Human Saints and Angels

The art portfolio by Michael O’Neill McGrath, O.S.F.S., “The Saints and Me” (7/2), is a delight. McGrath brings out through his art one of the best aspects of Catholicism, our fellowship with the saints and their very humanness. We see Peter eating fish, Dorothy arranging flowers, Michael on horseback and Magdalene selling perfume. I would have loved 10 more pages.

Lucy Fuchs


Brandon, Fla.

Common Mission

I was delighted to read “Sisters in Mercy: Florence Nightingale and Mother Mary Clare Moore” (6/4), by John W. Donohue, S.J., with its discussion of two recent books about Nightingale by Barbara Montgomery Dossey and Mary C. Sullivan. It is always instructive to learn of ecumenical successes that precede our own time. The friendship, professional and spiritual, of Nightingale and Moore has much to tell us about the power of personal relationship and common mission being stronger than the chilly constraints that existed between our two communions at the height of the Victorian age.

I particularly appreciated Father Donohue’s comments about the influence of Moore on Nightingale’s spirituality. Florence Nightingale is not without controversy in the Anglican Communion. According to some accounts, she doubted or denied many of the central articles of the Creed. In counterpoise, however, her life was lived in response to God’s call and animated by a spirit of service. Although Nightingale was reared in the Unitarian Church, she later joined the Church of England. During the long invalidism that occupied half her life, she became more and more immersed in a eucharistic spirituality.

Nightingale’s mysticism is largely unexplored. She modeled herself on the English mystics and actually began an anthology of mystical writings, called “Notes from Devotional Authors of the Middle Ages, Collected, Chosen, and Freely Translated by Florence Nightingale.” It was her belief that mystical prayer should not be reserved to monks and nuns, but should form a part of the everyday life of ordinary persons. This view was far in advance of her time and one that may very well have been due in part to Moore’s influence.

Many thanks for Barbara Dossey’s efforts to have Florence Nightingale included in the Episcopal Church’s “Lesser Feasts and Fasts.” Blessed Florence Nightingale’s feast day is Aug. 12, and she is commemorated by her co-religionists and friends as a woman whose reputation as a “healer and holy person had assumed mythical proportions, and she is honored throughout the world as the founder of the modern profession of nursing.”

(Rev.) John T. Farrell

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

Frederick, Md.

Celebrate With

I look to America to keep me well abreast in many areas—not least about what is going on regarding liturgy. As one who has been involved in liturgy for many decades, I understand that one of the fundamental theological shifts of the Second Vatican Council is that liturgy—certainly including Eucharist—is the work of the church. I’m confident that George Anderson, S.J., (Of Many Things, 7/2) subscribes to this teaching. May I respectfully suggest that it was just a slip of the word processor that he speaks of celebrating Mass “for” rather than “with” a small community of sisters.

(Sr.) Virgil Kummer, O.P.

Sinsinawa, Wis.

Health and Light

I was pained to read various parts of Eugene Kennedy’s article “Who Can Minister?” (7/2), especially his imprecise categorizations and hostile attitude toward a very large contingent of my generation.

Beginning with a selective reading of the Pauline letters, Kennedy proceeded to posit “health” as the sufficient condition for the agent acting with authority in the church. As it is not physical health of which he speaks, one must wonder what subjective conditions qualify as “healthy” to him: certain attitudes on doctrine, or perhaps specific understandings of ecclesiology?

Whatever his standards for health are, it is quite apparent that none of those who could remotely be described as conservative members of my generation fulfill the conditions. He criticizes those of us young people who critically engage our professors in the university or seminary: odd, since those very professors are in principle teaching us to become critical thinkers ourselves. Surely if such professors openly question the orthodoxy of other writers, implied by their discourse, we students must with equal tenacity hold them to a similar standard?

Or perhaps it is simply the fact that we are conservative that enflames Kennedy’s wrath. My generation comes to the church with little formation. We are rather ignorant about even basic doctrines and history, so when we do become curious we tend (like St. Augustine) to look to those who would seem to be the best teachers.

Kennedy tends to use images of light and illumination in his article as well, no doubt tapping into the conceptions many have regarding the “Enlightenment.” It would seem that wiping away the old distinctions regarding who can and should lead as ministers, with nothing to replace them but a vague notion of “health,” should more properly be called an “endarkenment.”

Nathaniel Hannan

Notre Dame, Ind.

Fresh Air

The articles by Eugene Kennedy and Bishop Frank Rodimer in your vocation and ministry issue (7/2) are outstanding. Kennedy’s is a breath of fresh air and is right on. Rodimer’s is concise and right on target too. Thank you for both, and congratulations to the writers.

(Rev.) John Jay Hughes

St. Louis, Mo.

Potential Gift

I find Eugene Kennedy’s assertions in “Who Can Minister?” (7/2) deeply troubling. His artificially exclusive distinction between the “healthy” and the “unhealthy” is, frankly, Orwellian in its use of technical language to label and exclude a targeted group. In the examples he gives, he blithely stereotypes contemporary seminarians, using ambiguously unbounded terms like “students,” “seminarians” and, perhaps most tellingly, “they” and “them.” In short, in his desire to present contemporary seminarians as “rigid” and therefore unfit to minister, Kennedy misses the potential gift that the life experience of these young men can be to the church if only formators know how to respond.

Michael R. Simone, S.J.

Toledo, Ohio

Burning Wires

I read with dismay the report in Signs of the Times (6/18) about how the Congregation for Divine Worship and Sacraments had stopped further work on the renovation of Archbishop Rembert Weakland’s Milwaukee cathedral. Has the litigiousness of the United States now infiltrated our church? Can anyone who disagrees with a bishop and has the money hire a canon lawyer in Rome and stop a process that has been approved by all the proper channels in the diocese and seems in accord with present law? An archbishop is publicly humiliated, and his diocese faces large cost overruns. I can only presume that Archbishop Weakland’s fellow bishops have foreseen with similar dismay the noxious possibilities for all local churches that this incident opens up and that they have been burning up the wires to Rome in protest.

William A. Barry, S.J.

Weston, Mass.

Opportunity for Ideas

Professor Jon Nilson’s article (5/28) was the comically predictable response of the professional academic class to the wonderful opportunity for Catholic higher education that Ex Corde Ecclesiae presents. Ex Corde Ecclesiae may very well be what is necessary for Catholic colleges and universities to differentiate themselves from secular institutions and help provide well-educated Catholic lay people to assist our bishops in proclaiming the Gospel message in a society that is in the process of adopting the false gods of materialism, death and moral relativism. As a nonacademic who lives in the business world and regularly sees anti-Catholicism and hostility to Christ’s Gospel face to face, the promise of Catholic colleges and universities making a renewed commitment to the Gospel and a renewed commitment to standing in solidarity with our priests, bishops, the pope and religious is wonderful news. Ex Corde Ecclesiae may very well be a great help in our call to a new evangelization and lead to a Catholic civilization replacing the present secular materialistic civilization that is taking root in America today.

As for the “liberal” hand-wringers who think that Ex Corde Ecclesiae is the doom of Catholic higher education: relax. This is America. No tenured academic ever loses a job for having goofy ideas.

Carl Blondin

Stillwater, Minn.

How Many?

Two comments on the July 2 issue. The pictures by Michael O’Neill McGrath, O.S.F.S., were wonderful. Thérèse’s “Thoughts of Suicide” brought tears to my eyes.

Archbishop Roger Schwietz’s “Recruiting Vocations” tells us there are 67,000 nuns remaining in American convents. That would be 37 percent of the peak population of 180,000 reached in 1966. Could he provide a list of congregations that retain 37 percent of their 1966 memberships? The several orders whose statistics I follow have 20 percent of their 1966 memberships. I think it would be hard to prove that there are more than 36,000 American nuns.

If Archbishop Schwietz is using the Official Catholic Directory as his source, he should read the disclaimer they publish on their title page about the information within. A sampling of five to 10 dioceses makes it clear that most nuns are counted twice, once by the dioceses where their motherhouses are located and again by the dioceses where they reside.

If nuns were listed by name in the O.C.D., as all priests, bishops, archbishops, cardinals, and abbots are, the constant confusion about their numbers would stop. Catholics are asked to contribute to the support of aging religious, but we are not trusted to know their true number.

Gerelyn Hollingsworth

Chesterfield, Mo.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
12 years ago
The health benefits of what nowadays is often referred to as a “spiritual life” have been discussed in many places and at many times; so also recently in articles and letters in America (7/30, 8/20). My experience over many decades of psychiatric practice confirms anecdotally what has been found by many studies conducted with rather impressive statistical rigor.

Still, even at the risk of weakening the argument, I feel obliged to point out that such a sequence of reasoning puts the cart before the horse. One’s spiritual life, or (at the risk of plagiarizing the Rev. Andrew Greeley or even Teresa of Avila) one’s “personal love affair with God” should not be in the service of one’s bodily health (even if, in fact, it happens to contribute to it), much less in the service of business or political success. Rather, all such secular pursuits, including maintenance of one’s physical health, should be in the service of, and contribute to, one’s spiritual life.

A truly spiritual person does not take time out from his/her other activities to spend it on communing with God. Rather, such a person takes time out, even if it be in percentage a larger part, from communing (consciously and explicitly, that is) with God, in order to take care of daily necessities. At least so believes Ignatius Loyola, according to the “First Principle and Foundation” of his Spiritual Exercises.

12 years ago
A letter by an Episcopalian priest, John T. Farrell (7/30), commenting on Mary C. Sullivan’s book on the correspondence between Florence Nightingale and Mary Clare Moore (reported in the article by John W. Donohue, S.J., “Sisters in Mercy,” 6/4) raised the thorny issue of Nightingale’s standing in the Anglican Communion. Father Farrell is under the erroneous impression that Nightingale was “reared in the Unitarian Church” but later joined the Church of England. She was baptized in the Church of England and remained in it all her life, although she early flirted with conversion to Roman Catholicism and always had difficulty with the complacency and social conservatism of her own church. There are strong Wesleyan influences in her background, for her family supported the dissenting churches in Derbyshire. True, some of her views were unconventional, especially for her time (they would be less so now), and it is not easy to classify her.

Nightingale read widely not only in the medieval mystics (your correspondent is right about the interesting material there), but St. Augustine, other church fathers, the Puritans, metaphysical poets, the German historical school, liberal French Dominicans of the 19th century, French Protestants, Wesley, Luther and on to contemporary religious tracts and novels. Her Bible is annotated in six languages in addition to English. She gave advice on an edition of the Bible for school children. She wrote sermons (which were not given in her day). She wrote theological essays. Her massive correspondence shows throughout a significant faith component. Those who subscribe to the “Unitarian” interpretation might check out Nightingale’s warm correspondence with evangelicals and Roman Catholics and the numerous references to the need to be “born again.”

The books by Sullivan and Barbara Montgomery Dossey on Nightingale make an excellent contribution to our understanding of this most interesting Christian woman and her “call to service,” but there is much more. The Collected Works of Florence Nightingale, publication of which begins late this year, will have four volumes on her spiritual journey and faith. That Nightingale is now included among the American Episcopal Church’s “Lesser Saints” is welcome news.


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