Monday, March 27, 2006

Seen afar, in strange fulfillment.

My weekend away at Notre Dame was unexpectedly - but very happily - much busier than I anticipated. At the invitation of my Jesuit hosts, on Friday night I attended the Notre Dame Glee Club's Spring Concert at ND's spiffy new DeBartolo Performing Arts Center. (This is, I believe, at least the third post in which I've raved about the new Performing Arts Center, which goes to show how eye-poppingly impressive the place is.) The eclectic program included selections from Mozart and Rachmaninoff, a few traditional African tunes, the obligatory Notre Dame, Our Mother and Notre Dame Victory March and surprises like Somewhere Over the Rainbow (offered partly as an oblique commentary on recent campus controversies). The Glee Club showed great mastery and impressive range in performing the various pieces, making for a highly enjoyable evening.

Like Friday, Saturday turned out much differently and in a sense much better than I expected. Attending Mass at Alumni Hall in the morning, I ran into a friend (and reader of this blog) I had not seen since graduation. We caught up over lunch and afterward wandered over to Hesburgh Library, which runs a kind of perpetual book sale that I always enjoy checking out when I'm on campus. The book sale at Hesburgh is no more than a table of assorted books - mainly academic and special interest titles, some old and quite rare - which may be purchased for the uniform price of one dollar each. The book sale is run on the honor system, with a lock box placed on the table in which patrons can make payment for any books they choose to take away (exact change only, please). Perusing the day's selection of books, I came across a copy of the Manual for Courts-Martial of the United States printed in 1951. As one who loves old books, I take great pleasure in perusing the yellowed pages of ancient tomes, trying to decode annotations scribbed in the margins by previous owners and examining the note cards and stray slips of paper which the same owners often leave in their books. The owner of this Manual for Courts-Martial had taken particular care in marking important pages with hand-made plastic tabs bearing carefully typed labels. Flipping back to the first page of the manual, I found that the original owner had written his name: Conrad Kellenberg. The owner of the book, it turned out, was someone I knew. A former legal officer in the United States Air Force, Conrad Kellenberg joined the law faculty at Notre Dame in 1955 and was still teaching when I arrived on campus in 2001. After completing his fiftieth year of teaching, Professor Kellenberg retired - and, apparently, he donated some or perhaps much of his personal library to the university. Always smiling and upbeat, Professor Kellenberg had the good habit of greeting every person he passed in the hallway. At opportune moments, he would also take care to ask students - even some who, like myself, never took one of his classes - how they were doing. I don't have a pressing need to know the procedures governing courts martial in the 1950's, but I nonetheless decided to purchase Professor Kellenberg's book as a souvenir of one of Notre Dame Law School's most beloved figures.

Taking my discovery of Professor Kellenberg's Manual for Courts-Martial as a plausible omen, on Saturday night I dropped plans to see the latest (and last) Merchant Ivory film The White Countess at the Vickers Theatre in order to attend an on-campus production of A Few Good Men put on by the St. Edward's Hall Players, one of Notre Dame's innumerable student theater groups. The production was favorably reviewed in Friday's Observer, though as a student theater afficionado I didn't need much convincing. Faced with the challenge of offering a fresh interpretation of a play known to most only through Rob Reiner's 1992 film adaptation, the cast rose to the occasion with convincingly original and generally excellent performances. The play itself is perhaps more timely today than when it was written nearly two decades ago. A defiant Cold Warrior, Colonel Nathan "You Can't Handle the Truth" Jessep articulates views one can easily imagine hearing spoken by some warriors engaged in the War on Terror. "We live in a world that has walls," Jessep says, "and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns... deep down, in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall... I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it! I would rather you just said thank you and went on your way."

I had a unique worship experience Sunday morning, attending the Divine Liturgy at St. John of Damascus Melkite Greek Catholic Church in South Bend. Somewhat in the manner of early Christian worshipping communities, St. John of Damascus is quite literally a house-church. The parish meets for liturgy and fellowship in a small green house on a corner lot, a house that still has the external appearance of the single-family dwelling it once was. Entering inside, one discovers that this is truly a church after all - the front door opens into a small, icon-filled chapel with seating for perhaps thirty people. About twenty were present for yesterday's liturgy, representing a vivid cross-section of Eastern Catholic Christianity: some were lifelong Melkites, some were members of other Eastern churches and some belonged to the Roman Rite. Surprisingly, I wasn't the only novice - a couple guys from the Conventual Franciscan novitiate in nearby Mishawaka were there as well. After the liturgy, I had a chance to chat with longtime pastor Father Bob Kerby, who is a delightful raconteur as well as a fine homilist. Beyond that, few priests - East or West, Catholic or Orthodox - can match Father Kerby for breadth of life experience. A graduate of Fordham Prep and Notre Dame, Kerby flew cargo planes for the U.S. Air Force and earned a doctorate in American history at Columbia before being ordained a Melkite Catholic priest in 1970. Like many Melkite priests in the church's Middle Eastern heartland but unlike most in the United States, Father Kerby is married. When Kerby moved to South Bend to join the faculty at his alma mater, he also became pastor at St. John of Damascus. Now retired from teaching, Kerby continues to run his parish with the help of his wife Mary - a true 'mom and pop' operation, one might say. I enjoyed speaking with Father Kerby and some of his parishioners on Sunday, and I hope to return next time I'm in South Bend. AMDG.


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