NO ORDINARY FOOL: A Testimony
to Grace, by John Jay Hughes. Foreword
by George Weigel. Tate Publishing
and Enterprises. 344 pp.
$19.99, U.S./$25.99, Canada.
Reviewed by PAT McCLOSKEY, O.F.M.,
editor of this publication.
THE SON AND GRANDSON of Episcopal
priests and one himself for six years,
a 1948 classics graduate of Harvard, a
former student in Münster of Professor
Joseph Ratzinger and now
a retired Roman Catholic
priest of the Archdiocese of
St. Louis, John Jay Hughes
wrote this memoir “to bear
witness to the Lord’s ability
to write straight on the
crooked lines of our unfaithfulness.”
A seventh-generation descendant
of John Jay, first
chief justice of the U.S. Supreme
Court, Father Hughes
and his younger siblings,
Jane and Dudley, grew up in Manhattan
with summers in Newport, Rhode
Island. Their father once said of an
acquaintance, “He’s no ordinary fool!”
Because the author’s 27-year-old
mother died when he was six, he has
never accepted God’s will as the explanation
for such a loss.
After studying theology at Kelham in
England, John Jay Hughes finished at
General Theology Seminary in New
York City and was ordained an Episcopal
priest in 1954. After serving in
parishes in Utica, New York, and Bisbee,
Arizona, he briefly lived as an Anglican
Benedictine but became a Catholic in
1960. John’s father was never reconciled
with that decision.
Two years of study in Innsbruck
under Karl Rahner and other Jesuits
preceded three years of teaching at a
German boarding school. Hughes’s doctoral
studies in Münster included a dissertation
on the validity of Anglican
orders, which had been declared null
and void by Pope Leo XIII in 1896.
On January 26, 1968, Bishop Höffner
of Münster (later cardinal-archbishop of
Cologne) ordained Hughes a Catholic
priest conditionally because the Episcopal
bishop who had ordained Hughes
a priest could trace his own ordination
to bishops recognized by the Catholic
Church. A 1959 letter from the Holy
Office had supported this.
After teaching in Louvain and at St.
Louis University, Hughes
incardinated in the Archdiocese
of St. Louis, where
he served as director of
RENEW and as pastor at
two parishes. He retired in
1991 but continues writing.
Hughes is the author of five
books and many articles.
Eight pages of black-and-white
pages of notes and an eight-page
index enhance this
book’s usefulness. It has also
been published in Great Britain.
No Ordinary Fool has received endorsements
from Michael Novak, Mary
Ann Glendon, Justus George Lawler,
Richard John Neuhaus, George Weigel,
Eugene Kennedy and John R. Quinn
(emeritus archbishop of San
Francisco)—a group very
unlikely to praise the same
Chapter 29 is composed
of separate letters to his
deceased parents. Chapter
One closes with the statement:
“From age twelve,
priesthood has been all I
ever wanted. If I were to
die tonight, I would die a
I had known of Hughes
through his writings. Anyone interested
in meeting a profoundly happy
priest will enjoy this engaging and well-written
volume, which praises God
while candidly acknowledging the
most painful moments Father John Jay
Hughes has experienced.
You can order NO ORDINARY FOOL: A Testimony
to Grace from St. Francis Bookstore.
OUR LADY OF KIBEHO: Mary Speaks
to the World from the Heart of
Africa, by Immaculée Ilibagiza with
Steve Erwin. Hay House, Inc. 210 pp.
Reviewed by MADGE KARECKI, S.S.J.-T.O.S.F., director of the Chicago Catholic
Missions Office who spent 21 years in
Africa and holds a D.Th. in missiology
from the University of South Africa.
THE TRAGEDY of the 1994 genocide in
Rwanda has been chronicled in articles,
books, reports and movies. Not
nearly as well-known is the story of
how the people of Rwanda were
warned about the impending disaster
more than a decade earlier through the
apparitions of Our Lady of Kibeho in
that central eastern African nation. The
story of these apparitions is told by a
Rwandan survivor, author and public
speaker Immaculée Ilibagiza, with journalist
Ilibagiza intertwines her personal
story of devotion to the Blessed Mother
with the larger story of the
apparitions of Our Lady of
Kibeho. One by one, readers
become acquainted with
Alphonsine, Anathalie and
Marie-Claire, the first three
visionaries. These young
women were drawn into
their encounters with the
woman who would change
their lives forever by bringing
them the message of her
The Virgin Mary invited
each of the visionaries to share in the
mission to make known her son’s call
to conversion and made it clear that it would mean great personal suffering
for each of them. Their individual stories
are narrated in Chapters 4, 5 and 6
by Ilibagiza to demonstrate how the
Holy Spirit led each one to consent to
the invitation to participate in God’s
plan for Rwanda.
At Kibeho, between 1981 and 1989,
the visionaries received messages of Our
Lady calling for repentance and forgiveness.
Unfortunately, the messages
went unheeded. The tragic genocide
was carried out by the Hutu government
and the Rwandan Army.
In a 1982 vision granted to Alphonsine,
Our Lady revealed scenes of the
Rwandan countryside turned into
killing fields, “rivers of blood...human
carnage, and flaming explosions,” as
soldiers systematically went from home
to home and killed Tutsis in cold blood.
The young visionary was then shown
piles of headless corpses rotting in air
thick with the stench of death.
Another visionary, Marie-Claire,
reported that the Blessed Mother told
her to speak these words to the people
of Rwanda: “What I am asking you to
do is to repent....The world has become
deaf and cannot hear the truth of the
word. Today people no longer know
how to apologize for the wrong they do
through sin; they put the Son of God
on the cross again and again.”
As in all cases of private revelations,
the Church moved slowly and decisively
in its investigation of the validity
of the happenings at Kibeho. The
diocesan bishop, Jean-Baptiste
Gahamanyi, appointed a theological
commission to examine the claims of
In late 1982, without making a definitive
judgment on the apparitions, the
bishop authorized Kibeho as a place of
public devotion. It was not until 2001
that his successor, Bishop Augustin
Misago, announced that the Church
recognized the apparitions as authentic
and Kibeho was added to the Vatican’s
list of authorized Marian sites.
The Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows now
stands on the place where the visionaries
received the apparitions of Mary.
The book continues with the stories
of three other visionaries, who had also
received several messages about the
need for repentance and forgiveness.
The unfolding genocide proved true
the message of Our Lady of Kibeho.
The story is told simply and convincingly.
It is both a historical and a personal
account of these apparitions.
Anyone interested in Marian apparitions
or the story of Rwanda’s painful
history will benefit from reading this
You can order OUR LADY OF KIBEHO: Mary Speaks
to the World from the Heart of
Africa from St.
THE MOUNTAINS OF SAINT FRANCIS:
Discovering the Geologic Events
That Shaped Our Earth, by Walter
Alvarez. W.W. Norton. 290 pp.
Reviewed by PATTI NORMILE, a nonscientist
and a Secular Franciscan. Her
most recent book is John Dear on Peace:
An Introduction to His Life and Work (St. Anthony Messenger Press).
THIS BOOK PRESENTS a curious and
surprising blend of the spiritual and the
geological. Geologist Walter Alvarez’s
story of the hills, vales, mountains
and dales of Italy begins at Christmastime
1970, as he and his wife, Milly,
were traveling in the chill of mountain
While Milly ponders the discomfort
that St. Francis of Assisi, Il Poverello (the
little poor man), might experience
should he view the massive basilica
built in his honor, Walter notes the
beautiful limestone from which it was
constructed. Some building blocks are
white, some brilliant pink, some pink
striated with white, some speckled with
tiny flecks that he later learned were
Alvarez recalls that the memories of
Assisi at Christmas were etched in his
memory through all five senses: the
sight of the colorful limestone, the
sounds of Christmas carols, the aroma
and taste of Italian cooking, the feel
of the chill in contrast with the warmth
of burning coals placed in a bucket
under the dining table.
Another sense was awakened as
well—Alvarez’s geological sense of
curiosity about the origins of the fascinating
limestone. How had the rocks
that formed the Basilica of San
Francesco been created?
His search and research began in
the quarries near Assisi where the
blocks from which the basilica would
rise had been carved from the earth.
Examination of that site raised more
questions. How had minuscule sea
creatures become part of the rock
on an inland mountain?
Alvarez realized that the quarries
held the secret of a momentous event
in Earth history when the Apennine
Mountains emerged from the Earth’s
Like St. Francis who journeyed from
Assisi to Rome, Alvarez went to Rome.
There the stones of the ancient buildings
continued to tell the story of the
formation of the backbone mountains
of Italy. Research continued in Siena
and Gubbio, revealing history reaching
back into the time when an enormous
asteroid crashed into Earth, decimating
much that existed, including the
Flat river valleys, volcanic sites, strata
of stone rising nearly perpendicular to
the Earth’s surface all bear witness to
the dramatic events of the past.
Alvarez concludes his story from the
perspective of a geologist, “...looking
out from a high peak across the Mountains
of St. Francis, there are signs
everywhere of Earth processes at work
and vestiges everywhere of ancient
worlds lost in the passage of time. It is
a landscape whose beauty tells a coherent
and satisfying story.”
In this book, Alvarez tells his own
coherent and satisfying story that
brings a spiritual understanding to
those interested in geology and Earth’s
history. Others who read the book
because they revere St. Francis will gain
a remarkable knowledge of the formation
of the land we know as Italy.
Walter Alvarez, a member of the
National Academy of Sciences and professor
of geology at the University of
California, Berkeley, is also the author
of T. Rex and the Crater of Doom. He has
been honored with the Penrose Medal,
the highest honor of the Geological
Society of America.
This very nonscientific reviewer
found insights in understandable language
about a complex and fascinating
topic. A rainbow appearing over Assisi
inspired Alvarez to comment, “...it
seems like something more—like an
omen, a rainbow of promise. It is
almost as if St. Francis were saying,
‘Welcome to my mountains! Here you
will find wonderful things.’ And indeed
that is how it turned out.”
You can order THE MOUNTAINS OF SAINT FRANCIS:
Discovering the Geologic Events
That Shaped Our Earth from St.
FAITH, REASON, AND THE WAR
AGAINST JIHADISM: A Call to Action, by George Weigel. Doubleday. 195
Reviewed by DAN KROGER, O.F.M., publisher/CEO of St. Anthony Messenger Press.
He has a Ph.D. in Christian ethics and
worked in the Philippines for 24 years.
GEORGE WEIGEL THINKS the 9/11
attacks awakened Americans to their
vulnerability and proved that religious
extremism is dangerous. This book
seeks to identify what we should have
learned since—about the enemy, about
ourselves and about creating a future
for freedom. Weigel distills this learning
into 15 “lessons.”
His first lesson is that all the great
questions of life, including political
ones, have theological foundations. Our
beliefs about God shape our views about
justice and the means to attain it. But
Americans are fairly ignorant of how
the views of world religions differ.
Second, he rejects facile claims that
Judaism, Christianity and Islam are all
“religions of the book.” Abrahamic religions
have common elements but huge
Christianity claims the fullness of
revelation, while Islam claims to supersede
both Judaism and Christianity. Yes,
in the Qur’an Jesus is God’s prophet, but
he doesn’t die on the cross—a human
double substitutes for him. For Muslims,
the idea of three persons in one
God sounds like polytheism. Indeed,
the Moses of Genesis and the Moussa of
the Qur’an are quite distinct.
Third, Weigel contends that jihadism,
not Islam, is our enemy in this terrorist
war. Jihadism claims Muslims must
compel others to embrace Islam.
Though Weigel admits that Muslims
understand jihad mainly as a spiritual
struggle to submit to Allah, he easily
forgets this point.
Fourth, Weigel quickly summarizes
jihadism’s complex history. He thinks
the Crusaders deserved violent resistance.
He recalls the decline in Islamic
societies caused by Mongol invaders in
the late 13th century. The 15th-century
reconquista overwhelmed Islam’s
western outposts in Spain and Portugal. When the Ottomans threatened Europe,
Christians resisted, finally defeating
them in the 1683 battle for Vienna.
Weigel sees jihadism as a
reaction to the diminution
of Islamic power—a sort of
survival mechanism. After
citing key personalities in
Islamic history, Weigel observes
that jihadism reflects
struggle with modernity. It is
comparable to Christian and
Jewish fundamentalisms of
today. Jihadists see Allah
as “Absolute Will.” Thus,
worldly things are scorned
and human life disvalued, since
jihadists “know” the divine will.
Fifth, jihadists see history and politics
through the prism of their theological
convictions. They see the late
20th century as proof of the weaknesses
of Western cultures and governments,
shown, for example, in the Taliban’s
expulsion of the Soviets from Afghanistan.
Successful terrorist attacks on
hotels, embassies and ships have reinforced
the jihadist belief that Allah
fights on their side.
Lessons six and seven argue that
describing the historical connections
between conquest and Islamic expansion
is not Islamophobic. According
to Weigel, jihadism uses terror as its
main weapon. The war against jihadism
will last for generations, so opposition
to it must be resolute. But Weigel
neglects any discussion of why anti-Americanism is largely triggered by U.S.
imperialism and unilateral military interventions.
Eighth, Weigel claims that “genuine
realism” in foreign policy takes jihadism
seriously, yet avoids closing the
door on possibilities for positive change
in world politics. Weigel thinks the
Bush administration was ideological.
Thus, it could not understand jihadism
and never prepared for a post-Saddam
Iraq or a post-Taliban Afghanistan.
In his ninth and 10th lessons, Weigel
states that in the war against jihadism
the political objective is to promote
responsible governments in the Middle
East, not to impose Western democracy.
The Bush administration turned Iraq
into a battleground for jihadists because
it failed to understand jihadism. Weigel
observes that deterrence strategies are
ineffective in the war against
jihadism. One cannot deter
warriors committed to their
own martyrdom. Besides,
writes Weigel, jihadists see
deterrence strategies as invitations
In his 11th through 13th
lessons, Weigel insists that
the West simply cannot afford
is indispensable to long-term
victory. I am not sure why
Weigel thinks “cultural self-confidence”
is not likely to become ideological.
Weigel seems so impatient with liberal
approaches that he forgets U.S. policies
need criticism. He argues that making
small concessions based on liberal
ideals of tolerance inevitably leads to
bigger concessions and further erosion
of liberty and security.
In his final lessons, Weigel lays down
his belief that overcoming jihadism
requires a domestic political coalition
to overcome confusion caused by the
“Unhinged Left” and the “Unhinged
Right.” Weigel argues that this new
bipartisan domestic political coalition
must understand the magnitude of the
threat of global jihadism and agree on
the necessary measures to combat and
defeat it. He argues that the United
States must find better explanations
for its policy against jihadism. Obviously,
Weigel thinks the Bush administration
failed in this regard.
Political conservatives will like parts
of this book. Liberals will wrestle with
its harsh realism. This book should be
required reading for Americans concerned
about peace and dialogue
between Christianity and Islam, regardless
of their political persuasions.
You can order FAITH, REASON, AND THE WAR
AGAINST JIHADISM: A Call to Action from St. Francis Bookstore.