Reservation Story

October 26, 2012

It has been a while, dear readers, since I posted anything new here.  Running three parishes in American’s second poorest county has kept me busy, to say the least.  But you will be happy to know, I hope, that the Church here is growing once again — Mass attendance up by 40% over this time last year, sacramental prep programs expanded, a good number of people in RCIA, and a great shot of energy and joy last week with the canonization of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha.  I had a little talk with Kateri, back when she was still just a Blessed, and I think she’ll be helping us out here in the future.  In fact, I think she may have pulled a few strings for us already this week.

I hope to write a bit more about our little (but growing) Lakota church here in the near future, but first I thought I’d share something I wrote a while back, after my first visit to Rosebud, which has now finally appeared in print in the very fine Christian literary journal Relief.  I’d recommend a look at Relief even if they hadn’t published my story, and they’re available on Kindle.

I’d also recommend liking St. Francis Mission on Facebook to see a few more pictures of all that’s been going on here, especially our celebrations for St. Kateri.
AL, SJ

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Shameless self-promotion

August 24, 2011

Jesuit formation, as I wrote in my last post, aims to prepare us to go anywhere, and this August marks a major step forward in that formation for me, as well as a major change in scenery.  I have traded in the skyscrapers of Chicago and the philosophy books of Loyola University for the prairies of south-central South Dakota and parish administration at St. Agnes, St. Bridget, and St. Charles parishes on the Rosebud Reservation.

The Jesuits out here on the prairie don’t often make it into the headlines, but we do work of which the Society can be rightly proud.  So take a moment and check out the work of St. Francis Mission here on the web, and if you happen to be visiting the Badlands or the Black Hills take a somewhat longer moment and a slight detour off of I-90 to learn a bit about Lakota culture and the work of the “Blackrobes” over the past century—and today.

And since, as you can imagine, this transition has taught me just how much I still have to learn about everything from parish finances to Lakota burial traditions to how to polish brass, these weeks have left me with a bit less time for blogging than what I’ve been used to.  Fear not, however, loyal readers of Whosoever Desires, for this latest assignment promises even more stories and observations to share with all of you in the months and years to come.

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J.F. Powers: Catholic literature’s forgotten gem

August 1, 2011

Over the last Christmas break I had lunch with my old high school English teacher, Mr. Studer.  (Mr. Studer has a first name, but it still feels impious to use it.)  More than anyone else, Mr. Studer is responsible for getting me interested in writing.

At the end of our lunch, Mr. Studer gave me a small stack of books by J.F. Powers, a collection of short stories and two novels.  The pages of the books were brown with time, and one, Morte D’Urban, was held together with a rubber band.

I had read an odd J.F. Powers short story here or there before, and my last pre-Jesuit job was at St. John’s University in Minnesota, where Powers spent most of his career.  Powers wrote only two novels, Morte D’Urban and Wheat That Springeth Green, in addition to several collections of short stories—an understated literary output that in some ways seems appropriate.

Powers is a master craftsman; in terms of tightly constructed prose—taut, subtle, perfectly pitched—he surpasses even Flannery O’Connor, though his subtlety and understatement mean that his work never packs quite the same explosive punch as O’Connor’s.  Powers’ subject matter is the Catholic Church of the Midwest in the middle of the twentieth century, and his mastery of his material is flawless.  He seems especially fascinated by priests—and by all the petty ambitions, joys, politics, and frustrations that occur within the walls of a rectory.

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F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jesuit story

February 7, 2011

I have long thought F. Scott Fitzgerald to be a very Catholic writer, though explicitly Catholic themes show up only rarely in his work.  There’s the urbane Monsignor Darcy in This Side of Paradise, for example, and a few scattered references in Tender is the Night, but mostly Fitzgerald’s Catholic sensibilities come through in his moral vision, in the interplay of truth and illusion we see, for example, in The Great Gatsby.

In a Fitzgerald biography, however, I’d once come upon a reference to an early (1920) short story called “Benediction,” and I took advantage of a Chicago snow day last week to track the story down.  I was not disappointed.

The story is a gem, written in the witty, dancing prose of the youthful Fitzgerald, and touching on many of his typical themes—the giddiness of coming of age, the wistful sadness of romance, even a hint at class sensitivities.  The story centers around Lois, a romantic and beautiful nineteen-year-old travelling to Baltimore to meet her lover, Howard; on her way to their rendezvous she stops to visit her only brother Keith, a seminarian she has not seen in seventeen years.

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Elementary, my dear Watson!

July 17, 2010

Holmes and Watson

Over the past few months I’ve been working my way through a collection of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories published in The Strand Magazine.  The collection contains facsimile copies of the original Strand pages, including original illustrations (in which we see Holmes in his characteristic deerstalker hat, never mentioned in Conan Doyle’s text).

As I’ve been reading the stories, I’ve noticed more parallels between Holmes and my favorite TV character, Dr. Gregory House, than between the Holmes of Conan Doyle and that of the recent action flick staring Robert Downey, Jr.  Both Holmes and House use substantial deductive powers to solve mysteries, criminal and medical.  Both suffer from addictions, to cocaine in Holmes’ case and Vicodin in House’s, addictions witnessed with dismay by their respective sidekicks, Dr. Watson and Dr. Wilson.  And both bachelors have somewhat off-putting and eccentric personal habits.

In fact, the Sherlock Holmes short stories from The Strand bear a striking resemblance to a television series.   Read the rest of this entry »