Professor Lawrence S. Cunningham’s vignette on St. John of the Cross presented a streetwise poet-mystic-reformer (1/30). John’s friendship with St. Teresa of ávila and her influence on him were also nicely presented. But St. John’s connections to the Society of Jesus and its influence on him were conspicuously absent.

Before entering religion, John of the Cross was Juan de Yepes, son of Gonzalo de Yepes and Catalina álvarez. Catalina was widowed and in 1551 had to move the family from Toledo in New Castile to the commercial town of Medina del Campo in Old Castile. She hoped that Gonzalo’s wealthy relatives would be of assistance and that her silkweaving trade would make enough money to support the family. The widow Catalina’s family did not receive all the assistance she might have hoped from the Yepes family, and they were often on the verge of starvation.


In the early 1550’s, a number of prominent merchants of Medina del Campo heard Peter Faber, one of the first Jesuits, preach at the court of Philip II in Valladolid. So impressed were they with his erudition and spirituality that they petitioned him to bring the Jesuits to Medina. In 1553 St. Francis Borgia, then comisario, or superprovincial, for the Spanish provinces of the Jesuits, laid the cornerstone of the new school. As with many Jesuit schools of that time, the philosophy of instruction was the modus parisiensis, or the pedagogical style of the University of Paris, which under the influence of humanism stressed, among other things, eloquentia perfecta in the spoken and written word through frequent and varied rhetorical and oratorical exercises.

Juan de Yepes, the future St. John of the Cross, was a scholarship student at that school from 1559 to 1563. The Jesuit school at Medina also stressed, following the pedagogy of the Fourth Week of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, that gifts freely received should be freely shared with others, that its students accompany their Jesuit teachers in catechizing the town’s poor children and helping at the local hospitals, where the town’s sick poor were housed. These were all beneficent institutions that the young Juan knew all too well from having spent time in them as a destitute boy.

It is curious how the influence of the three great Spanish mystics of the 16th century, Ignatius, Teresa and John, cross-fertilized one another’s lives and spiritualities and how the suffering that the child of an impoverished widow, Juan de Yepes, a scholarship student at a Jesuit school where he learned eloquentia perfecta in the written and spoken word, would one day blossom into that streetwise poet-mystic-reformer. As St. Teresa would say, God does indeed write straight with crooked lines.

Claudio M. Burgaleta, S.J.
Morristown, N.J.

Last for Generations

I read Thomas M. Whaling’s letter (1/16) noting the chasm between broad-spectrum encyclical Catholicism and born-againism. I’m not sure if I understand all the points of divergence he makes, but he ends by saying that the Maryknoll way is the true ecumenical way. On that point, I wanted to give some evidence in support of his statement.

Roy Assenheimer, M.M., was born in Philadelphia. He entered Maryknoll in 1952, was ordained in 1965 and was assigned to Japan. There, after serving in three parishes, he began a new ministry in 1977 for the recovery of alcoholics and drug addicts by establishing several Maryknoll Alcoholic Centers (MAC) and Drug Addiction Rehabilitation Centers (DARC). Today there are 73 centers throughout Japan. He was also co-founder and chairman of the board of the Asian-Pacific Addiction Research Institute (Apari). Father Roy died suddenly in Japan on Jan. 5, 2006, at the age of 67.

I met Father Roy only once, on the 25th anniversary of his ordination, when he came home for the celebration. He was shy and unaccustomed to all the fuss over him. Like all missionaries, he seemed lonely away from his people.

I don’t imagine Father Roy had much time to read and reflect on Gaudium et Spes, or Lumen Gentium or even Nostra Aetate. He was probably too busy putting them into practice. I don’t know if he was broad-spectrum and he certainly didn’t need to be born again. One lifetime was all he needed to undertake and finish, with God’s help, a work which will last for generations.

Connie Carr
Philadelphia, Pa.

Shining Star

Many thanks for the tribute to Monika Hellwig (The Vocation of a Theologian, by Leo J. O’Donovan, S.J., 11/28). Many times upon hearing her speak or reading her work, I experienced a woman of kind consideration and respect, a woman of grace and a person of unquestionable intellect and well-reasoned argument.

As a Generation X laywoman, a sometime theology student and pastoral minister, and mother of young daughters, I am deeply appreciative of Professor Hellwig’s example of a life of service to the Catholic community. Monika Hellwig, a nationally identifiable Catholic laywoman who lived two vocations, as theologian and mother, was and will remain a shining star for me.

Diane Michutka Fraser
Shaker Heights, Ohio

Optimism Renewed

I read with interest the letter by Revs. Joseph and Philip Breen (1/30) citing the shortage of priests as the main problem in the church today. They called it a grave crisis, noting the advanced age of many pastors, celibacy as an obstacle, disquiet over the number of homosexuals in seminaries and rectories, and the lack of support for vocations by mothers.

But I see the problem differently from the Breen brothers. Perhaps the shortage of priests is the work of the Holy Spirit, forcing changes that are necessary for the future but resisted by a celibate male culture still imbued with absolute power. They ask America magazine to lead discussion of related subjects foreclosed by Rome even to bishops under threat of removal from office, when in fact magazine editors face the same penalty.

Can these discussions include making celibacy optional for diocesan priests, asking why a married Catholic priest should first have to be an Episcopalian priest? What about discussion of women priests orhorrorsmarried women priests? Where are we headed, if not toward the revelation that nothing in Scripture forbids such? And tradition that blocks the spread of the word of God in sacrament and ministry needs to evolve, as the Spirit moves where it wills. (Still breathing?)

The longstanding clerical mindset that combines all administrative, legal and executive powers in one person, the bishop, unaccountable to the people of God, must pass into history as have other feudal structures. Broadening our understanding of priesthood, both in and outside of orders, allows the talents of all to find expression. It also helps foreclose the culture that brought us the sexual abuse scandal, abetted as it is by an inbred sense of exemption and privilege.

So the discussions will be held, whether in chanceries or not, as change makes its inexorable mark from below. Those little gray cells, as James J. DiGiacomo, S.J., called them (Am., 5/30/05), refuse to stagnate and in prayerful contemplation move forward with optimism and hope for a renewed, truly accountable church.

Carolyn Disco
Merrimack, N.H.

Do You Read Them?

Reading about the Abbey of Gethsemani in Of Many Things (12/5) by James Martin, S.J., brought back memories of my chance meeting with Thomas Merton in 1963 while another sister from my community and I were attending Ursuline College in Louisville. She received permission to visit a relative, a monk at Gethsemani, on Ascension Thursday, and a student offered to drive us to the abbey for a visit after their late-morning Mass. On the previous day the college had entertained the U.S. secretary of the treasury at the time, Kathryn Granahan. Little did we suspect that she also had an invitation to visit the monks.

You guessed it: we arrived at the abbey before the honored guest. As we parked the car, to our surprise a procession of monks, led by the abbot, approached and greeted our driver. Laughter rippled through the group as the abbot learned who we were and quickly dispatched us in the direction of the church. There the front steps were filled with monks awaiting the dignitary’s arrival. We were later told this was the first time that the entire community was on hand to greet a woman.

As we sat in the church balcony before Mass, the sound of jingling coin bracelets announced the arrival of Mrs. Granahan. And because of their special guest, the monks brought Communion to the balcony during the Mass instead of having us receive Communion in the vestibule after Mass, which was the usual procedure for guests.

Humble nuns that we were, we decided to wait quietly upstairs after Mass to avoid interfering with the reception for Mrs. Granahan. Soon, however, a monk appeared and said, Have you met Thomas Merton? You might as well come down and meet him, too. Father Louis was at the door and greeted each of us. To our comment, We have a lot of your books in our library, Merton dryly replied, But do you read them?

Later, in the gift shop, Merton came in, looking for people he was scheduled to meet. This was my chance to get his autograph, which he obligingly signed on a holy card.

Lorane Coffin, O.S.B.
Rapid City, S.D.


There is a solution to the first three of the Rev. Frank Almade’s difficulties (Response to A Blueprint for Change,’ 1/30). He says that many priests today want to be involved in spiritual activities and be primarily concerned with counseling, the sacraments and otherwise helping individuals.

Let the parish’s physical plant be administered by an elected board of trustees with real decision-making power. Let these people take on the responsibilities of the lights, leaks, locks, loot and lawns, as the author put it. Let them hire and supervise the parish staff, and let the parish priest be a spiritual leader instead of a manager. This approach is already successful in hospitals and other nonprofit organizations. Certainly there will be collaboration in areas of parish mission and goals.

If you think we lay people have a duty to participate in parish activities by employing one or more of the gifts God has bestowed on us, then give us some real responsibility so we are invested in the activities and our work cannot be undone by the whims of a pastor.

Peter J. Murray
Olympia, Wash.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
12 years 1 month ago
The letters by the Fathers Breen (2/6) and Carolyn Disco (2/13) concerning alarm over the vocation shortage could be tempered with just a cursory glance at the history of the Catholic Church. Since the time of Jesus, the church has experienced major crises and scandals. Despite all, it is a potent force in the world today. It is also the largest nongovernmental helping organization in the world. The Roman Catholic Church will be here long after we have crossed over.


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