Tag Archives: Catholic Church

10 ways Good Pope John still is guiding

May 4, 2015

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Just for Today cover“Just for Today” meshes the words of the late Pope John XXIII with the imaginative artistry of illustrator Bimba Landmann in a children’s book that will stir the soul and energize people of faith of any age.

Graphically displayed in type meant for young readers on 34 pages across Landmann’s creative scenes, Good Pope John’s 10 ideas for living a better, holier life can become a meaningful morning prayer for young people, especially, for example, first communicants.

As a seven-year-old making his first communion, Angelo Roncalli declared, “I want always to be good to everyone.” When he went on to become pope, the 10 thoughts for daily living that he wrote became well known, valued as much for the humility inherent in them as for the down-to-earth advice they offered.

The daily decalogue of now St. Pope John XXIII is worth finding on the Internet and taping to your bathroom mirror to start your day in a saintly way.

Here is just one example:

“Just for today, I will do at least one thing I do not enjoy, and if my feelings are hurt, I will make sure no one notices.”

It’s another fine edition from the Eerdmans Book for Young Readers collection.

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Saint Oscar Romero? Here’s why

January 14, 2015

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romero book coverIt will have been only 35 years this March 30 that an assassin’s bullet through the heart ended the life of the archbishop of San Salvador as he celebrated Mass in 1980.

The late-20th-century martyr for Gospel justice shouldn’t be forgotten by 21st-century Catholics, and author Kevin Clarke helps us all to remember that with his brief but powerfully written life of slain Archbishop Oscar Romero.

Clarke’s book, “Oscar Romero: Love Must Win Out,” is one of the newest in the series of biographies that Liturgical Press in Collegeville is publishing, “People of God: Remarkable Lives, Heroes of Faith.”

It captures the essence of Romero and the societal sins of upper-class Salvadorans and members of the military who, as Clarke writes, were either complicit  or blindly implicit in the archbishop’s assassination.

A hard-line traditionalist as a priest, Romero was thought by his nation’s wealthy elite and by the bishops of El Salvador to be “one of them” when he was named to the archbishop’s chair by Pope Paul VI.

For Romero, Vatican II had been an earthquake and the liberation theology of the Latin American bishops’ at Medellin an aftershock, in Clarke’s words. His reputation was that of a strict conservative, but before he was appointed to San Salvador he had already begun to turn away from the status quo that made so few rich and left so many in his country’s in desperate poverty.

As bishop of the Diocese of Santiago de Maria, he visited Tres Calles, a village where six men and boys had just been buried. They had been dragged from their beds, tortured and murdered with bullets and machetes by the National Guard.

On the way back, Romero ran into another incident: the body of a boy was found in a roadside ditch. He too had been tortured and murdered.

He told a priest companion, “We have to find a way to evangelize the rich, so that they can change, so that they convert.”

Clarke notes: “What is telling about the Tres Calles moment for Romero is the beginning of his understanding that what was wanted from the wealthy to give to the poor was not mere material charity, but a conversion of the heart that would allow them to understand that what the poor of El Salvador need most was not a crumb from their table, but a seat at it; not charity, but justice.”

Romero protested the massacre to the local Guardia commander, and in what would turn out to be foreshadowing, the officer shrugged and advised the bishop, “Cassocks are not bulletproof.”

Romero saw that the so-called “political” work of the “liberation” clerics he had previously been suspicious of was “a natural, spiritually sound and even required outgrowth of their pastoral work,” and was supported by recent Church teaching.

Then his friend Father Rutilio Grande was murdered in a hail of bullets. Clarke notes:

“The killing of this Jesuit priest was the signal of an abrupt rupture, for the old Romero was cast off completely and a new Romero emerged: empathetic, soulful and courageous.”

Romero took on the powers that be, using the archdiocesan radio station and newspaper to report the repression and violence, news that wasn’t available from the media controlled by the elites. He refused to participate in government ceremonies or official events or to attend events in which he might be photographed socializing with El Salvador’s political or military leaders. He went further, raising money to feed campesinos hiding in the mountains and arranging to hide victims of political violence at the national seminary.

Although he was accused of being a Marxist, he tried to convert both the powerful and those seeing change. He preached to elites, “Do not make idols of your riches; do not preserve them in a way that lets others die of hunger.”

He also met clandestinedly with guerrilla leaders to try to persuade them of the power of Christian nonviolence in the face of oppression.

Clarke explains well the geopolitical situation of the time — the fear of communism spreading in Latin America — that had both the United States and the Vatican supporting the status quo in El Salvador.

When, at the Vatican, Archbishop Romero tried to explain that his country’s revolutionaries were not communists but campesinos “defending their people against sometimes incomprehensible violence and the life-crushing force of economic and social oppression,” he was reprimanded. Clarke writes:

“After being battered by Cardinal Sebasiano Baggio, secretary of the Congregation of Bishops, he endured more admonishments from the secretary of state office, where a curial operative suggested Romero remember the ‘prudence’ with which Jesus Christs conducted his public life.’

“ ‘If he was so prudent, then why was he killed?’ Romero wanted to know.”

Killing Romero demonstrated how far some are willing to go to protect their status and privilege, and an important point Clarke brings out is how the man’s inhumanity to man kept escalating, with government-backing death squads not satisfied merely to kill. The viciousness turned from brutality to depravity, with, for example, a priest’s face being shot off.

In the end, Archbishop Romero’s death led to 12 years of civil war in El Salvador, ending only in 1992. Tens of thousands of Salvadorans were killed, primarily (85 percent) murdered by their own military, according to a UN Truth Comission.

As the slain archbishop’s cause for sainthood moves forward finally, readers of this 137-page biography will understand why, and perhaps be perplexed as to why it has taken 35 years.

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A time for waiting . . . and thanksgiving

December 1, 2014

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Father Michael Becker, rector of St. John Vianney College Seminary in St. Paul, poses for a picture with his 10-point buck.

Father Michael Becker, rector of St. John Vianney College Seminary in St. Paul, poses for a picture with his 10-point buck.

As we make the transition from Thanksgiving season to Advent, I offer a story that combines both — offering thanks to God and waiting for his blessing. It comes from Father Michael Becker, rector of St. John Vianney College Seminary in St. Paul and avid deer hunter. In his own words:

“The first weekend of deer hunting opener, I was stationed in a stand one hour west of Bemidji. I saw a total of 10 small 1-year-old deer at different moments in the morning and late afternoon.  The party I hunt with abides by the rule that one never shoots a buck with less than eight points on a full rack, so that the young bucks can grow, and one never shoots a yearling unless you want to be made fun of.

About fifteen minutes after sunset, I decided that I would get on my knees and thank God for the beauty of his creation — the sun, the moon and the stars, the vegetation, the snow on the ground, and all these 1-year old small deer frolicking around the tree line.

It was not but thirty seconds after I knelt down and offered my thanks to God that a larger 2-year-old fork buck trotted past my stand. I saw it head toward the woods 40 yards to my east, and watched it elegantly scope out the territory before heading into the woods.

As I am a guest on Jerry and Bitsy Dehmer’s land, I abide by the same rules they follow, which is again not to shoot any bucks with less than full racks, but to let them grow to full stature. Suddenly, the fork buck took off running at high speed away from the woods. I thought, ‘Wow, there must be a bigger buck in that woods claiming the territory and chasing him away.’

So, I lifted my rifle and got in place, ready to shoot. The next sight was stunning. I watched a 200-pound black bear climb a tree on the edge of the forest like a monkey. I was in awe at how fast it ascended and descended, and realized, ‘One trying to escape a black bear by climbing a tree would never make it.’

Then, it climbed a second tree. I’m not sure what it was looking for, as the trees were barren, but the sight left me in awe. I continued to thank God for his small and great gifts of love.

The second day followed a cold storm, which lifted about midnight, leaving a very bright moon to shine on the landscape. As a result, most deer were out feeding in the night, and no one saw deer in the morning’s hunt. At dusk Sunday evening — and, mind you, I had celebrated Mass the evening before with the whole Dehmer clan — we all went out to our stands, and I took the stand on what is called, ‘Machinery Hill,’ as a few old combining pieces rest on the 15-foot hill overlooking a patch of corn and beans.

Jerry Dehmer, the grandfather and owner of the land, instructed me to go to Machinery Hill because there was more food left in that area for the deer to graze. Internally I wondered, ‘Maybe I should go to another stand in which no one has yet sat,’ but this little interior voice told me, ‘Trust Jerry’s advice.’

You see, Jerry has been hunting and trapping since he was 8 years old. For much of his youth he trapped fox and skunk, selling the hides for money. He is an expert huntsman, who has shot many whitetail deer, elk, antelope, etc. So, I trusted Jerry and went to his recommended stand. One other thing about Jerry and his family: No matter how good the hunt, one always gets out of his stand on Sunday to go to church!

Now sunset was judged to be 4:46 p.m. that evening; thus the final minute to shoot would be 5:16 p.m., which is one half hour after sunset. As in the first day, I saw only small yearlings, but this time 13 of them in different packs. They were cute and playful.

About the last 10 minutes of my hunt, because I could not go out on the second weekend, I decided again to simply thank God for all his gifts of love, in creation, in prayer, in the Sacraments, in the Scriptures, in my family and in friends like the Dehmers, in my vocation as a Catholic priest, and in these 13 small deer who scampered around 20 yards from my stand.

As soon as I completed my prayer of thanksgiving, sure enough, this large buck comes strutting out of the woods. It chased some of the yearlings, only to discover they were not ready for mating, then left a large scrape on the ground under a twig, into which it pressed its facial gland, leaving notice to any does in heat.

Sighting the buck in my scope, I recognized the antlers widened beyond the ears, revealing it to be a fully mature male whitetail deer. My first shot was over the buck, highly unusual for me, but the sound the bullet made in the woods behind him confused his judgment, and thus he stood for another second trying to get his bearings. This gave me the opportunity to lower the rifle and put a bullet through the heart. Upon retrieval, I found that it was a 10-point buck with a beautiful, full body. God is good to the grateful man!”

Congratulations go to Father Becker! I’m sure that made quite a story for dozens of seminarians at SJV. We’ll have to see if that buck makes it to the wall of his office. If it does, it will join two other handsome buck mounts already there.

I think my strategy for next year should include asking Father Becker to bless all of my deer hunting gear, especially my bow and my gun!

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‘Gutenberg’s Apprentice’ a superb novel

November 25, 2014

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Gutenbergs ApprenticePrinting history and church history mesh to make for compelling reading in the terrific first novel of Alix Christie, “Gutenberg’s Apprentice.”

Protagonist Peter Schoeffer is the apprentice of the title, and there’s no fiction there: Schoeffer was Gutenberg’s apprentice in the 1450s as the German’s workshop developed moveable type and used it to print 180 copies of the Bible.

The fictional story comes from Ms. Christie’s imagination, but there’s hearty research behind the tale, particularly when it comes to the details of printing and the hurdles that elements of the church put in Gutenberg’s way. Interdicts on dioceses and conflicts between archbishops and religious communities are fact and a dark part of church history.

Gutenberg gets credit for combining the various elements needed for mass production of printed matter. He pulled together dozens of ideas and technological advances systematically, including the creation of metal type, ink and the press itself. But in the novelist’s hands the much-lauded inventor, talented as he is, is schizophrenic. One moment he’s praising his apprentice for his marvelous gifts and telling the tradesmen in his workshop that he couldn’t have printed his Bible without them, and the next he’s taking all the credit, declaring that he did it all alone and needed no one’s help.

Through Schoeffer, who in real life went on to become one of the first publishers of note in Europe, Christie presents a spiritual element to the process that brought about not just the first printed Bible but an invention that was key to the Renaissance and often named as the greatest invention of all time.

Christie’s  Schoeffer sees his part in the drama as one divinely led, that God has placed him in his time and his place to use the gifts he’s been given to be a part of this amazing fete that will change life on earth.

“You always did think that you had some private pact with God,” a life-long acquaintance charges Gutenberg’s apprentice.

Author Christie answers for her story’s hero: Of course. How could he not. . . . How could he have understood his own life otherwise?

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Basilica Icon Festival goes through Nov. 23

November 17, 2014

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icon fest - Interior Basilica Altar Icons_Paul Domsten

In Minneapolis, the Basilica of St. Mary’s 20th annual Icon Festival is underway with an ongoing exhibit, concerts, talks and tours. Here’s a list of what’s on the calendar:

Icon Festival events

Icon Exhibit

Now through Nov. 23.

More than a hundred Icons, 17th century to contemporary, are displayed in the sanctuary of the Basilica of St. Mary, 1600 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis. They are borrowed from churches and individuals throughout the Twin Cities.

Rachmaninoff All-Night Vigil

Saturday, Nov. 15

Icon Festival Concert

7 p.m. — Pre-concert talk in the Basilica Church by The Very Rev. Abbott John Magramm in Teresa of Calcutta Hall.

8 p.m. — The Cathedral Choir of The Basilica of St. Mary will join forces with members of the MEOCCA (Minnesota Eastern Orthodox Christian Clergy Association) to perform Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil. Sara Ann Pogorely and Teri Larson, conductors. The concert is free and open to all.

 

Sunday, Nov. 16

3 p.m. — At St. Mary’s Orthodox Cathedal, 1701 Fifth St. NE, Minneapolis.

Icon Tour

Saturday, Nov. 22

10:30 a.m. — Tour of St. Stephan Romanian Orthodox Church, 350 5th Ave. N., South St. Paul.

Byzantine Iconographer Debra Korluka will speak about The Holy Face and other Icons she is currently painting/installing at this church.

Icon Festival Talk

Sunday, Nov. 23

1 p.m. — “Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy — Historical Perspective of Similarities & Differences.” Professor John Davenport,of North Central University will speak in Teresa of Calcutta Hall in the lower level of the Basilica.

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Who was ‘O’Shaughnessy,’ anyway?

October 23, 2014

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That Great Heart-coverBy Bob Zyskowski

In St. Paul, the name “O’Shaughnessy” graces a handful of buildings at the University of St. Thomas, including the library, education center and football stadium, and at St. Catherine University there is the architectural masterpiece of the O’Shaughnessy Auditorium.

Who this O’Shaughnessy was and how he came about the financial means to support Catholic higher education — plus an amazing variety and staggering volume of charities and individuals — is told in an enlightening new book, “That Great Heart: The Story of I.A. O’Shaughnessy.”

It’s a rags-to-riches tale: Ignatius Aloysius O’Shaughnessy, born in 1885, the youngest of 13 children of a Stillwater bootmaker, graduates from the then College of St. Thomas, becomes the largest independent oil refiner in the United States, makes millions and gives millions away.

Where he started, how he grew his businesses, how and to whom he donates — and especially what motivates him — gives readers an insight into the man behind the buildings.

It makes for good-paced reading, thanks to the journalist’s writing style of author Doug Hennes.

Hennes, vice president for university and government relations at St. Thomas and a former reporter and editor of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, never met O’Shaughnessy.

He was a freshman at St. Thomas in the fall of 1973; O’Shaughnessy died at 88 in November that year. The oilman’s funeral was held at the Cathedral of St. Paul, and a memorial Mass was held on campus.

“I remember looking out a window from one of the buildings at St. Thomas at what seemed to be an endless procession of black limousines,” Hennes said. “I’ve always been fascinated by the guy.”

Decades later Hennes wrote about O’Shaughnessy for the
St. Thomas magazine and helped with a video about him. That sparked an interest in Hennes to learn more about I.A.

Boxloads of letters

At the Minnesota History Center he discovered 14 boxes of O’Shaughnessy’s correspondence and newspaper clippings, all in files organized alphabetically.

The material painted a picture of the man who is likely known to few who enter the buildings that bear his name.

“Some material even surprised family members,” Hennes said.

IA-St. Thomas football portraitThose surprises include facts such as:

— O’Shaughnessy played on the first St. John’s football team that beat rival St. Thomas, was dismissed for drinking beer (at age 16), went to St. Thomas and became a star for the Tommies.

— As part of a marketing effort, his Globe Oil Company sponsored a basketball team, and players on the Globe Refiners made the bulk of the U.S. squad that won the gold medal in the Berlin Olympics in 1936.

— For a short time he was a part-owner of the Cleveland Indians.

— He was offered the post of U.S. ambassador to Australia but turned it down.

How O’Shaughnessy made his millions is interesting: He borrowed money to finance drilling and refining projects and either paid back investors or bought them out when the projects succeeded.

He played a major role in the development of the oil industry in the Oklahoma and Kansas area, risking building a refinery at the height of the Great Depression.

He eventually used a vertical marketing strategy to not only drill for oil but to refine it for multiple uses — gasoline, kerosene, burning oils, turpentine and lubricating oils and greases — and to distribute it under the Globe trademark to 600 independent dealers in 12 states in the middle of the country and into Canada.Globe Oil truck

“He was pretty sharp,” Hennes said. “He had a shrewd business sense — he had an instinct about what would work and what wouldn’t. And he hired really good people to run the operations.”

O’Shaughnessy was an early adopter of new technologies and methods, and also understood the need to keep employees happy. After starting to give Christmas bonuses, he felt compelled to continue the practice even in years when the company lost money.

Generous beyond measure

Still, it is O’Shaughnessy’s charitable contributions that are the real story behind the man.

“He gave to everything,” Hennes told The Catholic Spirit. The files contain letter after letter of requests for loans and donations, he said. If he decided he would give, he’d write yes and an amount right on the bottom of the letter and write the check right away. Many are for $100 here, $200 there.

“If he was saying no,” Hennes said, “there would be a letter, because he’d always say why.”

 

IA-St. Thomas library mortar work

Outside the O'Shaughnessy Education Center at St. Thomas.

Outside the O’Shaughnessy Education Center at St. Thomas.

While O’Shaughnessy donated millions for buildings at the University of Notre Dame as well as St. Kate and St. Thomas, he often donated only if organizations  raised a matching sum.

“He really saw himself as trying to leverage other gifts,” Hennes said. “He was willing to give, but he wanted to get other people involved, too.”

His faith and his understanding of stewardship both come into play in giving.

Hennes quoted him, “The Lord has been good to me, so I figure I might as well spread some of my money around where it will do some good.”

There’s much more, including O’Shaughnessy’s part in the war effort during World War II, his commitment to his parish —
St. Mark in St. Paul — and the meeting with Pope Paul VI and Notre Dame President Father Theodore Hesburgh that led to O’Shaughnessy financing one of the pope’s dreams, the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in the Holy Land.

I.A. O'Shaughnessy and Notre Dame President Father Theodore Hesburgh at a private meeting with Pope Paul VI at Castelgandolfo.

I.A. O’Shaughnessy and Notre Dame President Father Theodore Hesburgh at a private meeting with Pope Paul VI at Castelgandolfo.

About the book

“That Great Heart” by Doug Hennes, Beaver’s Pond Press, Edina, Minn., 2014; 259 pages.

Events

Doug Hennes (2014)A book launch will be held at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 4, in the O’Shaughnessy Educational Center auditorium on St. Thomas’ campus in St. Paul. The event will include a reading, reception and book signing by author Doug Hennes.

Other “That Great Heart” signings include:

— Noon-1 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 5, bookstore, Terrence Murphy Hall, St. Thomas’ Minneapolis campus, 1000 LaSalle Ave.

— 11:45 a.m.-1:15 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 6, Anderson Student Center, St. Thomas’
St. Paul campus.

— Sunday, Nov. 9, after 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. Masses, St. Mark’s Church, 1976 Dayton Ave., St. Paul.

— Saturday, Nov. 15, 11 a.m.-12:45 p.m., St. Patrick’s Guild, 1554 Randolph Ave.,
St. Paul.

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Asked to speak at a funeral?

October 13, 2014

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Her9780879465322Ae’s a valuable little booklet to have on hand should you or someone you know be asked to speak about a friend or loved one at a funeral.

“To Say a Few Words: Guidelines for Those offering Words of Remembrance at a Catholic Funeral” won’t take you more than 15-20 minutes to breeze through the 36 pages, and the final third are sample talks, so author Michael A. Cymbala makes his points concisely.

Those points are clear. The first is that your remarks should reflect the sacredness of the Christian message, and anyone who has been present when an inappropriate comment or anecdote has been told at a funeral can attest to what crosses the line. Cymbala gives the example of a young man who, while speaking about his father, “opened a beer can to demonstrate his departed father’s ‘favorite sound.’ ”

A veteran Catholic music director, Cymbala helpfully notes that dioceses and parishes differ about when a remembrance of the deceased may be delivered, so finding out the local rules and the order of the service is important. Even more important is the content of the remembrance and knowing that it isn’t to be a eulogy. There is never to be a eulogy at the funeral Mass, he writes, pointing out that the rubric for the funeral rite allows for someone to speak “in remembrance of the deceased before the final commendation.”

While a eulogy is a tribute or high praise, a remembrance at a Catholic funeral is to “support the celebration’s focus on the Christian message.”

While you want to mention the background, accomplishments, family life and other aspects of the deceased’s life, “try placing these stories within the context of the faith life, generosity, spirituality and good-heartedness of the deceased. Offer thanks and praise to God for blessing the departed with the gift of life an those who know and loved him or her.” He adds: “The moment calls for words that link the person to the good things God provides to all of us.”

The three sample talks offer great ways to work faith and spirituality into a remembrance. You’ll find them touching even though you don’t know those about whom they were written.

And a final point: “The words you fashion and offer will serve to console a hurting world and honor a beloved friend. Those same words may well be remembered and referenced for many days to come.”

“To Say a Few Words: Guidelines for Those offering Words of Remembrance at a Catholic Funeral” is available for $4.95 through the publisher at http://www.actapublications.com.

 

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Breuer and the Benedictines build a church

October 2, 2014

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Here’s the story of how a famous architect and the liturgy-reforming monks of St. John’s Abbey collaborated to create a very special modern church in the middle of Minnesota.

abbey church coverFor more than 50 years, motorists and passengers on I-94 some 60 miles north of the Twin Cities have seen an enormous concrete structure peeking above the treetops to the south as they near the exit for Collegeville and St. John’s University.

The flat trapezoid, the row of bells and the cross in the cutout at the top are a beacon for the modern wonder of a church below.

Now the story of how that massive architectural masterpiece came to be has been captured in a University of Minnesota Press book, “Saint John’s Abbey Church: Marcel Breuer and the Creation of a Modern Sacred Space.”

Victoria M. Young, with access to never-before-seen archives from both the abbey and the architect, tells the story of the development of the history-making worship space. Young is a professor and the chair of the art history department at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul.

As she gives the behind-the-scenes details of the planning for and building of the Abbey Church, Young persistently reminds readers why this worship space is architecturally significant.

Several keys to success

Nestled as it is in the middle of the country, far from the architectural centers on either coast, the Abbey Church was:

  • Designed by a famous architect, Marcel Breuer.
  • The architect collaborated with his client — the Benedictine monks at St. John’s Monastery.
  • Their collaboration called for the use modern materials, modern engineering and modern construction methods.
  • Their goal was to create a worship space for the modern Catholic liturgy, the laity-including Mass that the monks themselves had experimented with and championed as leaders in the 20th century liturgical movement.

abbey monks & architects“The collaboration between the Benedictines and Marcel Breuer and his architectural team reveals important themes in mid-century religious architecture,” Young noted.

“Central to the subject is how the building operates as a vessel for the reformed liturgy, reconciling the visions of a modern architect and the traditions of his monastic patrons.”

Liturgical leaders

Beginning in the 1920s, St. John’s had become the American center of the liturgical movement due to the passionate efforts of its monks, notably Father Virgil Michel. The reform liturgy stressed the participation of the laity in the Mass, the use of the vernacular (the language of the people instead of Latin) and the repositioning of the altar so that the priest faced the people as he led them in prayer.

The result was that Breuer designed a worship space with no pillars blocking views and no seat more than 85 feet from the altar.abbey drawing interior

“This building project announced the Benedictines as leaders of liturgical reform within monasticism and confirmed Marcel Breuer’s position as one of the most innovative architects of the mid-century,” Young wrote.

“Their relationship was an architectural collaboration of the highest level. Knowledgeable clients carefully delivered a plan for reinvigorated worship and liturgy to a skillful architect, who sensitively shaped a space to support it.”

With access to letters between Breuer and the monks and to the architect’s handwritten notes on drafts of the design plans, Young is able to answer questions such as why did the monks want Breuer, and why did Breuer want the job.

Ahead of the liturgical curve

With the project first beginning in 1953, construction started in 1958 and completed in 1961, the building of this modern worship space preceded the promulgation of the new liturgy by Pope Paul VI by several years.

“The Benedictines were looking beyond their history as they planned their church,” Young told The Catholic Spirit. “Both the monks and Breuer took a leap of faith.”

Although he was a well-regarded architect, Breuer had never designed a church, she said.

“Architects want to explore different things, different building types,” Young added. “Designing a church was really interesting to him.”

Breuer also liked the project because the commission was for a campus master plan. “He liked the scale of the project,” Young said.

And the monk’s desire for a modern church allowed for the use of modern materials, specifically concrete, just coming into fashion for architectural design after World War II.

“Breuer loved the ability to shape and create space,” Young said, “and concrete gave him the ability to do that.”

Building the Abbey Church also put St. Paul construction company McGough on the map. “Larry McGough told me that it changed their company,” Young said. The experience that McGough’s team derived from developing new ways to build and the notoriety from having built the Abbey Church set McGough on a trajectory to do other large projects.

An architect who listened

The author repeatedly pulls readers back to one point, that it was the collaboration between the Benedictines and Breuer that was crucial to the outcome.

Breuer was one of five architects with great reputations who the monks invited to Collegeville to discuss their vision for the church they wanted to build. It was April 17, 1953.

“A powerful moment occurs when Breuer comes to St. John’s and he doesn’t speak much the whole first day,” Young said.

Instead, Breuer asked questions and listened to the Benedictines about their vision for their church. That was the kind of collaborative relationship the monks sought.

“They wanted to engage a designer of great character,” Young wrote, “someone who would listen as well as inform, a designer with whom they could collaborate to create significant monastic and liturgical space that would serve their order for the coming century.”

As a result, during the three-year construction period many modifications in Breuer’s design were made because of input from the monks.

“Shaping space around the new liturgy was, for the Benedictines, central to their role in the Catholic world, and their church needed to uphold this mission,” Young noted.

The full story

“Saint John’s Abbey Church,” while underscoring the compatibility of Breuer and the Benedictines, includes no small amount of space to the tensions that rose as the project went on.

There’s significant coverage of the disagreement about who should design the most significant work of art in the building, the huge stained glass window that makes up almost the entirety of the north wall. Breuer wanted Bauhaus artist Josef Albers; the monks chose Bronislaw Bak, a
St. John’s faculty member.

abbey window“Even today,” Young pointed out, “Bak’s window is still a source of debate for the monks and scholars. “Many at Collegeville wonder how Albers’ window would have changed the space and feeling of the church.”

Nor does the book ignore that fact that not everyone likes the Abbey Church.

“Not all were ready for such a brazen statement within religious architecture,” Young pointed out.

“For many, modernism was not an appropriate building style for the Catholic faith.”

Critics used terms to describe the Abbey Church such as “devoid of beauty,” “utilitarian” and an “ecclesiastical garage.”

abbey photo of interiorOthers, however, admired it, calling the Abbey Church “the most exciting thing in church architecture since Michelangelo’s great dome,” “one of the great sacred buildings of our time” and “a milestone in the evolution of the architecture of the Catholic Church in this country.”

Young, a member of Our Lady of Angels parish in Minneapolis and a Minnesota native who grew up in Comfrey in the southwestern part of the state, said that although she specializes in modern architectural history, she appreciates more traditional church designs as well.

Church architecture typically reflects the vision of “a group of people trying to figure out what would be good for that moment,” she said. “There’s a reason why it exists.

“When people say, ‘This is not a vessel for the liturgy,’ I say, ‘Have you been there?’ ”

Related events:

  • VictoriaYoungFriday, Oct. 24, 7 p.m.: Evening Prayer in the Abbey and University Church in Collegeville, followed at 7:45 p.m. by a talk by author Victoria M. Young, “Breuer and the Benedictines: A Modern Collaboration,” in the Abbey Chapter House. Book signing and reception afterward.
  • Saturday, Oct. 25, 10 a.m.: Tour of the Abbey and University Church by Victoria M. Young. 11:15 to noon: Book signing in the St. John’s University bookstore.
  • Sunday, Nov. 16, 2 p.m.: Reading, reception and book signing in the sanctuary of Christ Church Lutheran, 3244 34th Ave. S., Minneapolis.
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Connecting St. Francis with Pope Francis

September 25, 2014

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When Saint Francis saved the ChurchTake a refresher course in what it means to be Catholic.

Read John M. Sweeney’s new book, “When Saint Francis Saved the Church.”

Sweeney packs reminders about what faith, saintliness and the life of a Christian are all about into just 156 pages of this small Ave Maria Press book (not counting acknowledgements and notes). There are highlighter-worthy phrases, sentences and paragraphs galore, great food for thought and a bounty for discussion.

Sweeney’s hook, of course, is the connection between St. Francis of Assisi and the newest Francis on the Catholic scene, Pope Francis.

Throughout he links the revolution that St. Francis started to the hope that many in the Church today, what — entertain? predict? — with the pope who chose to be the first to adapt Francis is his papal name.

Sweeney writes about Francis of Assisi, “His spiritual vision from eight centuries ago is already familiar to anyone paying attention to Pope Francis and the changing atmosphere in the Catholic Church today.” And he adds:

“Many of us are watching carefully, and participating willingly, as that edifice softens into something less predictable, more godly. If something monumental happened 800 years ago to revive the Church, then it can happen again today; and the spirit that animated the earlier conversion may be quite similar to the spirit at work in the Church today. Much depends on what we ourselves will do.”

In sharing the historical background and development of Franciscan spirituality, the book points out dozens of interesting details of Francis’ thinking, including:

  • Faith is not something done only inside the walls of the church. Instead, “Faith today is readily seen as concerned with many things other than what you believe — it includes hope, passion, family, love, story, virtue, commitment, and identity, all of which may seem more important than matters of creed.”
  • St. Francis was relatively uninterested in theological debates and creedal statements. “When he states his beliefs in his writings it is most often regarding how one is supposed to behave toward others and the created world, not a matter of pure doctrine.”
  • The Gospel is not something to believe as much as it is a vocation to a changed life.
  • For Francis  there were no “others.” He responded to each person he met as if he were already a friend, developing a simple kindness, openness, neighborliness and looking out for their needs, an approach that is part and parcel of gospel living.
  • Francis befriended without judging, noticed and responded to people’s needs and expressed love for them simply because that person had been created by a God who says that every created thing is good.
  • Contrary to the prevailing thought of his time, he didn’t see the world as evil but instead embraced it.

Not a dissenter, a nonconformist

Sweeney writes that Francis of Assisi “rebranded” the idea of sanctity. He was never a disobedient son of the Church, although he was as nonconformist who had his own priorities.

He advocated for humble dress, fasting as part of one’s regular diet, grace before meals, nonviolence, hospitality and prayer. Sweeney notes:

“He placed such a priority on personal prayer, contemplation, charity and loving-kindness because the habits of the heart are important to God, as well as to the faithful who want to know God better.”

And all these things we not just for the friars of his community but for ordinary believers. That was revolutionary during Francis’ era, when the Church felt threatened by individual expressions of faith and priests were taught that they were the primary mediators between God and their parishioners. Along with forming the Order of Friars Minor that we know as Franciscans, Francis wrote a Rule for laity — Third Order Franciscans — that included many of the principles of his Rule for the friars, plus gathering together as community, aiding the sick and caring for those who die. These practices all became to be known as spiritual acts.

Francis lived during the height of the Gothic era, when it was believed that religious people should turn away from the coarseness of the world and lift eyes and minds upward, toward the rising height of steeples and images of angels and saints, the world to come. Francis found beauty in the ordinary things of the world.

Sweeney connects St. Francis with Pope Francis in the way that both seems to be advocates of a Church that is at times unpredictable, threatening to some, a Church listening to the Spirit. Francis the pope “meets people face-to-face as equals. He touches people who might seem untouchable. He loves to laugh. He is not afraid of change.” Pope Francis, Sweeney posits, “has begun to return the Church to a Franciscan understanding of friendship, relating to the other, poverty, spirituality, care and death,” and is “leading the Church toward greater humility; revaluing poverty, especial by his own example; and preaching as a last resort to explain the values that he wants to uphold as most important for Catholics and for all people.”

Pope Francis, in Sweeney’s mind, “is calling us to recreate God’s Church to better foster the art of true gospel living.” And he writes:

“Who knows what the next few years will bring. As a Catholic who is interested in the positive role the Catholic Church can play in sanctifying the world, I’m anxious to be part of the vision that Francis realized long ago and conscious that we live in a world ready for our making today.”

 

 

 

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Where you send your “ice bucket challenge” donation DOES make a difference

August 30, 2014

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If you’ve already gotten in on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge or are planning to, congratulations on your generosity of spirit.

Before you donate, consider the concerns being expressed that the ALS Foundation supports research that uses fetal embryonic tissue from abortions.

Father John Floeder, who teaches bioethics at the St. Paul Seminary and who chairs the Archbishop’s Commission on Bio/Medical Ethics in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, offered the following statement to help people gain a better understanding of the moral and ethical issues involved:

Many human sufferings call out to us for help, and Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) is certainly among them.  Jesus Christ and the demands of love must lead us, as Catholics, to give our time, energy, and resources to those who suffer.  The awareness and contributions that have been raised because of the “bucket challenge” are a testament to that love in so many.  That said, authentic Christ-like love never can accept the deliberate taking of one life for the sake of another, which the use of embryonic stem cells does.  To really help the suffering of ALS in a loving way, Catholics should not only support only those organizations that do not use embryonic stem cells, but also express to organizations the need to cease support and funding of practices that use embryonic stem cells that destroys human life.

The U.S. Catholic Conference suggests donating to ALS research at several alternative organizations, including the John Paul II Medical Research Institute in Iowa City, Iowa, which is doing research in several areas including ALS, and does not support embryonic stem cell research. To donate, use the button for “Donate Now” on the institute’s main web page.

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