Tag Archives: Minnesota

Catholic writer J.F. Powers remembered through his letters

November 22, 2013

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“Suitable Accommodations: An Autobiographical Story of a Family Life: The Letters of J.F. Powers, 1942-1963,” edited by Katherine A. Powers. Farrar, Straus and Giroux (New York, 2013. 450 pp., $35.

powers cover

Spending the last few weeks peeking into the life of the late Catholic writer J. F. Powers through a collection of his letters made me wonder, does anyone write letters like these any more?

Powers, the long-time professor of English and writer-in-residence at St. John University in Collegeville, used his gift for the language in frequent missives to friends and colleagues, which makes this collection of his letters read much like a memoir, or better yet a novel.

Perhaps cyberspace holds all the emails and social media messages we peck out nowadays, and perhaps and a tech-minded historian will be able to pull them down and gather them into book form. But I’d be surprised if any achieve the literary quality of those that Power’s daughter Katherine A. Powers has adroitly edited and packaged.

Take this sample from a letter in which he describes the long-time leader of St. John’s Abbey, Benedictine Abbot Alcuin Deutsch:

“He is a good man, but his last name is Deutsch, and if he’s like a lot of other Germans, and I think he is, he expects to get to heaven for not having made any impractical moves during his stay on earth. I have often wondered why they didn’t try to prove, somewhere along the line, that Jesus Christ received a gold watch for 33 years of service.”

That Powers ended up living much of his life in Minnesota’s German-plentiful Stearns County and working for the German Benedictines at St. John’s is just one of the ironies of the man’s life.

An good writer, but a poor one

“Suitable Accommodations” makes for interesting reading because it takes us into the mind of this unique character, a man author Evelyn Waugh tabbed “one of our greatest storytellers,” an author who won the National Book Award for his first novel yet never achieved the success he felt was his destiny.

Perhaps because his specialty was priests his was a limited audience and not populist fare.

The award-winning “Morte D’Urban,” the novel about a charming Midwestern priest who is as much a man of the world as he is a man of God, sold only 25,000 copies or so, and failed to receive the kind of promotion one might expect from a publisher like Doubleday.

Many of even the earliest letters — the collection covers 1942 to 1963 — foreshadow the life James Farl Powers was to live.

He refers to a steady job as “prostitution . . . masking itself as ‘honest labor.’ ”

He decries people who take the “safe” way through life with “a good position” or “in business for himself” with “nice homes.”

The irony, and it’s in the title of this collection, is that Powers was consistently writing in his letters about trying to find “suitable accommodations” both for his then-growing family and for a place with the peace and quiet to allow him to write.

Every so often he leans for money on his good friend Father Harvey Egan, pleading to the priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis for funds to keep the wolf from the door until the mail brings a much-anticipated check for a short story he has submitted to The New Yorker or to one of the small-circulation literary magazines that have purchased his work over the years.

The late Father Egan, a one-of-a-kind himself as the pastor in later years of ultra-progressive St. Joan of Arc Parish in Minneapolis, gets credit for preserving many of Powers’ letters.

None of which fits, however, when you read in a 1947 letter to Father Egan that Powers’ tastes in liturgy lean toward the conservative. Living in Avon, not far from where Powers is teaching at St. John’s University, he writes:

“We like to go to St. John’s [Abbey Church] because there is no lay participation, or I do. I am only slowly getting the idea that I am surrounded by people who are working night and day for things like the dialogue Mass. Imagine my dismay at the discrepancy between the party line and my own feelings in these matters.”

Later he’ll refer to himself as “anti-laical” but also “anticlerical.”

Along with letters Powers wrote, his daughter has included a handful of entries from his journal. Often they show a man in despair: “May 18, 1959: Out of gas — creatively . . . I feel absolutely powerless these days to prevent financial ruin. Ideas for stories don’t come.” And just eight days later: “Money, money, money — this is the answer to every question confronting me.”

Man of many interests

Scraps of Powers’ varied interest show up regularly. He’s fond of playing the horses, especially during the family’s several stints living in Ireland.

He follows the minor-league St. Paul Saints baseball team, keeps abreast of the gossip surrounding the design of the new Abbey Church at St. John’s, chimes in a number of idea for names of the new National Football League team being established in the Twin Cities in 1961, would have preferred the Democrats had nominated his friend Eugene McCarthy instead of John F. Kennedy to run in the 1960 presidential election.

“I did not, and do not, like Kennedy. That doesn’t mean he’s no better than Nixon. . . . Gene McCarthy nominated him . . . in the best speech of the convention. Too bad it isn’t Gene instead of Jack, if we have to have a Catholic. I understand Pope John’s already packing. I think we can use him, too.”

He refused military service during World War II, was imprisoned for it and released to do compulsory work at St. Joseph’s Hospital in St. Paul.

A curmudgeon if there ever was one, he  was against the Legion of Decency (which rated movies for decades according to Catholic morals), wasn’t thrilled that fasting regulations were eased, agreed with author Evelyn Waugh that he was more of a short story writer than a novelist and presciently had this to say about Calvin Griffith, the tight-fisted owner of the then new Minnesota Twins baseball team: “I do not think Cal will ever put our welfare before his own.”

It’s such good writing you’ll be disappointed that the letters end with 1963. You’ll want to know the rest of the J.F. Powers story, but daughter Katherine explains well at the volume’s end why that won’t happen.

That epitaph one should read on one’s own…bz

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Minnesota Catholic Writers

June 24, 2013

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"Writing" - Licensed under Creative Commons

“Writing” – Licensed under Creative Commons

 

As we mourn the loss of Vince Flynn, I started to reflect on a few of the Catholic writers we have in Minnesota. Whether it is fiction, nonfiction, historical or other genres; is there something about our faith and something about Minnesota that helps to feed this talent? Immediately I can think of a few Minnesota Catholic authors. F Scott Fitzgerald and  Ralph McInerny come to mind,  but others like  Timothy Drake, Elizabeth Kelly and my very own dear cousin Fr. Marvin O’Connell are those I know personally.  And then there are aspiring novelists like Kathy Schneeman who, along with raising her nine kids and wrote so eloquently of Vince Flynn’s passing in her blog, is also working on her first novel.  I know if I were to search, there are many more Minnesota Catholic authors. (If you have a favorite Minnesota Catholic author,  share who it is and why in the comments below.) Some followed their faith more closely than others, some are better or lesser known but they share two things, Minnesota heritage and the Catholic faith.

Is it the Minnesota long winters that turn us to storytelling? Is it hearty Irish or other ethnic back grounds that causes us to tell tales? Is it a rich heritage of folklore that causes us to think in terms of fantasy?  Is it a love of the outdoors that causes us to notice details in the changes of the seasons and the rhythm of the earth that bring forward observations and hone our writing skills?

 

Or is it the gift of our faith that feeds the talent?

 

In the introduction to The Catholic Imagination,  Fr. Andrew Greeley writes: “Catholics live in an enchanted world, a world of statues and holy water, stained glass and votive candles, saints and religious medals, rosary beads and holy pictures. But these Catholic paraphernalia are mere hints of a deeper and more pervasive religious sensibility which inclines Catholics to see the Holy lurking in creation.”

I wonder often about that, about how Catholics see the world. We believe that there is something more than what we see and in a deep prayer and meditative life God uses our imagination to draw us closer to him. Try saying the Rosary, it becomes and exercise in imagining the life of Christ while repeating the prayers we know by heart and it somehow brings us closer to Christ.

 

There is always something happening beyond what we see. 

 

Fr. Robert Barron uses this sacramental sensibility in many of his talks, books and through the use of the Catholocism series.  It takes our imagination to even enter into thinking about how our sacraments work. I once asked my spiritual director about a certain experience I felt in prayer,  I asked if it was just my imagination. Her response caused me to reflect even deeper, saying “Don’t you think God uses everything to draw you closer to Him, even our imagination.” It is true, God made us the way we are and we are creatures uniquely made to worship Him.

It might not then be unusual that Catholics may have a jump start on imagination, storytelling and the world that can’t be seen.

On a couple of occasions I joined a group of Catholic writers. The group called itself The Minnklings — a Minnesotan take-off on C.S. Lewis’ and J.R.R. Tolkien’s writer’s group The Inklings. The group would meet at O’Gara’s bar in St. Paul to share work and offer encouragement. Tim Drake, then Senior Writer of the National Catholic Register led the group. I think it was a special place to explore the unique way in which Catholics aproach the world and aproach writing.   I don’t believe the group has met in recent years but I have been running into aspiring Catholic writers and I am hoping we can revive the concept again.

If you are a Catholic Writer, whether you are writing overtly on Catholic themes or if your faith guides your writing in less overt ways, contact me and maybe we can get revival of the Minnklings started.

 

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Where are the Women?

April 13, 2013

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Creative Commons license by wonderline

Mary anoints Jesus’ feet.

 

During the conclave I happened across a group of protesters outside of the Archdiocesan Chancery office.  As I was leaving the Cathedral parking lot, I noticed a woman parking her car.  She paused to pull a sign out of her trunk.  I watched in amazement as this woman took advantage of the free parking in the Cathedral parking lot (Intended for visitors to the Cathedral) while she took the opportunity to stand in some sort of protest against the Catholic Church.   Talk about taking advantage of Christian hospitality.  I would have towed her car!

As I left the lot and took a look at the signs they were carrying. They said, “Hey Cardinals, where are the women?”  I almost pulled over my car, jumped out and said, “I am right here!”

 

There are so many things wrong with this scenario – I felt compelled to set it right.

  1. First off – there is no Cardinal inside of the building they were protesting.  Just our Archbishop.
  2. If they took the time to check – they would find out that Archbishop Nienstedt has more women in his Cabinet (roughly equivalent to a board of directors) than most Fortune 500 companies.  These are strong woman in decision making positions.
  3. The fact that women are not ordained  in no way diminishes the role of women in the church.  Priests have a certain role in God’ s plan for the Church just as married couples, single people, religious orders and yes – women!

If you haven’t ever read Pope John Paul’s letter to women, you can find it here.  When I first read it I was able to realize that being a Catholic Feminist (In the context of the new feminism – much like the new evangelization) is not an oxymoron.

Pope Francis even dedicated his first Wednesday audience talk on women in the church.   http://www.news.va/en/news/audience-the-fundamental-role-of-women-in-the-chur

As the Pope notes, the first witness of the resurrection were women.  In fact Jesus and the founding Fathers of the Church elevated women in a way that was unprecedented in their time,  Christ spoke to the Samarian woman, had women disciples, and the early church was supported by women. Besides the more familiar names of Mary, Martha and Mary Magdalene, check out Pricilla and Lydia, the maker of purple cloth. Women have shaped the church from it’s origin.

Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their resources. – Luke 8:3

Let’s not talk of ancient history only.  Throughout the history of the church we have many women who have served the church.  The list of saints are full of them.  Four  women are considered Doctors of the Church (This is a very special title accorded by the Church to certain saints. This title indicates that the writings and preachings of such a person are useful to Christians “in any age of the Church.” Such men and women are also particularly known for the depth of understanding and the orthodoxy of their theological teachings.) Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, Therese of Lisieux, and Hildegard of Bingen.  All of these saints are models of women in the Church. These aren’t wimpy women.  They all faced hardships of their times and helped to shape the Catholic Church we know today.

Let’s move on to present day.  Women have been aiding the mission of the Church locally and in a very tangible way through the work of the Council of Catholic Women.  This year they celebrate 81 years of service to the Catholic church.  Check out the topics at their convention in May – Be the Voice of Catholic Women.

I couldn’t talk about women in the church today without mentioning one of my heroins: Helen Alvare.  Here is her Bio:  Professor of Law at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia, where she teaches and writes in the areas of family law and law and religion. She is a consultor to Pope Benedict XVI’s Pontifical Council for the Laity, a consultant for ABCNews, and the Chair of the Conscience Protection Task Force at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey. She co-authored and edited the book, Breaking Through: Catholic Women Speak For Themselves. Professor Alvaré received her law degree from Cornell University and her master’s in systematic theology from the Catholic University of America.

In addition to the credits above she started the movement “Women Speak for Themselves.

I was blessed to hear her talk recently for the Siena Symposium.  Instead of me trying to share her wisdom and spirit – see it for yourself here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sYM-FbOU5Hw&feature=share

She reminds me that women can have it all.  If we know what “all” means.

Like I said – She is my hero!

I hear there is a “Women’s Argument of the Month Club coming soon.  The idea is women getting together to learn and discuss what it means to be a Catholic woman.  Sponsored by the St. Croix Catholic Faith Formation more information can be found here.

So in answer to the question posed on the protest signs; “Where are the women?”  My answer is: “We are right here!!”

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Boat sinks, so do fishing hopes

July 31, 2012

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I strolled down to a dock on North Long Lake near Brainerd last Tuesday. My wife and two of my kids were staying at the cabin of two friends of ours, Patti and Brad Bye.

We had arrived two days earlier, and I went fishing on Monday afternoon. I landed two bass in about an hour or so of fishing, and I was primed to catch many more on Tuesday morning.

With hopes high, I walked the planks toward my Crestliner Fishhawk, already dreaming of the lunker bass I would be landing.

But, my heart sank when I saw that my boat had done the same. The back end was submerged, and I was left in shock at the sight.

Getting the transom elevated so we could bail out the water was no small task. The sunburn on my shoulders I discovered later attested to the amount of time required to accomplish this feat.

With the help of my wife Julie and children William and Claire, I got the boat afloat and took it to Nisswa Marine I thought it was a problem with the live well and bilge pumps, but learned there was a small hole in the hull, right at the bottom center of the transom.

The week before our trip, I had taken the boat out for a test ride. While backing the boat and  trailer into the water to launch, I realized I may not have put the drain plug in, and hit the brakes. That tipped the front of the boat up, and the back end hit the concrete ramp. The fin behind the propeller, called the skeg, was bent, and I got that fixed. But, I did not realize at the time that the transom had hit the concrete as well.

That, in fact, is what happened, which created the small hole where water was getting in.

The mechanics at Nisswa Marine did some welding to repair the hole. To my surprise, the repair cost only $164. And, it was done on Friday afternoon, which gave me the weekend to fish.

Unfortunately, the fishing wasn’t so great. I ended up catching six bass total on the trip, four of which I took home. The bigger reward, however, was the lesson in patience that I learned. It wasn’t fun waiting for the boat to get fixed, and watching precious fishing time slip away.

But, by God’s grace, I was able to wait. What helped is the fact that I brought my bow up north with me, along with my new Rinehart archery target, which I really like. I finally decided to spend $100 for a nice target, and my research showed that the 18-and-1 target was one of the best on the market.

I also got a chance to visit an awesome archery shop called Archery Country with my son, William. It’s a really cool shop, and I learned about two great products that I hope to use soon – VAP arrows and Ulmer Edge broadheads. I plan on using the broad heads this fall and maybe the arrows next year.

I’m excited about the upcoming bow hunting season, as my shooting form has been getting better!

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Up for walking a Twin Cities ‘pilgrimage’?

March 26, 2012

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What if you could make a pilgrimage right in the middle of the Twin Cities?

Pilgrimages to Fatima, Lourdes, the Holy Land and Rome are great if one can make those kinds of trips. The Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Spain — The Way of St. James — is gaining such popularity it’s been the focus of a Martin Sheen/Emilio Estevez movie. That last one is 500 miles of walking through the French/Spanish countryside.

But for three years now, folks have been going on a much shorter walking trip through New York City. Meghan Clark chronicles the 13.5-mile journey well in photos and story.

So here’s the question for you?

Think we could do something similar in the Twin Cities?

Where would you start? What stops would you make along the way, and why?

What should be “can’t-miss” opportunities? What might be prayerful events to include, people to speak to the group (maybe about the history of the place, the architecture, etc.)?

What would make a good, interesting route?

Remember, this would be a walking activity, a trip that would be completed in one day. Lots of daylight hours from mid-May through July would make for the best time of year. Figure it’s 10 miles between downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul.

Comment to this post or email your suggestions to zyskowskir@archspm.org.

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Why a parish just for black Catholics?

February 1, 2012

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St. Peter Claver Church has served black Catholics in Minnesota’s state capital for nearly 125 years, but the archbishop who established the parish wasn’t sure it was the right thing to do.

Archbishop John Ireland

Archbishop John Ireland, the legendary leader of the Archdiocese of St. Paul, was ahead of the curve when it came to racial equality, preaching that blacks were just as much children of God as were whites.

He acted on what he preached as well.

As St. Paul’s first archbishop (1884 to 1918), he was the first American bishop to allow a black man to study at the diocesan seminary — the St. Paul Seminary — and be ordained a diocesan priest in the United States. Father Stephen Theobald was ordained in 1910 and served at the Cathedral of St. Paul before being named pastor of St. Peter Claver Church in St. Paul.

Archbishop Ireland’s vision was that there should be no “race problem,” that the United States should be an integrated society. Daniel Rudd, the editor of a widely read black Catholic newspaper of the time, the American Catholic Tribune (circulation 10,000), saw in the archbishop an ally in his own vision that the Catholic Church was the best hope for racial justice and equality for black people in America.

Rudd was a sought-after lecturer, and in 1890, through a series of benefit speeches, he raised funds to build the first permanent church for St. Paul’s St. Peter Claver Parish. Archbishop Ireland had founded St. Peter Claver as a parish for “Colored Catholics” two years earlier and named it after the Spanish Jesuit who ministered to slaves in New Spain. But it wasn’t until 1892 that St. Peter Claver Church was built.

Historian Gary B. Agee, writing in the just-released biography of Rudd, said the black Catholic newspaperman and the archbishop both heard the demand from black Catholics for their own parishes, just as other ethnic groups had theirs, but they had trouble with that line of thinking.

Here’s an excerpt from “A Cry of Justice: Daniel Rudd and His Life in Black Catholicism, Journalism and Activism, 1854-1933″ (University of Arkansas Press):

“Rudd’s position on the existence of separate black parishes seems to have paralleled that of Archbishop Ireland. For example, when Ireland dedicated a new black parish in the city of St. Paul in 1892, the prelate expressed some ambivalence over the matter. He stated the establishment of a separate church for African American Catholics was only a temporary measure designed to benefit blacks. Further, Ireland desired all races to worship together. He also emphasized the fact that blacks were free to attend any of the city’s parishes.”

In his newspaper, Daniel Rudd echoed much the same sentiment, again excerpting from Agee’s book:

“If every so-called Colored Catholic church in the world was done away with instantly the Colored Catholics would be at home in any other Catholic church beneath the Sun.”

Obviously, given the racial history of our country and our church, both Archbishop Ireland and Daniel Rudd were ahead of their time in their vision.

 

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Prolife ‘billboard people’ aiming higher

January 24, 2012

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“The Billboard People” sponsored 6,500 prolife billboards in 42 states last year, but they want to do more.

“Our goal is 7,000 billboards,” Prolife Across America founder Mary Ann Kucharski told supporters in an email blast, “because we know that the more ads that are out there, the more people reached and babies’ lives saved.”

Changing hearts in order to save babies lives has been the purpose behind Prolife Across America since the Minneapolis-based nonprofit started up 23 years ago as Prolife Minnesota. The heartwarming photos of babies adds an emotional tug to the outdoor marketing’s messages of information and alternatives to abortion, including adoption and post-abortion help.

The group is in the midst of a “Father’s Campaign” (photo above) that began in mid-October with more than 1,900 billboards on that theme, (see them all here), Kucharski told The Catholic Spirit.

She added, “You may be interested in knowing that we will have at least one on University and Vandalia (near the new Planned Parenthood building in St. Paul, MN), thanks to an anonymous donor.”

The e-blast to supports invited donations to reach the 7,000-billboard goal.

“So often our 800# Hotline for Help may be the only visible sign of hope and help to someone on the brink of an abortion decision,” Kucharski wrote. “Please help us do more in 2012.”

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Thrills & chills at Cathedral of St. Paul

January 13, 2012

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Red Bull Ice Crashers event that skirts the Cathedral of St. Paul — skaters actually go down a ramp atop the cathedral steps —  are bringing cold-weather sports fans out to see the excitement of this daredevil extreme sport — and bringing folks into the  cathedral itself. They’re likely coming to warm up first — it was 13 degrees out there when these photos were taken early Friday afternoon — but plenty of people are looking around as they do at this architectural beauty. Below, those steeples in the distance are the Church of the Assumption downtown. This photo was taken from the front doors of the cathedral. You can read more about the Red Bull Crashed Ice event here.

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Greetings from sunny Minnesota — FYI: It won’t last

January 11, 2012

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For several weeks now on my drive in to work I’ve been seeing this view of the just-risen sun hitting the facade of the Cathedral of St. Paul. I finally stopped, grabbed my camera and tried to save the scene, because after living in Minnesota for 28+ years I know this respite from winter weather isn’t going to continue. Snow forecast in the next 24 hours.

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Good year means $8.4 million in grants from Minnesota’s Catholic Community Foundation

January 5, 2012

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An 18 percent increase in net assets allowed the Catholic Community Foundation (CCF) in Minnesota to deliver $8.4 million in grants during the past fiscal year to Catholic parishes, schools, seminaries, ministries and causes.

Over the past two years assets for the foundation rebounded to their highest point ever — nearly $200 million — reversing the trend that saw a drop during the recession years of 2008 and 2009.

The data released in the 2011 CCF annual report covers the 12 months ending June 30, 2011.

The annual report noted:

  • The grant total was a seven percent increase over the previous year;
  • 90 percent of the grants were made to entities in Minnesota;
  • Since 1992, CCF has distributed grants totaling $89 million;
  • The foundation’s long-term balanced growth fund, called the Cardinal Pool, achieved a 26 percent performance increase;
  • The foundation also has $113 million in deferred gift commitments.

The Catholic Community Foundation, founded to financially support the spiritual, educational and social needs of the Catholic community, this summer will mark its 20th year. In the foundation’s work it seeks endowed funds that support the Catholic mission, helps parishes, schools and Catholic organizations manage long-term investments and distributes earnings according to community priorities and donor intent.

CCF’s philosophy includes an emphasis on investments that adhere to Catholic moral principles as established by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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