Sunday, October 31, 2004

Notes on the film "Therese."

I wasn't planning to blog on this topic, but since Jonathan quotes me regarding our recent excursion to see the movie Therese I might as well offer a quick review. As Jonathan notes, I opined that Therese makes The Passion look like The Last Temptation of Christ. While in my view The Passion did a poor job of presenting the humanity of the historical Jesus (something The Last Temptation at least *attempted* to do, even though I disagree with its interpretion), it still breathed a lot more life into its subject than Therese manages to do. Now, I respect the intentions that the makers of Therese had; their heartfelt devotion and strong faith is evident in virtually every frame of the film. However, the St. Therese of Lisieux that the movie presents is as one-dimensional and flimsy as a holy card. Therese shows us little of its subject's many struggles or her great strength and determination; conflicts and tensions are only momentary, and the characters' interior lives remain closed to us. Therese coasts along on saccharine kitsch and little else. With its poorly-scripted dialogue, stilted and wooden performances, cheesy sets and amateurish cinematography, what Therese reminded me most of the schlocky educational shorts I was made to watch in elementary school on "The Life of Benjamin Franklin" and similar topics. For all its flaws, Therese has been hyped in the diocesan media - see, for example, its front-page treatment on the Archdiocese of Chicago website, enthusiastic treatment by the Archdiocese of Detroit, and this gushy press release from the Archdiocese of Boston. All this publicity is something of a pity, as it will probably ensure that a lot more people will see this Therese than saw the far superior 1986 French film of the same title (which is at least available on DVD now). I know that life often isn't fair, but it still gets my goat to see cheap sentiment triumph over art, especially in the realm of cinema.

Some readers may object to my views on Therese, and they're entitled to. If you liked the movie, good for you; if you want to provide your own review, feel free to do so in the comment box. I'll remind you, however, that I happen to be a big fan of the Little Flower, so please refrain from any cheap shots suggesting that my lack of appreciation for the film suggests a lack of piety. If anything, my devotion to Therese serves to intensify the disappointment I felt in watching this portrayal of her. So, for those who haven't seen the movie and want my opinion, don't see the new Therese - track down the earlier version instead. AMDG.

Eric Styles on life as a Jesuit novice.

Fellow Chicago Province novice Eric Styles has an excellent piece up on the Black Catholic Chicago website about life here at Loyola House. Written in late August, Eric's piece isn't exactly up to the minute; however, Eric provides a lot of basic information I've never gotten a chance to post on here, so I commend his work to your attention. AMDG.

"After decades of longing, generations can rejoice."

A great article in today's Globe on the multigenerational crowd of Red Sox fans who braved the weather for yesterday's victory parade in Boston. A widely held sentiment expressed by one old-timer: "I didn't think I would live long enough to see this." How sweet it is. AMDG.

St. Rose of Lima Parish, 1980-2004.

Today is the date on which my home parish, St. Rose of Lima in Rochester, Massachusetts, will be suppressed as a parish. That this should happen on Halloween is highly appropriate. Despite seemingly reliable expectations that St. Rose of Lima would not be affected by the process known as "reconfiguration," the parish was nonetheless selected for closure by Archbishop Sean O'Malley. (Incidentally, when he was Bishop of Fall River O'Malley also closed my father's childhood parish; I guess that's one more thing Dad and I now have in common.) Though the church building will remain open for weekend Masses, St. Rose of Lima will become a mission of Sacred Heart parish in neighboring Middleboro, a church that is fifteen miles away from St. Rose over winding and bumpy country roads.

Before I go any further, I'll freely admit that the reconfiguration process is a necessary though difficult one: demographic and financial realities are such that the Archdiocese of Boston (and, for that matter, many other dioceses throughout the country) has no choice but to close many of its parishes. That said, fair questions may be raised about the way in which the process has been conducted, both in general and in particular cases.

To speak of this particular case, I wonder whether the Archdiocese gave serious enough consideration to the reality that St. Rose of Lima is the only Catholic church located in its town and stands at a considerable distance from neighboring parishes. Rochester has been growing at a steady clip in recent years, and so has the parish. Archbishop O'Malley may regard the parish's "low sacramental index" as a sign of ill health, but the steadily increasing pastoral demands that will come as Rochester's population increases will lead many to question why St. Rose of Lima is to be considered a "mission" and not a parish. St. Rose of Lima has enjoyed strong financial health, and its physical plant is in good condition. Above and beyond all this, the parish is still hurting from the removal of a popular longtime pastor two years ago. Under the circumstances, I am not convinced that the decision to close St. Rose of Lima can be regarded as pastorally sound.

I'm also not convinced that all potential options were seriously considered in this case. Though some St. Rose of Lima members long suspected that a day would come when the shrinking number of Catholic clergy meant they would no longer enjoy a resident priest, few if any thought they'd lose their parish as well. A growing number of Catholic parishes across the country have to make do without a pastor, typically with a layperson or a woman religious acting as administrator and a circuit-riding priest visiting to celebrate the liturgy; St. Rose of Lima might have joined their ranks, though the transition would've been hard for parishioners accustomed to having a priest in residence (even so, I'd say that transition beats transitioning to not being a parish anymore). Evidently, however, this and other options were not given full consideration. For me, the suppression of St. Rose of Lima is emblematic of the sad way the reconfiguration process has been handled. In times like this, it can be very hard to feel hopeful about the future of the Church in Boston, and I'm struggling over this just as much as anyone else. Over the next few days I'll be praying in a special way for the parishioners of St. Rose of Lima and for all who are facing the challenge of parish closings - hopefully, you'll join with me in these intentions. AMDG.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Featherbowling and Lunch with the Nantais Family.

This afternoon several of the primi enjoyed a unique Detroit experience thanks to the generosity of the Nantais family, parents of David Nantais, a Detroit Province Jesuit currently in theology studies. We went to the Cadieux Cafe, a tavern known for (as writing on the side of the building proclaims) its "Unique Belgian Atmosphere" and its status as the only place in the United States where one can play featherbowling, a sport much more like bocce than bowling. Though none of us had played before, we all gave the game a shot; it turned out that I wasn't very good at it, but I had a lot of fun all the same. Afterward we stayed for lunch with the Nantaises; mussels are the major specialty at the Cadieux, so that's what I had. Like the Redcoat yesterday, I was pleased with the food and will certainly return. (And, like the Redcoat, the Cadieux evidently has authentic old-style fish n' chips.) Another interesting day out, and another great place to take visitors. Grateful thanks are due to Mr. and Mrs. Nantais for hosting us and introducing us to a wonderful Detroit (and, yes, Belgian) institution. AMDG.

Friday, October 29, 2004

The Holocaust Memorial Center and the Redcoat Tavern.

Today I and many of my fellow primi experienced two very different Detroit area institutions in rapid succession. This morning we took a tour of the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills. Though the Center was the first museum of its kind in the United States (preceding by several years the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in DC), its present building is a brand-new, state of the art facility. The Center's exhibits on the Shoah and on the history of Jewish life in Europe were carefully produced and tastefully presented, and the docent who gave us a tour did an exceptionally good job. In addition to the tour, we also heard a local Holocaust survivor tell the story of his life. The whole experience was moving and sobering, and several people expressed interest in going again; I'd certainly be up for it.

After our visit to the Center, we went to lunch at the Redcoat Tavern, a locally legendary hangout on fabled Woodward Avenue (of which I've written before). Some say that the Redcoat has the best burgers in metro Detroit, and now that I've had one I'm willing to believe it. Beyond its signature half-pound burgers, the Redcoat appears to offer fish n' chips just the way I like them (i.e., with hard, crunchy brown batter) and serves onion rings that were honestly among the best I've ever had. With its hearty, heavy menu and kitschy, bordelloesque decor, the Redcoat may be considered metro Detroit's answer to the Orleans House. This presumably means I'll have to take family members and fellow Hoyas to the Redcoat when they come to visit me here - something to look forward to. AMDG.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

"This is like an alternate reality."

So says Sox owner John Henry in today's Globe. "All of our fans waited their entire lives for this," he continues. Needless to say, Henry is right. Also in the Globe, Thomas Farragher wonders what winning the World Series will mean for New England identity, and for an answer he consults - somewhat surprisingly - Rabbi Harold Kushner. Speculating on the same topic as Farragher, Adrian Walker relates the win to the current presidential race and solicits typically thoughtful comments from the renowned "dean of Boston historians," BC's Tom O'Connor. Rounding out the various perspectives in the Globe, Bob Ryan muses that the Cubs might be next. That'd be fine by me. For now, however, let's all just savor the moment. AMDG.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

The hour is coming and now is . . .

A moment I hardly thought I'd live to see has arrived - and on the night of a lunar eclipse, no less (if that isn't a sign from above, I don't know what is). Unloved and unmourned, the Curse has died at the age of eighty-six. Not much else I can say - for the moment, I'm elated and almost speechless. Go Sox! AMDG!

Autos sí, dollars no.

Tom Miller has an interesting piece in today's New York Times entitled "Old Cars in Cuba: Nurtured But Not Loved." Miller very effectively points up the disconnect between the romantic symbolism foreigners often attach to the approximately 60,000 pre-1960 American cars in Cuba and their everyday function as basic transportation. As Miller writes:

. . . [A]rt directors love to put [old American cars] on the covers of books about Cuba to evoke a melancholy feeling. Movies about Cuba like "Buena Vista Social Club" turn the jalopies into objects of nostalgia by panning lovingly over a wheel-less Chrysler here or a Plymouth stalled in traffic there. Yet to get dewy-eyed about old American cars in Cuba is to get whimsical about our trade embargo against the island.

There is a feeling abroad in the land that Cubans love old American cars. Nothing could be further from the truth. Cubans love new American cars, not old ones, but the newest ones that they can get their hands on are 45 years old.

Miller's perspective resonates with my own (admittedly limited) experience in Cuba. Most Cubans who drive apparently indestructible American autos of '50's vintage (or, for that matter, Soviet clunkers of '60's to '80's vintage, which are just as numerous in Cuba as Detroit's progeny) do so because they have little other option. Some Cubans with access to hard currency and the right connections are able to get new Japanese and European cars (indeed, I saw a Fiat dealership on the Malecon in Havana), but most have no such luck. As Miller notes, lack of access to gasoline and replacement parts is also a serious issue. I had an experience, similar to one Miller relates, in which a cab driver fueled his ancient Lada with gas from a small glass bottle just before we set out on a short trip. (Several such bottles were rolling around in the trunk, which left me a somewhat nervous passenger.)

Miller does a fairly decent job of elucidating the inextricable link between the four decade-long United States embargo on trade with Cuba and the preponderance of antique American chrome on the island. In doing so, he touches on a paradox that I've thought a lot about and struggled with since visiting Cuba. Like many others, I tend to think the embargo should be lifted: it's done little more than aggravate human suffering and exacerbate poverty, and contrary to the intentions of American policymakers it has probably helped Fidel stay in power. At the same time, however, I wonder whether the embargo has actually helped Cubans maintain their national identity and preserve their culture, both of which would face serious challenges from the U.S. absent the isolation imposed by el bloqueo. It's a tough situation, frustrating in part because keeping the embargo or lifting it both carry serious negatives.

The Times and other papers have also reported Fidel Castro's newly-announced effort to end the widespread circulation of U.S. dollars in Cuba. Given the Cuban economy's heavy dependence on American currency, this would seem a disastrous move, but we ought to wait and see what the effect will be. If nothing else, this should give convertible pesos more credibility; though officially on a par with the dollar, I sensed what might lightly be described as a lack of enthusiasm for the chavito among Cuban merchants. This might also become an important test of Fidel's authority: it'll be interesting to see whether the present regime will really be able to stamp out dollar-based commerce or whether it will merely be pushed underground. However, I'm also concerned that this - like the Bush administration's tightening of restrictions on Cuban travel and remittances - will do nothing so much as hurt individuals and families by making it more difficult for Cubans in the diaspora to provide the financial assistance on which many of their relatives on the island depend. For the second time this week, my prayers today will go out in a special way to the people of Cuba, especially for the very many families suffering on account of the political and social divisions which still afflict their nation. AMDG.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Happy Anniversary, Walt!

Tonight Loyola House celebrated our most distinguished resident's 70th year as a Jesuit. Father Walt Farrell entered the Society right out of Cleveland's St. Ignatius High School in 1934 and went on to illustrious service as a philosophy professor and rector at West Baden, provincial superior of the Detroit Province, president of the United States Jesuit Conference. At 88, he still works full-time as Detroit Province Treasurer and has much more energy than most of the twentysomethings who predominate at the novitiate. Always humble in spite of his many accomplishments, Walt insisted that his anniversary celebrations be as simple as possible, and so the community marked the milestone with Mass, dinner and a brief musical program put on by some of the novices. Walt's older brother Jim, also a Jesuit, attended and shared numerous anecdotes, many of which touched on Walt's less widely known achievements as a baseball player. Jonathan and Ryan played music and Kevin took pictures; if we're lucky, they may post accounts to complement my own meager reporting of the evening's events. In short, a great celebration of a great Jesuit. And now I'm off to see whether the Sox can keep up the good work against the Cardinals by beating them on their own turf. Go Sox, Keep the Faith, AMDG.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Talk of the (Red Sox) Nation.

A couple Red Sox items of interest, both from the AP. "World's oldest man is cheering for beloved Red Sox," reports this article, though I share the aforementioned 113 year-old's skepticism at his purported 'world's oldest' status; I tend to believe there are more-superannuated centenarians out there who have escaped the notice of researchers, but I will concede that the subject of the article is probably the world's oldest Sox fan. Another piece takes a quick look at citizens of the Nation scattered throughout the country and the world - perhaps most intriguingly in Uzbekistan. For more information on the Tashkent Red Sox Fan Club, click here. Go Sox, AMDG.

(Belated) Notes on the Feast of St. Anthony Mary Claret.

This morning one of the Jesuits at Colombiere reminded me that yesterday was the Feast of St. Anthony Mary Claret, though the celebration of the ordinary Sunday liturgy took precedence in this case over the feast. Claret is perhaps best known as founder of religious communities of men and women, both of which go by the name of the Claretian Missionaries. The male and female Claretians are both fairly thin on the ground in the United States but work extensively in the Third World. Claret also served as Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba, in which context I came to know of his work and legacy. While I was in Cuba this March I encountered various parishes and other Catholic institutions bearing the name of "San Antonio Maria Claret," most of them concentrated in the Archdiocese he led a century and a half ago. The two religious congregations Claret founded maintain a small but important presence on the island where he did his most important work; indeed, in Santiago de Cuba I met a Claretian sister who was actively involved in parish ministry there. In recognition of St. Anthony Mary Claret and all who continue his work, I'm praying today for the Church in Cuba and especially for the courageous priests, religious and lay ministers I met while I was there. AMDG.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Back from Omena.

Before I run off to watch Game 2 of the World Series, a quick report on the weekend. We all had a great time at Omena, though the weather left something to be desired (lots of wind and rain, especially on Saturday). The Jesuit villa property is located on the shores of Grand Traverse Bay, an inlet of Lake Michigan, and the surrounding area is nothing short of breaktaking, especially right now with all the vivid foliage. Charming Leelanau County, where Omena is located, and nearby Traverse City were aptly described to us by a local Jesuit as coming pretty close to an earthly paradise; for my part, the whole area reminded me a lot of Maine. On Saturday I visited Northport and Suttons Bay, two villages near Omena with quaint downtowns and - of most interest to me - well-stocked used book stores. Saturday afternoon we watched Boston College come from behind to beat Notre Dame 24-23; this annual confrontation offers one of the few occasions on which I actually root against the Fighting Irish, so I was pleased with the surprising result. That night seven of us went to watch Game 1 of the World Series at the Leelanau Sands Casino, a casino operated by the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. Despite being outnumbered by Cardinals fans, I had the consolation of seeing the Sox win, and was suitably impressed by the casino itself (though never having been to Foxwoods or anything similar, I don't have much basis for comparison). Though we'd had Mass the night before at the villa, on Sunday a couple of us went to Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Church in Peshawbestown on the Ottawa-Chippewa reservation. The interior decoration and liturgy at Blessed Kateri incorporated elements of the Native American heritage of many of the parishioners, which made for a very enriching and interesting worship experience. After brunch at the villa, we began the return trip back to Loyola House. On the way we spotted a tavern with the intriguing name of Spike's Keg O' Nails ("The Meeting Place of the North"), which I would've enjoyed stopping at had I not spent the better part of my funds for the trip at the bookstore in Northport. It's just as well, however: we're expected to return to the villa for two weeks next summer, during which I may have another opportunity to visit Spike's and other places of interest. Considering how much I enjoyed my first stay at Omena, I can hardly wait for the next one. Go Sox, AMDG.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Fall Villa at Omena.

Tomorrow morning the first- and second-year novices will be leaving for our fall "villa," which is Jesuitese for "weekend getaway." From Friday through Sunday we'll be at the Chicago and Detroit Provinces' shared vacation home in Omena on the shores of Lake Michigan, where we'll engage in various forms of recreation (including, I hope and presume, watching Game 1 of the World Series on Saturday) and generally have lots of fun. Expect a report on this on Monday, as well as some reflections on the hospital experiment so far. Go Sox, AMDG.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Seventh Heaven!

Wow . . . that's all I can say right now. AMDG.

"Rambo Catholics."

One of my favorite professors from law school, Cathy Kaveny, has some wise and witty things to say about a timely controversy in two op-eds posted on the Mirror of Justice weblog, available here and here. Some readers may think I'm chickening out by not allowing comments on this post, but I have neither the time nor the energy to moderate a comment box debate on this subject. I'm also mindful of my prior avowal to keep politics out of this blog as much as possible - a commitment that I strongly reiterate now. I post Professor Kaveny's words not to pick a fight or to advance a particular political agenda but simply because I believe that they are worth reading and reflecting upon. That said, we now return to our regularly scheduled program. AMDG.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Notes on the Feast of the North American Martyrs.

Today is the Feast of Saints Jean de Brebeuf, Isaac Jogues and Companions. I wrote a lot about the Martyrs in the days before the Midland trip, and there's not much more I can say that I haven't already written (see my entries here, here and here if you want to recap). I will say that the Martyrs are really, really cool and that this may be my favorite feast day.

Today two of my fellow novices - second-year Chicagoan Jeff and Detroit first-year Ryan - have birthdays, which will be celebrated with appropriate festivity at dinner tonight. In other news, today is my first day at the Abbey Living Center in Warren, so wish me luck. Expect a report on my experiences later in the week. AMDG.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Big doings at the Oratory.

The Montreal Gazette reports today on the consecration of St. Joseph's Oratory. Though the first chapel on the site was built a century ago and the present shrine was completed in 1967 (not in 1956 as the Gazette claims), the mark of permanence conveyed by formal consecration was delayed until this year. One of my favorite places in Montreal, the Oratory is more than a place of prayer and a memorial to its remarkable founder Brother Andre. It's also a beautiful building with some intriguing architectural details as well as a lookout point offering a spectacular view of the northern and western parts of Montreal Island and beyond. Whenever I'm visiting Montreal I like to watch the sunset from the upper-level observation deck of the Oratory; it's an experience that, as the estimable John Ferone, S.J. would observe, "makes it easy to say 'thanks.'" AMDG.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

News of the old neighborhood.

The South Bend Tribune reports today on efforts to have the Chapin Park neighborhood, where I lived for two of my three years in South Bend, designated as a local historic district. The area is already on the National Register of Historic Places, but the new designation would have a more visible impact on the neighborhood by implementing stricter standards on the external appearance of residential structures. I enjoyed living in Chapin Park, and I welcome efforts to maintain and strengthen its distinctive character. My only concern is the possibility that the property use restrictions that come with a new historic district designation might be disproportionately onerous for residents with lower incomes. For me, one of the great things about Chapin Park was its demographic and socioeconomic diversity: here was a neighborhood where blacks and whites, lawyers and construction workers, cops and college students, young families and retirees all lived in close proximity. Community groups like Near Northwest Neighborhood, Inc. have done commendable work over the years to preserve this diversity, and I hope that the historic district proposal won't hinder their efforts. As long as this isn't an issue, by my lights the change would be a positive one. AMDG.

Sunday Sundries.

Mass this morning at St. Leo's with a homily by Bishop Gumbleton. The readings focused generally on the efficacy of prayer, and rather than dispense the standard "God will provide if only we pray" lines the Bishop honestly contended with the fact that, yes, we don't always get what we pray for. He also tackled the violent focus of the first reading from Exodus, exploring the contradiction between Moses' prayer for victory in battle and Jesus' later revelation that "God is only love" and not violence.

This afternoon we'll be joining the Jesuit community at U of D Jesuit High School for their celebration of Oktoberfest. Though I've driven by UDJHS several times, I've never been inside and this will be an opportunity to see the building and to get to know the community there better. On the whole, I'm sure it will be a lot of fun. AMDG.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Che's Chevrolet, Fidel's Oldsmobile.

Metro Times Detroit has an interesting review of a new book by Richard Schweid called Che's Chevrolet, Fidel's Oldsmobile: On the Road in Cuba. Sounds like a fascinating read, especially in light of my recent travels in Cuba. Watch for a potential review by yours truly once I've had a chance to read the book.

In other reading news, I finally finished The First Jesuits- had a harder time slogging through it this time around (in large part due to my schedule) but having now studied some of the Society's founding documents I feel like I understood the book better than I did on my first reading. Next on my reading list is Jerome Nadal, S.J., 1507-1580: Tracking the First Generation of Jesuits, by the late William V. Bangert, S.J. Father Nadal was a key figure in the early Society, having been chosen by Ignatius himself to travel around to all the Jesuit houses in Europe to explain the Order's Constitutions shortly after their promulgation. Nadal was selected for this task because Ignatius felt that Nadal understood his thought better than any other early Jesuit and would thus be in the best position to deal with any interpretive issues that would arise in applying the Constitutions in different houses and provinces. Father Bangert was a distinguished Jesuit historian and probably in as good a position as anyone to bring Nadal to modern readers. Hopefully I'll have more to say when I've finished the book. AMDG.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Touring the Motor City.

Today many of the primi and some of the secundi went on a tour of Detroit led by two lifelong area residents, our own Sister Theresa and local historian Dave Parr. The tour was an enjoyable and eye-opening experience, covering diverse territory that gave us a much stronger sense of the city. We toured lively ethnic enclaves like Greektown and Mexicantown (but not, alas, traditionally Polish Hamtramck) and saw the stately (but in many cases now decayed) mansions of the Boston-Edison District and Palmer Park. We also visited several sites intimately connected to Detroit's automotive heritage. For example, we walked through the opulent lobby of the Fisher Building (of automotive "Body by Fisher" fame), lauded by some as "the most beautiful building in the world." I'm not sure I'd go that far, but the Fisher is a very attractive example of 1920's American commercial architecture. Across the street is the former General Motors Building (now used as office space by the State of Michigan), an equally breathtaking commercial edifice connected to the Fisher by an underground tunnel and, not incidentally, designed by the same architect. Turning from GM to Ford, we also saw the Highland Park Ford Plant where the original Model T was produced; while noted by a historical marker, the Ford buildings there are in decrepit condition and rumor has it some may be torn down in the near future. For lunch we went to the landmark American Coney Island downtown, coneys being to Detroit what smoked meat is to Montreal and cheesesteak is to Philadelphia. Hot dogs aren't really my thing, so I didn't exactly fall in love with the stuff I was served at the American. While I'm living here, however, I figure I should make an effort to appreciate the local culinary culture, and thus I'm sure I'll be back to the American or to one of its many competitors. All told, the tour was a fine day out and introduced me to plenty of landmarks that I can now show to family and friends when they come to visit. AMDG.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Rest in peace, Father Felten.

Today I attended the funeral of Father John Felten, a Chicago Province Jesuit who died at Colombiere this past weekend at the age of eighty-six. I never met Father Felten, but Jesuits who knew both him and myself tell me we probably would've gotten along very well. At last night's wake a number of people shared touching personal reminiscences about the impact that Father Felten had on their lives, with recollections from his Jesuit classmates and former students as well as from people who had gotten to know him in the last years of his life. Particularly moving for me was hearing from a younger Jesuit who had studied under Father Felten at Xavier University and credited the longtime classics professor as a key influence on his own decision to enter the Society. The funeral today was a dignified but appropriately quiet affair; about a hundred people - mostly Jesuits, but some family as well - attended the funeral Mass in the chapel at Colombiere, with a smaller group making the short walk to the Jesuit cemetery on the grounds for the interment. One image of the day that will probably stay with me for a while was seeing the deceased laid out in his coffin with a Campion Hall scarf draped around his neck - of all his accomplishments, few gave Father Felten more pride than the degrees he earned at Oxford, and the scarf struck me as a very nice touch. All told, this was certainly a day - and a Jesuit - to remember. AMDG.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Bush v. Kerry, Round Three.

Just finished watching the final presidential debate of the season, and though I think both candidates gave strong performances I'd have to give Kerry the edge. Interestingly, while Kerry was fairly consistent in all three debates Bush offered a different side of himself each time: hunched and stammering in the first debate, on fire the second time around, and surprisingly quiet and composed this time. Bush's handling of the flu vaccine question seemed at odds with his treatment of the prescription drug issue in St. Louis; I'm curious why Canadian pills are to be considered dangerous but Canadian flu vaccine is apparently safe. As for Kerry, I was most impressed with his handling of moderator Bob Schieffer's question about the attitude of some Catholic bishops toward his candidacy. Kerry's brief but thoughtful exploration of the ways in which his Catholic faith has impacted his life and his work as a public official served as a potent reminder that volatile wedge issues like abortion are not the only indicia of a candidate's religious bona fides. By contrast, Bush's claims about promoting a "culture of life" struck me as rather hollow, given that his understanding of what such a culture entails seems to be limited to the abortion issue and does not seem to include a concomitant concern for building social structures that support human flourishing. Some readers may find my assessment in this area somewhat biased, and I'll admit that it is. At this point, I might as well admit (to the perhaps negligible proportion of readers who didn't know already) that I am a Democrat and will be voting for Senator Kerry. I recognize that some readers may take exception to my choice of candidate, and I ask only that they respect the fruit of my political discernment just as I respect their own views. This election has occasioned a lively and often rancorous debate on the proper role of Catholic citizens in public life. I have no interest in rendering an already-charged political atmosphere more volatile, but by stating my personal preferences as I have here I hope that I can at least help buck up any readers who feel beleaguered by the harsh tone of some of the voices that have been raised in the present debate. Leaving aside partisan considerations for what I hope will be the last time on this blog, I have to say that I'm also an ardent political junkie, and in that capacity I enjoyed this year's presidential debates enormously. Regardless of your political leanings, I hope all interested readers can say the same. AMDG.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

"Signs of life in Quebec's churches."

So says an article in today's (Montreal) Gazette which suggests a slight uptick in Christian practice in Quebec. Though this claim flies in the face of gloomy conventional wisdom, it comes from two highly trustworthy sources: veteran Gazette religion reporter Alan Hustak and Canadian sociologist of religion Reginald Bibby. On some levels, the reported data confirm the long-term decline in religious observance in Quebec: 5% of Christians in Quebec attend church weekly, and only 7% of Catholics under the age of 35 attend Mass regularly. (I'd be interested in seeing data comparing the last figure to rates of participation for young Catholics in the Northeastern United States; I have a hunch that the difference in the two figures would not be all that dramatic.) And yet, in spite of it all, 80% of Quebecers still claim a belief in God and 63% claim that "they have personally experienced God's presence in their lives." Bibby notes that "large numbers of Quebecers still identify themselves as being Roman Catholic, even though they don't go to church. . . . Quebec continues to be thoroughly Catholic. If a renaissance occurs, it will be a Catholic renaissance." A hopeful message, to be sure, but the Church in Quebec (and here, too, for that matter) still has to work to convince young Catholics to remain active practitioners of their faith. Various steps can undoubtedly be taken in this regard, but little can be done without the right resources and willpower. Last year, I read a thoughtful book on the topic by theologian Normand Provencher, o.m.i. called Trop tard?: L'avenir de l'Eglise d'ici. Provencher offers a lot of concrete, creative suggestions for the renewal of Catholicism in Quebec, but in line with his title he expresses the fear that it may be "too late" for them to have any effect. All of this may be of little interest to most of my readers, but the topic interests me a lot and so I bring it up here.

As a side note, in digging around online to find the link above for Trop Tard? I also stumbled across this neat blog which in turn directed me to a fascinating website offering an extensive (though not exhaustive) inventory of places of worship in Quebec, including more architectural and historical info than you can wave a stick at. Again, I suspect most readers will be scratching their heads at all this, but this stuff interests me a lot - more, in fact, that most other topics - and thus I provide it for your perusal and possible edification. AMDG.

Monday, October 11, 2004

First day at Colombiere.

Fellow primi Adam, Eric, Tony and I started our hospital experiment this morning at the Jesuit infirmary at Colombiere Center. Saint Ignatius wanted Jesuit novices to spend several weeks or months working with the sick and dying in hospitals, hence the term "hospital experiment"; given changes in medical technology and the provision of health care, the experiences Ignatius considered common to "hospitals" are now more likely to be had in hospices and nursing homes. As practiced here, the hospital experiment involves one day a week assisting nurses' aides in caring for elderly Jesuits at Colombiere and three days visiting patients at a local nursing home; at Colombiere we play an active role in providing care, while our apostolate in the nursing homes is solely a ministry of presence. For logistical reasons, the fourteen first-year novices are split into teams of three or four and go on separate days to Colombiere and to different nursing homes. As previously noted, my group was supposed to start this week at Abbey Living Center, but due to unforseen circumstances it turns out we won't begin there until next Tuesday. One way or another, we finish up at both Colombiere and Abbey in early December.

Our time at Colombiere was positive on the whole though challenging at times. Most of the Jesuits living there are retired (though still "praying for the Church and the Society" in the words of the Jesuit catalogue) and range in age from the mid- to late-sixties to early-nineties. Though virtually all are Chicago or Detroit Province Jesuits, the men at Colombiere come from varied backgrounds and have had diverse experiences, having served as pastors, teachers, university presidents, missionaries, writers, artists and more. They also vary a lot in terms of physical and mental health: some are both physically spry and mentally acute, others are limited in mobility but still sharp of mind, some are in great physical shape but are slipping mentally while others are diminished in both mind and body. As visiting novices our most important responsibility is to simply spend time with the older Jesuits and get to know them better; as needed, we also provide more concrete forms of assistance - helping the men get from their rooms to the dining room or the chapel, carrying their trays at lunch, and helping the nursing staff with baths and other care as needed.

Going into the experiment, the prospect of helping old men get in and out of the bathtub was hard to deal with. In practice, however, it was a lot easier than I expected, in part because the nurse's aide I was with did most of the work and the Jesuit we were helping was cheerful and cooperative. The hardest part turned out to be helping him put on his socks and shoes afterward: it's funny something I do without even thinking can be so tricky when I'm trying to do it for someone else. Though the bath went pretty well, I still had a hard time watching some of the men at Colombiere struggle with their limitations - for many of them, being unable to complete on their own the routine tasks most take for granted is clearly very difficult, as is finding themselves wholly dependent on others after spending their whole lives in service, often in high-profile positions.

Once I've been to Abbey, it will be interesting to compare and contrast my experience there and at Colombiere. For now, I can at least say that - as I already noted above - ministering at the Jesuit infirmary can be very challenging, but so far it's also been an eye-opening opportunity for growth. AMDG.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

A hermit as a hospital chaplain?

An article in yesterday's edition of my hometown paper focuses on Father Mike Racine, a diocesan priest who heads the Pastoral Care Department at St. Luke's Hospital in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Most of the piece is a fairly straightforward account of the work of a hospital chaplain; about halfway through the text, however, the article lists the personnel of Father Racine's department, including three religious sisters and three priests, one of whom is "hermit Father John of the Trinity, who lives in solitude." This unusual line understandably piqued my interest - a solitary hermit working as a hospital chaplain? Intrigued, I looked to Google for more info and turned up only this page identifying the enigmatic Father John as "a Carmelite priest and hermit living in Massachusetts." Though the golden age of eremetical religious life is long past, I have heard in the past of hermits still living here and there with the recognition and approval of ecclesiastical authorities. However, this is the first time I've heard of one actively engaged in apostolic work. I'd be curious how such an arrangement works - does Father John actually go to the hospital, or does he simply pray for patients from the solitude of his hermitage? This could have been grist for an offbeat human interest story ("Hermit emerges from solitude to visit the sick"), but the Standard-Times reporter apparently passed up on it.

As for my own "hospital" ministry, I'll have more to say on that later in the week. Tomorrow morning I start out at the Jesuit infirmary at Colombiere Center in Clarkston, Michigan and on Tuesday I'll be visiting residents at the Abbey Living Center in Warren. Stay tuned. AMDG.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Kevin updates his blog.

Typically this wouldn't be postworthy in and of itself, but it's a slow news day here at Loyola House. We happen to have some candidates (i.e., guys thinking about applying to enter the Jesuits) visiting this weekend, but that hasn't interrupted our general routine too much (as Kevin himself acknowledges). This post is mostly for Mom, because I know she reads all the other LH blogs in addition to my own and would probably appreciate the heads up. Of all the bloggers at the novitiate, Kevin probably does the best job of explaining our daily routine in a consistently straightforward manner, so our readers in mundo should be glad that he's back on the scene. AMDG.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Bush v. Kerry, Round Two.

In tonight's matchup both candidates improved substantially over their performances in the last debate. Bush made greater strides, perhaps in part because he had a lot more work to do, but remained unmistakably himself; a lot more in command and a lot less befuddled, he still managed to misidentify his opponent at one point as "Senator Kennedy" (a Freudian slip, perhaps, or an intentional flub), raged at moderator Charlie Gibson a couple times, and delivered an absolute stunner about how he wouldn't nominate anyone to the Supreme Court who supports Dred Scott (that must have been a bummer for any jurists out there who might be looking to bring back slavery, the 13th and 14th Amendments notwithstanding); beyond the opinion's irrelevancy to the present election, that Bush would characterize Dred Scott as an example of judicial activism betrays ignorance at best and disingenousness at worst. Kerry was a lot more plainspoken and straightforward than he was last time, though he could've been a bit more forceful at times. Both men gave about as good as they got, and I'm genuinely looking forward to their final confrontation next Wednesday. AMDG.

Where do Jesuit provinces get their names?

A View from the Dome raised this very a propos question, focused on what seems to be a certain inconsistency in the naming of provinces: some are named for cities (Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans), some for states (California, Maryland, Missouri, New York, Oregon, Wisconsin) and some for regions (New England). And some, it bears mentioning, have seemingly anachronistic names (e.g., Bohemia and Upper Canada). For an answer on this, I consulted the source of all wisdom in Jesuit matters, Father Walt Farrell - Detroit Province treasurer, former provincial and Jesuit Conference president, onetime theologate rector, a delegate to the 31st and 32nd General Congregations of the Society of Jesus, Loyola House resident, and all around great man. Walt suggests that part of the answer to the conundrum lies in the fact that province names are typically selected by people on the ground in the provinces themselves and not by a central authority like the Jesuit Curia in Rome - hence, there's no common way of proceeding on this. The Constitutions of the Society of Jesus and their Complementary Norms say nothing on the subject of province names, which only supports the thesis that local discretion governs in this matter. One unwritten rule clearly exists, however: unlike in some other religious communities, all Jesuit provinces have names that are in some sense geographic. Not the best answer, perhaps, but hopefully this helps. AMDG.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Servants of Jesus Fall Fest.

Tonight I and seven other primi attended a benefit for the Servants of Jesus (a.k.a., "the other S.J.'s"), a Michigan-based community of religious women whose president, Sister Barbara, lives across the street from the novitiate. (This is the same Sister Barbara whose generosity enabled me to attend the ND-MSU game and the Detroit Symphony last month - many thanks yet again, Sister!) Apparently this benefit takes place every fall, but this one was particularly noteworthy because the Servants are celebrating their thirtieth anniversary this year; to mark this milestone they showed a special video (which included footage of Jonathan's home parish, where one of the Servants works) and raffled off a bunch of stuff, some of which we won. The event was held at St. John's Golf & Conference Center, a really lovely facility that used to be a diocesan seminary - if you ever have to put on a conference in Detroit, this would be a great place to have it. All in all, another great evening out - a wonderful opportunity to meet some interesting people, make new friends and celebrate the work of some outstanding women religious.

At this point, you may be thinking that all we novices do is attend lavish banquets. Well, that's not true. The last few weeks we've been having classes on the vows, Jesuit history, homiletics, and Institute (i.e., the documents of the Society). On Monday, we also start our first real apostolic activity, the "hospital experiment." I could talk more about what this is, but I think I'll keep you all in suspense until I get into it. Details to follow next week. AMDG.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

A View from the Dome.

Be sure to check out this blog produced by a friend at NDLS. I'm going to respect the author's wish to remain anonymous, though I suspect many Notre Dame readers will know who she is. An alumna of Loyola College in Maryland as well as an FJV ("Former Jesuit Volunteer"), the intrepid blogger behind A View from the Dome is a a walking advertisment for the stellar benefits of Jesuit education and Ignatian spirituality. Her blog is a great place to learn about what's going on in the world and - if you're an NDLS alum like myself - to catch up on important goings on at alma mater. AMDG.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Cheney v. Edwards.

Just finished watching the vice presidential debate with some of my fellow novices. As far as I'm concerned, this one was a wash - both candidates got in a few digs at the other, but neither delivered a knock-out punch. There was a definite contrast between this encounter and the memorably genial Cheney-Lieberman debate four years ago. Cheney's frequent jabs at the Kerry-Edwards tickets had a mean-spirited edge to them, and several members of the Loyola House audience thought the Veep acted like a jerk. Edwards was more civil while still managing to do his job as No. 2 by being a lot more blunt in his criticisms of the present administration than Kerry was in last week's debate. Vice presidential candidates and debates seldom make or break a ticket, and my guess is that tonight's matchup will have little impact on the election. More decisive will be Friday's debate between Bush and Kerry in St. Louis, which will have questions from a live audience of ordinary citizens - a format that often generates fireworks and can also lead candidates into fatal stumbles. Tune in Friday night for my instant reaction. AMDG.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Notes on the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi.

I've honestly never been a big fan of Francis, whose feast we celebrate today. Now I'll admit that Il Poverello is an important figure in the life of the Church: he's beloved by millions, and the numerous communities of religious women and men bearing his name have given great service to the Catholic community and to the world. For my own part, I'll admit to a certain fondness for the Prayer of St. Francis - which, I should note, Francis did not write and perhaps never even read. The saint himself, however, simply does not appeal to me on either an intellectual or an affective level. Perhaps this is precisely as it ought to be. The Franciscan way is but one of many spiritual charisms in the Church; it is not the best, and it is certainly not the worst. Indeed, it makes little sense to speak of a "best" or "worst" charism, as spirituality is not and must never be a "one size fits all" discipline. Catholic spirituality is, however, a "something for everyone" discipline, as the Catholic tradition includes enough ways of prayer and practice to suit seekers of diverse disposition. The Jesuit charism of finding God in all things and the gifts of Ignatian spirituality may fit me well, but they're not for everyone. The Franciscan charism is decidedly not my own, but there are many for whom it fits perfectly. On this, the feast of a popular saint who has never stirred my devotion, I'll offer a prayer of thanksgiving for the joyous cacophany of charisms in the Church. AMDG.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

The Annals of Jesuit Cinema, Volume I.

Just finished watching The Mission along with fellow novices Mike Singhurse and Eric Styles. Directed by Roland Joffe and starring Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons, The Mission deals with the hopeful life and tragic demise of the 18th century Jesuit reductions in Paraguay. Though the film is something of a cult classic in Jesuit circles, neither Eric, Mike nor myself had ever seen it - hence our desire to see it now. The Mission plays a little fast and loose with some details of Jesuit life - for example, Jesuits are falsely described as "monks" and Robert De Niro somehow becomes a priest almost immediately after entering the Society, skipping the customary years of formation - but in a larger way it offers an affecting and highly positive portrayal of one of the Society's most famous apostolates. Not only that, the movie also features Jesuit poet and peace activist Dan Berrigan in a bit part. The Mission is sometimes compared with the much-underrated Black Robe - which happens to be one of my favorite movies - but having seen both I can now say that the two are much too dissimilar to be compared. Both hold honored places in the annals of Jesuit cinema, a topic on which much could be written, given the decent number of movies with Jesuit themes - or, at the very least, Jesuit characters. More on this later, perhaps. AMDG.

At home in two worlds.

In the first few weeks of novitiate we've been reminded several times that Jesuits must be men who are at home in diverse situations and can relate to all kinds of different people. A couple of experiences that I had today brought this into perspective.

This morning I went to Mass at St. Leo's Church in Detroit. This was my second visit to this predominantly African American innercity parish; Kevin provides a good account of our trip there a month ago. St. Leo's has a pastor of some notoriety in Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton, a founding member of Pax Christi USA and a longtime social advocate. Bishop Gumbleton's homily explored today's Gospel within the context of a recent trip that he made to Haiti as part of a Pax Christi delegation; Haiti is a land of great suffering, and yet amidst this suffering Gumbleton found a kernel of Christian hope.

This evening all the novices attended a reception for the many generous benefactors who support Jesuit formation programs. The event was held in posh Grosse Pointe Shores at the lakefront home of the family that owns Art Van Furniture. We enjoyed gracious hospitality and easy conversation; the benefactors were all very kind and clearly very pleased to meet us. As on Friday, clerics and a black suit were required attire, though unlike the UDM gala most of the people I spoke with today picked up the fact that I am not ordained. The reception offered a chance to meet and thank the people who help make our formation possible. The environment was a world apart from what I found this morning at St. Leo's, but both the innercity parishioners and the affluent benefactors proved highly engaging and welcoming. For my own part, I'm glad I was able to be present to both groups and to begin to learn how to fulfill the Jesuit mandate to make myself equally at home in very different worlds. AMDG.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Snacking at the Hunter House.

Fellow novice Tony and I just returned from Woodward Avenue landmark Hunter House Hamburgers, where we went for a (near) midnight snack. The Hunter House is a classic linoleum and white tile greasy spoon joint, with locally famous hamburgers. For the record, the burger I had was decent but didn't quite live up to its reputation; it also didn't live up to the $1.75 price. Tony got a grilled cheese sandwich, which ironically was more expensive (by a dollar) than my burger. Even so, part of what you're paying for at a place like the Hunter House is the ambience, and in that regard we were well taken care of. Woodward in general is shaping up as one of my favorite places in metro Detroit; in addition to hosting the annual Woodward Dream Cruise, this 27-mile long commercial strip offers a cornucopia of 1950's to '70's roadside Americana, with plenty of greasy spoon diners, kitschy pubs, mom-and-pop motels and timeworn specialty stores. "Detroit's main drag" is also designated as a National Scenic Byway, and justifiably so; lots to see along this stretch of roadway, especially if you - like me - enjoy postwar commercial architecture with lots of neon. AMDG.

2004 Ig Nobel Winners.

Complete list here. I was surprised to learn that the combover has been patented. I wasn't so surprised, however, by the link between country music and suicide. The Five Second Rule study confirms what I suspected all along, though the gender differential is the opposite of what I would have expected. AMDG.

Friday, October 01, 2004

UDM Inaugural Gala.

Just got back from a wonderful evening at the Detroit Opera House celebrating the inauguration of Father Gerry Stockhausen, S.J. as the new president of the University of Detroit Mercy. The inaugural gala was a fancy black-tie affair (I was told to wear clerics, a new experience for me), with excellent food (rack of lamb, Chilean sea bass), live music, open bar, the whole shebang. I enjoyed wonderful dinner conversation with the people at my table, a combination of UDM alumni, faculty and staff (with some fitting in multiple categories). I got to sit next to Father Herm Muller (who I've mentioned before), still sharp at 95 and - as a longtime UDM professor - a friend and mentor to many at the gala. Herm also enjoys the fairly unique distinction of being able to say he's been a member of three different Jesuit provinces. When he entered the Missouri Province in 1928, it covered the whole Midwest. A week into Herm's novitiate, Missouri was divided up and Herm was made a member of the new Chicago Province. In 1955, Chicago itself was split and Herm became a member of the new Detroit Province. This should give you an idea of what an incredible life Herm has led - he's a remarkable man, and a great Jesuit.

The evening also gave me a healthy appreciation for UDM's service to Detroit. Three decades ago, as Detroit struggled with social unrest and urban decay, there was serious talk that the university might follow many other institutions in leaving the city. True to the Jesuit mission of meeting the greatest and most urgent needs of the Church and the larger community, UDM stayed in Detroit. Speaking with the people at my table and with others at the gala, I could see the vital impact that UDM has had within its community, and I felt proud of all the Jesuits have done to make that impact possible. In short, an enjoyable and inspiring evening. AMDG.

Notes on the Feast of St. Therese of Lisieux.

Today we remember St. Therese of Lisieux, the 19th century French Carmelite nun known as the progenitor of the "Little Way" and author of the classic spiritual autobiography Story of a Soul. For a long time I was somewhat suspicious of Therese, for I associated devotion to her with a saccharine strain of Catholic spirituality which doesn't move me. That changed, however, when I actually got around to reading Story of a Soul, which reveals Therese as a tough, spunky young woman quite different from the passive and pious figure of "Little Flower" stereotype. The Therese I admire was determined and courageous; she fought hard to win admission to the Carmel (at one point, she even appealed to the Pope) and dealt stoically with the challenges she faced living in religious community. Another interesting dimension of Therese's story - and one which illuminates the disconnect between the popular perception of this saint and the person she actually was - is that the integral text of Story of a Soul was unavailable for a long time. The version that first saw the light of day - and, ironically, the one that cemented Therese's reputation - was severely edited and in some instances rewritten by her fellow sisters so as to appear more simply pious and "edifying" to the public. The complete text, available in English in the superb ICS edition, gives a fuller and more accurate picture of who Therese was. So, if you want the real Story of a Soul, get the ICS edition - accept no substitutes.

As an aside, I was surprised to learn in Midland that Therese has an interesting connection to the Society of Jesus. As in turns out, she was canonized in the same ceremony in which the North American Martyrs were beatified. Go figure. AMDG.