - it certainly looks like snow when it's in the air, but it seems to dissolve by the time it hits the ground. A few minutes ago, I greeted the minister of the house, Father Greg Muckenhaupt, as he walked through the front door, umbrella in hand. "Is it raining or snowing?" I asked. "It's going back and forth," Greg said. And yet, as I write these words, the flakes outside are looking a bit more robust than they did when I saw Greg or when I started this post. This snow may be feeble compared to the winter Nor'easters of my childhood or the lake-effect storms I lived through in South Bend, but it still claims pride of place as the first snow New York has seen this winter.

For me, the first snowfall of the season has a siren song quality to it - I can't help but be enchanted by that first sight of snowflakes floating earthward and (on days other than this one) the vision of a landscape (or cityscape) being slowly covered by an unblemished blanket of white snow. In due time, however, the sense of wonder that often accompanies the season's first snowfall gives way to irritation as newly-fallen snow morphs into salty, slushy, muddy muck. Winter is in many respects the dirtiest season, and snow is what makes it such. Even so, there are few times as magical as the first moments of the first snow of the season. Right now, I'm savoring those moments - half-hoping, perhaps, that this late and rather light first snow presages a particularly mild winter. AMDG.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Press reports: Baghdad nearly empty of Christians.

The new year has brought little joy for Iraqi Christians, who continue to be menaced by terrorist threats as well as the ever-worsening climate of civil unrest in their country. AsiaNews reported earlier this month on the Chaldean Catholic Patriarchate's decision to transfer the Church's two leading institutions of priestly and religious formation, Babel College and St. Peter's Seminary, from strife-torn Baghdad to apparently safer quarters in Kurdistan. Last week, the Chaldean theological faculty and major seminary officially reopened in the Kurdish city of Erbil. Having remained in the capital long after many other Christian institutions had moved north or closed altogether, Babel College and St. Peter's Seminary had served as powerful symbols of Chaldean Catholics' determination to stay where they had always been. In the end, this determination broke down in the face of endless bombings, kidnappings, murders and threats. AsiaNews reports that Baghdad's historically Christian Dora neighborhood is now controlled by Sunni militias and is empty of all but the poorest Christians, who would likely join the exodus north if only they had the resources to make the trip.

Further information on the current situation of Christians in Iraq (as well as those in Egypt, Lebanon and Syria) may be found in an excellent article published last week in the German newsweekly Der Spiegel, available in English on the magazine's website. The article in Der Spiegel offers a lucid summary of the major factors accounting for the diminution of the ancient Christian communities of the Middle East, both demographic (Christians often have smaller families and tend to be better-educated than their Muslim neighbors, making it easier for them to emigrate) and political (Islamic fundamentalism is gaining strength throughout the region, threatening secular nationalist movements that long provided a political home for Arab Christians). The Der Spiegel piece also suggests that the exodus of Iraqi Christians and their institutions from Baghdad to Kurdish territory in the north may help build support for a proposal to establish a "Christian autonomous zone" in Nineveh. As I noted last month, this plan has won the endorsement of the U.S. Catholic Bishops but has been criticized by prominent Chaldean Catholic bishops in Iraq, who fear that efforts to carve out a Christian safe zone would encourage further attacks on their community and isolate Christians politically. If Der Spiegel interprets the situation correctly, I wonder if Iraqi Christians will feel compelled to embrace the safe zone proposal out of sheer desperation. As their security is more and more threatened, many Christians may have come to believe that the establishment of a small Christian enclave is the only way to save their community from total annihilation. I wonder just how safe a safe zone for Iraqi Christians would really be, particularly in light of recent reports from the northern city of Mosul, where Christians face constant harassment and harassment but are still ostensibly "safer" than they would be in Baghdad. The one thing that remains certain is that the present war's greatest losers have been Iraqi Christians. Keep praying for them, and help them however you can. AMDG.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Catholic alphabet meme.

Karen has tagged me for a meme, and I'm happy to oblige:

[A is for Apparitions - your favorite]: The Annunciation. (Lk 1:26-38)

[B is for Bible - the one you read most often]: The Revised Standard Version, specifically this edition which I bought for a Biblical Literature course in college and have kept ever since.

[C is for Charism - the one you would most like to have]: I'm happy with the one that I do have.

[D is for Doctor of the Church - your favorite]: Saint Thérèse of Lisieux.

[E is for Essential Prayer - what's yours?]: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner."

[F is for Favorite Hymn]: The Salve Regina.

[G is for Gospel - your favorite author?]: John.

[H is for Holy Communion - How would you describe it, using one word?]: Daily.

[I is for Inspiration - When do you feel most inspired by God?]: On solitary walks, whether in the quiet of the country or in the midst of the city.

[J is for Jesus - When did you first meet Him?]: In a formal sense, when I made my First Communion. In a much more transformative sense, when I made my first Ignatian retreat at Wernersville while I was an undergrad at Georgetown.

[K is for Kindness - Which saint or person has most inspired you by their kindness?]: It's hard to pick just one, as I have a lot of models to choose from, but I'm going to go with Blessed Brother André Bessette.

[L is for Liturgical Year - your favorite time in the liturgical cycle]: Holy Week.

[M is for Mary, the Mother of God - your favorite term of endearment for her]: Theotokos.

[N is for New Testament - your favorite passage]: John 14:1-3.

[O is for Old Testament - your favorite book here]: The Psalms.

[P is for Psalms - your favorite]: Psalm 63.

[Q is for Quote - saint quote]: "Pray as if everything depended on God and work as if everything depended on you." Saint Ignatius of Loyola.

[R is for Rosary - your favorite mysteries]: Joyful.

[S is for Saint - the one you turn to in time of need - not including the Blessed Virgin Mary]: Saint Ignatius of Loyola.

[T is for Tradition - your favorite Catholic tradition]: A tie between fish on Friday and Midnight Mass.

[U is for University - Which Catholic university have you attended or are currently attending?]: I have degrees from Georgetown and Notre Dame and am currently enrolled at Fordham. For what it's worth, I also took a single course at the University of Detroit Mercy while I was in the novitiate.

[V is for Virtue - the one you wish you had]: Charity.

[W is for Way of the Cross - Which station can you most relate to?]: The first.

[X is for Xaverian Brothers - Do you know who they are?]: Yes - they sponsor two schools (St. John's Prep and Xaverian Brothers High School) in the state where I grew up.

[Y is for your favorite Catholic musician]: If composers count, I'd probably say Mozart. If by "musician" you mean performer, I have no idea.

[Z is for Zeal for the faith]: With God's help, yes.

I would tag Matt, but he's making the Long Retreat. Be sure to pray for him and all the other Jesuit novices who are making the Exercises in various places. AMDG.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


I'm back in the Bronx, having completed a long and relaxing home visit as well as a three-day retreat at Inisfada, a lovely and historic Jesuit retreat house on Long Island. The Inisfada retreat gave the men of Ciszek Hall an opportunity to begin the spring semester with a few days of prayerful reflection on our common life as vowed religious. I finished the retreat with a great sense of gratitude for the gift of my vocation and for the ways in which God has been present to me in my Jesuit companions and in the experiences I've had in the Society. The retreat also served to strengthen the bonds of our community in the way that only silent retreats can do. If you've ever made a silent retreat with a large group of people, I think you'll understand what I mean.

We were particularly fortunate to make this retreat at Inisfada, a place that holds a special place in American Jesuit history. A gracious mock-Tudor mansion, Inisfada was once the home of Mrs. Genevieve Garvan Brady, an early twentieth-century Catholic philanthropist whose other gifts to the Society of Jesus and its institutions include the old Maryland Province novitiate at Wernersville and substantial donations to Georgetown University. A good friend of Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli (the future Pope Pius XII), Mrs. Brady was also a formidable negotiator: giving the money for the novitiate at Wernersville, she got the Jesuits to agree that both she and her husband would be interred in a crypt beneath the chapel and that, as long as she lived, she could go wherever she chose on the property despite the restrictions of the religious cloister. You can get more of a sense of the kind of person Mrs. Brady was by reading this article in the March 8, 1937 issue of Time regarding her decision to give Inisfada to the Jesuits. With apologies to any readers who may take umbrage at the attitudes expressed in a seventy-year-old magazine article, I present the following excerpt:
Twenty miles out from Manhattan on the wooded, hilly North Shore of Long Island, inland from Manhasset, lies a great and famed 225-acre estate, on a road locally called "The Irish Channel" from the origin of several large landowners along it. Behind massive iron gates, looming almost as large as the late Otto Kahn's huge chateau down near Huntington, stands a rambling, many-chimneyed Tudor house whose four stories and 50 rooms contain $2,000,000 worth of the world's greatest paintings, tapestries, porcelains and a large handsome private chapel. Last week the public learned that next May it may pay admission - for charity - to inspect the house, the wooded walks, the unsurpassed rose gardens of "Inisfada," home of the late great Roman Catholic Utilities Tycoon, Nicholas Frederic Brady. After the contents of the mansion are sold at auction, "Inisfada" will become the property of the Society of Jesus, to be used as a "house of studies" for young men of that order.

To the black-cassocked Jesuits, who more than any other Catholic fathers are at home in the drawing rooms of the rich and great, the acquisition of "Inisfada" was almost routine. Though they enjoy no personal property, many Jesuits work and study in places like the vast Massachusetts estate of the late W.E.D. Stokes, and in the hotel at West Baden, Ind. which the late Edward Ballard gave them. To the giver-away of "Inisfada" and its treasures, Mrs. Genevieve Garvan Brady, the decision she made public last week marked a definitive turning point in an unusual life.

Genevieve Garvan of Hartford, Conn., comely sister of Francis Patrick Garvan (Chemical Foundation), in 1906 married Nicholas Brady, son of a family whose transit and utilities fortune at one time was among the greatest in the U.S. To them both, their wealth became a means by which to serve their Church. In 1920 a Cardinal, His Eminence Giovanni Bonzano, Apostolic Delegate to the U.S., dedicated "Inisfada." The Bradys, indifferent to decorators, had spent 20 years traveling the world buying furnishings for it. Tycoon Brady, who confessed his sins in his last years to a bishop, his friend the Most. Rev. John Gregory Murray (now Archbishop of St. Paul), was a trusted lay adviser to the Church, became the second U.S. Catholic named Papal Chamberlain and was made a Papal Duke in 1926, by which time he had given the Vatican more than $1,000,000.

Goodness was once viewed as woman's chief end. In a time when women compete with men in politics, business and badness, goodness and piety are seldom seen practiced on a grand scale, or recognized as such by the Press. Moreover, Papal Duchess Brady is shy, extremely apprehensive of publicity. Yet she is the foremost member of her social class in a faith which demands completely public acts of faith of its people. While her husband was living, Mrs. Brady - Dame of Malta, Dame of the Holy Sepulchre, holder of the Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice - founded the Carroll Club (for Catholic business girls), visited and gave money to Catholic hospitals, orphanages, homes for the aged. She succeeded Mrs. Herbert Hoover as board chairman of the Girl Scouts of America. Her husband dead in 1930, leaving her $50,000,000), she accepted Notre Dame's Laetare Medal as the most notable U.S. lay Catholic of 1933, and began thinking of giving "Inisfada" to the Jesuits.
A product of its era in approach as well as in the prose, the Time article notes local officials' futile efforts to thwart Mrs. Brady's plans to give an $8,000,000 property to a tax-exempt entity like the Jesuits and speculates about whether the widow's imminent marriage to Irish diplomat William J. Babington Macaulay would be performed by family friend Cardinal Pacelli, a sometime house guest at Inisfada. If you want to know more of the story or simply enjoy reading periodicals, read the rest of the 1937 Time article. If you'd simply like to learn more about Inisfada and might be interested in making a retreat in a beautiful and spiritually enriching setting, check out the retreat house website. I'm sure the staff there would be glad to have you. If you do make it to Inisfada, I hope that you find many graces there, as my Companions and I did this week. AMDG.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Reading Moby-Dick in New Bedford.

On Wednesday and Thursday of this week, the New Bedford Whaling Museum held its eleventh annual Moby-Dick Marathon, a 25-hour non-stop reading of Herman Melville's monumental novel. The appeal of an annual public reading of Moby-Dick will likely be lost on the many readers who shudder at the memory of having to read and interpret the tome in high school English classes. Moby-Dick is a famously difficult book, but for natives of Southeastern Massachusetts the novel is also a part of local lore. On January 3, 1841, 21-year-old Herman Melville left New Bedford on the whaling ship Acushnet, having contracted with the ship's owner for a three-year term as a crewman. Though Melville would desert his post on the Acushnet eighteen months later, his time aboard ship provided ample material for Moby-Dick and several other novels besides. The early chapters of Moby-Dick parallel Melville's experience as a young seaman, observing Ishmael's arrival in bustling New Bedford and tracing the events that lead to his enlistment on the ill-fated Pequod. While I sympathize with those who struggled to get through Moby-Dick in high school, I've always appreciated the novel's links with the area where I was born and raised.

Begun eleven years ago by longtime Whaling Museum volunteer Irwin Marks, the annual Moby-Dick Marathon commemorates the connection that Moby-Dick and its author enjoy with the city of New Bedford. The hundreds of readers who recite sections of the novel range from local students and retirees to historians and literary scholars to local, state and national politicians (our congressman usually makes an appearance, and so have Massachusetts' two U.S. senators). Portions of the text are read in languages ranging from French to Hebrew, Danish to Japanese and Portuguese to Turkish. To lend an added note of authenticity to the recitation of Father Mapple's famous sermon, the assembled company moves from the Whaling Museum to the Seamen's Bethel, the "Whalemen's Chapel" where the chapter including the sermon is set. The number of people attending the marathon has grown each year that is has been held, and each year also sees an increase in press coverage of the event. This year, I spotted an article in the Boston Globe as well as a report from the CBC. Of course, the local New Bedford Standard-Times always has something to say about the marathon. This time around, the Standard-Times had an article recalling the memory of marathon founder Irwin Marks, who passed away last September, and another including interviews with a few of the people who came from near and far to participate in the event.

Having enjoyed the Moby-Dick Marathon in the past and having been unable to attend during the two years I was in the novitiate, I had looked forward to attending this year. Unlike in years past, where I was a mere spectator who stopped in to observe part of the proceedings, I thought that this year I might actually stick around for the whole thing. I even considered signing up to read part of the text. In the end I missed out on the marathon altogether, finding myself sick at home with an unexpected stomach bug. Though I've made a full recovery, I regret that I missed out on the marathon. On a spiritual level, I suppose the experience offered me a small but salutary reminder that God's plans for us do not always parallel our own. Red Sox fan that I am, I suppose this is another situation in which I'll have to wait 'til next year. AMDG.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

A Sox fan for life.

Red Sox Nation lost its oldest citizen last week when 112-year-old Kathryn Gemme passed away at a nursing home in Middleboro, Massachusetts. Mrs. Gemme, who two years ago won recognition as the oldest living Red Sox fan, was an eight-year-old girl living in the western Massachusetts city of Chicopee when Boston won the very first World Series in 1903. Gemme attended her first Sox game at Fenway in 1912 - not long after the park opened - and her last in May 2004. The 2004 World Series win that ended the Curse of the Bambino and brought joy to Red Sox fans everywhere was especially sweet for Kate Gemme, both because she was one of the few fans old enough to remember when Babe Ruth actually played for the Sox and because she had a chance to see the Sox' World Series trophy close up when team reps brought it to her 111th anniversary celebration. The doyenne of Red Sox fans, Mrs. Gemme was also a longtime resident of my own Southeastern Massachusetts - the towns of Marion and Middleborough, where she spent her final years, both border on my hometown of Rochester. To learn more about this extraordinary woman, check out the obituaries published today in the Boston Globe and in the New Bedford Standard-Times. Requiescat in Pace. AMDG.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Notes on the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God.

On this first day of the year, the Roman Catholic Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God. Coming seven days after Christmas, today's feast continues the Church's celebration of the Nativity of Jesus Christ by recognizing Mary's unique role as Theotokos, the one who bore God within her womb. As today's readings remind us, the Son of God came into the world as the Son of Mary, becoming part of a particular human family and entering into a particular cultural tradition. As one "born under the law" of Israel (Gal 4:4), on the eighth day after his birth the Son of Mary received the name of Jesus, "the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb." (Lk 2:21)

As the day on which the naming of Jesus is remembered, this Solemnity is also the titular feast of the Society that bears the name of Jesus. Today, we pray in thanksgiving for Mary's acceptance of her special vocation and for her constant role as a prayerful intercessor on behalf of God's people. As a Jesuit, I also pray today that Mary will continue to watch over the Society named for her Son. I'd also like to take this opportunity to ask you to pray for the novices of the Society, many of whom will be making their Long Retreat during this month of January. I hope you'll pray in a special way for the first-year novices of the Chicago and Detroit Provinces, whom I had a chance to spend some time with these past few days at our bi-province formation conference. My brief experience with our new primi gives me a great sense of hope and optimism for the future of this least Society, and I'm proud to call them my brothers. So please join me in praying for Matt, Christopher, Hung, Cyril and Christian as they enter into the wonderful and ineffable experience of the Spiritual Exercises. AMDG.