America’s literary editor remembers John Breslin, S.J.

Of all the exciting jobs and accomplishments that stand out in John Breslin’s career in the Jesuit Apostolate—including teaching English at Regis High School, studies at Yale, directing Georgetown University Press, teaching at Trinity college in Dublin, Fordham University and Marquette University, rector of LeMoyne Jesuit Community—I have admired most his five years as book editor at America, followed by his role as editor of Catholic books at Doubleday Publishing.

Yesterday I browsed through John’s first two years at America, 1973 and 1974, as literary editor. His 1973 “Spring Survey” of what was coming out covered seven pages summarizing the year in books plus six writers summarizing 10 books each. He approached his role as both a literary critic and as a reporter on the newest trends in publishing. His survey, “Book Leaves,” for Autumn books in 1974 included 53 titles (Oct. 5, 1974). If he had not read them all thoroughly, he knew enough to alert America readers to some of the best.


An essay under “Bookings,” “Fare Forward, Voyagers,” begins: “One of the oldest truisms of literature is that life is a voyage, a journey, a pilgrimage, and it is no accident that some of our greatest classics are journey stories—The Odyssey, The Divine Comedy, The Canterbury Tales. Three new books—two by Dutchmen, one by an Englishman—amply prove both that the genre is alive and well and the sons of Europe’s most intrepid voyagers have not lost, only redirected, their exploring ways.” All three deal with journeys which are both harrowing and spiritual, asking questions like “Can Christianity and Buddhism find common ground? (March 16, 1974).

John wrote editorials and current comments as well as literary criticism. One comment in a 1974 issue of America describes the publishers’ plan to provide prisons with libraries (April 20, 1974).

A few days ago I received a letter about John’s death from Emilie and Bill Griffin in New Orleans. I knew them in New York when Bill was in publishing and I was teaching at Fordham and editing the Commonweal book section, and I taught their son at Loyola New Orleans. Emilie has written a poem reflecting on John’s death. I thought I should share it.

John Breslin Memories
New York days
long past
he and his father come to dinner.
A little man
who perches by the fireplace
tells us stories
about Ireland.
How long ago is that?
John died Monday and I spend
times in memory,
the memory he surrendered.
Jesuits do when they say Take Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will.
I was drinking
and stumbled
by the forsythia bush
corner of Audley Street and Beverly Road.
Long I missed that house.
We have lived other places since
but memories remain
unless, as with John and his father
they seem lost.
Only God remembers
dancing a jig,
the Banshee,
Christ in my heart
and in my understanding.
-Emilie Griffin, Good Friday, March 25, 2016
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3 years ago
Thank you for this.


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