Editor's introduction: This is part of an ongoing project (version 7-25-2010) which will be revised and expanded occasionally. Ingrid Shafer
A LIFE IN DIALOGUE
I am a product of “Abie’s Irish Rose.” (This was the title of a radio program during the 1930s that I sometimes heard as a child. It was about the antics of the Irish-American family of the wife, Rosie, and the Russian Jewish-American family of the husband, Abie.) My mother, Josephine Marie Reed (1901-1962), was an Irish-American Catholic and my father, Samuel Swidler (1897-1984), came from western Ukraine to the U.S. as a fifteen-year old lad in 1912, just two years before the beginning of World War I.
I was always in awe of his gumption to set across eastern Europe to the German port city of Bremerhaven, and then in a transport ship full of immigrants to the U.S. port of entry, Philadelphia, and then on to Chicago where there were some shirt-tail relatives. I learned later that young men were often dragooned into the Czarist army, and once there, were stuck for thirty years, if they lived that long. That alone, besides the rampant antisemitism, would have been motivation enough for a Jewish family to send their oldest son abroad, to Das goldene Land, America. In my father’s case, with hindsight it seems that a serendipitous prescience of the catastrophe of 1914 preserved him (and hence me) from oblivion. Unfortunately I never learned what he did those first years in America. What I did hear from him was a fascinating story he would occasionally tell me as a bed-time tale.
It seems that as a young lad)must have been not too long before he shipped off to America)he was selected to be the escort of a young woman who was going to a ball at the Austrian Emperor’s palace in Vienna. Dad’s family lived in western Ukraine near the city of Kaminensk-Podolsk and must have been able to get him across the Austrian border. Anyway, the story, as it stuck in my memory, was a description of the wonderful ball room in which mobs of elegantly dressed people milled around until suddenly Kaiser Franz Josef and his wife appeared and started to dance alone; after a few minutes everyone joined. Nothing else of the memory remains with me. However, in 1972, Dad visited us while we were on a study leave living in Tübingen, Germany. Our two daughters, Carmel and Eva, were 8 and 12 years old then, and much into “roots.” Hence, they peppered Dad with questions, and at one point out came this story. I had always figured that he embroidered the tale, and as I sat there listening to him tell it to the kids, I thought to myself: “Pop, you can really spin a good yarn!” Then, the following spring the four of us, my wife Arlene, and Carmel and Eva, and I, took a long trip westward, and when we got to Vienna we took a tour of the Imperial Palace Schönbrunn. As we walked into the ball room, we looked around, and then at each other and all blurted out: “He was really here!” It was just as he had described it when he had been there sixty years ago!
Dad, I apologize for doubting you!
I had occasion to tell this story again myself in November, 2008, when I had been invited to give a keynote address to a Catholic reform organization that was meeting in a small castle in Vienna. The front of the hall where I gave the lecture was framed by two larger than life oil paintings of Emperor Franz Josef and Empress Sisy when they were quite young. I started by saying how special this city was to me, and particularly this room with these two paintings, and related Dad’s tale and our stunned confirmation of his truth-telling.
I seem to stumble across Franz-Josef a lot in recent years. In August, 2007, my daughter Eva, her husband Ian, and then seven-year old daughter Willie and I went on a biking trip in eastern Bavaria and Austria near Salzburg. Just before we picked up our bikes in Salzburg we visited our friends from forty years earlier, the Schreiner family (Peter, Maria, and Wolfgang) in their ancestral home on Wolfgangsee (replete with a bronze plaque memorializing their grandfather Karl von Frisch, the Nobel Prize Laureate for discovering that bees communicated by intricate dancing). One night we all went to a performance of Die Fledermaus at the other end of the lake at XXX. It was delightful performance put on in a beautiful rokoko opera house—we all thought that the there were more Heimatkleider in the audience than on stage! We learned from a series of plaques that this was Franz Josef’s favorite summer residence and playhouse.
I have another vague memory about Dad that I should record here. I know already from my young adult years that he was always a strong supporter of labor unions, and that he was an active member of one when he worked in the paper mill in DePere, Wisconsin in the 1970s and 1980s. I know for certain also that he was a active member of the Democratic Party and strong supporter of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR). The vague memory I want to note here is related to this orientation of Dad and goes back to before I was born. I somehow heard that Dad returned to central Europe after the end of World War I. He would have been 21 when the war ended. I remember hearing that he went back to do some labor organizing with the Industrial Workers of the World, the IWW or “Wobblies.” The IWW was formed in the U.S. in 1905 and strove to unite all workers of the world into one international union. It reached a peak of 100,000 members in 1923, but subsequently was diminished and crushed by violent resistance by owners and various levels of governments. (For general background information, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Industrial_Workers_of_the_World#_ref-4) I presume that Dad did not persist long with the Wobblies, but I really don’t know any details. Still, that and his support of unions and the Democratic Party helped shape the way I grew up during the Great Depression, World War II, and after.
Somewhat related is another interesting memory I had of roaring verbal fights on Sunday afternoons in the mid-1930s between Dad and Mom’s older sister Eva. Aunt Eva had been married for a few years and had a son Bob, five years older than me. She took her former husband’s name, Proulx. Before she married she had spent some time in a convent as a nun, and was consequently quite devout. One of her pride and joys was a locket with a piece of the True Cross (on which Jesus supposedly died–some nasty wag allegedly said that if all tiny pieces were ever gathered together, they would constitute a small forest!). In any case, Aunt Eva tended to be pious and clerically-oriented.
At the time I did not know what the rows were about, or if I did know at the time, I suppressed it. However, the fact of the regular shouting matches was something that was seared into my memory. Then, years later, as I was studying American intellectual history at the University of Wisconsin with Merle Curti (the Father of American Intellectual History – I also served as a teaching assistant to him in his large lecture course in 1957) I learned about Father Charles Coughlin, the Irish-American priest of Detroit, known as the “Radio Priest,” who became an amazing force through his weekly radio broadcasts on Sunday afternoons in the 1930s (said to reach one-third of the U.S. population!). In the beginning years he was a stout supporter of the New Deal programs of President Roosevelt, but then in the mid-30s he became increasingly critical and even vehement in his denunciations of Roosevelt. Even worse, however, especially as far as Dad was concerned, he became absolutely vitriolicly antisemitic, once even at a rally in the Bronx in 1938, giving the Nazi salute and shouting “When we get through with the Jews in America, they’ll think the treatment they received in Germany was nothing!” He delivered, in part verbatim, some of the antisemitic speeches of Hitler’s Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels.
Well, all that was far too much for Dad to accept, while of course Aunt Eva’s take on it was that, If Father said so, it must be true! Hence, the bloody awful shouting matches on Sunday afternoons! How many there were, I don’t know, but they must have been something for them to have been so branded on my memory!
Dad spoke perfect English, without a trace of an accent. He also spoke Russian, Ukrainian, Polish (he evidenced the latter by successfully selling pianos to Polish-Americans on the south side of Milwaukee, Wisconsin), German, and Yiddish. He also read Hebrew, for I remember one day when years later he visited me in the Norbertine Abbey (where I was a novice at the time) I asked him whether he could read Hebrew, and he said, yes. Again, being skeptical of my dad’s abilities)like so many young men)I ran and got a copy of Kittel’s Biblia Hebraica and opened it to the beginning of Genesis. To my astonishment, he proceeded to read it aloud!
I remember that Dad took great pride in speaking correct English, and would often grump about American-born kids speaking badly, whom he would mimic as speaking about “dese, dose and dem.” He loved to talk)shmooz)in Yiddish, with people. Everybody in downtown Green Bay, Wisconsin, knew Dad–or at least it seemed so to me when I walked with him. It felt as if it took hours just to walk a couple of blocks down Main Street with all the conversations along the way–which of course did not interest a young boy in the least.
I was born on January 6, 1929, just a few months before Black Tuesday in November of that year, the stock market crash that launched the Great Depression. (Years later I joked that I was like Louis XIV of France, who said: Apres moi la deluge!) However, it was no laughing matter for Dad–or for the rest of the family, for that matter. He, as so many men in those dismal days, had great trouble finding work. I know that for a time he sold insurance. I remember riding with him sometimes in his Willis Knight car, and would sleep in the front seat with my head in his lap while he was driving; I must have been pretty young then. He also had a job for a while with the New Deal’s WPA (Works Public Administration–or as we impudent kids would say: “We Poke Along”) draining the swamp around Bay Beach on the edge of Green Bay. I also recall that for a while he had a job driving the delivery van for Glickman’s Bakery in Green Bay from 4 to 11 AM. The reason I remember is that he used to bring home some sweet rolls called “Long Johns,” which at the time I thought were really scrumptious!
Somewhere in the late thirties he went to what was known as Beautician School so he could join my mother’s Bay Beauty Shop (a women’s hair salon) on the main street of Green Bay, two doors down from the Bay Theater, the largest movie theater in town (with the minuscule “Karamel Korn” shop squeezed in between). They continued to own the Bay Beauty Shop until after World War II, when we bought our first, and only, house in the summer of 1946, in the suburb Allouez. I guess it was in those years before 1946 that I experienced the long (and the Germans would say, langweilige) walks down Main street with Dad. I think that Dad was in his element in the beauty shop, for he could use his European charm on the customers. I presume that he must have done a good job in his work for I have no recollection of Mom ever complaining about his work (Mom, I know, was an absolutely no-nonsense worker, though she also had Irish charm about her.) There was a time when I too “worked” in the shop, sweeping up, and picking bobby pins out of the waste hair to be sterilized and used again. I think that it must have been during a summer when I was in grade school.
After we moved into our new house in Allouez, Mom and Dad sold the Bay Beauty Shop. I dug out, with a pick on the rock-hard clay (and the help of an Indian day worker), the cellar space under the front of our new–really an old farm house–house, which was turned into a Beauty Parlor which Mom operated for a while. But more about her later. It was around then that Dad took a job working in a specialized paper mill in DePere, a town of around 6,000 (Green Bay was then 35,000 population) on the other side of Allouez. I think it must have been a pretty miserable job, but Dad stuck at it until after Mom died in 1962. He would write letters once in a while, and it was a kind of joke among us kids–my brother Jack, five and a half years younger, and my sister Sandra, eleven and a half years younger–that Dad’s letters often said that he “went on longer hours,” but he never seemed to go on shorter hours, so that we had the impression that after a while he must have been working 200 hour weeks!
An important activity that Dad and I did for many years together was a combination of fishing and camping. Mom never had either an interest or the time/leisure–I am not sure which was the reason. First came the fishing. We would often go with friends of Dad, and would get up at three o’clock in the morning (!) so we could be out on the water before the sun came up. Wisconsin is blessed with 9,000 lakes, and so there were many places to go. We usually fished for perch, sunfish, bluegills, rock bass, but most of all for black bass, and sometimes for walleyed pike.
A memory-searing event took place sometime when I was around eight, when we apparently were transisting between day fishing trips and camping trips. This time Dad and I stayed at a lodge and as usual went out in a row boat before sunup to fish. When we came back to shore I stayed on the dock while Dad went back to our little cottage to shave and clean up before we went to the main lodge to have breakfast. I had laid my fishing rod on the pier with my line in the water, fishing with the hook just off the bottom, which was the best place to fish. I remember standing, looking down at the water with the bright sun sparkling off it. The next thing I knew was that my head just came up out of the water and I was scared stiff–literally! I grabbed a hold of a post of the pier and held on with a death-lock! It was the kind of pier with a layer of stone underneath and the wooden pier constructed over it, with perhaps a foot or so in between. We had a small dog–a full-blooded mongrel!–by the name of Chubby. Chubby very obviously was my dog. Well, I recall that Chubby was absolutely frantic. He knew that things were not right. He ran along the rocks below the wooden dock and constantly licked my face and barked vociferously–but to no avail.
Eventually he ran off to our cottage where he pestered Dad with barking and jumping that he finally came along to see what Chubby wanted. He of course found me in the water, locked onto the post, keeping my head above water. Dad tried to pull me up, but I kept saying “I won’t let go. I won’t let go.” A man soon joined Dad, and when the two of them could not pull me loose, he suggested to Dad that he knock me out. Dad, who was really a softie, just couldn’t do that. Eventually he started asking me where my fishing rod was, and I would say, “over there.” He then kept pushing me, asking, Where? Point to it! When I eventually released one hand to point, he and the other man whisked me out of the water. After a bit, while I was standing up on the pier I saw that indeed my fishing rod was nowhere to be seen on the pier where I had laid it while fishing. I then noticed that the hook at the end of the line was caught on the cuff of my pants–which meant that when I fell in the water (I probably fainted from sleepiness and the bright sun reflecting off the water, and knocked the rod in the water), I must have sunk to the bottom (ten feet deep at that point) where my hook was hanging–and then come up. Needless to say, thereafter Chubby always held a special place in our house!
For a number of years, when I got a little older, we–Dad and my brother Jack)used to go camping for three or four weeks in the summer. I think that in the beginning we just used a pup tent for shorter periods, but then we bought a large 9x12 tent and gradually gathered camping equipment–cots, air mattresses, camp stove, ice chest, gas lantern, etc. We most often went to a lake in northern Wisconsin where we were by ourselves. Fishing was our main activity outside of cooking etc. This must have been during the years shortly before America got into World War II, December 7, 1941. It was also the time when I had become first a Cub Scout (ages 9-12) and then a Boy Scout (ages 12-15). Dad also became the Scout Master of our troop, which was at St. Willebrod’s Church. I remember that during this period I was, like so many boys, eager about hiking and camping. The name Baird’s Creek still sticks in my mind as a favorite place to go hiking with friends. We were are eager to learn about living outdoors, learning how to bake biscuits with a self-made reflector-oven in front of a bonfire and how to fry meat on a stone heated in the fire, building lean-to shelters out of branches, finding edible berries, and the like.
I never thought about it before, but growing up in a smallish town had many advantages that city children probably miss. We were able to get to the woods very quickly and relished it. I remember learning how to swim when I was very little–maybe second grade. Dad never learned how to swim, though Mom had. Still, I recall being taken to the inside swimming pool in the Columbus Club (a large building in downtown Green Bay which belonged to the Catholic Knights of Columbus–later partially sold or given to the Norbertine Fathers who set up Central Catholic High School for boys on the second floor). I was to learn to swim. Apparently it was customary for the boys to swim in their birthday suits, for to this day I recall Dad having to persuade me that it was all right to swim naked. In that connection, I also recall when I was in late primary school years, some of us boys used to go skinny dipping in the East River. However, one of the favorite swimming holes was the water-filled quarry at Duck Creek, several miles outside of Green Bay. I can still visualize some of my braver buddies swan diving off a thirty-foot ledge–I was full of envy, but too scared to try it.
It’s a terrible shame, but most of Dad’s experiences growing up are only sketchy second-hand memories for me. It apparently never occurred to Dad, or anyone else, to write down his recollections. I can only recall that Dad was the oldest child of his family (I don’t even know whether or how many siblings he had–sad!). His father was apparently something like the manager of an estate owned by a Russian nobleman. I presume Granddad (whose first name I forgot, if I ever knew it) got the job because he could read and write (I infer that since Dad had learned how to read)–which most Russian peasants then could not. Also, I much later found in Dad’s effects, letters written to him in Yiddish by his mother. It also sticks in my memory that supposedly Granddad’s father was the Grand Rabbi of Russia. But who knows; it is lost in the mists of hazy memories.
I remember quite well, however, one story Dad told about his father. It seems that one day in winter Granddad was riding in his sleigh and as he went by a Ukranian peasant’s house a young Ukrainian lad had just run out of the house barefoot to urinate. When Granddad drove by he began to shout “Dirty Jew! Dirty Jew!” So, Granddad pulled up his horse and calmly took out some tobacco and cigarette paper and began to roll himself a cigarette–very slowly. Well, the lad kept shouting his invectives, but more and more began dancing up and down with his bare feet in the cold snow. Finally he could take it no more, and ran crying into the house, at which point Granddad finished rolling his cigarette and shouted to his horse, “Giddap!”
I also remember the bedtime story Dad would tell me when I was very young about the great snows they had in the Ukraine. What stuck especially in my young mind was that they would sometimes have blizzards that were so furious and long that they had to dig a tunnel from the house to the barn to milk the cows! Dad also often spoke of his mother and how her kitchen was sot of a gathering place of the neighborhood, and that she always had a samovar of tea brewing. She wrote to Dad rather regularly. At least, long after Dad’s death we found a number of letters to him written in Yiddish from her. There was even one letter in English from some kind of a relative in California to Dad in the early 1930s chiding him that Grandma had written him complaining that Dad was not answering her letters to him!
Sad to say, however, the letters from the Ukraine stopped suddenly and entirely in the early 1930s, which is when Stalin’s bloody purge of the so-called kulaks, independent farmers and the like, were killed or sent off to Siberia. The estimates of how many died because of this oppression–which triggered a massive famine, ranges from 60 million! to 700,000 (the latter figure supplied by the Soviet government, of course). Presumably all of Dad’s family–and half of mine!–were all murdered one way or another (before Hitler could get to them).
I remember distinctly–from where we were living–that around 1940, that is, after World War II had begun, Mom got very worried that Dad had never completed the necessary steps to become a U.S. citizen. She probably feared that some crazy like Father Coughlin or other wild nativist-isolationist (of which there were many in those days) would pass laws that could get him deported. She really pushed him into doing what was needed. I remember that afterward he was very proud of his being an American citizen. In fact, we kids got a lot of talk about how fortunate we were to live in the “land of the free.” That has stuck in my heart ever since!
Though it should be clear that in many ways I was fortunate to be close to Dad, it was really Mom who I was closest to. I can remember her having a beauty shop on the second floor (had to go up long outside wooden steps to get there) in a very small town Cumberland, way in western Wisconsin not far from the Mississippi river. That was when I was between two and four years old. When I was four we moved to the “Big City” (35,000) Green Bay, Wisconsin to 711 Eliza St. (the house was still there in 2008, looking exactly as it had in 1933!), also on the second floor (but this time with inside stairs and with a large second floor covered balcony.) Mom also had a beauty shop there to keep us alive.
We moved a lot when I was a child. I suppose because of the cost of the rent. I went to kindergarten when I was four and a half and first grade at Howe Public school, and then to St. Willebrod’s parochial school for second grade, St. John’s parochial school for third grade, and St. Patrick’s for 4-6, and back to St. Willebrod’s for 7 and 8. Probably about when I went to second grade (1934) is when Mom set up the Bay Beauty Shop in downtown Green Bay. She worked hard and hired at least two other women, and as I mentioned above, Dad joined her somewhere around 1940. Because they both were working all the time, and often into the night, we children had to be cared for by a “maid,” as we referred to her. There was a rather long parade of maids, as I remember, with only two of them standing out in my memory. The first one I remember somewhat well even though I cannot even recall her name, but I do remember that she had a really neat boyfriend who was an Oneida Indian, and for some reason he once brought me a full Indian Chief’s feather headgear!
However, the one we all, or at least my brother Jack and I, remembered well was Milly Winicki. She was with us for all of the war years, for I remember well that her boyfriend Larry Kugel was someone we never met until the war was practically over. He had been inducted into the Wisconsin National Guard 32nd Division in 1940 (they had to train with broomsticks, for there were not enough rifles at that time!), and they already in early 1942 were sent to fight the Japanese in New Guinea. Buna and Gona were murky, muddy jungle towns that were burnt into our memories in those years for it seemed that they fought there endlessly. Every once in a while Milly would get a letter from Larry. There was a bit of drama at one point when Milly took up with another boyfriend for a while, who of course was also drawn into the army, but in the end she stuck with Larry and after the war they married and lived out their lives together.
I must add for posterity that we were drawn into the Winicki family. The parents had a farm somewhere around the nearby small town of Pulaski (a Polish hero of the Revolutionary War), which of course was the ethnic heritage of the Winickis. We visited the farm several times, went to various weddings (which sometimes would last for days!) of the family or friends. That’s where I really learned to polka and hop dance! I remember that one of the brothers became a fighter pilot, and another was an infantryman, and was killed in France. Around the year 2000 my brother Jack, who really liked the telephone, got a hold of Milly on the phone while I was visiting him in his home in North Carolina. She was in a nursing home, in rather precarious health, and the same was the case with Larry. Sic transit gloria–et juventutes–mundi!
As I noted before, the Depression years were clearly very hard ones. I personally did not feel it in the sense of going hungry. We always had food, though there was an awful lot of canned tomato soup and salmon loaf. Strangely, canned salmon was one of the cheapest things you could buy in those days–quite unlike today! I do remember, however, seeing the building not far from our house near downtown Green Bay where lines of men always appeared to pick up free bread and other foodstuffs, though we never went there.
Of course, during the war the situation changed drastically in that there was a sharp shortage of certain kinds of food, and they were consequently rationed: meat, sugar, fats....Gasoline, oil, and especially tires were severely rationed. The gas and tires were special problems for my Uncle Mac and Aunt Gertrude (one of Mom’s younger sisters–who turned 100! in 2009, and died later that year) for they made their living by checking stores, that is, “checking” to see if the clerk of chains of stores were stealing or not. That meant that they had to constantly travel from city to city.
Surviving financially in those years, the 1930s, was such a palpable problem that I was very aware of it. Since after first grade I was in Catholic parochial schools, daily Mass was de rigeur, but I always also went with Mom on weekends and every day in the long summers. I well remember asking her every day how business was the day before. If she took in $20, that was definitely not good; $30 was good, and $40 was fabulous! If business was not good that day, it was an ache on my heart. Hard to think that an eight- or nine-year old could be so worldly burdened, but I still remember well that ache to this day.
Of course, we could have bought (if we had had the money!) our two storey, three bedroom new house on 913 North Chestnut St. on the West side of Green Bay (interesting how one remembers such details from 70 years ago!) for $6,000 at that time, and a quart of milk cost 10¢, as did also a loaf of bread. I remember that for my first after-school job (maybe age 11 or 12) I got 25¢ an hour–and when later in the summer of 1944 (age 15) I got a job in Los Angeles (I stayed in Aunt Ronnie’s house) in a defense plant I received the princely salary of 80¢ an hour, plus time and a half on Saturdays (which we always worked)!
Though I was always very close to Mom, that closeness suddenly grew to a very, very painful closeness. My sister Sandra was born in 1940, when I was eleven years old. It unfortunately was a very hard delivery. Apparently the doctor had to use a forceps to reach in and pull Sandy out of the uterine canal by grabbing her by the head. As a result, she had a ridge down the center of her forehead when she was brought home. It eventually went away, but it was fixed in my memory–though not Sandy’s, of course.
More importantly, as a result of whatever happened during the birth, Mom developed a severe heart condition. There doubtless is a name for her pathology, but at the time there must not have been one handy, for we never heard one. After Sandy’s birth every so often Mom’s heart would slip into the pattern of beating very rapidly, which was obviously extremely painful, so much so that she would be literally floored. She could not stand. She had to lie down. There never seemed to be any medication that helped. Eventually she was given digitalis, but neither it nor anything else the physicians came up with ever had any effect. She would be laid low for several days.
I recall very vividly how I developed something very similar in the sense that when she became ill, I too was filled with a fear which was deeply physical. I felt terrible that she was in such pain–totally visible as it was on her face–but in addition I had a grab-you-by-the-throat fear that she would die! One such scene is still etched sharply in my memory when she was brought home from the Bay Beauty Shop–I must have been seventeen–and was laid down on the sofa in the living room. I remember how I sat alone on the floor next to her feeling totally helpless, with my heart in my throat desperately praying that she would not die. This attack must have been especially intense–they got increasingly severe with the passage of time–and long-lasting for it is still so lively in my mind’s eye.
This attack, like the others, of course eventually subsided, but they left her lamed for days. I was certain that one of those times she would not recover. However, perhaps somewhat perversely, it was not her heart that finally gave out and led to her death. Rather, although these heart attacks persisted, she eventually contracted colon cancer, and over a period of almost three years underwent a series of major surgeries which her heart withstood vigorously. But the cancer killed her (1962). As I write this, there is an aching hole in the pit of my stomach. I miss her deeply, and will till the day I too die.
Birth and Early Years
I was born January 6, 1929, in Sioux City, Iowa. I have no recollection whatsoever of Sioux city. My earliest memories are of what must have been Cherokee, Iowa where Grandma and Grandpa Reed lived. Mom was one of fifteen children!–a good (shanty) Irish Catholic family! I have only a phantasm in my mind of seeing Grandma sitting at a sewing machine way at the other end of a large room, and then presumably later of her lying in a hospital bed (she died of cancer even before she reached 60), and I was lifted up onto the bed with her. I was under two years old, and so probably must have been a source of some joy to her. Sad, I miss having gotten to know her. It is likewise sad that I never had even that much of a memory of Grandma and Grandpa Swidler on Dad’s side–just some stories that I came to cherish much too late in life to be able to ask Dad more questions about.
At that very tender age I contracted “double pneumonia,” whatever that exactly meant at that time, and also mastoiditis (I still have a significant chunk of bone missing from behind my left ear. I was quite sickly in my early years, for my ear trouble resulted in developing screaming earaches every year until I was ten years old. They were so bad that each year I went to the hospital to have my eardrum punctured and drained of pus for a week. I also had my tonsils our three times! and my adenoids, as well as my appendix. It was only after I reached ten that I stopped my regular occupation of the hospital.
When I was two we moved to the small town of Cumberland in western Wisconsin. What I remember of there is that in summer we kids used to follow the ice delivery truck to pick up chips of ice that would lie on the back of the truck when the driver would chip a 100-pound block of clear ice into 50 or 25 pound blocks. They were cooling on a hot summer day! Air conditioning and refrigerators were inventions of the future. Second, we also used to follow the farm trucks which would be carrying rutabagas or vines of sweet peas and swipe some off the back as they drove by (they were farm sweet!). I had not yet learned about confession, and so have no residue of guilt to this day!
When four, we moved to Green Bay, which I count as my home town. I already mentioned our moving a lot, which of course meant finding new friends all the time. Consequently, other than Kenny Hammer, of dubious loyalty, described just below, all my childhood friends are memorable by their being totally forgotten.
I remember clearly one incident as a child when I was the butt of antisemitism. On the scale of one to ten, it was at most a two, but because it happened to me when I was an impressionable child, and the first time, it made a lasting impression on me. It happened while we lived on Chestnut St., and so I must have been nine or ten years old. Somehow some neighborhood kids learned that Dad was Jewish, and that therefore I was too–and that this was something to be scorned. I recall that I was trapped in front of our house sometime during the day and was pretty well surrounded by a bunch of neighborhood kids who were taunting me about being Jewish, and throwing stones at me. I don’t recall being badly hurt physically, but I do recall intensely on the one hand being scared to death because there were so many who were so threatening, and on the other that I was not going to break and run into the house. I don’t recall specifically how it finally ended, but suspect that eventually the bullies just got bored and wandered off to find something else more interesting to do than to throw stones at me and call me dirty Jew. Like many bullies, they apparently were not willing to risk attacking me up close and personal, lest they get a fist in the eye in the process. I don’t remember whether I ever told Mom or Dad about the incident. I suspect not, probably because, being the victim I thought that I was somehow guilty of something–which attitude happens too frequently in life.
One other thing sticks in my memory about this incident. My “best” playmate, Kenny Hammer, part American Indian, lived across the street–he was one of the taunters and stone-throwers. I remember well the next day when the rest of the bullies were not around and Kenny came outside, I “turned the other cheek,” Kenny’s other cheek! (Naughty!)
To jump ahead timewise, the only other personal directly–sort of, in this case–antisemitic incident I was involved in was one summer while I was in college and I worked in the golf pro-shop at the Country Club just down the road from our house on 3001 Riverside Drive, in Allouez. The phone was a wall phone located between the lounge and the pro-shop. One day it rang and the bartender, who normally answered it, was not around. So, I answered it and the caller asked whether non-Gentiles were allowed at the Country Club. At first I didn’t know what he meant–non-Gentiles? Then when I figured out he meant Jews, I answered, “Of course.” Just then the bartender came up and said, “I’ll take it,” and took the phone out of my hand. The caller must have put the same question to him, for I overheard the barkeep say, “No, they’re not,” and hung up. Well, I seethed, but the bartender had the build and temperament of a bouncer, and so I held my seething inside. But here I was in lovely democratic, freedom-loving America which had just fought a bloody awful war against the Nazis, and this +#@%!* barkeep character was carrying on like a Nazi! (Doubtless just carrying out policy decided on by the White Gentile males of the Country Club). What would have happened had he known that I was half Jewish (enough to qualify for the ovens had I grown up in Germany!)? I never forgot this incident.
One of the slightly traumatic results of our frequent moving was that when I was in third grade in St. John’s parochial school, we moved in the middle of the school year from just across the street from the church and school to a mile away on Porlier St. Right in front of the school was a large public playground and I used to play there after school–even after we moved to Porlier St. That clearly was not good, and I was several times scolded, after which I made the pro forma promises to come home right after school. I obviously must has slipped up on those promises more than one time too many, for I remember very vividly to this day my slinking home more than once with a sinking feeling in my stomach at what awaited me–a strapping across the butt by Dad. I can still see him this one time come out of the front door with baby Jack in his arms just as I reached the corner. I quickly sneaked around to the back door and ran upstairs to our flat–where Mom met me: “Dad just went out looking for you; you wait until he gets back!” Ouch!
I am sure that I did not get many spankings throughout my childhood, but I do remember one that I got from Mom when I was around nine. I don’t remember why, but I suspect it was because I did not take proper care of “drag-along” Jack! Anyhow, Mom took me down in the basement, got a slat from an orange crate, and slapped me on the calves of my legs so that with my yowling and hopping around I could have fit well into a pow wow Indian dance on the local Cherokee reservation!
We lived three years straight in a two-storey new house on Chestnut street–a record stretch for us up to that point. It was a mile away from St. Patrick’s church and school, where I went to 4th through 6th grades. I used to walk to and from school not only in the morning and after school, but also for lunch. I remember that it took me fifteen minutes each way. I was able to listen to two of my favorite fifteen-minute radio programs during the lunch break and still get back on time. After school there were other regular radio serials. The names that still stick with me are “Portia Faces Life,” “Life Can Be Beautiful,” “Jack Armstrong the All-American Boy,” “Captain Midnight,” and such half-hour dazzlers in the evening as “The Green Hornet” and “The Lone Ranger.” Interesting thing about the Lone Ranger—which I “noticed” only many decades later—was that he never killed anybody, or even shot anyone. He was always the “fastest gun in the West,” but always only shot the gun out of the hand of the bad guy—a pretty cool “pacifist” hero to have for a young lad, compared to the raging violent “heros” of computer games and the like today!
All the earlier radio programs I used to listen to disappeared for me in high school, for I had at least three hours of homework every night, plus three hours of football practice every night all fall, and rifle team practice every night the rest of the year. I started high school in the fall of 1941. World War II had already started two years before, and so I had begun as an eleven-year old to pay attention to the radio news. On December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese and we were in it as well. I recall that morning, December 7, with Dad running around the house in his pajamas, all disturbed by the news. From that point on, I developed a regular pattern of eight o’clock Mass, 8:45 Home room, followed by seven periods of classes, three hours football practice, coming home and eating dinner, and then immediately falling to working on homework for three hours, punctuated at the end with the ten o’clock news with Gabriel Heater: “Ah there’s bad news tonight....” And then fall in bed.
Since I grew up in Green Bay, I naturally, like every boy there, fell in love with football and the Green Bay Packers—the only professional athletic team to be owned by the city where it played. Of course I went to Packer football games, and saw real heroes like Don Hutson, the “magic” pass receiver. He weighed only 175 lbs., which was my playing weight in college, and thus encouraged my football fantasies for decades to come: “If Don Hutson could play pro football, why couldn’t I? It was not size but skill that really counted!”
All the grade schools had regular football teams, and I played for St. Willebrod’s Parochial School, 6th through 8th grades. I played right guard because after my bouts with the hospital I gained a lot of weight, so much so that in my last two years of primary school I was nick-named “Fat,” weighing 140 lbs. in 8th grade. I grew to 150 lbs. In high school—but during the four years stretched from being stubby and fat to my “towering” 5’10½”while maintaining the same weight—I moved to playing center and linebacker (in those days the same players played both offense and defense). I obviously had a lot to learn on defense that first year, for I remember all too clearly even today how at a Monday practice the Coach, when going over the game from the previous Saturday, got around to me, and positively stammered out: “Swidler, you, you...wooden Indian!” Well I clearly improved over the years and got to be quite good on defense. I seemed to have developed an ability frequently to sense quickly how a play was developing and arrange to get to and bring down the ball carrier before the assigned blocker could get to me. I remember in my senior year when we were playing a hotshot team from Madison, the State capital, that I blocked a couple of punts (I had perfected that trick by then), intercepted a pass and made numerous tackles, with the result that I was listed as “All State Honorable Mention” among the State high school football players that week! That turned out to be the acme of my football career.
I must say that my high school days were very happy and exciting ones. I later learned that many people growing up found these years very unhappy ones. I also heard from older people even while I was in high school that I should savor these years for they will be among my happiest. I am happy to say that the second view operated in my case. Besides working very hard at my studies, and sports, I also enjoyed the school activities, and the normal teenage excitement of learning about the opposite sex. Since I went to an all-boys school I was relatively shy about girls, but was happy to go to dances, often called sox-hops in those days, with my male buddies and have a chance to dance with girls. It was so exciting to hold a girl pressed up tight against you! My senior year was when I overcame one level of my shyness. I remember that I went to nine formal dances that year—with eight different girls (on Sadie Hawkins Day one girl asked me back to the formal dance)! However, I don’t remember having gotten up the courage to kiss any one of them! Irish Catholicism really kept you locked up inside your own body!
Our high school was unusual in that we had three years of Reserved Officers Training Corps (ROTC), complete with uniforms, marksmanship, etc. This was more than the usual teenage hype, for as our seniors graduated they immediately went into military service—some never to come back—for I was in high school 1942-46. I subsequently often thought, had I been born two years earlier, I would have graduated in 1944, and doubtless would have volunteered like my cousin Donald Boucher did when he became 17, in 1942. He joined the Navy so as to get a relatively clean, safe job; unfortunately for him, when he finished boot camp and his chosen training as a medical corpsman, he was put in the Second Fleet Marines! He was sent into the beaches of Tarawa, Tinian, Saipan. After his first experience of landing on the beach of Tarawa and have a bayonet charging Japanese marine roar out of the jungle at him, only to fall at his feet after Don emptied his (as a medic, illegal) carbine, Don switched to a Thompson submachine gun (obviously even more “illegal”). My cousin Bob Proulx, who was five years older than me, also joined the navy and spent four years on the deck of the aircraft carrier the Essex, and has bits of kamikaze shrapnel imbedded in his back, and yet another cousin Bob Reed flew corsair fighters off carriers in the Pacific. Well, I barely missed that war, and in retrospect, I am not at all sorry. I would fortunately also miss the next war—again, with no retrospective regrets.
I had a very interesting summer of 1944. I caught a train in Green Bay to Kansas city, Missouri early in the summer to join up with my Uncle Mac McClintock and Aunt Gertrude (one of Mom’s many sisters). As I mentioned, their work was to check chain stores for stealing by the clerks. Well, I drove and worked with them for the next month or six weeks throughout Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Texas, and new Mexico, checking stores. It was quite exciting for a young fifteen-year old—being a “detective,” as I self-described it! As I recall, I caught over a dozen clerks stealing.
The way the system worked was as follows: For a “department store” type I would go to the men’s clothing section and buy, say, a shirt at $11.50, and while the clerk was writing up the sales slip I would pick up two ties for, say, five dollars apiece and simply hand the clerk $10 and tell him or her that I would just drop them in the bag with the shirt, and walk off. Then at the end of the day Uncle Mac would go to see the store manager, identify himself and go over all the purchases. When he came to my sales slip for a shirt at $11.50, if there was no subsequent slip for $10, the clerk obviously stole the cash. The system for a “dime store” type was a variation ot that. I would buy, say a saw at $12 and while the clerk was ringing it up I would pick up a screw driver at $3 and when he came back with my package and change I would hand him the $3 and tell him I would just put it in the bag and wander off. However, in this case, I had to walk off casually but keep the clerk in view so I could watch to see whether he went and rang up the screw driver. I would have to keep a record of these two sales and the clerk in question. I mentioned that I had caught a number of clerks stealing. I remember one department store type in a small town in Texas where on the day we checked it the manager was gone fishing for the day. We caught all seven of the clerks stealing, including the manager’s daughter!
I remember June 6, 1944, very well. I was asleep in my hotel room in Tulsa Oklahoma, with Aunt Gertrude and Uncle Mac in the next room when while it was still before sunup all the factory horns, church bells, etc. started to make an awful racket. It was D-Day! The Allied forces invaded France. All America was wildly enthusiastic! I don’t remember anything else that happened that day. I do remember, however, a couple of weeks later visiting a huge Army Air force base at Carlsbad, New Mexico, where my Aunt Mercedes’ (Mom’s youngest sister, some sixteen years older than me) husband Bob was stationed as a sargeant. While there we also visited the Carlsbad Caverns—unbelievable! There are miles of huge caverns with all kinds of stalactites and stalagmites with lighted paths running through several miles of them.
Actually, Carlsbad was the end of my trip and working with Aunt Gertrude and Uncle Mac. I caught a train there to Los Angeles where two more aunts (Eva and Ronnie) and one uncle (Bill) lived. I was there the last month of the summer. I stayed with Aunt Ronnie, who, like Mom, had a women’s hair dressing shop. I remember the weather well, for all the time I was there, the radio weather report always started out with, “tomorrow we will have more of the usual “unusual” weather, meaning smog until 11 AM when it finally burnt off.
I quickly got a job working in a defense plant. I was hired at the then princely sum of 80¢ an hour, and time-and-a-half for overtime. It was a lumber yard which built wooden life rafts which could hold about ten people, as I recalled. They were filled with sealed metal containers which held smaller sealed units of water and food. On my first day on the job about four or five of us were sent to unload a whole railroad boxcar full of boxes of the water and food. We set up a chain line, passing the boxes from one to the other from the boxcar to the truck to take the food and water to our lumber yard. Each box weighed forty pounds. Lifting them up was no big deal, except when it began to run over a hundred boxes—until the whole boxcar was emptied!—and all were then brought to our workplace. Talk about ache and weariness. I recall clearly that at the end of the 8-hour day I went back to Aunt Ronnie’s place, walked through her beauty shop into the back room and flopped face down on the sofa and did not wake up until 7AM the next morning!
At the end of my sojourn in sometimes sunny LA my uncle Bill, who worked for the railroad there, did me a huge favor, though I did not realize it at the time. He took me to the train that was going to go from LA via the southern route up through Amarillo, Texas and eventually to Chicago, and on to Green Bay. The favor was that he put me on the only air conditioned car in the fifty-car basically troop train. The train lumbered the over two thousand miles from LA to Chicago in four endless days and nights. When we went through Amarillo during the daytime it was 120E! I recall walking back through several cars looking to buy some food. Everyone looked as if they had melted and run down onto the seats. I happily returned to my cool car and seat! I remember talking with many soldiers who were either going home on a furlough or were returning to base from their furlough. I was initially puzzled to find that everybody seemed to be stationed at the opposite end of the country from their home, but eventually began to realize that that seemed to be deliberate on the part of the army.
When I graduated from high school in June, 1946, I was only 17 at the time, but in those days 18-year-olds were drafted into the army, and so, I decided to preempt that eventuality by enlisting in the U.S. Navy V-5 Program to train pilots. How naive I was! I remember being questioned by one of the Navy recruiters during the physical and other exams about whether I liked girls or not. I wasn’t sure what he was getting at, and so I responded somewhat hesitantly that I did. He didn’t seem terribly convinced and then absolutely shocked me by asking whether I knew what those bumps were under their sweaters? Oh my god! I was so embarrassed! I mumbled something, though I am not sure what. Years later I realized that he was fishing whether I was gay or straight, but at the time I did not have a clue about what was going on. He obviously must have been convinced that I was just a naive, sheltered heterosexual lad from the boonies.
I worked the first part of that summer doing jack-of-all-trades work in a resort in northern Wisconsin, until I was called home to help rebuild the farm house and barn Mom and Dad bought (their first–and only–house). In late August I received a letter from the Navy saying that they had signed up more pilot trainees than they needed, and offered me the possibility of an honorable discharge. I thought the matter over, and decided to accept the discharge and to enroll in St. Norbert’s College instead, and take their Reserved Officer’s Training Corps program, with the expectation that when I graduated I would also receive a commission as a second lieutenant in the Army.
So, I and 750 other male students came to St. Norbert’s College in DePere, Wisconsin, just a few miles from our new house. I of course had been a student of the Norbertine Fathers for my four years at Central Catholic High School and felt at ease with them. However, college experience in 1946 was something quite unique. Of the 750 new students, approximately 730 were ex-GIs. They were not only several years older than me, but had also experienced many things I had only read about, many having fought their way across Europe or the islands of the Pacific.
d a letter from Jim McDonald who wrote that he had been following some of my writing over the years and reminded me that we had met slightly lo these sixty-plus years ago, when he was an ex-GI freshman at St. Norbert’s College in 1946. He had spent the was in the pacific, and subsequently became a priest of the diocese of LaCrosse, Wisconsin, and still later left the active priesthood.
One example of the gap between me and the vast majority of my fellow students was in football. As I noted, having grown up in Green Bay I was a football aficionado, having played three years in primary school and all four years in high school. I even received a small football scholarship in my freshman year at St. Norbert’s College. However, things turned out a lot different than I had thought they would. By my freshman year I weighed 175 lbs., which might have been all right were it not for the fact that the returning ex-GIs were comparatively massive, and with additional years of experience. I was lucky to make the 4th team! I remember that we won the first game 56 to 0! and were not defeated for all the four years of my undergraduate studies! So, after my freshman year, I gave up playing and coached my grade school football team instead (which included my brother Jack, who during one game broke his leg, which I insisted he continue to play on nevertheless–which he did!).
After football season (during which my time was totally absorbed by my studies and daily exhausting practice) in my freshman year, I started going to a Catholic Action Group which met weekly–and this changed my life profoundly. I had always been a strongly committed Catholic, including daily Mass and communion all during my youth, but now my Catholicism began to take on a much more intellectual, and at the same time activist, dimension. The Group, as it was known, was led by a lay couple, Agnes and George Hohlmiller and drew an amazing collection of Catholic lay people from young students, through blue collar workers, to young lower middle class families, with the support of a couple of Norbertine priests, particularly Father Dupont, who worked as the Registrar at the College and a younger Father Vincent DeLeers, who later became the Dean of the College.
The Group started St. Catherine’s Library and Bookshop, which flourished to 2009, when it finally closed. It was also very much into organic food and farming a half century before it became fashionable in the 90s. The Library, for example, sold whole wheat, and I was very proud of baking whole wheat bread. (My culinary arts, however, did not progress much beyond that.) The weekly Group discussion meetings were very intense, bringing forty or so participants together in the Hohlmiller’s living room where most of us sat on the floor, and we young students played a prominent role. Sometimes there were important visitors who joined us. I remember clearly when Dorothy Day came one night. For the most part she sat on the couch and knitted, saying rather little. It occurred to me then that she reminded me of the knitting Madame DeFarge of The Tale of Two Cities fame.
The Group drew a great deal of inspiration from a relatively new Lay Apostolic inspired group for women called Grailville in Loveland, Ohio (it too flourishes to this day). It was launched by a Secular Institute from Holland called The Ladies of the Grail, led in America by Dr. Lydwyne van Kersbergen and Joan Calvin, a Jewish convert to Catholicism who had studied Thomistic philosophy with Mortimer Adler at the University of Chicago. Grailville had its own farm (the Catholic Rural Life Movement was also a major player in Lay Apostolate Movement at that time) on which all the young women worked.
I remember well my first visit to Grailville, with the Hohlmillers, when we drove there for several days when a Father Stack held forth on the liturgical renewal, focusing on the then new papal encyclical Mediator dei, which was all on fostering the new theology of the liturgy. The Liturgical Movement was doubtless the most powerful engine for renewal in the Catholic Church during the decades leading up to Vatican Council II (1962-65)–which totally revolutionized the Catholic Church to this very day. Of course, Pope John Paul II did everything he could for more than a quarter of a century to restore the status quo ante, and his successor Benedict XVI (more about my former colleague at the University of Tübingen, Professor Joseph Ratzinger below) as well.
The activities of the Group continued to expand and intensify. We sponsored fun things like folk dancing (I got to be pretty good at it!) and more serious things like intense conferences of several days length which attempted to meld spiritual and liturgical life with every-day living (I organized and ran several of them in my last college years (I graduated in 1950). We celebrated the Eucharist on Saturday mornings at a local convent in which we sang everything in Gregorian Chant–at which I became quite proficient.
I had started out in college as a chemical engineering major, but after the first two years, I switched to history and philosophy majors–reflecting my intense involvement in the Lay Apostolate Group.
I should mention one unusual episode during my first year at St. Norbert’s College. As I mentioned, I was a high school student (1942-46) all during World War II, and consequently followed it intensely, as any normal teenage lad would, especially since, if it had lasted a year longer, I would have been in it myself. Added to that, as I noted above, my high school included a Reserved Officer’s Training Corps (ROTC), which was mandatory for all of us students, and beyond that, I also joined for four years the rifle team and became an efficient sharpshooter.
Hence, the whole scene of the war and Germany was a very live presence for me, as for most Americans living at that time. Somehow articles about the work of a Dutch Norbertine priest, nicknamed der Speckpater (the Bacon Dad) came to my attention. He concerned himself with the 17 million German refugees driven at the end of the war from Eastern Germany into the West, which was largely devastated. The 1946/47 winter was an especially intense one, and consequently many Germans and other refugees were starving and freezing. So, I took it upon myself to start a clothing and food collection drive at the college to send to the Speckpater for distribution. What I find interesting looking back at that action, is that my being half Jewish and the Nazis’ horror of the Holocaust obviously did not block my sentiment, and action, of reaching out to the freezing and starving Germans. I wonder, to this very day, why?
I was always a good student, having heard from both Mom and Dad from little on up that I should study hard so I would not have to work with my hands as they did. It was pretty typical for the son of a first generation immigrant, Dad, but somewhat atypical for a third generation Irish, Mom. Mom never got to go any further than eighth grade, but I remember well that she enthusiastically helped me with my math homework until I got into high school. I suspect that had she had the chance, she would have been a mathematical whiz. I did well in primary school and thought that I would win the coveted money prize at eighth-grade graduation for the highest grades–but it went to my best friend Eddie Raymaker. I was sure at the time that I had really deserved it, but the school gave it to Eddie because he was sickly. Who knows? What is interesting today is that it so bothered me then that I still remember it. Something similar happened at the end of my high school days in that I did not make Valedictorian, but Salutatorian. However, Dick Younis really did deserve the Valedictorian award.
My seriousness in studies continued on into my college years. I found history interesting, but I was really turned on by philosophy. That is what drew me away from my original plan to be a chemical engineer. I can remember clearly to this day how amazed I was going into metaphysics class with Father Steinmetz and listening to his soft-voiced explanation of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas and thinking that the class had just begun, only to realize that it was over! His clear explanations of Aristotle’s notion that ultimately every being was composed of the principles of act and potency, that a being was either in actuality at a certain point, or potentially becoming that actuality; that a being could be moved from potentiality to actuality only by a being in actuality; that the whole chain of being was initiated by Being in full actuality, Actus Purus (God), who moved everything that existed from potentiality to actuality. You get the point. It was very abstract, and drew me like a moth to the fire!
Studies were not totally all seriousness. I recall a hilarious composition by one of my colleagues in a creative writing class called something like “The Ah Derby.” It was the tale of a real contest some students had–remember, these were almost all irreverent veterans–betting on which of two professors would exude more “ah’s” in a class hour. I don’t recall who the second “contestant” was, but I do know that Father Tom Fox was one–and I am sure he must have come out victorious. He could easily string together five or six ah’s together before uttering a different syllable. Father Fox greatly transcended prosaic boring. He seemed to intersperse his ah’s with occasional words and other sounds. He had been a chaplain in the navy during the war, which should have given him a wealth of wisdom to dispense. But he handed out only penny catechism pablum. Perhaps today we would recognize that he was suffering from post traumatic stress, but we knew nothing of that then, and the vets were not at all sympathetic. In any case, the classroom reality and its uplift to the level of a short story clearly seared itself into my memory unto my grave.
Commencement (June, 1950), of course, was a big affair. I remember that we thought we were especially fortunate for our Commencement speaker was none other than the famous Radio-Priest (soon to become the even more famous TV-Bishop) Monsignor Fulton J. Sheen! I recall the affair being outside under the large shade trees on campus. Because I also followed the ROTC course in college, I at the same time received a commission in the U.S. Army as a Second Lieutenant, and hence wore underneath my academic cap and gown my Army officer’s uniform when I had the Second Lieutenant gold bars pinned on me.
Joining the Norbertine Order
By the time I was coming to the end of my college years I was very deeply involved in a reformed kind of Catholicism. I had conceived two goals in life for myself by then: To become an intellectual and to become a saint (don’t laugh!). It was the world of the mind and spirit that attracted me intensely. In those days it was clear that if you were going to be a first class Catholic you had to become a priest (or a nun if you were unfortunate enough to be a woman!). On the one hand, as I noted above, I remember well sitting in metaphysics class listening to Father Steinmetz and making a fifty minute class seem like fifteen. On the other, the interior life of prayer was also drawing me increasingly inward.
Hence, as the spring semester of 1950 was moving toward its close, I applied to join the Norbertine Order. The official name was the Order of Premonstratentions (jokingly referred to as the Monstrouspretentions), having been founded in the 12th century by St. Norbert at the French town of Premontre.This seemed like an obvious choice for me since I had spent most of my primary school at St. Willebrod’s parish school; the parish was staffed by Norbertine priests. Then I spent four years at Central Catholic High School for Boys, completely staffed by young Norbertine priests. It was opened in the fall of 1941, and I entered in 1942. After I graduated in 1946, I spent the next four years in St. Norbert’s College, obviously also run by Norbertines. So, I felt very much part of the Norbertine family. In fact, I recall one day early in my college career when I was walking in front of the parish church which also served as the college chapel, along the sidewalk shuffled Abbot Pennings (he was the founder of St. Norbert’s Abbey in DePere, Wisconsin already in the 19th century and was in his 80s when I met him here), who looked down at the chewing gum stuck on the sidewalk and, smiling, remarked to me: At least they didn’t spit it out in church!
As I said, I graduated from college early that June, 1950 magna cum laude (my daughter Eva later beat me, graduating summa cum laude!). The new novices for the Norbertine order were inducted into the order on June 6, the feast day of St. Norbert, and we spent the first couple of weeks at the Abbey in DePere, which then was located adjacent to the college.
Just a few days after I joined the Norbertines as a novice seminarian North Korea had the audacity to invade South Korea, and the U.S. was drawn once again into war. Because my draft deferment disappeared as soon as I graduated from college, and because suddenly there was a large need for more soldiers, I received on Monday morning a letter from the Green Bay Draft Board saying: Greetings! I was to appear at the Greyhound bus depot at 6 A.M. next Monday morning to be driven to Milwaukee and inducted into the army as a buck private!
I immediately went to see Abbot Sylvester Killeen (who had earlier been the Principal of Central Catholic High School, and had also given Dad Catholic instructions and baptized him) with the letter and told him that I preferred to have a further deferment that was available for seminarians, but if it were not forthcoming by that Friday, I was going to go to the Army office and activate my commission as a volunteer so that I would spend my time in the army as a lieutenant rather than a private. He said that he would do what he could. I was on pins and needles for the next several days, until finally on Thursday the Abbot called me in and said that he had received a letter from the draft board with my deferment!
Classmates of mine of course drawn into the military and many were sent off to Korea. At least one wass killed in action that I know of. Strangely, I don’t recall thinking very much about the war that I was missing while I was in the Norbertines. I was too absorbed in my deepening interior and intellectual life. I of course did think back about it in later years, thinking how I just missed two quite bloody wars: World War II, which, had I been just two years older, I would have been drawn into in June, 1946, when I would have graduated from high school (I actually graduated in 1946, nine months after the war ended). Although I would have been only 17, as I was when I in fact graduated in 1946, I am certain that the deep patriotism of the time would drawn me to volunteer with all my fellow 18-year old classmates who would have been immediately drafted. I was in the infantry, the units that had the highest casualties. Had I gone to Korea, it would have been as a “shave-tail” 2nd lieutenant, also the rank with the highest casualty rate. Would I have survived either, or both, wars? Would I have been profoundly reshaped psychically, intellectually, spiritually? Thinking about it all, I am deeply grateful that I avoided having to run either of those gamuts!
Shortly afterward I went light-hearted off to the novitiate for a year. It was a large three-storey mansion built on Lake Mendota way across from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. We were 21 novices, the largest novitiate class St. Norbert’s Abbey ever had, before or after. Father Leonard (Buck) Wagner was the novice master, and the kitchen was staffed by Brother Pasquel—and me as his helper. We spent our time listening to an instruction every day on the various aspects of religious life from Father Wagner, studying on our own, learning to chant the office from Matins early in the morning to Compline just before bedtime (in Latin, of course) and to sing Gregorian Chant at the Mass every day (which, of course, I already knew). We also spent some time working at our assigned chores, like kitchen work, and building a stone retaining wall against shore erosion.
There was also recreation time, but I confess that I don’t recall what we did for it. I know that I studied very hard the psalms (I had a two-volume scholarly study of St. Jerome’s Vulgate Latin translation of the psalms in two volumes titled The Psalms by Patrick Boylan). I had had four years of Latin in high school and a semester of the Latin Fathers in college (including such luminaries as Jerome, Augustine, Lactantius, Tertulian, and Cyprian). Retrospectively I was particularly interested in the latter since that was the religious name I was given at my induction into the Norbertine Order: I was Frater Cyprian. It wasn’t a bad name–nothing like the one Frater Youngest, Tom DeWayne, was given: Frater Evermode! (He was a Blessed of the Norbertine Order.) It must be remembered that Latin was very central in the life of Catholics in those days, and very especially in the life of priests and religious. The Norbertines, being Canons Regular, had the obligation of chanting in choir the Holy Office (the “shortened” form that priests carried around and recited quietly daily—it took about an hour each day—was called the Breviary) every day. We novices chanted the Office together every day while in Madison, as did all the Norbertines normally back at the abbey. Hence, I felt it was imperative that I learn thoroughly what Jerome’s Vulgate Latin translation of the psalms (which made up three-quarters of the Office) meant so that I would not be just mouthing meaningless sounds. I did a pretty good job of it, though it was only during the next three years of studying theology that I really learned to be at home with Latin. I had to, because all our textbooks were in Latin!
While tending to the life of the mind, I also focused intensely on the “interior” life of the spirit. When I was a young undergraduate, both before and after I became heavily involved in the Catholic Action Group I described above, I went through a phase of dire darkness. I was caught up in the rather typical young person’s questioning of all the things I had learned in unquestioning fashion while growing up, and naturally that centrally included the issue whether God existed or not. I experienced serious, agonizing doubts about God’s existence. I remember well to this day kneeling in the chapel at St. Norbert’s College thinking and praying to God—if God existed—to help me in my doubting! Well, I eventually resolved my agony in favor of God’s existence, at least for that phase of my life.
That crisis was well behind me by the time I got to the novitiate, and in fact, it was long gone by my last two years in college when I was intensely involved in the Catholic Action Group. Having committed myself to work diligently at becoming a saint, I focused with a laser-like quality (before lasers were even invented!) on the goal. Besides studying Boylan on the psalms, I threw myself into reading about the interior life. I used the fourteenth-century classic Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis for meditation (we had a mandatory half-hour meditation every morning), and read the Benedictine writer Dom Marmion, as well as St. John of the Cross’ works. Most of all I plunged into the spiritual life writings of the Dominican Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange . I spent every spare minute I could squeeze out every day kneeling in the chapel trying to move beyond “discursive prayer” to “contemplation.” Here’s how I described the “stages” of the interior life in a later book—obviously heavily influenced by Garigou-Lagrange:
Theologians of spirituality write of three major stages in the interior, spiritual life: Purgative, Illuminative, Unitive.
In the purgative stage the person strives to develop her/his interior, spiritual life by disciplined prayer and discursive meditation–not the simple emptying of the mind practiced in many Asian traditions, but an active reflection on some aspect of the life of virtue, texts from the Bible, and the like. As one continues in this effort it begins to be a source of strength and inner joy. If a person persists in this interior life and allows one’s exterior life to be directed by it, one may after years begin to find such meditation dry, uninspiring, indeed, seemingly a total waste of time, doubting even the very existence of God. This is known as the “Dark Night of the Senses,” and it may last indefinitely, or may even destroy a person’s “interior life” if s/he does not persist through the agony to the other side.
If one persists, one will morph into the Illuminative Stage where one would no longer engage in discursive meditation (e.g., “being kind means...., hence in this situation I ought to do....so as to be more kind”), but would move onto “contemplation.” In contemplation one would simply “be” in the presence of God. One does not interiorly “talk” or “think,” any more than two persons deeply in love have to “say” things out loud in order to communicate. This is contemplation. All seems “light” in this inner Presence. This stage may last for years. Theologians of spirituality also write of two versions of contemplation: Acquired contemplation and infused contemplation. The former, as the name indicates, is something that the person works at ad acquires. The second, is a kind of contemplation that “happens” to the person; it is infused from the outside. It is, perhaps, akin to falling in love; it happens to you; you do not make it happen. But, if one does not die along the way, there lies ahead the most searing of tests of the interior life, the “Dark Night of the Soul.” This can take many forms, but interiorly it manifests itself as being thrust to the edge of the blackest of despair.
Again, if one persists–and of course, there are no guarantees; after all, this is human life, which is very fragile on all levels, especially on the highest–one will move into the Unitive Stage. In the Unitive Stage the person lives habitually in the inner Presence, united with Ultimate Reality, God. (Christians, and other theists, of course understand Ultimate Reality as Person, and use the term God, but others may well undergo a similar spiritual journey of the interior life and name Ultimate Reality other.) As noted above, one might see the horrific final experience of the “Passion,” ending in the devastating death by crucifixion as the climactic “Dark Night of the Soul” for Yeshua, as his final searing words scream: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!” (Mt 27:46), after which he was united with God.
At that time I did develop the custom of simply being in what I understood to be the presence of God, not talking, not thinking, simply being conscious of another “Person,” a “You,” or better, a “Thou,” as Martin Buber would put it, although I did not know his writings at the time. In fact, this practice continued all my years of theology study, that is, until my middle twenties.
The whole question of God and Presence came up again later in life. While I was studying theology at St. Paul Seminary we used St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica (in the original Latin, of course). He started out his most famous work with the treatise De Deo Uno (Concerning the One god) with the fundamental question: Ob Deus Sit?, Whether God Exists? He, in his usual fashion, offered several standard arguments that God does not exist, and then proceeded to present his contrary position, namely that God does exist, with his famous Quinquae Viae, “Five Ways” to prove that God does exist. I, along with many millions of others over the centuries, found them quite satisfying then.
Much later I read the fantastic tour de force book, Existiert Gott? (“Does God Exist?”) by my good friend Hans Küng. In some nine hundred pages Hans thoroughly reviewed all the major Western thinkers from Descarte forward (his book is, among other things, a magnificent intellectual history of modern Western thought), and eventually came to the conclusion that the arguments for the existence of God, including very much Aquinas’, cannot prove God’s existence—nor, however, can God’s non-existence be proved. The core of the dispute lies in that little word “prove.” The difficulty with the “proofs” is that they necessarily are all based on finite, limited, knowledge—which necessarily are all we humans, being finite ourselves, are capable of—but then we wish to make a leap to affirming the existence, or non-existence, of the Infinite, that is, the In-finite. In the end, after all the study, experience, and cogitation, we come up with three possibilities: God does exist; God does not exist; I don’t know. In a certain sense, everyone is in fact in the third position in the sense that we don’t know that God exists, that is, we cannot rationally, ineluctably logically prove God’s existence. However, such an agnostic mental position is necessarily “unstable” and tends toward one of the two other possible positions, namely, God does, or does not, exist.
Looking at all the evidence and experience, one may find that the arguments for God’s existence are overwhelming: e.g., If the cosmos started 13.7 billion years ago with the Big Bang, with the trillions of stars and all matter compressed into the size of a small ball, which expanded with such a fantastic set of built-in intelligible rules that we are now slowly learning about, where did the “original” material come from, whence all the built in super-intelligent “rules,” why a Bang at all....? There must be an adequate Cause of all this super-intelligent development. Further the Cause must be at least as intelligent, as free, as we existing humans are (that is, we are “persons,” not just objects, but subjects, with consciousness). Hence, one may decide that it makes vastly more sense to affirm that there exists an adequate Cause (which some people name God), than to decide that an adequate Cause, God, does not exist. Still one cannot prove that the opposite position, that an adequate Cause, God, does not exist. Thus, someone could decide to affirm the non-existence of God, though one cannot prove it either.
In the end, I find the Principle of Sufficient Reason so persuasive that I find myself rationally forced to choose to affirm that God exists, while respecting those that affirm the opposite, though I am convinced that they are mistaken. But the proof lies beyond both of us, at least in our current existence. Thus now, when I turn inward, which I am doing right now as I am thinking and writing these thoughts, I am strongly aware of my own existence—which is an amazing marvel. I also find it amazing to know—and I really mean know here—that other beings, “persons” who also are aware, conscious, of themselves exist, and most of all that I can be aware of you. We both can be simultaneously aware that “I” am and that “You” are, and, most exciting, that “We” exist together. The “We” is a very real, profound, reality. And here is somehow where God sneaks back into my consciousness. It seems to me that I, You, We exist in a vastly wider context of an I-You-We-More-Infinite.
I need to say something here about a weekend I had sometime back in the 1980s. There is a psychologist names Ira Progoff who developed something called the “Journal Writing” process. It happened that it, along with other what I and many called “touchy-feely” kinds of techniques, became popular. Andie, and her friend Jenny Ratigan, became enthusiastic about Progoff’s process, and urged me to go to such a weekend retreat on it being led by an old friend, a Norbertine priest theologian Francis Dorff. I am sure that I would not have gone were it not led from Fran Dorff, who I respected as a solid thinker. In fact, it really grabbed me, and helped me delve back again into the “interior life,” but this time from a more “secular,” psychological, approach rather than a “spiritual religious” approach.
One of the images Progoff used that I found helpful was that as we reflect and go deep into our personal consciousness it is like going down a deep well, at the bottom of which we find an underground stream that was the source of all our “water” at the top of the well, “psychic water.” None of us become persons alone, but only in encounters with the Other. I became Len Swidler through numberless encounters, and most especially through formative encounters with key persons in my life. This image of the underground stream which was the source of our water at the top of the well, that is, of our “Person,” symbolizes those formative persons in my life who have made me to be the person I am.
So, today, when I go down deep into myself, as I am doing now while writing to you, or often when I am jogging or swimming, when my mind/spirit is like a car motor which is running to no specific end while the clutch is in, I am aware of I, of You my reader out there, of We in a relatively weak presence (were I writing to a specific Thou, the awareness of We would be very strong), and More, and the Infinite.
Let me explain what I mean by the More. The More are in fact those special persons of my life: Mom, Dad, Jack, Andie, and other Special Ones who are still alive. They are all present to me, right now, while I am running, swimming.... It is not a matter of a “role call” with names etc., they are all simply present to me—now.
And then there is the Infinite, God. God is there for me in a way more tentatively, but no less real, because of the nature of my affirmation of God’s reality as I have tried to lay it out above. I feel at ease that God, the Infinite, the Beyond, is there/here. God is Thou. Thus, we all are a large quietly joyful family—I-You-We-More-Infinite.
That is why I cannot get my head inside those projections of God and God’s will being a condemning, violent, angry, etc. reality. That is why for me today all the externals of all the religions or ideologies are simply instruments to foster authentic human life, authentic religion, if you well. I put that notion in a little reflection that I sent off to the New York Times Op-Ed Page, but which was never published. Here is what I wrote:
Ours in the West is largely a secularized society. However, after especially 9/11, we have become much more aware of the influence of religion—mostly bad in many people’s eyes. This, I would say, is a bum rap for authentic religion, which I would describe in a phrase as “within me, and between me and thee.”
I cringe, for example, when someone says of a Jewish person that she is “religious,” meaning, of course, that she does all the externals. But that is not only a wrongheaded understanding of what religion is. It is precisely wrong! To stick with Judaism for the moment, according to the rabbis, the heart of what Judaism is all about is kavanah, interior intention. The same is true, of course, of all the major religions. In Confucianism, for examples, the rituals, Li, are for the sake of forming an authentic human, Ren. The externals are supposed to be helps to get our head and heart straight, and then to act accordingly— “Within me, and between me and thee.”
If the externals—which include not only “doing” all the prescribed things, but also “saying” the correct formularies of doctrines (this is a special problem for Christians)—in fact distract us from the righting of our head and heart and consequent action in the world, reevaluate them, perhaps even drop them! After all, the greatest “sin” in the Bible is idolatry. This so not because God is thereby maligned—surely God cannot be injured by humans! No, there is a constitutive reason why idolatry is the “worst” sin. Idolatry is so bad because so long as we hold on to it, we are incapable of becoming authentic humans.
Idolatry literally means “worshiping an image” (Greek: eidol, image, latria, worship). It is to focus on the finger pointing to the object, rather than on the object. The whole purpose, however, of the pointing finger is for us to look at the object, not the finger. In the case of religion, the finger is the externals and the object is the interior thought and desire, and consequent action: “Within me, and between me and thee.”
The two major Semitic religions, Judaism and Islam, both tend to concentrate on what to do, on actions, whereas Christianity (“half” Semitic) stresses much more, though of course not exclusively, what to think. Hence, the greatest temptation toward idolatry for Jews and Muslims are the external actions: I must not eat certain food, I must stop what I doing and go pray now, I may not join with you at these times.... All these prescribed actions are doubtless good, so long as they are for the sake of persons (for we truly “love God with our whole heart....” by “loving our neighbor as ourselves”), and not for their own sake.
For Christians, on the other hand, although they are also tempted to idolatry by way of external actions, the most deceptive temptation comes from their adherence to doctrines. For example, Protestantism classically claimed that truth is to be found solely in the Bible (sola Scriptura), and yet in the U.S. alone there are over 350 different Protestant denominations! Have they made an eidol of their doctrine of what the Scriptura teaches? Catholicism, of course, is not any better off with its doctrine of papal infallibility. Has papal infallibility become an eidol which is focused on with latria?
Many examples of authentic religion could be lifted up. Let me pick just one here which, in different ways, reflects all three of the Semitic religions. The Jew Rabbi Jesus from Nazareth, who both Christians and Muslims call the Messiah, said that it is not what goes into the mouth (an “external”), but what comes out (an “internal” reflecting the kavanah in action) that makes a person good, or not.
Authentic religion is “Within me, and between me and thee.”
To turn back to my time in the novitiate, our novice class was special not only because of its size, but also because it likewise contained two future Norbertine abbots: Tom Dewayne and Tom Mackin (his religious name was Benjamin). Tom Mackin was the first of the two elected abbot of St. Norbert’s abbey and Tom Dewayne was his successor. After Tom Mackin retired from being Abbot in DePere he was elected Abbot-General of the whole Norbertine Order and lived for his two-year term in Rome. He unfortunately later was afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease, and succumbed to it.
That winter must have been one of the coldest on record. To make things worse, all the novices slept in bunk beds (I got a top bunk) on the third floor–which was unheated! The coldest night got down to -29<! I remember that we each piled ten blankets on in order to keep from freezing, but the consequent problem was that we were exhausted in the morning from “carrying” the heavy load of blankets all night long. During that long cold spell the huge Lake Mendota froze over deeply so that on one clear day (probably a Sunday afternoon) a number of us skated the couple miles or so across the lake to the University campus and then back. However, by the time we started back a strong wind came up and blew directly into our faces so that it took a painful several hours to skate back. The consequence was that I contracted a terrible cold in my eyes and had to be brought to see an eye doctor and was relegated to lying alone in a dark room for three whole days and nights before I could go about in normal daylight or artificial light. Up until that time I had 20-20 vision, but thereafter I had to wear corrective lenses for near sightedness. It was a problematic ice skate outing!
After our first year as novices we all returned to the DePere campus where most then started in college. However, since I already had a BA with the requisite amount of philosophy (an undergraduate major was required by Rome), I started in theology. Since there were only about twenty Fraters studying the four years of theology, it was taught at the Abbey (next to the college) on a four-year cycle. As Frater youngest in theology, I sat in the front row. The fourth-year theologians sat in the back row. One of them that year was Father Roland Depeaux (they were allowed to be ordained “simplex” at the beginning of their fourth year of theology). Next to him sat another fourth-year student, James, I believe. Once the professor said: James, wake up Roland! Then: Roland, wake up James! We all quietly giggled.
I mentioned above that I could not recall what we did for recreation in our novice year outside of Madison. I recall only one particular pastime during the second year when we novices were at the Abby in DePere. It was on Thursday afternoons, I believe, that a number of us took long walks to the Tuberculosis Sanatorium to visit the patients. I remember thinking how very difficult it must have been for them. At the time the only treatment for TB was total rest, and they really meant total! Basically they had to lie in bed and do nothing, including not reading! Remember, there was no television in those days. Their whole mind and spirit must have atrophied! Even I who at the time was so filled with enthusiasm for the inner, spiritual life would have found it a huge challenge to just lie there for a year or two years!
It was in the spring of that year (1952) of theology at the Abbey that the novices were allowed to go for a week’s vacation to a cottage in northern Wisconsin. Our group was sent up under the supervision of young Father Roland Depeaux (also known as “Cookie”). Another group of novices had gone up to the same cottage the week before and told us about the great fun they had going down the creek in two-man rubber rafts. So, in our week we decided to do the same. However, we had not paid attention to what the heavy rains had brought about in the intervening time.
It happened that Cookie and Frater Ray Schmandt went in the first rubber raft and another frater, whose name I no longer recall, and I came in the second. Well, at first it was great fun, for the creek was very swift. I remember seeing Cookie and Raymond disappearing around a bend thirty or so yards in front of us, and of course we gleefully chased after them. When we came around the bend, Cookie and Raymond were nowhere to be seen! Suddenly our tiny craft shot over the top of a small dam which in the meantime had become a small waterfall of about four feet. As we came sailing over the top we looked down and in horror saw Cookie and Ray out of their tiny raft with their heads bobbing in the roiling water, desperately holding on to the cord, which ringed the top of the rubber raft, and with the water fall water slamming them down into a sort of whirlpool, out of which they struggled to pull themselves by the cord, only to be rammed down by the thousands of gallons of water that poured over the small falls. All of this I amazingly saw in the two seconds that we were flying over the falls and looked down (and have never forgotten to this day!)
Fortunately we did not fall out of our boat (otherwise I would not be writing this over a half century later), but landed flat right on top of Cookie and Ray! We were able to pull both Ray and Cookie out of the grasp of the whirlpool up onto the edge of the small concrete dam. I still hold clear in my memory the sight of Cookie crawling to terra firma and kneeling down and folding his hands in a desperate prayer of thanksgiving!
The academic year finally finished and I looked forward to taking my temporary (three years) vows as a Norbertine. However, I was called in by Abbot Killeen and told that the Executive Council decided that I was being dismissed as not suitable for the Norbertines, and that perhaps I should consider trying the Trappists (who kept perpetual silence)! I was of course thunderstruck! How could this be?! I was told to gather my personal things and leave immediately. I did put together the few things I had, and asked whether I could take with me the four volumes of the Norbertine Breviary (which I have to this day), which was slightly different than the Roman Breviary. I clearly was still deeply attached to the Norbertines. On my way out I ran into Father Vincent DeLeers, who was my unofficial Spiritual Director, and he expressed his deep sorrow, and obvious disagreement with the judgment. Today it is clear to me that my deep seriousness and quite single-mindedness scared the older members of the order. After the agony of the time (and it lasted a long time) was finally assuaged, looking back, I am very happy I took the route I finally did. However, from the point of view of the Norbertine order, it was a clumsy and stupid move on its part. They lost someone who would have brought a not insignificant degree of theological scholarly renown to the order.
I now had to go home–suddenly and unexpectedly. The experience was like a kick in the stomach, followed by a mule kick in the groin when I thought of having to face my mother and tell her that I had been kicked out of the abbey! Every Irish mother had a vocation to the priesthood–through her first-born son! When I thought of the shame of coming home to Mom as one rejected as a priest, I inwardly shrank at the pain I knew it would cause her. I even feared that she might have a heart attack! It was really terrible, terrible. I cannot communicate the deep pain it caused me, and not only then, but for many, many months.
I psychologically staggered to a next decision after some weeks. The suggestion about trying the Trappists did not make any sense to me; it might well lead to sanctity, but it did not promise the life of an intellectual. Still, not thinking very clearly, I eventually that summer contacted the bishop of Madison, Wisconsin and he agreed to take me on as one of his seminarians and assigned me to continue my theological studies that fall at St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Life in St. Paul’s Seminary
My two years at St. Paul’s Seminary in St. Paul, MN were in many ways very stimulating. I needed to take the introductory courses in “Fundamental Dogmatic Theology,” which was supposed to provide the rational basis for affirming one’s faith in the Bible, and a similar introductory course in “Fundamental Moral Theology.” At the same time I was also fortunate enough to take two years of dogmatic theology with Father David Dillon, a young scholar who just recently returned from doing his doctorate at Laval University in Montreal, Canada. He was filled with serious scholarship and great enthusiasm for Thomistic theology using commentators on Aquinas like John of Thomas and Cajetan. The intellectually exciting thing was that instead of using Latin scholastic handbooks, like those written by Tanquery in the latter half of the 19th century (everything intellectually pre-digested and presented), we used Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae directly. Despite the progress made in philosophy and theology made since the 13th century, reading and understanding the Summa, I knew that I was encountering a world-class mind! It was exhilarating!
Unfortunately, outside of Dave Dillon’s classes four times a week, the rest of the classes were intellectual jokes. In the two “Fundamental Theology” classes the profs simply translated boringly the Latin of the textbooks into English. I soon decided that I could read the Latin a lot faster by myself, and so after the first couple of months, during which I had finished reading the textbooks, I sat in the back of the classes and read Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Brothers Karomatzov, and the rest of his writings, as well as Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Anna Karenina, and others. The Scripture class was so criminally bad that I did not even learn enough to begin to realize what a disaster it was. This is especially ironic since I later have published a number of scholarly books on the Bible.
However, the wildest of all was the church history class. There is no way that I can describe the pandemonium that it unleashed. All four years’ classes of theology (250 students) were jammed into the Aula Maxima on the top floor of the classroom building, with the newest students in the front row and the back rows peopled by the ex-GI seminarians. The prof was Father Billy Busch, who had made a name for himself with his book on the history of the liturgy. Billy wore a black cape over his cassock. He walked up the stairs, and when he entered the hall, all hell broke loose!!All more than two hundred of the senior students began to shout at the top of their lungs! They at the same time grabbed their wooden chairs and pounded them in the floor–ceaselessly for six to eight minutes. In the meantime Billy had walked up onto the stage, sat behind his desk, and serenely observed the roaring chaos in front of him. Then when the bedlam diminished to a mild roar out of sheer exhaustion, Billy started with a loud, “Errr,” and paused, which released a repeat performance for another three minutes, only to eventually die down once again, followed once more by Billy’s throat clearing and two more minutes of screaming. Before the whole class (with the small exception of the handful of us newcomers in the front, who, uncomprehending, gaped, having been turned to salt like Lot’s wife) at long last collapsed into lassitude, at least 20 to 30 minutes had gone by. What the professors underneath us on the first floor must have made of all this, I cannot imagine.
One more aberration at St. Paul Seminary should be recalled. We regularly received spiritual meditations in the Aula Maxima from Father Ryan, known as Curley–naturally because he was completely bald. He was a brother of Msgr. John A. Ryan, known “Mr. New Deal,” a major advisor to FDR. Curley’s meditations were dour enough, but it was the occasional meditation by the Rector of the Seminary, Msgr. Rudolf Bandas, that was so aberrant. Rudi would talk about “dark forces” that were working to “corrupt the soul of Christian youth.” Those dark corrupting forces were not directly named–the heavy-handed innuendos made them seem all the more ominous! Only after several such Rudi meditations did I realize that he was talking about the Jews (!) who were going about seeking to corrupt Christian and American youth. He kept referring to Father Denis Fahey, an Irish priest of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, who had written several terrible antisemitic books and articles in the second quarter of the 20th century.
Antisemitism in a Catholic seminary after World War II? How was this possible? Well, I learned that it was quite widespread, and it took the revolution of Vatican Council II (1962-65) to begin to exorcize it. Of course, at the time I felt rather strange when I realized that the Rector was talking about Dad and me! Later in life I had different terms to describe what I then felt about the poison that Rector Rudi was purveying–to me and my older ex-GI confreres who had not long before fought a bloody war to stop the world’s most heinous antisemites.
My Brother Jack
My brother Jacob, known as Jack, was five and a half years younger than me. In the early years of his life he was often a bit of a drag on me, as I frequently served as a babysitter for him. But as he grew older, the significance of the gap of years, as is normal, also grew smaller and smaller. I remember a few incidents from those early years quite vividly.
For some reason or other–perhaps because it so frightened me, though I don’t feel any residual sense of fright when I recall the incident now–I remember the time when I was responsible for Jack while we were playing outside in a large corner vacant lot. (From where we lived then, I must have been nine and Jack four.) At the time there were several carefully stacked piles of lumber temporarily stored there. My recollection is that there were about ten feet high, or at least that is how they seem now in my mind’s eye. There was a single plank stretching between one stack to another one about seven or eight feet away. With me egging him on from below, Jack started to “walk the plank” from one stack to the other–and fell! I presume that he came out all right (though years later when the story would surface during party reminiscences I would allow that perhaps some permanent damage was done to his brain!) because I have no recollection at all about what happened after he hit the ground. In my memory, he is still falling sideways off the plank up above me.
The second recollection from that early time, and place, is about my coaching Jack in fisticuffs. Down at the end of the block there lived Hank Browder, a bruising lineman for the Green Bay Packers professional football team (remember: it is the deliriously famous pride of the city of Green Bay to this day, complete with the pilgrimage shrine of Lambeau field and museum on Lombardi Avenue). It seems that Hank had a little Hank who was the same age as Jack. Apparently little Hank would at times pick on Jack, and so I determined to coach Jack on how to defend himself. The high point of my coaching career at this point came when the two gladiators met for the last time. In the battle Jack left off with the fists and grabbed Hank’s right arm and sank his teeth into it as hard as he could and yanked for dear life! The next thing I remember is being told that little Hank was taken to the hospital for treatment. I very much doubt that the matter was serious healthwise for Hank, but it made a mark on my memory so that, again, at party tale-time the story would surface–with who knows what possible exaggerations.
My recollections of Jack again became prominent when I was in college and deeply involved in the “The Group.” Jack really stretched to become a kind of junior partner in a number of activities that I was involved in with them. This was really quite a remarkable accomplishment, for the difference between a twenty-year olds interests and abilities and those of a fifteen-year old is usually huge, but Jack desperately chinned himself to hang out with his big brother. And it was that way ever since. Nobody ever could love and idolize me like Jack did. I miss him, and will till my dying day.
One of the differences between studying theology with the Norbertines and at St. Paul’s Seminary is that one never left the Norbertines, for one joined that family, but study at the seminary was like studying at a university in that we were on our own during summer vacation. In the summer of 1952, during which I was free because I had just been dismissed from the Norbertines, Jack and I worked to make money. It turned out that the money we saved that summer allowed us to go to Europe together the following summer, 1953, for ten weeks. It was a fabulous time and generated a number of memorable experiences.
To begin with, while I was at St. Paul’s Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota I became friendly with a seminarian about my own age (unfortunately I can’t recall his name, though I can see his face in my memory) who had spent a year living and studying in Austria, and hence was quite fluent in German. Everything about Germany of course still loomed large, as World War II was not long over, and we were confronting the Communist Soviet Union in Berlin (the dramatic Berlin Blockade and Airlift was in 1948-49). I already related how in my freshman year in college I had collected food and clothing to ship to Germany. In any case, my friend and I often took walks together during which he taught me to speak at least a minimal bit of German (I had studied German two years during college, but we did not learn to speak much with the pedagogy of those days).
Further, I also learned that for me a rather famous German economics professor, Franz Mueller, was teaching at St. Thomas College across the way from the Seminary. I say that he was famous for me because I knew his name from my involvement in the Catholic Action Movement. Franz had been involved in the Catholic renewal movement in Germany, and then had escaped with his family from the Nazis. They reminded me of the famous Trapp Family (about whom the wonderful film The Sound of Music was made). Mrs. Mueller wore her hair braided around her head and was full of the folk music of the time. They had two daughters who were about college age. The older one was Mechtild. I and some seminarian friends would often visit their home on our free time. They would on occasion do some Hausmusik for us. It was from the Muellers that I got the names and addresses of a number of German Catholics who were part of that network of Catholic Renewal and Nazi Resistance.
The summer of 1953, then Jack and I flew off to Europe for ten weeks. I remember that we had amassed $640 each for our trip, of which $400 went for the round-trip flight to and from London. We flew with the British BOAC in a Boeing Stratocruiser. It was a double decker, the reverse of the later 747 Jumbo Jet. Our plane of course was propeller driven (the Boeing 707 jet airliner did not appear until several years later), and the second deck was below, not above, the main deck. It was shaped like a horseshoe with a reasonably well stocked bar at one end, but no bartender. Somehow Jack and I got seated in that lounge area for the whole flight. After a while some of the passengers (there were ten of us seated there—it was a charter flight and so every space was utilized) began to dispense drinks freely. One of the characters was a middle aged man in a searsucker suit, who helped dispense both the liquor and wisdom. The most important of the latter was: The best way to travel is to wear one suit and carry a suitcase full of money!
I came to Europe with not only a list of student hostels but also a number of names and addresses of people I or others, like Professor Franz Mueller, had written ahead of time, asking to get a free room for a night or two for us. Also, our most frequent mode of transportation was hitch-hiking. Perhaps one would not want to try it today, but then we had no trouble at all, except once, which I will talk about a bit later.
We had a great time going around London and places like Stratford on Avon, where we took in a couple of Shakespeare plays. We saw King Lear with Michael Redgrave playing Lear. Powerful! Especially that final scene where the blinded Lear comes on stage carrying his dead beloved daughter. To this day, over a half century later, I can see that stage framed in my mind’s eye with wretched Lear searing the air with his heart-rending lament! We also saw John Gielgud, though I don’t recall in which play. Later we also saw another Shakespeare at the Old Vic Threatre in London.
The three things I especially remember about Paris—not really very substantive, but they remain in my memory: When Jack and I were there the subway and other public transportation was on strike. It seems to me that almost every time I have been back to Paris in the intervening better than half century, the public transportation system was on strike! The second thing that sticks in my memory is that I suddenly realized why Gershwin’s American in Paris sounds the way it does. At that time the either law or custom was that every time a car approached an intersection it would honk its horn—hence the rhythmical bleep honk honk sound in the Gershwin piece. It was enough to drive you nuts! Especially at night when you were trying to sleep—which is doubtless why they subsequently passed a law forbidding the honking of horns at intersections. The third thing I remember to this day about Paris—with some chagrin since I was still very shy then—is that in the hostel we were staying at, either the toilets were ambisexual or I had gone into the wrong one. At any rate, I was quietly sitting in a closed booth when two loudly talking American girls came in and went into the two neighboring booths and continued to talk loudly while they took care of their business. For some reason, I felt terribly embarrassed, and I certainly did not make a sound, lest they noticed my presence and said something to me. My voice would of course give me away! I waited till long after all sound on the floor disappeared before I sneaked out. Some memory of Paris! But there it is!
We went on to Germany—West Germany then—and the first place I recall being was in Cologne. I remember that we climbed up to the top of one of the spires of the magnificent Gothic Cologne Cathedral. The sight was amazing! There was nothing but rubble as far as we could see in the center of the city! Flat! Only the streets were cleared. We were told that during the British air raids at night the Germans turned huge search lights on the cathedral so the British bombers could aim to miss it, which they pretty much did.
I had the name and address of a Frau Schlüter-Hermkes, the wife of a German professor who had been executed by the Nazis for his stand for justice and freedom. She obviously had money and built a new student center at the university. She welcomed us graciously, and eventually called in a young student about my age, gave him twenty marks and told him to take us to the opera. Sadly I do not remember the student, but I recall that he, and all his colleagues, were still in the habit of greeting people by shaking hands, clicking their heels together and bowing! I thought, hmm, I could get used to this. He then immediately apologized for his poor English, and proceeded the next couple of days to sound like Shakespeare!
We went to my first live opera, Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavelier. Well, I was of course blown away, but also in a very special way. As Strauss wrote the opera, the young knight, the Rosenkavelier, was of course a man, but was to be sung by a female contralto. In this production the Rosenkavelier was in fact a very svelte young woman, but the woman she was supposed to be madly in love with—the soprano, of course—sang gorgeously, but physically was huge, really huge! I couldn’t take it! I had to close my eyes and listen to the fantastic singing, and not watch the stage. My introduction to opera.
We traveled down the Rhine and naturally stopped at Rüdesheim am Rhein and Bingen, drank the lovely Rhine Wine in all the wine cellars, locked arms with friendly strangers and swayed to the music (and wine) and sang:
Wer soll das bezahlen,
Wer hat das bestellt,
Wer hat so viel pinke-pinke,
Wer hat so viel Geld?
We also went to the Netherlands. I had the name of some Norbertine abbeys there and we got some free nights lodging. However, it was on a Saturday afternoon, the beginning of a weekend, that we ran into some trouble. We were hitch-hiking from the south toward the north and got a ride to somewhere in southern Netherlands where we were dropped off when our friendly driver was turning off in a direction that we did not want to go in. We wanted to go to Amsterdam. We were left at what was essentially a crossroad, which had a tavern and a Catholic Church—period! It was only about three in the afternoon, and so we were quite sanguine about getting a ride on to Amsterdam. Big error!
Remember, this was not very long after an incredibly destructive war and all the economies were in a total shambles. I remember that when we were in England we were told that the British hardly ever went out of the country because they were limited to taking out something like a maximum of 50£. So any kind of a vacation was out of the question, even if they had the 50£ to spare. Hence, we learned, there were in fact very few cars on the road, and we apparently were not on a well-traveled truck road. The only vehicles that went by that whole afternoon were two bicycles ridden by a couple of young women coming from the north (from Amsterdam, actually, we later learned).
After many hours of waiting and hoping, and no cars or trucks, we decided that we had better try to find some place for the night. We decided to try the pastor’s house of the Catholic Church. We knocked on the door and an elderly house keeper opened it, and I somehow asked to speak with the pastor, and was told that he was in the church hearing confessions. We quickly went to the church and just as we were entering we saw the priest going into the sanctuary up at the front and then out to the sacristy on the side. We rushed after him and as we ran into the sanctuary I started to shout to him in English. He apparently didn’t hear, so as we got into the sacristy and he was just going out the sacristy outside door I decided that perhaps the problem was my English and so I tried getting his attention by calling him in my minimal German. That got him all right! He stopped, turned around, came back, and started angrily reaming us lousy Germans out! I tried to explain that we were not German but American. Soll ich das glauben!? Should I believe that!? He snarled and turned on his heel and left. Well! I had heard that the Dutch hated the Germans—here was proof positive!
What to do? We tried to ask for help from some young boys who were wandering around, but they obviously understood no English and simply laughed and mocked us. Well, there seemed to be only one other place visible, the tavern across the road. So, we had nothing to lose. We went in and the place by this time was jumping! It turned out that this weekend was the beginning of a week-long Kermis, which I was familiar with from the Dutch small towns around Green Bay, all of which held a yearly Kermis. Kermis is a Dutch word meaning “Church Fair” (akin to the German Kirch Messe) when the founding of the church was annually celebrated—a church birthday party. Jack, who then was 18, loved drinking beer, though I didn’t much care for it. As soon as the local swains learned that we were Americans—this time we were careful not to speak any German and hence were totally believed—we were inundated, almost literally, by everyone buying us beers and toasting us and America! A dramatically different reception from that by the parish priest—because we were Americans and not Germans!
Somewhere during this rather wild celebration we managed to ask about a place to stay and were told where we could walk down past the church and follow a small road to a sort of hostel. We finally left the tavern—Jack was in a, shall we say, very happy mood. We, or rather I, found said hostel and were able to negotiate a small space for the two of us to stay. They were quite full, part of their “fullness” being the two women cyclists from Amsterdam we had seen on the road earlier. We sat and talked with them quite at length—I, a shy seminarian, being reserved, but nevertheless intrigued—and told them about our encounter with the parish priest. It turned out that they were Catholic working girls who were on a vacation and when they went to the early Mass the next day they told the priest about us being American, so that when we went to the later Mass, the priest was now friendly, though not apologetic.
We also had an interesting little adventure in northern Italy. We decided to take the train that ran along the Po Valley, and while we sat in the train I hung the camera I had borrowed from my cousin Mary Reed on a hook next to my seat. We got off the train before it reached its final destination (I am vague on what cities were involved—I think it might have been Vicenza and Venice, but I am not sure), and after the train went off I suddenly realized that I had forgotten my cousin’s camera! Achhh! We decided to get on the next train going in the same direction and got off at the final destination and ran to the station to ask whether they had a lost-and-found. They did! We described our loss, and then were asked to very, very carefully describe the camera, which I painstakingly did. The carabinieri then brought out the camera, which some concerned Italian fellow traveler had brought to them. There were honest people, and some of them even lived in Italy!
I say that latter, for that was definitely not the reputation of Italians then. In fact, we had occasion to learn that the reputation was not without warrant. When we arrived in Venice we found a pensione and while were there we were approached by two men who reminded me of the movie character detective “Friday,” who was always terse in speech, saying, “Just the facts, Mam!” In any case, these two raincoat and slouch hat accoutered gentleman said that yes, they would gladly lay on a superb motorboat tour of Venice for us the next day at a very reasonable price. Incidentally, they said, they needed a down payment now in order to buy the fuel for the boat ahead of time, and they would pick us up at 8 A.M. the next morning. We obliged. Needless to say, 8 A.M. came and went, they didn’t show, and so we didn’t go.
Jack and I likewise had a very interesting experience when we went to see the pope—it was “Papa Angelica,” Pope Pius XII, at the time. We some days going around Rome, and when we asked about seeing the pope, we were told that he was at his summer home in Castel Gondolfo, not far outside the city, where it was cooler. We asked how to get there and were told that we could catch a bus at the large piazza in front of the Victor Emanuale monument (popularly known as the “Wedding Cake” because of its ornateness); that was also the square where Mussolini used to harangue the Italian crowds from a balcony. Well, we decided that we should get to the bus stop a little early, just in case the bus would be crowded. In fact, we were so early that we were the first ones to be standing there, all alone for a while. As the bus arrival time came closer more people began to arrive, and finally just before the bus came, a group of about thirty tiny Italian nuns, in habit, of course, noisily arrived and crowded around. The English custom of getting in a cue didn’t seem to have gotten as far as Rome yet.
The nuns all just bunched around us. Then the bus came and opened its door. Oh my god! You need to know that Jack was five foot six inches tall and 220 pounds of solid muscle. I was no shrimp, being five foot eleven inches tall and 180 pounds of pretty solid muscle as well. The swarm of tiny Italian nuns bolted through the door, knocking Jack and me aside and in a flash totally filled the bus, including standing room. I forced myself into the now jammed doorway and Jack, who had finally picked his stunned self up, got his two feet just inside the door, backwards, grabbed the two bars on either side of the door and simply pushed and crushed backward with all of his 220 pounds of muscle. The driver closed the door, and Jack and I, along with some thirty versions of Sister Mary Euthanasia, were happily off to see the pope!
Let me relate one last story of our tramp through Italy. We were somewhere in northern Italy, I think Florence. By now we had spent almost all the money we had (remember, we had only $140 apiece to live on for those ten weeks), including whatever presents we planned to buy. Nevertheless, we stopped at an outside market which was selling almost literally everything. We loitered at one stand and looked as some item. The owner immediately began to tell us how wonderful it was and what a good bargain he could offer us. We agreed with him that it was truly wonderful, and the price was indeed generous. However, we really could not buy anything. He would not take no for an answer, and dropped his price. We again allowed that it was clearly a terrific bargain, but we had no money. Still, the owner came down further in price. We were very serious, however, and repeated that his ware really was great and his reduced offer extraordinarily generous, but.... He finally came down to one-half his original asking price, but of course we really didn’t have any money left, and so in the end he disgustedly turned away.
Wow, we thought, this was very interesting. Our inadvertent “bargaining” had brought the price down to one half! We began to wonder whether that would generally be true? We decided that now we would deliberately try to find out, and so we tried our now learned “technique” several more times, and each time the owner came down one-half the way before quitting. If only we had had some money left, we could have had some amazing bargains!
I have one last recollection of this fabulous trip Jack and I made that I would like to relate. We were in the northernmost part of Italy trying to hitch a ride over a pass into Switzerland and on into France and Paris on our eventual way back home. Where we were standing was on the edge of the Italian town just where the road started to wind around up the mountains. We were lucky when a young man drove by in a sedan, and after passing us decided to stop. We grabbed our bag apiece and ran after him and breathlessly climbed in, with our two bags in the back seat and Jack and me in the front (cars had bench front seats, not bucket ones, in those days). All seemed just right! After a few more hairpin turns up the beginning of the pass we suddenly came upon two gorgeous looking young gals hitchhiking. Oh-oh.
Yep, we came to a screeching halt and our driver gallantly invited the two young women—with much more baggage that we were carrying—into his car. Well, I guess we were lucky that we weren’t booted out. Moreover, pure chivalry on the owner’s part dictated that Jack and I be stuffed in the back seat along with the four sets of baggage (the trunk was, of course, already full with the driver’s stuff) while the two young women sat and chatted (flirted!) in front. Ah well, I thought, if he hadn’t come across us first, we wouldn’t even have had any ride at all. In any case, we all drove over the pass into Switzerland and on through toward France.
From there we were even much luckier—actually, except for that weekend experience in the Netherlands, we had very good experiences hitchhiking all through our ten weeks in Europe. In the afternoon we caught a ride from a lone English business man who was not a young stud like our last driver, but obviously a family man who was eager to get back home. He clearly had been driving for a long time just to have gotten as far as he did, and was obviously very tired. Soon he was trusting enough to allow me to drive while he slept in the back seat. It was actually great fun for me to drive across much of France. Although I have no clear recollection, I presume the car was right hand steering, since it was the Englishman’s car. After some hours of sleep the owner took over driving again after dinner, which we stopped for somewhere along the way. When we finally came into Paris, it was quite late, getting on to midnight, so we had to drive around a bit to find a not too expensive hotel still open. When we finally did, Jack and I took one room and the car owner another. We planned to spend some little time in Paris, but he, as said, wanted to get right on to home in England. So, we thanked him profoundly that night before turning in, and said our goodbyes then. Jack and I got up leisurely the next morning, had breakfast, and then went to the front desk to check out and pay. We learned that our English friend—whose name I most unfortunately do not remember—not only left early as planned, but had also paid for our room! How about that!
As is clear from what I wrote about our early years together, despite the five and half years age difference, Jack and I were close. This Wanderjahr-kind of trip, with all its adventures together, deepened and sealed our bond. Later in our middle years we often drifted off in different directions, but in the later years we drew closer again. Jack died early in 2007. Now that he is not available for a visit or a chat on the phone. I am aware how much I love him, and miss him.
Graduate Studies at Marquette Universityand the University of Wisconsin
When I started at Marquette University in the fall of 1954 working for an MA in a combination of history, philosophy, and English literature, I of course had to support myself beyond what I had been able to earn during the summer working on building houses. I did so by a combination of landing myself a job as a dormitory counselor, which gave me free room, and driving newspaper delivery trucks for the Milwaukee Journal on weekends from 11 P.M. to 3 A.M., and teaching courses in English grammar at 7 A.M. during the week at Milwaukee School of Engineering. I had a weird experience here one day. I passed Robert Colcord in the hallway, and he was an undergrad student. In his first years in high school, Bob was clearly an incredible genius, especially in science and math, and was a totally nerd. Then, for whatever reason, in his senior year he became a total “goof off,” and eventually dropped out of school. Hat was in 1945. Suddenly he was a beginning student at a relatively bottom of the barrel engineering school in 1954! I never found out how Bob fared.
One of the positive things that came from teaching at Milwaukee School of Engineering was that one of my students was Hans Popp, a Sudeten German who, of course, had been a soldier in the German army during World War II, which had ended only ten years earlier. Hans was typically German in that he was hard working and organized. He also was a very genial person and we quickly became fast friends. I visited him and his wife (whose name I unfortunately do not remember, but I do remember that she told me about being in one of the dancers in the grand displays before Hitler and the crowd during the 1936 Olympics in Berlin) at their home. Hans had a metal plate in the top of his skull. A piece of Russian shrapnel hit his steel helmet and sheered off a piece of his head—but he survived intact. Talk about having a hole in your head! Further thought: Had I been born a couple years earlier, we might well have been shooting —killing—each other! Or yet another “if” thought: Had my Dad emigrated to Germany instead of America and somehow met my mother and married there—he and I, and my brother Jack and sister Sandy, would all have been tossed into the crematoria.
My courses at Marquette focused on modern European history, philosophy, and literature. In philosophy existentialism and phenomenology were dominant. Literature centered on the so-called “New Critics,” particularly T.S. Eliot. In history I ended up writing my MA thesis on the Nuremberg war trials and the Holocaust, receiving my MA that summer.
I took several graduate seminars in philosophy. The ones I remember most were those taken from Professor Donald Gallagher, who had just returned from a year of research and study in France. Sartre, Camus, Marcel, and the other existentialists were all the rage at that time, and they were the ones we read and studied. I realize that they are not much talked about now in the early 21st century, but in my judgment, they were, and are, substantive and well worth studying again.
I of course had been filled with medieval Scholastic, and especially Thomistic, philosophy in my undergraduate, and even more so, my theology years, so this foray into contemporary philosophy was new and exciting for me. French philosophy was for many new and very strong in those days, not only because of the existentialists but also on account of the phenomenologists like Merleau-Ponty, and somewhat earlier the process philosophers like Maurice Blondel at the beginning of the 20th century and Henri Bergson in the middle. Tossed in there, because of the Communist revolution in Russia, was Nicholas Berdyaev with his stress of freedom at the core of being human, and the French thinker of Personalism, Emmanuel Mounier. As I look back, all these and related thinkers very profoundly influenced my mind, though I still very much hold onto my Aristotlean/Thomistic foundation. But more about that later.
Study of philosophy, history and English lit at Marquette - the Play - hearing Jacques Maritain lecture on democracy.
Focus on Andie
I first met Arlene Anderson, known as Andie, at the Newman Center of the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1957. The Newman chapel was on State street at the bottom of Bascom Hill, across the street from the University Library, and next door to “Presby House.” Within the Newman Center there was an organization for Catholic graduate students, Pax Christi. Pax Christi sponsored an eating coop. The way it worked was that during the week a dinner was provided for a low price to members, who also had to take turns either setting the tables or cleaning up afterward. It provided not only an inexpensive meal for always hard-up grad students, but also functioned as a social club among older Catholics at the University. There was a sort of recreation room next door which, among other things, had a piano. I learned later that Andie was a fabulous pianist, but she never played the piano there. However, Eddie Berners, who was a grad students in nuclear physics (it seemed that he spent most of the two years I knew him at Madison building the machine he needed to run the experiment for his doctoral thesis), was an accomplished jazz player who frequently played a mean boogie woogie on it. (Interesting thought: probably most people reading these words have no idea what boogie woogie is!— but they can look it up in Wikipedia.)
The Newman center also sponsored lectures. I recall two especially. One was by Bishop John J. Wright, then bishop in Massachusetts, and later in 1960 when Andie and I moved to Pittsburgh, he was bishop there. He had the reputation of be the intellectual among the American Catholic bishops (I wonder whatever happened to that idea?). I can’t remember what he lectured on, but I do recall that he wore a Prince Albert coat, which in fact made him look very distinguished—doubtless what he was looking for. The second lecturer I recall Father Bruchberger, who despite his Germanic name was French. He had published a life of Christ which was very popular at the time. Strangely, what I can recall of him also was the coat he wore. (I must have had a coat fetish at the time!) It was a pea jacked, under which he wore a turtleneck sweater. I immediately pictured him as a U-Boot commander, which he wasn’t.
The Newman Center also sponsored a national juried “Catholic Arts Festival” my first year in Madison. It was organized by an art grad student with the family name Gross. The paintings were hung in a hall of the Center. The one that I recall was one by Gross himself, which I liked very much. It was quite Van Goghesque, of a church with flaming red and black—in that regard, much like the paintings of the French Expressionist Georges Rouault (who died only in 1958), and had the title: Terribilis est locus iste. It must be recalled that before Vatican Council II (1962-65) Latin was the universal language of things Catholic. The Festival was a great success.
The following year I somehow got the idea that I should run the Festival (!), but expand it so that it was broadened into a “Christian Arts Festival,” and include not only the visual arts but also drama, music, as well as readings and lectures. In this I was able to enlist the aid of Andie. The visual arts juried show was expanded to include any Christian artist, and, because it generated many more pieces, was held in the University Library across the street. I added the production of morality play Everyman, which I not only directed, but also played the Voice of God off stage. Andie got one of her friends in music school to put together a chorus which put on a performance of sacred music, and Andie also organized an evening of Dramatic Readings, in which she also performed. My recollection is that everything was a great success. I have no idea whether this now two-year tradition was continued the following years after both Andie and I left the campus.
Andie and I were also involved in starting and singing in a Schola cantorum for Sunday Masses at the Newman Chapel, and also started the custom of some of grad students coming in the early evenings before dinner to chant vespers in the Chapel. This would be a good place to recall really hilarious happening. One winter Sunday morning when coming to Mass, we all were asked to leave our bags of books and things in the vestibule of the Chapel. When I came out after Mass, I found my book bag all right, but something was missing. This must have been during the second semester of my first year at Madison when I was able to get a part-time job teaching ethics at the nearby Catholic women’s junior College, Edgewood. What was missing from my book bag in the vestibule of the Chapel was my ethics textbook! Three days later I found it for sale in a second hand bookstore!
Let me start this section with some recollections of some friends of Andie. First from Ingrid Shafer:
Ingrid Shafer’s Recollections
I feel profoundly inadequate to write Arlene Anderson Swidler’s story. I had known her for years through the Journal of Ecumenical Studies, her work concerning women’s ordination, and her translations of theological books from the German. I had been struck by her keen intellect, her attention to scholarly detail, her finely crafted language, her openness to ecumenical dialogue. However, I did not meet Arlene in person until Easter 1995 when she had already sunk deeply into the quicksand of Alzheimer’s. I knew what to expect. Over the years I have occasionally worked as a hospice volunteer, and I’ve been personally close to two women suffering from the disease. And yet, I could not help but wish so desperately that I would somehow succeed in coaxing the woman she had been out of hiding. It happened a few times, in flashes of sudden brilliance, but rarely from the beginning, and never during the past year. And so I was ecstatic when Catherine Berry Stidsen sent me her memories of the Arlene who made a difference in her faith life as she had in so many others.
As I read the words on my computer screen, Arlene suddenly became a full person rather than a construct I had glued together from fragmentary impression. She ceased to be the old woman who would pace for hours from one end of the living room dining room combination to the other, counting off steps and minutes, complaining about a non-existent cat urinating on the Oriental rug, declaiming the Pater Noster in Latin, asking me if I was Eva or Carmel, suddenly switching to flawless German to recall her time abroad when she was authorized to charter an army bus to take her students at the Munich University of Maryland campus to the opera, asking again and again and again when she would be allowed to have her sherry before going to bed at 10:00 . . . She ceased to be the old woman who compulsively cooked gallons of rice and soup and green beans, and insisted on buying countless jars of Swiss face cream because it was manufactured in Switzerland and Switzerland was the home of her friend Hans Kung. She ceased to be the old woman who kept playing what she called her favorite song on the piano, a few bars from a performance of Die Fledermaus: “Ich bin der Prinz von Arkadien und hab mir ein Fernseh gekauft, das tut meinen Augen so schadien (sic)....” She ceased to be the old woman who now sits quietly most of the time, staring into space, pointing to an empty bowl and insisting it is a piano, wondering if her husband’s name is Larry (her brother) or Len, occasionally rocking a teddy bear with the words “Baerli loves Andie” written on a bib. She even ceased to be the old woman who, as if playing a part in a black comedy, would suddenly stop what she was doing and start singing: “Eat black strap molasses and whole grain bread, you’ll live so long, you’ll wish you were dead.”
Catherine Berry Stidsen’s Recollections:
Here are some recollections of Catherine Berry Stidsen:
Now to Arlene )I was very active in Wellspring Ecumenical Centre in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. It was there that I heard about an experiment that was being undertaken at Temple University’s Department of Religious Studies. And I heard Len Swidler’s name for the first time. The Temple scene sounded like something I wanted to be part of but I had to finish my undergraduate degree first which I was doing part time at St. Joseph’s College Evening Division. I took a break from that and from my work as a secretary to go to Rome to study the Better World Movement during the last session of Vatican II. That was a mind blowing experience. I actually tasted the universal church and came back determined that I had to study the religions of my world neighbors to understand how the church fit into those cultures or if it did. I came back to Philadelphia, finished my bachelor’s degree, looked up Leonard and then met Arlene. We were all living near each other and attending St. Rose of Lima Church where there was an attempt at a renewed liturgy going on. Arlene terrified me. I absolutely didn’t know how to read her.
I finished the degree and then went on teach at a Catholic Girls’ school from which I was subsequently fired, long story and probably not to the point. Leonard and Arlene were bricks. We had been with each other in a couple of truly ecumenical settings by then)of and pertaining to the whole world, not just inter-Christian)and subsequently Len offered me the job of his editorial assistant on JES while I applied for admission to Temple. He determined that I could take courses and do my work for him as compensatory time. Arlene was Managing Editor of JES then and I got to work with her and encountered a charming woman. I remember especially one Easter when Len was out of town at some meeting or other and Arlene had hidden eggs for the girls in a lamp over the dining room table. Before she got downstairs on Easter Sunday morning the girls had turned on all the lights to find the eggs and she arrived downstairs to find chocolate dripping all over the dining room table and very upset daughters who couldn’t do anything but watch their Easter goodies drip away.
One of my fondest memories was being in the Swidler living room for some sort of discussion or other and the wine was flowing and we were having a lovely time and I went out into the kitchen to help Arlene fill up glasses and get more snacks and she stood at the kitchen sink and said, “This is Eucharist. What is going on right here right now is Eucharist. I just want to go in there and say, this is the body and blood of Christ, us, laughing, discussing, arguing, enjoying each other’s company, wanting the world to be the better for our having been in it. This is Eucharist.” I was very new to this kind of thinking but it has stayed with me all these years and when I began to entertain in my own home so many, many times I thought of this insight of hers. We have made a ritual out of something so natural and so human, and so humane.
I remember her extraordinary kindness to me, too, when I had an offer about three years after I had gone to work for Len to teach in the Jesuit Preparatory School for Boys in Philadelphia. I would be their first female teacher in their 117 years of their history. I was having a terrible time because she and Len had been so good to me, but she strongly encouraged me to move on into the job. I did and subsequently she wrote about me in “Make Theology Your Business.” I have the article in front of me. I’m pictured with Mary Daly of all people. Arlene was very active in the National Council of Catholic Women and their publication Word. The article is there, 1969, and what a catalogue of women she has in it, of all religious denominations. She got me interested in writing for Word as well and promoted my career in an untold number of ways.
I should perhaps mention that in Philadelphia at the time one was excommunicated if one went to a “secular” university without good reason. My Jesuit spiritual director at the time decided that I had no good reason to go to Temple when I could have gone to Fordham on a scholarship. Arlene said something like, “Big deal” when I told her about Fordham. Go where the truth takes you. I wish I could remember exactly what she said but it was something like that.
I remember, too, when I was preparing for my wedding which was going to be a rather unusual one that she shared with me her own wedding. She insisted that Len sleep overnight in her place because “he’s always late” and she was determined that he was going to be on time for the wedding. “His mother wasn’t too happy with that but it worked for me.” She told me of bringing bouquets of wild flowers into the church for the occasion and wanting it all to be “beautifully natural.” I have a vague memory of her telling me that she wore some kind of blue mantilla but the reason why escapes me. She also confessed that over the years she had to help Len to get over “all that seminary stuff.” He was in the Norbertines for many years and left before ordination.
I remember, too, when I did a review of Mainstreaming Women’s Studies and she was so happy with that. It’s the kind of book that never gets reviewed, she mentioned to me. I told her that was a shame.
I do remember something else which I don’t think I’ve ever told to anyone. At times she would “drift.” I have no other word for it but that. I remember driving her to a meeting once; the other editorial assistant Val Rementer was in the front of the car, and Andie left us and began singing to herself. This would be thirty years ago. I was nervous. I saw it happen a few times more. I do know that she loved to dance. She told me once that she used to put music on and just dance around the house. I do that now myself and often think of the special kind of ecstasy that that provides.
I took Andie and Len to dinner once after my husband’s death. We went to a really posh restaurant. I told them I wanted to say thanks for all that they had done. By then I was living in Canada and had gone back to Philadelphia for a visit. We had a lovely evening. I didn’t see much of them after that. I was in touch with Nancy Krody of JES more and more often and often asked about them and got very vague answers, and then one day I got a message from Len about her condition. I almost died. All that brain power. I lost my own husband suddenly; he left my life the way he came into it, but to be watching her die by inches is almost more than I can believe.
I don’t know if this is the kind of thing you want but I would say when the people were few and far between who were inviting me to “make theology my business” Len and Arlene were there encouraging that. The road has been long and rocky. I determined to be a bridge between the pulpit and the pew forgetting that bridges get walked over, driven over, and at times blown up. But she stands out for me, along with Len, as someone who urged me to make that happen.
Judy Heffernan’s Recollections.
In March 1997, after visiting with Andie, another one of her friends, Judy Hefferman, dedicated a column to her, noting: “The Scripture reflections this time are not for a special day; rather, for a special person, one ‘clothed with strength and dignity)who opened her mouth in wisdom, whose children rise up and praise her.’” Judy wrote:
One late Autumn day on 1967 a friend found me in the halls of Chestnut Hill College. “Did you see the flyer on the bulletin board? Someone is speaking on women’s ordination at Rosemont!” I went home and told my Dad that I had to have the car) and directions to Rosemont!
That night I met Arlene Swidler and heard her say everything that had been in my heart since 1953. I left there knowing a personal dream could be a shared reality.
To my delight, over time I would get to know Arlene)and she kept amazing me. I would learn she had lived in Wisconsin, Pittsburgh, Germany, Japan, and thank God, Philadelphia. She had worked for the National Council of Catholic Women, was a National Catholic Reporter columnist, an English professor, a Religious Studies professor, and co-founder of the Journal of Ecumenical Studies. Arlene was an author, translator, editor and writer)as well as a daughter, marriage partner, mother and faithful friend.
Through the years I would learn that Arlene’s answers)and questions)were the foundation and driving force of the Catholic women’s movement in Philadelphia. In the Gospel we read “Go and tell!” Arlene felt it was very important for all of us to keep speaking, doing, witnessing and writing. I named her “God’s Nudger.”
Arlene noted that she was much more comfortable behind a typewriter than a podium) yet, she was invited near and far to address all kinds of groups. She never refused unless she felt it was the right time for someone else to step forward.
Through the years Arlene told us, “Claim your heritage as daughters of God.” “Women need to preach.” “God is an equal-opportunity employer.” “Language is important.” “Invite in the protesters (bearing signs against women’s ordination) to meet with us, pray with us and eat with us” (And they came in!). To this day her strong, deep, clear, resonating, expressive, soul-touching voice is part of my psyche.
As it was on that day when a woman was called to ordained ministry by her community and Arlene read from Hebrews. “The one of whom these things are said was of a different tribe, none of whose members ever officiated at the altar . . . the law of the priesthood is not determined by physical descent, but in virtue of the power of a life which cannot be destroyed.”
Arlene is not well now, but there is a power in her life of working for justice and understanding, a power from her life that will never be destroyed.
Len’s Recollections about Andie in 1998
And this is what I wrote about her in 1998, six years into her decline from Alzheimer’s:
Three years ago, when Andie was no longer able to write, I put together her bio for our web site. I wrote there that Andie “conceived the idea of an American scholarly periodical devoted to ecumenism with Catholic participation (there were none then), recruited Leonard, who recruited Elwyn A. Smith, Professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and then founded the Journal of Ecumenical Studies. Father Henry Koren. CSSP, Director of Duquesne University Press was the first publisher.” Andie served as Managing Editor of the Journal of Ecumenical Studies–JES (Elwyn and I, Protestant and Catholic, were Co-Editors), a position she retained after we and JES moved to Temple University in Philadelphia in the fall of 1966. Andie remained as Managing Editor of JES until 1972, when we went to Tübingen for a year.
She nevertheless remained on the JES masthead in one position of another. For example, in 1982, she conceived doing a special issue of JES on Human Rights in Religious Traditions, which she did that year, and eventually also published the results in book form with the Pilgrim Press; she did the same in 1985 with a JES special issue: Marriage in the World Religions, which was also published as a book with the Mellen Press.
It was during the early 1960s while we were living in Pittsburgh and both were teaching at Duquesne University (run by the Holy Ghost Fathers) that Andie’s feminism came to the fore. It was greatly encouraged by a somewhat older woman professor who came as a visiting professor from Holland, I believe. Fuel was poured on the fire by her then rather standard kind of experience for women professionals but for her, increasingly felt as oppression of not being taken seriously by most of her male colleagues in the English department. She related to me once, quite irritatedly, how at a departmental meeting she offered a suggestion, which sank like a stone without a comment, only later in the meeting to have her idea, now dressed up in rather shabby raiment, put forth by one of the older males and immediately gushed over!
It was at this time that Andie began consciously to think, act, research, and finally write as a budding feminist, especially in the area of religion. She published Christian feminist articles long before Mary Daly or Rosemary Ruether did. Andie broke into “feminist” print with her article “The Male Church” in Commonweal, June 24, 1966, and later that same year: “Feminine Mystique in a Male Church” [Address at the “Eastern Regional Catholic Press Association Convention” in Wilmington, DE], Delmarva Dialogue, November 18, 1966, followed up with, “An Ecumenical Question: The Status of Women,” Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Winter 1967.
Sometime after our move to Philadelphia, Andie created an ecumenical feminist group entitled the “Philadelphia Task Force on Women in Religion.” In May 1971, Andie, with me in a “male auxiliary position,” founded an ecumenical bi-monthly newsletter of the Task Force titled, Genesis III, later joined on the editorial staff, among several others, by our daughter Carmel Swidler. Andie was the mainstay of the editing of the newsletter, which expanded greatly, to its last issue, May, 1975.
It was also some time in the middle 1960s that Andie made a connection with “St. Joan’s International Alliance,” a Catholic feminist organization founded in both France and England in 1911. It had a representative as an NGO at the United Nations in New York in the person of Frances McGillicuddy, who was also the President of the American branch. We both became very active thereafter in St. Joan’s nationally and Andie started a chapter in Philadelphia.
Later, when we lived for a year in Tübingen (1972-73), Andie and I were also very active in St. Joan’s in Europe. We visited the German President of St. Joan’s in Frankfurt and also met for a day with the whole German leadership. We had also earlier come to know the International President of St. Joan’s, who was the wife of a Belgian diplomat. She was living at that time in Bern, Switzerland, since her husband was the Belgian Ambassador to Switzerland.
We, with our two girls Carmel and Eva, visited “Madame President” during our year in Tübingen. We were all invited to dinner at the Belgian embassy, which was very elegant, and greatly impressed Carmel and Eva, then fourteen and ten years of age. We noted after that a distinct improvement in their use of table manners (it had been not so long before then that Andie scolded the two of them, saying that they had no manners! Carmel replied: We have plenty of manners! We just don’t use them!)
Andie first became “publicly” involved in translation from German to English as a result of being invited by Herder and Herder Publishers to translate a couple of books dealing with New Testament exegesis (Richard Gutzwiller, The Parables of the Lord, 1964; Heinrich Kahlefeld, Parables and Instructions in the Gospels, 1966). But in fact Andie first became involved in translation from German to English with the 1962 Innsbruck doctoral dissertation by a student of Karl Rahner, Haye van der Meer, S.J.: Priestertum der Frau? Somehow she was able in 1963, to get a hold of a microfilm copy of the dissertation. I can well remember how she would lie on our bed and project the pages on the wall and work away on the translation. After much searching, we finally were able to find a publisher willing to take such a “radical” manuscript in Temple University Press, where the book appeared, with a lengthy introduction by the two of us, as Women Priests in the Catholic Church? A Theological-Historical Investigation, 1973. It was at this time that we developed the custom that held through many years of my going over her translations and English writings and her going over my translations and writings.
Andie was a very good lecturer, and increasingly was invited to give lectures. In fact, the two of us were often asked to lecture together. I remember one time when we both addressed the national assembly of Lutheran women, and another when we both spoke to the first Catholic “Women’s Ordination Conference,” held in 1975, in Detroit.
Andie was the kind of lecturer who felt that if she was asked to give a public lecture, she had to produce a brand new manuscript based on new research and new creative thought! I became exhausted just watching her stew about what new insight she could come up with that really would speak to the concerns of the group she was asked to address or what should be a concern of theirs. This drive for creativity can be seen as well in the dozen regular columns she wrote for the National Catholic Reporter every two months or so over two and a half years in 1971-73 (“Can a Married Woman Have a Name that’s Hers Alone?” “Progress (or No Progress) Report: Academic Women’s Lib,” “Symbolic Actions for Women’s Lib,” “Catholic Liberationists: Feminists in the Middle,” “Men, Not Women, Control Giving,” “Women’s Religious Witness,” “Protestants Make Women’s Groups Go,” “Men Decide What Women Do,” “Stalling Tactic by Churchmen: Ecumenism Is a Phony Argument,” “Catholic Consumerism: Travel Lighter, Get Rid of Things,” “Status Problems: No Baby Steps to Married Priests,” “Catholics Should Take Initiative: A Time for Dialogue on Abortion,” “The Sexist Church: Women Want Church Jobs,” “Arguments Against Women: The Retreat to Tradition’,” “American Feminists Not Alone,”).
Andie also organized a kind of traveling mission band of an interreligious panel of women feminists–Catholic, Protestant, Jew–speaking before many different kinds of groups and even on national television.
This was also about the same time that Andie was traveling every week from Philadelphia to Washington, DC on the train, staying overnight one night in DC, to edit–really create–Word Magazine, the organ of the official national Catholic Women’s organization, the “National Council of Catholic Women.” Andie knew how far and how fast she could lead the Catholic women toward a sense of mature responsibility. She said strong things, but somehow was able to slide them into a velvet glove so that they were not rejected. She was interested in raising the consciousness of women, and men, and moving them in the direction of greater self-awareness and responsibility, not scoring points. She was as radical and penetrating in her analysis and thought as any of the feminists in those days, such as our then friend Mary Daly, but wanted her public utterances to effect positive changes in people’s, especially women’s, lives. Again, this can easily be seen in her articles and books and public lectures.
In 1978, Andie decided to go to Villanova University to study Catholic theology and religious studies, and in 1980, she finished an MA there. She was a most unusual student, in recognition of which she was named the first “Outstanding Graduate Student” of Villanova’s Religious Studies Department in 1982 in that every one of her seminar papers ended up being published, in periodicals such as Commonweal (“Some Thoughts on Rape”), the American Benedictine Review (“Spirituality in the Fiction of Gertrud von le Fort”), The Bible Today (“In Search of Huldah”), U.S. Catholic (“It’s No Sin to Be Raped,”), and Spirituality Today (“Women in Ministry: Some Ecumenical Lessons”). Andie and her friend Gail Pohlhaus, who did her M.A. along with her, tried mightily to persuade Villanova University to develop a Ph.D. program in religious studies so they could continue their studies there—but in vain.
During the 1970s Andie published several books dealing with feminism in religion (Woman in a Man’s Church, 1972; Sistercelebrations. Nine Worship Experiences, 1974; Women priests. A Catholic Commentary on the Vatican Declaration, ed. with Leonard Swidler, 1976), and continued to do so in the 1980s and early 1990s (Human Rights in Religious Traditions, 1985; Mainstreaming Feminist Research for Teaching Religious Studies, ed. with Walter E. Conn, 1985; Marriage Among the Religions of the World, 1990; A New Phoebe. Perspectives on Roman Catholic Women and the Permanent Diaconate, ed. with Virginia Kaib Ratigan, 1990.
Andie and I taught during the 1987 summer session at the Tokyo campus of Temple University, and enjoyed it so much that we arranged to go back for an entire year of teaching there in 1990-91. It was a very stimulating and satisfying year for both of us in retrospect, kind of a climax of our intellectual, academic lives together.
When we returned to Philadelphia the fall of 1991, Andie’s usual courses at Villanova University, where she had been happily teaching in the Religious Studies Department for ten years, did not materialize because the student graduation requirements had been changed while we were in Japan.
Andie nevertheless continued her research and writing, producing her last book, which she edited: Homosexuality and World Religions (appeared in 1993). However, after a few months into the fall and winter of 1991/92, slightly disturbing behavior slowly began to increase so that by the summer of 1992, I greatly feared something like Alzheimer’s disease, which tragically turned out to be the case.
Though Alzheimer’s presence became clear to those of us who knew Andie closely by the middle of 1992, she kept struggling to think creatively as long as possible. Here is a copy of a letter she wrote to the New York Times (I typed it for her with my computer, which is why I have a copy of it) a whole year later, on August 20, 1993. Her sense of play, as a true intellectual, is still apparent:
New York Times
TO THE EDITOR:
Philadelphia and New York can lay claim to a lot of historical and cultural contributions, but the origin of “Yo” (August 19) is not one of them. My old Cassell’s Latin Dictionary (no date listed) includes “io” used as an exclamation of joy and triumph by Vergil and Horace.
Back in the 1940s many of us studying at Messmer High School in Milwaukee were taught by the Sisters to sing not
Hail, hail, the gang’s all here.
What the heck do we care?
Io, io, omnes adsunt.
Quid curae est nobis?
Arlene Anderson Swidler
(Both Vergil and Virgil are correct spellings. Most of us prefer Virgil, but Cassell’s uses Vergil.)
The letter was not published.
Around the same time Andie was striving to research and write something about the problem of huge, disproportionate damage awards being granted by juries. She wanted to make the essay into a high-level popular article based on solid new research again in the area of interreligious dialogue. She could get no further than a bare beginning before her mind clouded over too darkly to continue. But even there Andie’s penchant for intellectual humorous word-play manifested itself from the very title of the planned article. Here is that inchoative, but creatively promising, precise:
RELIGION AND THE SUE-AGE SYSTEM
Arlene Anderson Swidler
“A Philadelphia lawyer,” meaning a legal super nit-picker, has unhappily become part of the American vocabulary. Today a consequent term also deserves to join that unfortunate vocabulary list: the newly exploding “sue-age system.”
It is not just that Americans more and more are suing each other at the drop of a hat, but also that the juries of laypeople sitting on civil damage claim cases have been wildly irresponsible in awarding plaintiffs astronomical sums of other people’s money. One result of this is that everybody’s insurance premiums go up, and the fees of the doctors, dentists, etc. go up to cover their rising insurance costs. Who pays the higher premiums through the higher prices? You and I!
Our suing system has become a “sue-age system,” carrying off a huge waste from our society. This may not at present be illegal, but it certainly is immoral! Who says so? Not only common sense, but also the fundamentals of the religious traditions stemming from the common spiritual father Abraham: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Anyone who knows anything about these religious traditions realizes that. So, as a reminder let me offer only a single citation from each of them.
In my childhood I learned the Decalogue from the Hebraic-Jewish tradition. We need only recall the seventh and tenth Commandments: “Thou shalt not steal!” That should be clear enough, but just in case the point was missed, there was added: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods.”
Years later when I was at Marquette University I remember being taught by one of my Jesuit professors that the then beginning irresponsible “sue-age system” was contrary to the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas. Thomas states in his Summa Theologica I-II, Q 96, a 4: “Laws are said to be just...when burdens are laid on subjects according to an equality of proportion and a view to the common good.... Laws are unjust...when burdens are imposed unequally on the community.... Wherefore such laws do not bind in conscience.”
Then a few years ago while I was teaching in Tokyo a Muslim friend and colleague brought me a copy of “The Last Sermon of the Holy Prophet of Islam” (in Japanese, Arabic and English), and I discovered something quite relevant to this matter: “Beware, no one committing a crime is responsible for it but himself. Neither the child is responsible for the crime of his father, nor is the father responsible for the crime of his child.” The first definition of “responsible” in my 1976 edition of the American Heritage Dictionary is: “Legally or ethically accountable for the care or welfare of another.”
Each of us must reflect on how we, in our own small way, can creatively contribute to the elimination of our wasteful, and immoral, “sue-age system,” and replace it with a just, equitable, moral legal system of redress of grievances.
When I showed a draft of this brief article to a consultant, he remarked (in jest, I hope!): “If you publish this, I’ll sue you!”
As the inexorable disease progressed through 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, and even most of 1997, the ability to play creatively with words, in English, German and Latin, kept sparkling through in startling ways in the midst of the increasing darkness. Andie was somehow able to create absolutely new word-plays, high-level puns, in all three languages, or creative combinations of two or three of them.
But even that disappeared by the latter part of 1997, though still now bits of remembered poetry or English nursery rhymes will unexpectedly come tumbling out. She responds yet to hugs and kisses. Love lasts the longest in life.
May 11, 1998 (41st wedding anniversary)
At the end of her notes about Andie, Ingrid Shafer wrote:
Finally, a few words from Arlene herself, taken from the final, personal paragraphs of correspondence with a co-translator of Gertrud Heinzelmann’s Die geheiligte Diskriminierung: Beitraege zum kirchlichen Feminismus.
Hamburg, November 15, 1989
We spent a week on the road. Tübingen for two days, where we ubernachted in what I think was Haag’s room [Herbert Haag, Catholic professor of Hebrew Bible at Tübingen, emeritus] on Kung’s third floor. K himself was gone (as, obviously, was Haag!) Came back to find scaffolding around the apt. and workers loud at work beginning at 7 a.m. Today they bored a big round hole above the shower stall, so I shall freeze as I try my less than four minutes’ stint with lukewarm water. And they actually mauered up the one kitchen window which does not face the neighbors two meters away. Our neighbors upstairs and down are entsetzt, have already gone to consult a lawyer, and want my support, but if I am discovered to be here I will be thrown out! Ah, Tübingen.
Philadelphia, January 30, 1990
Like you, I’m overwhelmed with work. The rewrite of the JES issue on marriage which Edward Mellen will publish is not difficult, but, for example, when I wrote to one contributor to ask whether certain items should be updated, I got back the answer YES. The main problem, as always, is just getting people to answer mail and meet deadlines. We have yet to hear from Bob Heyer on our deacon book that may involve more rewriting and correcting. As for the gay book, I have before me an 86 page manuscript from one overzealous author which simply must be cut to a maximum of 30 pages.
Tokyo, April 10, 1991
The cherry trees are at their peak this week. The weather is not. But yesterday was incredibly fair and blue and we had a good long walk with two of our colleagues in one of the cemetery parks.
Now a further word from Ingrid Shafer:
On May 26, 1998, Leonard and I interviewed the “Father” of modern Catholic moral theology, Father Bernard Häring, at his home at Gars am Inn. His voice was reduced to a whisper by the effects of throat cancer, and he mentioned suffering from failing memory since last September when he collapsed and died in the elevator, and was not resuscitated for five minutes. But his eyes shine and hands gesticulate with enthusiasm as he remembers Arlene, Leonard’s “heilige Frau,” his favorite translator, and brilliant Assistentin when he taught at Temple thirty years ago.
16 June 1998
I am now writing on July 1, 2008, about five weeks after Andie died. I didn’t think, after so many years of a long good bye, that it would hurt so much. But it does.
Let me say something about the last ten years, since I wrote what is just above.
Andie inexorably went constantly downhill. Speaking of downhill, for years we would most evenings before going to bed take a twenty minute walk up and down the streets on the slight hill below out house. In these years she would spot things, like a neighbor’s Honda car and go into her routine about what the Chinese character–gesticulating it in the air with her hand–for Honda was and how it meant “field.” There were also a number of years in that period then when light was especially fascinating to her. She would wax ecstatically about some shiny object in the neighborhood, in the sky, in the house, or wherever.
In the early years Andie still did the cooking in the house. She already had been moving in the direction of vegetarianism when she was well, and so when she was increasingly afflicted she would go on her own, instead of with me, as had been our custom, to the fruit and vegetable truck that set up on the street a half mile from our house. She would buy multiples of the same things, so that it became difficult to eat all of the food. She also, after a while, tended to make the same thing day after day–usually lentils. After those few years, I don’t think that I can ever look a lentil in the eye again! She also took to buying some Swiss face cream because out of some strange loyalty to our Swiss friend Hans Küng. We had dozens of jars of it in the closet for years.
Somewhere along the line we developed the habit of having, not only a nightly walk before going to bed, but also a nightly glass of sherry. We never did that sort of thing when she was well, but now it became de rigueur. With the passage of time she became more and more interested in that nightly custom and would ask whether it was ten o’clock yet–time for the sherry and bed. Then there were the times when I would come home and find that she “discovered” that it was ten o’clock, and already had her sherry–several times, since he short-term memory was totally non-existent by then. Fortunately she was a “happy drunk.” She would smile a sort of “cunning smirk,” not because she knew she had done something “naughty,” though it might have looked that way. Rather, I think it was the alcohol that produced that strange “smile.” In this middle period she would frequently shake me awake in bed and want to get up–at three o’clock in the morning!–to go for a walk. It was always a strenuous exercise for me to persuade her that it was not a good idea, taking usually the better part of an hour.
Then there were the middle-late years when she would go walking about the neighborhood on her own. She was always a great walker, and seemed to enjoy walking around on her own then. But then, it began to be somewhat dangerous for her “homing” sense, which had worked very well for several years, began to fail, and I would go looking for her in the car. I remember once receiving a phone call from a pleasant young Philadelphia policeman who told me that she was in her cruiser parked a half mile from our house. When I want to pick her up she introduced me to the nice young policeman that she was having a pleasant conversation with.
It continued to get worse, however, and I remember the night that Princess Diana was killed very well, for I spent the whole of the night looking for her in the car, driving in ever widening circles, and returning every so often to see whether she had somehow sneaked by me and got back home. That is when I would listen to the radio reports coming in about Princess Diana. I was really petrified at the thought of what might have happened to her. Ignorance is definitely not always bliss! Then around 6 or 7 in the morning I got a call from the police department in Upper Darby, the next suburb over, saying that she was in their precinct station. She had been trying to get into someone’s house thinking it was ours, and they called the police. She sitting there quietly with a bulky sweater on, for it was cold that night, that the police had given her. I took her home and put her to bed.
Finally, however, I had to change the locks on the doors and not let her go out for she had degenerated to the point of urinating and defecating on the lawns. Really sad. It broke my heart to see my elegant Andie brought so low.
Before that, Andie’s mouth got so bad that I had to find an oral surgeon who would operate on her mouth to remove her bad teeth. When the surgeon saw me after the operation I received a further shock. He had to remove a cancerous tumor the size of a baseball, including a portion of her right jaw. We decided not to pursue either radiation or chemo therapy. However, it turned out that the kind of cancer it was did not spread very aggressively.
The last five years of Andie’s life again drastically changed for the still worse. One day while Angela Aye (she is the daughter of April Aye)–who is from Myanmar–was changing her, she fell on the stone floor in her room and broke her hip. After several months I decided to have a hip replacement, which was successful. Aye Min, who came to help care for Andie in 2004, and I tried vigorously to get her up regularly and help her walk. However, we had regular resistance in this from April, and so in the end, Andie slowly became totally bedridden, and was so for the last four years of her life.
Concerning the care-givers for Andie: About 1996, I decided to try to get someone to live in the house with Andie and me so there would be someone other than me for Andie to relate to. At first I arranged for a young Filopina to live in, but was not at all helpful. Then, through a former student of mine, a woman Baptist minister, April came to live with us. That first year she finished her Masters in Museum Curatorship at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. I then introduced her to Prof. Tony Ranere of Temple University’s anthropology department, and she applied for a doctorate. She worked on the doctorate for several years, but to my deep disappointment gave up just when she had finished all her course work and had only the comprehensive exams and dissertation (which was really already three-quarters finished) to do. April had come to the U.S. in about 1994 with her youngest daughter, Angela, then 13 years old. In the beginning April simply lived in the house with the two of us, but over about two to three years increasingly came to be Andie’s care-giver. Angela later also shared these responsibilities, as did several others: Suraiya It, from Indonesia (a doctoral student of mine), Charlemagne from Cameroon, Sister Maria Onyeizu from Nigeria, and later her younger brother Joseph Onyeizu, and of course, Aye Min, also from Myanmar. Although April did not finish her Ph.D. while with us, she did finish two Masters, and Joseph did his BS and MS, and Aye Min his MA and Doctorate of Ministry. None of those degrees would have become reality except for Andie’s illness. Thus, this good came out of that horrible evil.
Tübingen and Hans Küng
I came with a Deutsche Akademische Austausch Dienst (DAAD) grant to the University of Tübingen in the fall of 1957, to do research for my doctorate in Modern European Intellectual and Cultural History at the University of Wisconsin under the direction of Professor George Mosse (of the famed Mosse Verlag Jewish family of Berlin who had escaped from the Nazis). I was researching the revolutionary Una Sancta Movement of dialogue between Catholics and Protestants in Germany, and so I came to Tübingen to work with Professor Heinrich Fries, then the most prominent Catholic theologian involved in the movement.
Since I had already studied philosophy for two years and theology for four at two seminaries in the States before deciding not to go on to priestly ordination, when I noticed in the University of Tübingen catalog that it was possible to earn a degree in Catholic theology (in those days priests in the States did not receive degrees in theology) at Tübingen, I inquired of Professor Fries whether it might be possible for me to also work for a degree in Catholic theology. I told him that I had done all the necessary study of Greek, Latin, Philosophy, and Theology. He said that they had never granted a degree to a lay person before (Tübingen’s Catholic Theology Faculty was a Pontifical Catholic Theological Faculty), but he would take up the question with the faculty. He did, and they said yes, they would start a new tradition! Thus, I became, so far as I know, the first layperson in modern times to receive a degree in Catholic Theology (now of course there are many thousands!).
This is where my first indirect contact with Hans Küng occurred. In the summer semester of 1958 one of the professors (Rückert?) of the Evangelische Theologische Fakultät offered a course on Hans Küngs Buch Rechtfertigung! That same semester Professor Fries received a “call” to the Catholic Theological Faculty of the University of Munich (they offered to establish an Ecumenical Institute for him–Tübingen at that time had only a Protestant Ecumenical Institute). I applied for and received a second year grant from the DAAD, and Andie and I and also by that time, Carmel, went to Munich, living and teaching at the University of Maryland in Munich (in McGraw Kaserne, which previously had been a Nazi Luftwaffe barracks). While there for two more years I finished writing a thesis on Die Ursprünge der Una Sancta-Bewegung in Deutschland, and after returning to Tübingen with Professor Fries in 1959, to pass my oral Rigorosa exams (they were indeed rigorous!–Professor Günther Biemer, another Fries Schüler, also took his Rigorosa exams that day) I received my degree: Sacrae Theologiae Licentiatus (STL).
I returned to Munich for another year to finish my research for my doctoral dissertation at Wisconsin. It was during that year that Hans Küng came to Tübingen as the successor of Fries as Professor of Fundamental Theologie. It was in that capacity that he wrote me a letter about the publication of my STL Thesis (which was a normal requirement). I am sure that we had some exchange of letters after that, but I remember nothing specific about them. However, that initial contact was enough for me to invite Küng to be one of the inaugural Associate Editors of the Journal of Ecumenical Studies (JES) which Arlene and I started in 1962 (it was her brilliant idea!) while we were teaching at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. At the same time, since I was then also heavily involved in restructuring the Theology Department at Duquesne, although I was teaching in the History Department, I extended an invitation to Küng to come to the Duquesne University Theology Department as a Visiting Professor. He wrote back and thanked me and said that he would consider it along with several other new developments happening just then.
That fall, 1962, the revolutionary first session of Vatican II took place and Küng was deeply involved in it; his fame had already burst on the international scene leading up to the Council with his book The Church, Council and Reform. Eventually he received invitations from other universities Harvard, Yale, etc., and so he wrote me back later that he decided not to accept any visiting professorships at that time. However, three more very interesting things also happened around that time that I would like to recall.
In 1964 the first issue of JES appeared, in which Küng was not only listed as Associate Editor, but also published an editorial titled: “The Historical Contingency of Conciliar Decrees,” in which he foreshadowed his controversial 1970 book Infallible? An Inquiry. He ended his JES editorial thus: “Perhaps a concept will then be found, which better than the term ‘infallibility,’ will present in an encompassing and balanced manner the strict binding force of decrees and at the same time their profoundly incomplete character.”
The second interesting thing that occurred then was also in the same JES issue, namely the appearance of an article (also simultaneously appearing in the original German in Catholica) titled: “The Ministerial Office and the Unity of the Church,” by Küng’s future colleague at Tübingen (indeed, as Dean of the Catholic Theology Faculty Küng in effect hired him the following year!), Joseph Ratzinger. Who could have guessed looking at that first issue of JES with writings by Hans Küng and Joseph Ratzinger that one day in the not distant future Professor Joseph Ratzinger would run away from Tübingen (in 1971) to the newly reestablished “red brick” University of Regensburg–a bit like abandoning Harvard to teach at Omaha Community College!–because of the world-wide student rebellions. The Tübingen students, however, would not long afterward support Professor Hans Küng in his struggle with the Vatican with one of the last ever student Fackel Züge (Torchlight processions). Who would have guessed further that Professor Hans Küng would a few short years later be declared by the Vatican “no longer a Catholic theologian”–which declaration raised the usual number of his lecture students from 150 to 1,500! (I have often jealously thought: How can I arrange to also be condemned by the Vatican?!)
The third interesting occurrence around that fateful time of the beginning of Vatican II was Hans’s triumphant “Freedom Tour of the United States” in the spring of 1963. When Hans wrote me back saying that he decided not to accept the invitation to be Visiting Professor at Duquesne University, he nevertheless offered to come to lecture at Duquesne on his lecture tour the spring of 1963. As in all the other cities where he was allowed to speak (I remember that the bishops of Philadelphia, Washington and Los Angeles blocked his speaking there), the lecture hall was jammed (he spoke on “Freedom and Unfreedom in the Catholic Church”). Our largest hall held a thousand, but we packed in another hundred, placing chairs on the stage behind Hans, and sent out advertising two weeks beforehand saying that if you did not already have a ticket, don’t come! Nevertheless, an additional two hundred or so did show up, and we quickly arranged to have the sound of his lecture piped into a neighboring hall.
Andie and I were overjoyed to be able to pick Hans up and shepherd him around for that beautiful spring day. This is when the three of us truly became friends. I remember well when we and a small number of colleagues took Hans to a restaurant for lunch that day, there was a group of nuns (they all were still in habit in those days) in the restaurant, obviously having come to hear him lecture. I was very impressed when Hans then excused himself for a couple of minutes and went to greet them. I never forgot that “political” sensitivity of his, and have tried to imitate it ever since (they say that imitation is the highest form of compliment!)
The Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church (ARCC)
I want to recall one more significant time of contact–December 18, 1979, and its aftermath. It was a bad year, 1979. It had started bad)and was ending worse. Three A.M. on December 18, my phone rang insistently, and I eventually answered it groggily. An American theologian/ journalist friend of mine in Rome, Ed Grace, said breathlessly: “The Vatican just condemned Hans Küng!”
Late in 1978, John Paul I had died just a month into his pontificate and John Paul II was elected his successor. Then the headhunters at the Holy Office were quickly unleashed:
1) Already in the spring of 1979 the French theologian Jacques Pohier was silenced for his book When I Speak of God;
2) in July the book on sexuality by a team of four American theologians, including Father Ronald Modras, one of Küng’s doctoral students, was condemned;
3) in September the Jesuit General Pedro Arrupe was forced to send a letter to all Jesuits that they may not publicly dissent from any papal position;
4) all fall severe accusations of heresy against Edward Schillebeeckx were recurrently issued in drum-beat fashion; December 13-15 Schillebeeckx was “interrogated” by the Holy Office in Rome;
5) that same month writings of Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff were “condemned” (he was later silenced);
6) on December 18 the Holy Office issued a Declaration on Hans Küng saying he “can no longer be considered a Catholic theologian.”
A few hours later I was on the phone with Father Charles Curran (who subsequently joined Küng in that select circle of creative Catholic theologians also declared “no longer a Catholic theologian”–as have also since then some of the best Catholic theologians: Roger Haight, Jon Sobrino, and Peter Phan) of the Catholic University of America and Father David Tracy of Chicago University. We decided to quickly issue a press a statement by U.S. Catholic theologians stating that “Hans Küng was indeed a Catholic theologian.” We decided to fight Rome with Roman tactics, and took a leaf from Caesar: Omnis America in tres partes divisa est. For the next twenty-four hours each of us got on the phone to our third of the nation, collecting signatures. As I spoke with people, time and again the refrain recurred: This can’t go on; we have got to organize!
So in the next days I drew up a proposal to organize what became The Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church (ARCC) and sent it around to all interested contacts around the country. The response was overwhelmingly positive. Group meetings were held in many cities around the U.S., proposals of what needed to be done were drawn up, and delegates were chosen to be sent to a Founding Convention. On March17-20, 1980, the Founding Convention of ARCC was held in the Alaska Hotel in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and ARCC was formed to “institutionalize a collegial and egalitarian understanding of Church in which decision-making is shared and accountability is realized among Catholics of every kind.”
Father Gerard Sloyan, Dolly Pomerleau of “Priests for Equality,” and I were designated to pull together an initial Board for ARCC. On our way back home the three of us met in the living room of Gerry’s house in Philadelphia and came up with a list of invitees. We asked Father Andrew Greeley, who declined but sent us a $100 donation and good wishes, and Rosemary Radford Ruether, who accepted, but before the first meeting had to withdraw because of family commitments. From the beginning the board of 15-20 members strove for a balance of laity and clergy, women and men, with a concern for national geographic representation. The first meeting of the Board took place in October, 1980 and James Finn, a layman from the NGO Freedom House in New York was elected the first president (1080-83). Margaret Cotroneo, a psychiatric nurse who eventually did a doctorate in religion at Temple University under my direction, became president 1983-86. Alan Turner, who worked in the publishing field, was president 1986-89.
Father Patrick Connor, an SVD missionary from Australia, and I along with Mary Imelda Buckley, a theologian from St. John’s University in New York, were named the committee to draw up a Charter of the Rights of Catholics in the Church. We worked on the task for some two years, and finally got it in the shape that we, the Board, and the many persons we consulted during the process were satisfied. (See: http://arcc-catholic-rights.net/arcc_charter.htm). It contains 32 rights and became the foundation of all subsequent ARCC reform efforts.
In 1990 I recommended to the ARCC Board that we work on developing a Constitution for the Church, something that had been set up a commission to work on starting at the end of Vatican Council II in 1965 (unfortunately that commission which produced several revisions of the Lex Fundamentalis Ecclesiae was summarily dismissed in 1980 by John Paul II shortly after his becoming pope). However, even the majority of the ARCC Board was too hesitant to take on such a pushy task, and decided to launch first a series of conferences on church governance, which it did. After three or four such conferences over the next two years, I was finally asked by the Board to work with James Biechler (a married priest former doctoral student of mine who was also a canon lawyer) to draft a Proposed Constitution for the Catholic Church.
Available on the web at: http://www.womenpriests.org/classic2/meer_ind.asp
Last revised 25 July 2010
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