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NOTRE DAME'S BELIEVABLE FOUNDER


EDWARD SORIN, by Marvin Richard O’Connell. University of Notre Dame Press. 737 pages. $49.95.

Reviewed by MARY BOLAND, a retired school librarian with almost 50 years of experience, including three in Europe. She holds a B.A. from the College of St. Francis, plus a B.L.S. and M.A. from the University of Illinois. Her uncle knew Edward Sorin, C.S.C.

THE FRENCH REVOLUTION profoundly influenced Edward Sorin (1814-1893), founder of the University of Notre Dame. The aftermath of that upheaval prompted many priests and religious to leave France just as U.S. bishops were seeking missionaries and educators.

Immigrants had an immeasurable impact on America; this country changed many of them forever. O’Connell explores both sequences in an amazingly effective manner.

In France, Basile Moreau established a religious community of priests and joined it with the Brothers of St. Joseph to establish schools.

At the request of Bishop Celestine Hailandière, head of the Diocese of Vincennes, Indiana, Moreau sent Sorin and six brothers to the United States in the summer of 1841.

After working for a year in a parish near Vincennes, Sorin and seven brothers, including several new recruits, went to northern Indiana where Father Stephen Badin had purchased 500 acres for a school. Badin’s property included two lakes that were so covered with snow when Sorin arrived that he thought they were a single lake. Thus he named the place “Notre Dame du Lac” (Our Lady of the Lake).

As a biographer, Father O’Connell succeeds in making Edward Sorin a totally believable person, sketching out in sensible fashion a full range of personality traits, making Sorin neither a saint nor a devil. Luckily, Sorin escaped the Jansenist influence then common in France.

Coming from a family of landowners, Sorin had a full measure of confidence, common sense and inspiration—all grounded on his bedrock faith in God and trust that Mary would guide Sorin and protect his new enterprise. He quickly realized differences between French and American societies and what success in the United States required.

In Le Mans, France, the more detail-oriented Father Moreau expected exact compliance with the instructions given in his letters. Sorin, however, made the adjustments that his experience in America suggested. He believed that God helps those who help themselves.

After a series of painful clashes between Sorin and Moreau, the Holy Cross community transferred its headquarters to Notre Dame, Indiana. In 1868 Father Sorin was elected superior general of the Congregation of the Holy Cross (priests, brothers and sisters) but frequently traveled to Europe. A fire in June 1879 destroyed Notre Dame’s main building, which was replaced within three months. Sorin met this crisis with faith and enthusiasm.

Father O’Connell’s style of writing is well chosen and appropriately conveys Sorin’s persistent determination to make this school succeed. Failure was never an option. O’Connell draws on hundreds of letters (from the teaching Brothers and the Holy Cross Sisters), plus various directives from France. Sorin’s determination, ingenuity and resolve made Notre Dame possible and, in time, successful, despite its chronic shortage of money.

In 1886 my father’s brother, John, entered the seminary at Notre Dame. Ordained six years later, in 1898 he was sent to Austin, Texas, as president of St. Edward’s College. He experienced the same financial challenges faced in South Bend: running a school, maintaining a farm and directing a religious community.

Complemented by 40 pages of photos and a very thorough Index, this biography of Edward Sorin yields endless rewards and insights for dedicated readers.

You can order EDWARD SORIN from St. Francis Bookshop.

THE COURAGE TO BE CATHOLIC: Crisis, Reform, and the Future of the Church, by George Weigel. Basic Books. 246 pp. $22.

Reviewed by JOHN F. FINK, author, columnist and editor emeritus of The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

WHILE READING George Weigel’s book The Courage to Be Catholic, I couldn’t help thinking about Jeremiah. Just as that Old Testament prophet called the Hebrews to reform themselves, so does Weigel challenge Catholics to more fidelity to classic Catholicism.

That is the theme of his book.

The only one who comes off well in the book is Pope John Paul II—not surprisingly for the author of Witness to Hope, the immense biography of the pope. Weigel blames other Vatican officials, bishops, theologians, seminary teachers, priests and laypeople for the current crisis in the Church.

Here are just a few quotes:

“The ‘answer’ to the scandal of clerical sexual abuse is fidelity—a deeper conversion of American priests to Christ.”

“The reform of the priesthood—indeed, the reform of the entire Catholic Church in America—will require a deep reform of the American episcopate.”

“The call to holiness must be lived more intensely by every member of the Church, in whatever state of life. Everyone [author’s italics]. The crisis of 2002 is like every other crisis in the Church’s history. It is a crisis caused by an insufficiency of saints.”

Perhaps Weigel would reject my characterization of him as a Jeremiah. He would probably be more comfortable in the category of those who encouraged reform during past periods of crisis in the Church. He mentions those periods in his Introduction, saying, “Every great period of reform in Catholic history has involved a thorough reform of the priesthood and the episcopate.”

In his first five chapters, Weigel tells what he believes the crisis in the Church is, what it is not, how it happened, why the bishops failed to prevent it and the role the Vatican played in it. He then devotes three chapters to an agenda for reform in seminaries and novitiates, the priesthood, the bishops and the Vatican. Finally, he has some concluding observations in a chapter called “From Crisis to Reform.”

To indicate the nature of the crisis, he begins with a tedious 10-page review of the cases of sexual abuse by priests from January through May of 2002.

The monster of this abuse, he says, had three heads: pedophilia, the most revolting of the three but the least common; priests having sexual relations with women; and homosexual priests abusing teenage boys and young men, the most common.

Weigel is correct when he writes that the deepest anger of Catholics was reserved for bishops who either did nothing about the abuse or aided and abetted it by moving guilty priests from parish to parish. It was a failure of episcopal leadership.

As for what the crisis is not, Weigel rejects any claim that the requirement of priestly celibacy caused it, that the media produced it or that the Catholic sexual ethic was at fault.

Among the causes, as Weigel sees it, is the “culture of dissent” ushered in by reaction to Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae. This, he says, resulted in lax seminaries, priests who won’t defend and practice Church teaching, and bishops who act like managers instead of shepherds.

An intriguing reason for why the bishops failed is Weigel’s contention that they didn’t want to appear “conservative.” It was galling to many of the bishops to have the reputation of being conservative because of their opposition to abortion, he says, when they actually were liberal on most issues. Therefore, they had a fear of appearing “judgmental” and “homophobic” in dealing with cases of clergy sexual abuse because they were aware that most cases of abuse involved homosexual clergy.

His agenda for reform includes specific recommendations for seminaries, for selection of bishops and for a greater voice for lay men and women.

He rejects what he calls “Catholic Lite,” a more liberal and accommodating Church. He calls for the renovation of the Church according to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council and a return to fidelity to those teachings.

You can order THE COURAGE TO BE CATHOLIC: Crisis, Reform, and the Future of the Church from St. Francis Bookshop.

JULIAN’S CELL: The Earthy Story of Julian of Norwich, by Ralph Milton. Northstone Publishers. 224 pp. $17.95, U.S.; $21.95, Canada.

Reviewed by DR. WAYNE A. HOLST, who teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary, in Alberta, Canada. A pastor and missionary, he frequently contributes book reviews to Catholic News Service, National Catholic Reporter and National Catholic Register.

JULIAN OF NORWICH (1342-1413?), medieval English mystic and possibly the first woman writer of the English language, received a series of visions in 1393. She became convinced they were authentic “showings” from God.

Her account of these revelations, written shortly thereafter, and meditations on their significance made 20 years later (almost the only information we have about her) have survived in mid-15th- and 16th-century manuscript copies under the title Revelations of Divine Love.

Thomas Merton wrote that there is no doubt that Lady Julian is the greatest of the English mystics. Not only that, but she is one of the greatest English theologians in the ancient sense of the word.

This remarkable woman continues to speak effectively to our time. Her prayers, her assurance that everything is held in being by the love of God so “all will be well” and her characterization of the Trinity as Father, Mother and Lord, appeal to many moderns in search of an authentic, contemporary spirituality.

Ralph Milton, by his own description a curmudgeonly Protestant liberal, here presents a person whose image, metaphors and worldview are those of the Roman Catholic Church in the late Middle Ages. “I’m not a scholar,” he says, “but I can do something many scholars can’t. I can tell a story....I can sometimes make history live.”

That, in essence, is what Julian’s Cell is all about. It is not so much an organized presentation of her times or her thought as it is a fictionalized yet “truthful” rendering of her life.

The inner voice that commanded Milton to write for modern spiritual seekers called him to tell her story in such a way that ordinary folk can feel the breath of her spirit.

The author portrays Julian in an unwashed, earthy setting, from which came her radically refined, inclusive and integrated teachings about a very special God.

The story, whose chapters are headed by dates rather than themes, covers the period from 1358 to 1415. These were calamitous times in England. The fearful population was wounded, then wounded again by plagues and ill-conceived religious crusades of all kinds. Milton says that the Church of that day in general preached that humans were loathsome worms, ruled by a domineering, vengeful God who established impossible standards and exacted punishment.

Julian, unschooled and self-taught in theology and spirituality, believed that humans were a treasure in the hand of God, made of the same essence and pursued by Divine love with motherly tenderness. She believed that Creator and creation were not complete until a union is formed in that loving tenderness.

Katherine (her original name) married young. She bore two children, but almost immediately, the offspring and their father succumbed to the pestilence and died. Within a few years, she received her visions and entered the anchorhold attached to the Church of Saints Julian and Edward in Conisford, Norwich. Continuing as a laywoman, she never “took” the name of Julian, but it was later ascribed to her.

Her reputation grew as a copier of manuscripts, a theological writer and a spiritual guide. Many sought her counsel. We are exposed to the great matters and small that occupied the lives of those who came to her.

While there are suspenseful moments in this drama, the storyline is somewhat uneven. But through his 200-page narrative, Milton effectively develops the character of a remarkable woman who was centuries ahead of her time. Julian’s Cell is a worthy endeavor and offers a good entrée to her spiritual writings themselves.

You can order JULIAN’S CELL: The Earthy Story of Julian of Norwich from St. Francis Bookshop.

THE INNER REACHES OF OUTER SPACE: Metaphor as Myth and as Religion, Joseph Campbell. New World Library. 160 pp. $20.

Reviewed by MATTHEW D. KEMPER, the community service director at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he previously taught theology.

AFTER LISTENING to a news program concerning violence in the Middle East, I was left wondering why we can’t tolerate ethnic and religious differences among our fellow human beings. Are our stories as Jew, Christian and Muslim really that different?

Then I thought of the power of metaphor, and the person of Joseph Campbell came to mind, for he renewed for us the significance of myth. New World Library has rereleased The Inner Reaches of Outer Space, the last book he completed before his death in 1987.

In this text, Campbell opens with his fundamental premise: “Reviewing with unprejudiced eye the religious traditions of mankind, one becomes very soon aware of certain mythic motifs that are common to all, though differently understood and developed in the differing traditions.”

These myths help us to make sense of our world and our place within it. They provide us with an appreciation of social order, so in contention today, and they help us to relate to the divine.

Campbell notes that myths have been part of human culture for thousands of years. He makes the case for “a knowledge that is within us from birth, a knowledge a priori, which is only brought to recollection by apparently external circumstance.”

To illustrate his assertion, Campbell refers to biblical stories of the physical ascension of Jesus and Elijah: “where those bodies went was not into outer space, but into inner space....When read as denoting merely specified events, therefore, the mirrored inward images lose their inherent spiritual force and, becoming overloaded with sentiment, only bind the will the more to temporality.”

In other words, in interpreting metaphors literally, we strip them of the very reality they are designed to impart; they become trite and stagnant fables that fail to capture the essence of our nature.

Common mythical themes exist across time and space. Campbell claims, “Since the archetypes, or elementary ideas, are not limited in their distributions by cultural or even linguistic boundaries, they cannot be defined as culturally determined,” although there are local ways of interpreting them.

The author’s extensive knowledge of the world’s great literary works enables him to cite prevalent motifs across cultures as examples of this phenomenon. He notes striking similarities in Albrecht Dürer’s woodcuts and Tibetan processional banners, and also among artifacts from the ancient Indus Valley, medieval depictions of the Second Coming of Christ and literary characters from Dante’s Inferno.

The text concludes with an emphasis on art as a primary medium for conveying mythological forms. Art is not merely paint on a canvas, but any sort of story, picture, poem or image that helps us experience an abstract myth as a tangible reality.

The wonderful story of the Buddha is cited as an example of how art communicates eloquently and unequivocally the shared truths of humanity.

Although in Western materialistic societies, artistic metaphors sometimes lose their power to move us, the persuasive influence of their medium puts artists in the unique position of transmitting mythologies to popular culture.

This publication, developed from a series of lectures delivered in San Francisco, is based on detailed research and extensive reflection. While The Inner Reaches of Outer Space handles legendary themes that are common to all, its scholarly text is most accessible to patient readers.

Joseph Campbell’s rich understanding of the power of myth is so relevant for the world today; our fractured humanity longs for common stories that might connect us to the goodness in one another. Campbell’s vision of mythology offers that hope.

You can order THE INNER REACHES OF OUTER SPACE: Metaphor as Myth and as Religion from St. Francis Bookshop.

AFRICAN SAINTS: Saints, Martyrs, and Holy People From the Continent of Africa, by Frederick Quinn. The Crossroad Publishing Company. 235 pp. $22.95.

Reviewed by PAT McCLOSKEY, O.F.M., editor of this publication, and author of three books on saints.

THE 86 ENTRIES in this book describe men and women whose holiness took root in Africa between the first century and the 21st century. Indeed, four entries describe people still alive.

Frederick Quinn, an Episcopal priest and the holder of a doctorate in history from UCLA, once worked for the U.S. State Department in Morocco, Burkina Faso, Upper Volta and Cameroon. Between 1978 and 1980 he supervised the United States Information Agency’s educational and cultural programs for Africa.

In 2003, an estimated 350 million of Africa’s 770 million people are Christian, including 175 million Roman Catholics; 320 million Muslims live in Africa. Quinn has cast a wide net with the book, including 37 Roman Catholic saints, other holy Christians plus several Muslims, adherents of traditional African religions and one Jewish man, a judge in South Africa.

“The problem for the compiler of an anthology like this one is not finding names to include,” Quinn writes, “but limiting their numbers.”

A major factor in the African expansion of Christianity from four million people in 1900 is the translation of the Bible into local languages.

“The relationship between Africa and the spread of Christianity is far richer than is usually thought,” says Quinn. In five years of persecution under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, an estimated 100,000 Christians were martyred in Egypt alone. Catholics may be surprised to learn that three Bishops of Rome came from North Africa.

Each entry averages two pages and ends with a quotation from that person or a prayer highlighting his or her generous response to the Good News of Jesus Christ. After 10 pages of Quinn’s diary of a 1987 trip to Africa and 17 pages of prayers and wise sayings from Africa, he ends with seven pages of endnotes, identifying his sources.

Quinn opens this book by quoting a Somali proverb, “The saints of God speak the same language.” After reading about Nana Asma’u, Trevor Huddleston, St. Monica, John Kaiser (a Minnesota priest murdered in Kenya in 2000) and many others, readers will appreciate how an intense love of God and neighbor furnished the common language described in this proverb.

I hope Crossroad Publishing is already preparing similar books about holy men and women in Latin America and Asia.

You can order AFRICAN SAINTS: Saints, Martyrs, and Holy People From the Continent of Africa from St. Francis Bookshop.

 

Book Briefs

“Gift” books are genuine valentines. These lushly illustrated books seem like chocolate-covered cherries.

INSIDE THE MIND OF GOD: Images and Words of Inner Space, Introduction by Sharon Begley, edited by Michael Reagan (Templeton Foundation Press, 160 pp., $24.95, U.S.; $37.95, Canada). Before, in The Mind of God, Begley and Reagan looked to the stars and galaxies to make the connection to God. This volume looks at the microscopic world, pairing images of nature with quotes from the finest literary, religious and scientific minds.

CISTERCIAN EUROPE: Architecture of Contemplation, by Terryl N. Kinder, with a Foreword by Michael Downey (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 407 pp., $70). In the United States we know the Cistercians mostly from the Trappist branch of the family. But this gorgeous book presents the best of Europe’s magnificent Cistercian abbeys and introduces a way of life that goes back to the 1100s.

THE CHRISTIANS: The Veil Is Torn, A.D. 30 to A.D. 70, Pentecost to the Destruction of Jerusalem, editor Ted Byfield (287 pp., Christian Millennial History Project Inc., P.O. Box 530, Pembina, ND 58271-9982, $39.95, U.S.; Christian History Project, 10333-178 Street, Edmonton, AB T5S1R5, $59.95, Canada). This is a journalistic approach, from a team of writers, illustrators and academics, to Jesus’ crucifixion and the amazing growth of the early Church.



Books can be obtained through St. Francis Bookshop on the Web or at 1618 Vine Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202-6498, phone 1-800-241-6392. All orders must be prepaid. Add $4 for postage and handling. Ohio residents should also add 6.0 percent for sales tax. The Bookshop offers a free catalog.


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