The Newton Maniac

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At summer camp— away from the smog-shrouded city—the Milky-Way glistened as diamonds flung upon their midnight-velvet backdrop. Each August, constellations fragmented as the Perseid Meteor Shower dropping stars to earth as fireflies, lightning-bugs and glow-worms. Camp’s where I learned to swim, ride horses, mangle crafts, scratch poison ivy, and engrave memories and friendships that endure even now.

PJ and I renewed our bond each June as if the school months between the summers hadn’t existed. We neither wrote nor called. In fact, I had no idea where he lived, but the unspoken link remained.

The camp director assigned us to the same cabin, named after the Lenape, a tribe that had once dominated these forests. PJ and I did everything together—meals, swimming, crafts and team sports. After supper, we shared the mess hall piano to play Heart and Soul. My left hand moved like a spider to key the bumba-dumba, bumba-dumba, bumba-dumba, bumba-dumba. PJ’s right hand added the, tink, tink, tink, datink, datink. We brooked no variation, because this was our song.

Between supper, the piano and the bugler’s mournful taps, our nighttime entertainment occasionally included ghost stories, none more frightening than those told by a Monsignor who visited from a nearby parish. He strolled about as the sun set—wearing his cassock decorated with purple buttons, piping and sash—greeting the boys from his town, but he smiled at all as we gathered under the stars in the middle of the baseball diamond.

The counselors brought him a wooden chair and we campers sat cross-legged before him, swatting mosquitoes until the Monsignor redirected the voice that had preached thousands of sermons, to utter tales of horror.

“Boys,” he’d intoned and looked about, “don’t ever go into the woods after dark. I’m telling you for your own good because there is a maniac running among the trees; it’s stronger than a thousand bulls, and has killed many over the years. I wouldn’t want you to join that number. I’d grieve, even if they ever found your body, to vest in black for your funeral.”

The Monsignor snatched our attention as he detailed the mangled corpses flung by the merciless, Newton Maniac. A shiver rattled my ribs as the goose bumps popped where sweat had just glistened on my arms. The whites of PJ’s eyes grew brighter as he bit his lower lip.

The Monsignor cupped his hand to his ear. “Can you hear the scream? Is that wailing in the forest, the Maniac, his most recent victim or a victim’s ghost?” He turned his head following the piercing shriek as it traveled from west to east.

We could trace the inhuman moan, rising in pitch, crossing the woods beyond our cabins. My grandpa often described the banshee’s screech. My dad said it was an old-country myth, but this scream was real and rushing at us. My knees knocked until I hugged them still. The night air retained enough heat to comfort us, so why my chill, I asked as the unearthly screaming tracked among the darkened hardwood groves. My lips moved in desperate prayers, but as the sound faded to the east, my heart-beat slowed back to normal.

Lest we grow complacent, the Monsignor reminded us, “The Newton Maniac had killed an entire family just a few days ago. The children were about your age.”

I glanced about at nodding heads and quivering lips. Even Jack, our counselor seemed deeply concerned. Later, as we prepared for bed, Jack confirmed the existence of the Newton Maniac, the horror of the recent deaths and our need to stay clear of the woods. He warned we’d best behave or the Maniac would come for us. PJ and I agreed we’d never hike through the woods even in broad daylight lest the Maniac count us among its victims. Nightly visits to the latrines required the company of PJ, our flashlight and our baseball bats should the Maniac leap from the dark.

On one of the last nights of that summer season, campers assigned to the Iroquois, banged on the walls of the Lenape’s cabin screaming, “The Newton Maniac’s coming through the woods. You’d better run.”

We of the Lenape cabin raised our baseball bats, rushed into the dark woods shouting our war cry, to engage the Maniac in battle.

The Iroquois campers stopped and laughed, “You Lenape are suckers!”

It was a foolish thing to say to a tribe, armed and ready to shed blood. Again, the scream of the Newton Maniac pierced the night, breaking the stalemate. The Iroquois campers scampered for safety. We of the Lenape ran to engage the Maniac, now approaching at a tremendous speed. We of the Lenape raised our bats, only to see the Maniac whiz by us into the night. We had prevailed, not over the Maniac, but over our fears and the taunts of the Iroquois. We marched back singing our victory chant, ignoring the Iroquois.

The Monsignor told no lie. A Newton Maniac sped, screaming among the trees. It had killed, usually at railway crossings. The Monsignor for dramatic effect never identified the Maniac as a train in the service of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad, nor mention that the deceased had neglected crossing signals and the Maniac’s warning call before the engine’s impact launched them and their shattered vehicles into the waiting branches.

History has consumed The Newton Maniac, the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad, the Monsignor, the camp and our final season before high school.

In our last minutes together, PJ and I warmed the piano bench for one more Heart and Soul. We left in silence so that final chord would always vibrate within us. I wonder now, how PJ, the Lenape and other campers fared over the decades. As I recalled those times and friends, I wished them well, especially, PJ, wherever he is.

If you’re out there PJ, I hope you remember Heart and Soul. Do you still feel the vibration?

 

Try this link for a musical accompaniment: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ibfJsyx6N_U

Drawing by Nancy Ann Mulcare (© 2014 Nancy Ann Mulcare)

The Newton Maniac (© 2014 Donald J. Mulcare)

Flavia 006: The Dead in their Vaulted Arches, by Alan Bradley

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Trains, planes and automobiles, along with Winston Churchill and a military escort greeted Hillary de Luce upon her return to her husband, her daughters and her ancestral estate: Buckshaw. Thus began episode 006 of the Flavia de Luce Mystery Series. Alan Bradley had left Flavia, his protagonist, the youngest of those de Luce daughters, dangling at the conclusion of volume 005, only to have her land in volume 006 with one foot in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and the other in Kim’s Game as described by Rudyard Kipling.

The Dead in their Vaulted Arches introduced major plot shifts, revelations, reconciliations and retributions. Relics of the past flickered and flew into view, unveiling secrets that stretched back through three hundred years of de Luce history and service to king and country.  Flavia’s new and more durable personal nemesis emerged, Undine: younger, equal and opposite, perhaps brighter and potentially more dangerous than Flavia. Was she a usurper, a snoop or just a lonely child looking for a friend?

Flavia passed through a substantial stage of metamorphosis to an elevated sense of power and confidence and yet at times she was more flustered than she had ever been. Most importantly, she did emerge as a far more formidable Flavia as she began her trek toward volume 007.

Reviews of mysteries, especially a series in which the initiated would have shunned spoilers other than those offered by the publisher, must focus on style rather than substance. Alan Bradley often invited the reader to tea, a break in the action, an apparent distraction, where the author installed words in place as would a jeweler carefully set a variety of brilliant stones within the gold of a magnificent brooch. There was no better way to review Bradley’s skill than to quote the author on various aspects of volume 006, or as he would have had Flavia say, “Let’s take another squint…”

At their current situation:

We were told the when, the where, and the how of everything, but never the why.

Churchill…still had certain secrets which he kept even from God.

Logical beyond question but at the same time mad as a March hare

At her father:

Windows were as essential to my father’s talking as his tongue.

He stood frozen in his own private glacier.

Father, the checkmated king, gracious, but fatally wounded in defeat

(With Churchill) These two seemingly defeated men, brothers in something I could not even begin to imagine.

At her sister Ophelia:

The image of bereaved beauty, she simply glowed with grief.

Feely had the knack of being able to screw one side of her face into a witchlike horror while keeping the other as sweet and demure as a maiden from Tennyson.

She knew me as well as the magic mirror knew the wicked queen.

Her complexion—at least since its volcanic activity settled down

Her voice suddenly as cold and stiff as whipped egg whites

At Flavia on Flavia:

I wanted to curl up like a salted slug and die.

I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand in case of overlooked jam or drool.

One of the marks of a truly great mind…is to be able to feign stupidity on demand.

The comforting reek of nitrocellulose lacquer

It smelled as if a coffee house in the slums of Hell had been hit by lightning.

That bump in her bloomers was me! (A comment on a photo of her pregnant mother)

My emotions were writhing inside me like snakes in a pit.

There is a strange strength in secrets which can never be achieved by spilling one’s guts.

I slept the sleep of the damned, tossing and turning as if I were lying in a bed of smoldering coals.

My mouth tasted as if a farmer had stored turnips in it while I slept.

My brain came instantly up to full throttle.

There are few instances in life where, in spite of everything, one had to swallow one’s heart and go it alone, and this was one of them.

Giving praise at every silent step for the invention of carpets

My knees gave off an alarming crack.

At flying:

And with a roar the propeller disappeared in a blur.

The roar became a tornado and we began to move.

And then a sudden smoothness…we were flying!

Beneath our wings the marvelous toy world slid slowly by…miniature sheep grazed in handkerchief pastures.

At trains:

The gleaming engine panted into the station and squealed to a stop at the edge of the platform.

(The train) sat resting for a few moments in the importance of its own swirling steam.

At music:

Each note hung for an instant like a cold, crystalline drop of water melting from the end of an icicle.

Humming mindlessly to herself like a hive of distant bees

The music faded and died among the beams and king posts of the ancient roof.

The organ fell silent as if suddenly embarrassed at what it had done.

At children:

They had lost more than one baby in the making and I could only pray that the next one would be a howling success.

“You’re a child.” “Of course I am, but that’s hardly a reason to treat me like one.”

As we await volume 007, we might expect a twelve-year-old Flavia who would have behaved not so much as her teen-aged sisters but as her mother Harriet. The relevance of the photo of Churchill’s statue in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada will become apparent to the readers of volume 006.

Bradley, Alan. The Dead in their Vaulted Arches. New York: Delacorte Press, 2014.

(© 2014 Donald J. Mulcare)

The Chronicles of Xan III: The Fire of Eden (OakTara Publishers, 2013)

The Fire of Eden (Antony Barone Kolenc, published by OakTara Press, 2013)

For better or worse, others have imposed major decisions and their consequences on the lives of children. Nevertheless, even young people have made decisions that affected the rest of their lives. In Chronicles of Xan III: The Fire of Eden like Adam and Eve, most of the characters in this mystery must decide between good and evil, life and death, hope and despair, which calling they should follow and where should they store their treasures. Once decided, the characters must pay the cost and reap the benefits of their choices.

The third phase of Antony Barone Kolenc’s Chronicles of Xan trilogy reveals long hidden secrets of his all too human characters. Their weaknesses fueled Xan’s doubts as to his own pathway. His uncle pressed him to accept his invitation to apprenticeship. The monks of Harwood Abbey offered Xan a place in their novitiate. His relationship with Lucy intensified as providence brought them together.

The story began as a Church-State conflict complicated plans for Brother Andrew’s ordination. Consequently, a party from Harwood Abbey, including its Prior, Father Clement, Brother Andrew, several other monks, Xan and a select group of orphans traveled north to Grenton Priory, more of a wayside hostel than a rigorous monastic community. Among the other wayfarers lurked swindlers, highwaymen and a mysterious stranger. Brother Andrew’s mother, her servants and armed guards, Lucy and her brother all converged on the Priory.  Brother Andrew’s family secrets and his early-life decisions came to light to the discomfort of many. As the assembled cast of characters awaited the arrival of the Prince-Bishop of Durham, a seemingly impossible theft raised suspicion that an evil magician had moved through walls or bewitched the guardians of a priceless treasure.

Meanwhile the children entertained themselves about the Priory. Once the official investigation of the theft began, Xan and his young friends coordinated their gifts and disabilities to address the mystery. Their adventures included surveillance, tracking the movements of priory guests, including the mysterious stranger and a foray into the lair of the evil magician.

At the conclusion of The Fire of Eden each of the many characters, especially Xan, Lucy, Father Andrew and their many friends from Harwood Abbey reached the point where they must each decide what to keep and what to let go in order to gain a better prize. Their lives could never be the same at least not until the author writes another book in the series.

Kolenc represents the conflicts in the lives of the young while offering hope that despite impossible circumstances, with the grace of our loving God and the assistance of loving friends, the people of God can overcome any situation to walk together through every storm life throws at them. In an often dark and hopeless world and a literature that offers little hope, Kolenc’s Chronicles of Xan calls out in the bleakness to guide readers around the obstacles and traps toward hope and happiness. The Chronicles of Xan trilogy belongs on the top of any school or personal reading list for the young and readers of ever age.

(© 2013 Donald J. Mulcare)

Race with the Devil by Joseph Pearce

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Raised in the Shire, he left its tranquility for an adventure that brought him through battles, dungeons and peril until he found an immense treasure. To possess it, he fought a monstrously evil dragon. We speak not of Bilbo Baggins, but noted Catholic biographer Joseph Pearce.

To know the identity of author Joseph Pearce, you must first meet Joe Pearce, just as you must first encounter Saul of Tarsus to fully understand the greatness of Saint Paul. Like Paul, Joseph Pearce endured more than one beating, stoning (actually they used bricks) and imprisonment. Teresa of Avila equated humility and truth. Through Race with the Devil, Pearce opens his early life to the world, revealing pain, promise and God’s hand in his miraculous transformation.

If you judge a book by its cover, particularly the dust jackets of Pearce’s 2012 Saint Benedict Press publications, Candles in the Dark and Bilbo’s Journey, beware the photos, rich in Hobbit-like dimples and engaging smile. This impression clashes with the cold, determined, mask-like face that stares from the cover of Race with the Devil. When first I viewed this image, I wondered as to the subject’s identity. Imagine my shock at the subtitle: “My Journey (What, this is an autobiography?) from Racial Hatred (This can’t be the noted Catholic author that I’ve read.) to Rational Love.” In this amazement, I share, but in reverse order, the impression of Abbot Richard Yeo, OSB, who in the year 2000, “seemed genuinely astonished that (Pearce) had not only become a Catholic but had written books such as Literary Converts and (his) biography of Chesterton of which (the Abbot) was clearly familiar.” Although mine appears the mirror image of the Abbot’s shock, we both rejoice that “God can indeed mould the most unpromising of clay.”

Pearce dedicated his conversion story to the memory of his father, Albert Arthur Pearce, who taught Joseph to love his heritage, to fistfight-observing the Marquis of Queensberry rules, to appreciate English literature and to educate himself throughout his life. Albert also reinforced powerful nationalistic sentiments and bigotry, all of which played a part in Joseph’s life and set the tone for Race with the Devil.

At the age of sixteen, Joseph founded, published, edited, distributed and wrote for the Bulldog, the newspaper of the Young National Front, an auxiliary of the National Front, a “white supremacist organization that demanded the forced removal of all non-whites from the United Kingdom.” Joseph’s precocious achievement brought notoriety and, if not awards, two all-expenses-paid prison terms. Pearce opposed the immigration of Jamaicans, Indians, Pakistanis and others. (Observe that in Candles in the Dark, Joseph embraced the Jamaican people and the ethnically diverse members of the Missionaries of the Poor.)

His anti-Catholic sentiments brought him “across the sea to Ireland,” not to Galway Bay, but Belfast, “On the twelfth of July when it yearly did come…”* to march with Orangemen, “to the sound of the drum.”* Unprepared for the deadly “Troubles” in Northern Ireland, Joseph nearly became a “statistic.” Many of his friends in the Orange Order later died in that conflict.

Pearce made both friends and enemies. As political positions changed some friends became enemies. In Race with the Devil, Joseph reaches out to his former friends, apologizing for infractions even as small as failing to return a borrowed book or record. Thanks to Albert’s influence, Joseph learned to say something nice even about his enemies, such as the Irishman who broke his nose. The kindness of strangers deeply impressed the young Pearce: the policeman who loaned him the price of a ticket to a Chelsea football match, an adversary who after a heated radio debate, invited Joseph to lift a pint at his favorite pub, as well as the American Jewish attorney who resigned from the British equivalent of the ACLU, when that organization refused to let him defend the anti-Semite Pearce

While still sixteen, Joseph, now a full-time employee of the National Front, commuted four-hours, round-trip each work day. If Hobbits lived in burrows, Pearce spent nearly the equivalent of a day each week in the “Tube.” He read his way back and forth beneath London, completing the mandatory list of White Supremacist, anti-Semitic and anti-Communist tomes. Although still a teen, Joseph’s critical thinking skills kept him from swallowing the entire bait and hook. His reading extended to Orwell to whom Joseph gives credit for part of his conversion. In contrast to Orwell’s bleak, inescapable despair, Joseph considered Alexander Solzhenitsyn a hero who continued to hope despite his confinement in the Gulag Archipelago. In time it was Solzhenitsyn who read the works of Joseph Pearce, opening the door to Joseph’s writing Solzhenitsyn’s authorized biography.

Conversion to Catholicism snuck-up on Joseph Pearce about the time of his second imprisonment. Solitary confinement, like the hours spent riding in the “Tube,” afforded Joseph time for spiritual reading, including two of Newman’s conversion stories, the works of Tolkien, Chesterton and others. Joseph emerged from the chrysalis of prison with his wings not quite ready for full flight. Nourished by the liturgy and a devotion to Our Lady, he still waged many a battle before his acceptance into the Roman Catholic Church and subsequent participation in the Catholic Literary Revival.

Like Bilbo, the dragon slain, Joseph had returned home with treasured faith, but the journey’s not quite done. It may be Joseph’s task to train a Frodo or a host of Frodos to meet and best even greater evils and rescue and share far more glorious treasures. I eagerly anticipate the sequel to Race with the Devil which may well flow from the pen of one of those fortunate few who now studies with this Catholic Literary Giant, Joseph Pearce.

*Modified from “The Old Orange Flute.”

(© 2013 Donald J. Mulcare)

Emusoi: Maasai Girls Tell Their Stories by Kasia Parham

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Kasia Parham relates the story of the struggle the Maasai of Kenya and Tanzania as they face extinction as a people. The Maasai have lost much of their traditional cattle raising lands through drought, encroachment from large-scale farms and the expansion of national parks that cater to lucrative tourist safaris. In response, many displaced, young Maasai men have migrated to cities in search of employment as security guards and other trades while the uneducated young women have remained at home, ill-prepared for the changes that swirl around them. Emusoi means: discovery or awareness, so The Emusoi Centre proposed an innovative alternative to pending extinction: the education of girls.

Gareth Thomas, a Minister in the UK Department for International Development wrote in the forward to this book, “educating girls is one of the most important investments any country can make in its own future.” For some, this is a radical concept. Too much of the world regards girls and women as property. That portion of the world asks, “Why would a father educate his daughter when he plans to trade her to her future husband, perhaps a much older man, already with many wives?” Maasai fathers have exchanged their girls, as young as twelve, for cattle or even cases of beer.

The author presents stories by six Tanzanian Maasai girls, a perspective from one of their teachers along with addenda and testimony by Maryknoll Missionary, Sister Mary Vertucci: Director of The Emusoi Centre. The author enumerates the benefits of and obstacles to the Emusoi project as she unravels the complex interactions within the ecological, political, social, economic and cultural forces arrayed against the survival of the Maasai.

At first appearance, this richly illustrated, 56 page book seems destined for a young audience. Actually, young adults may find its contents challenging, but will, perhaps learn why the Maasai girls and their mothers have placed such a high premium on education. Both generations have risked emotional and physical suffering, including running away from home and beatings by husbands and fathers. All of this happened so that educated girls could begin to save the Maasai from assimilation and cultural extinction.

The author’s startling description of the role of women in this ancient society will evoke an immediate response in all readers. The good news is that The Emusoi Centre and its mission to educate girls have endured. In its first ten years, the enrollment at Emusoi sponsored programs, rose from six to more than 600 girls in primary, secondary, university and graduate schools. Some early graduates of the Emusoi program have joined the Centre’s staff. These and future alumnae will insure the longevity of the Emusoi dream for generations of Maasai girls. Through the efforts of The Emusoi Centre, the Maasai may also endure as a unique people.

Unlike many developmental efforts that separate native peoples from their land, heritage and language, the program of The Emusoi Centre arms the Maasai with the means to resist the destructive influences of disease, poverty, ignorance, and bureaucracy, with women trained in medicine, business, education and law. The Emusoi Centre offers the prospect of a Maasai people surviving indefinitely on their own land, with the best of their culture intact.

This publication, certainly appropriate for school-wide teen reading programs, fits many a niche. Every school child in the developed world needs the perspective provided herein, not only as a lesson in cultural diversity, but as a means of appreciating their own educational and economic advantages. The book could serve as a prologue to that famous “coming of age” conversation between parents and children. It can assist citizens of developed nations as they refocus their world view to embrace and revere a broader vision of cultural diversity. It also details contact information and specific directions for channeling funds to The Emusoi Centre.

Candles in the Dark: The Authorized Biography of Fr. Richard Ho Lung and the Missionaries of the Poor, by Joseph Pearce

Candles in the Dark: The Authorized Biography of Fr. Richard Ho Lung and the Missionaries of the Poor

Joseph Pearce writes that Father Richard Ho Lung, known as the “Reggae Priest,” the Ghetto Priest,” the “Dancing Priest” and the “Renegade Priest” would rather be known as a “practicing priest,” setting a high standard for all clergy. Pearce suggests that Fr. Ho Lung may be the happiest man in the world. What is his secret? Pearce recalls his search for an answer during his visit to Bethlehem, a residence for severely disabled children: My…

“…eyes met the twisted and tangled bodies of broken childhood. There, in rows of cribs, one after another, children of all ages, from babies to teenagers, wriggled and squirmed in various degrees of helplessness. To my uninitiated gaze, it looked almost infernal, a place where the triumph of suffering seemed to call for the abandonment of all hope…. As I looked in stunned silence at the unwanted and abandoned dregs of humanity, bent by the brokenness of body or brain… I approached a girl of around eight-years-old…. As I took her hand, she returned my forced smile with a radiance of her own that transfigured the situation and exorcised the demons from my hardened heart…. Looking up at me was the radiant face of the child Jesus…. She had returned my pathetic effort with a smile that beamed with the light and delight of heaven itself.”

Pearce explains that Fr. Ho Lung and his Brothers derive their joy from their labors because they are more than social workers caring for the human needs of the poor. They are “servants of the broken body of Christ. Their work with the poor is not merely a job but a labor of love. They are laying down their lives for their friends.”

Born to Chinese Buddhist immigrants to Jamaica, young Richard Ho Lung had the advantage of not knowing he was poor. He lived without luxuries and even necessities, but his family gave and received assistance from their neighbors. Communal interdependence became a model for Father Ho Lung’s later efforts to relieve poverty in Jamaica. Young Richard’s only disappointments came when he witnessed his neighbors attempt to break free of their economic limits through self-destructive behavior: prostitution or robbery.

Franciscan Missionary sisters from New York served Richard his elementary education, spiced with music and evangelization. Richard (and eventually his family) accepted baptism. Buddhism helped Richard appreciate nature’s beauty. In Christianity he responded strongly to God as a person that he could embrace in the Body of Christ. Richard failed the entrance exam for the prestigious Saint George’ College. Fortunately, the Jesuit headmaster noticed something special in Richard, admitted him and guided him over the next four years. Life was good, but hurdles awaited Richard.

He attended the Jesuit’s New England house of formation during the spiritually turbulent 1960s. Fr. Martin D’Arcy, the famous English Jesuit warned his American confreres, “The whole thing is going to fall apart because we are too rich.” His warning proved prophetic. In 1983, a Jamaican newspaper reporter asked Fr. Ho Lung why the Jesuits in Jamaica had not a single vocation since he entered in 1959. He responded: “They have not yet come to grips with identifying themselves with the poor- at least not the American ones…. This mood (of self-centeredness), I think, prevents young men from choosing the priesthood.” Fr. Ho Lung left the Jesuits to establish the Brothers of the Poor, now called the Missionaries of the Poor.

Upon his return to Kingston, Jamaica he introduced reggae to the liturgy, not without controversy. Joseph Pearce recognized Fr. Ho Lung’s use of “traditional Caribbean music and rhythm” as an application an age old Jesuit missionary method of communicating with people in their own medium. Reggae brought the young to church, retreats and to personal prayer. The recording of “Sinner,” by “Fr. Ho Lung and Friends” originally intended as a fund-raiser for missionary projects topped the charts in the Caribbean earning Fr. Ho Lung fame as “The Reggae Priest.” Over time Fr. Ho Lung wrote dozens of religious songs, shows and operas in collaboration with his musical directors, Jon and Wynton Williams, the later a Baptist minister.

Civic and business groups, including the Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs invited “The Reggae Priest” to speak, but Fr. Ho Lung, “The Ghetto Priest,” gave the presentations. He criticized the Jamaican government’s staffing of social service facilities with political insiders rather than trained and caring workers. His descriptions of these grotesque environments embarrassed the government, but did stir the generosity of the private sector. He also challenged the Jamaican government’s willingness to accept foreign aid that promoted abortion as a solution to social problems. In response to the substantial needs in Jamaica, Fr. Ho Lung raised funds through concerts around the world, using the revenue to construct homes for the homeless, the deserted and the vulnerable. The Missionaries of the Poor thrived as it recruited from abroad to staff these homes and similar establishments in other countries.

Joseph Pearce allows Fr. Ho Lung to speak freely, challenging all Christians to embrace the cross and through it to find happiness. The reader is encouraged to appreciate her or his own existence and the beauty of creation, while recognizing the injurious spread of hedonism, materialism and convenience that lead to personal misery; physical and spiritual death. I strongly recommend this book to anyone in search of happiness, to those listening for their vocation in life and for anyone seeking to light candles in the darkness.

(© 2013 Donald J. Mulcare)

Selfless: The Story of Sr. Theophane’s Missionary Life in the Jungles of Papua New Guinea, by Sr. Immolata Reida, SSpS

Selfless: The Story of Sr. Theophane's Missionary Life in the Jungles of Papua New Guinea

This time-capsule, written in 1946 and published for the first time in 2013, transports the reader to the first half of the twentieth century. The author recreates the language, values and simplicity common to that time. The reader observes as the “Greatest Generation Ever,” grows to maturity.

Inez Maier, born in 1906, the baby of the family, although innocence personified, loved mischief. She viewed each boundary as a challenge, whether it was the fence around her family’s property or the Pacific Ocean. Her parents, often the last to find out, struggled with her early explorations.  The focus of her life sharpened when a missionary sister visited Saint Michael’s School. Inez decided that she too would become a missionary sister. In preparation she collected money for the missions (including the pot from her father’s weekly poker game). Inez strengthened her soul, body and mind through prayer, especially a devotion to the Blessed Sacrament; exhausting manual labor and diligent study, especially geography.

As a young girl, she favored horses, dogs, turtles and snakes over dolls. She cared little for fashions, but socialized, engaged in pranks, plays, practical jokes and proved an effective matchmaker. Never one to remain silent she challenged adults when she observed injustice or impropriety. Her academic and parish achievements earned her a New York State Regents Scholarship and an unsolicited Diocesan offer of a full scholarship to the Catholic University of America in hopes that she would later work for the Rochester Diocese. Instead, she completed a year of nursing school as she waited for admission to the Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters. In an effort to keep busy following her high school graduation, she single-handedly conducted the census for a new parish, exposing her to the need for missionaries in her own town.

During her years of religious training, Inez enjoyed a more complete participation in the liturgical life of the church. Along the way she practiced patience, a virtue that would support her for the rest of her life. She took the religious habit and the name Sister Theophane, SSpS, in honor of a recently beatified Vietnamese martyr and dreamed of her eventual departure for the foreign missions. Patiently she accepted an assignment to teach in the American home missions. The classroom proved more difficult for her, than she or her superiors imagined. They assigned Sr. Theophane to the completion of her nursing training and eventually she was asked to pack for work in Papua New Guinea, arriving there in 1935.

The photographs added to the original manuscript by the editor, Gregory J. Maier, one of her nephews, demonstrates how Inez emphatically embraced her role as missionary. Back straight, clothed in the traditional habit and veil, she sat upon a spirited horse or the seat of an outrigger canoe. She traveled hours to and from mission stations in every kind of tropical weather imaginable. She was often soaked from rain, river crossings, rough seas or sweat. She loved it. If the horse was afraid to cross a swollen, crocodile infested river, Sr. Theophane dismounted and led him across. She then led him back and remounted. Now that she had taught him not to fear, they crossed together.

She found that despite ceaseless and difficult labor, progress in the missions often proved elusive. Local customs and traditions, including a brutal indifference to the suffering of neighbors and even family members, challenged the imagination. Sr. Theophane remained focused and joyful. She would rejoice if after a difficult and dangerous journey she could bring a soul to the Lord, in the minutes before his or her death.

She demonstrates her attitude toward her calling in her description of a mission building:

“It’s a load of fun to live in such a weird house. The whole thing shakes at every step you take; all sorts of insect life enjoy the hospitality of the bush material, and funny little animals fall out of the roof quite often…. This is the life!”

She had fallen deeply in love. She loved her congregation, accepting every difficult, dirty and inconvenient assignment. When her Sisters came to the end of a difficult day, she helped them finish their tasks. When people at the mission stations needed medical assistance in the middle of the night, she gave up her sleep to ride horse-back in the rain or paddled over miles of open sea to reach them in time. Even as a prisoner in stifling hot solitary confinement, she amazed her Japanese captors with her ability to sing joyfully.

“She had always given herself entirely.” As she matured spiritually, “Her laugh was even more joyous…. Her strong soul had become mellow under the anvil of suffering. The beautiful work of the Lord, which she had tried so hard and successfully to hide, was shining through. Sister Theophane could no longer conceal the fact that she was constantly in communion with God.” Sister Theophane never grew old. She died in 1944, a victim of “friendly fire.” Her last words quoted the apostle Thomas, “My Lord and my God,” spoken as she reached toward the wound in her chest.

Through “Selfless,” the reader listens to Sister Theophane, often through quotations from her many letters and the testimony of her confreres within the Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters.  You might say that she was just an ordinary nun. She founded no order, started no movement nor did she perform miraculous deeds. What made her so special was that she gave herself joyfully and completely through her love for God and for her neighbors, giving herself especially to those who had no previous opportunity to hear the gospel and see the good news in action. This book resonates with happiness, love and innocence. It might appeal to mature young adults looking for their mission in life and to persons of every age who seek happiness through collaboration with the Holy Spirit. An understanding of the mystery of Sr. Theophane’s devotion to her Lord and her God require prayer and reflection. I have been blessed to have received the opportunity to read “Selfless” and begin the process of internalizing its message. I recommend it to all.

(© 2013 Donald J. Mulcare)