Monthly Archives: September 2007

Little Books of St. Nicholas

No doubt you Catholics out there have occasionally felt deprived, by not having grown up reading Victorian inspirational tales for kids. Well, thanks to, feel deprived no more!

There’s a whole series of St. Nicholas books, all by the euphoniously and repetitiously named Francis Browning Drew Bickerstaffe Drew. This gentleman apparently was eventually ordained, as he began writing as the Rev. Francis Drew.

Oremus: or,  Little Mildred is the tale of an English village girl raised by a squire father who doesn’t particularly believe in God. An English Catholic family lives nearby, and Mildred learns faith from them. Naturally, all sorts of things ensue. (Naturally, this includes some kind of illness or disability for a major character, so that’s not even a spoiler!)

This book is hugely didactic, but it does have some good stuff in it. For example, when Mildred learns to pray, she doesn’t receive any magical good consequences from it. She becomes more patient, but her brothers don’t magically stop being mean. It ends up being surprisingly complicated for a kids’  book of this sort. Also, the novelist has some fun with anti-Catholicism, as the atheist father’s cussedness makes him extremely impatient with slurs on anything “papist” his daughter is doing. A lot of the flaws are those of a first novel.

The later the books get in the series, the better the writing gets.

Credo; or, Justin’s Martyrdom is a story for much older kids. In fact, it’s an Oxford story about Anglo-Catholics. All sorts of theological terms come up. Ave Maria; or Catesby’s Story is a sequel dealing with a young Catholic boy from the previous book, as he goes off to boarding school and has to learn to live with Protestants and dispel prejudice.

Ora pro Nobis; or, Tristram’s Friends is the tale of a Cornish rector who raises a shipwrecked Catholic boy too young to know his name or family.

The UK’s National Archives say that the good father was born in 1858, died in 1928, and served as a “Roman Catholic Chaplain to the Forces”. Time’s June 16, 1928 obituary page is more revealing:

Mgr. Count Francis Browning Drew Bickerstaffe-Drew, 70, famed Catholic prelate, author (Rosemary, A Roman Tragedy, etc., written under the name of John Ayscough), private Chamberlain in 1891 to Pope Leo XIII, and to Pius X in 1903, four times decorated for service as a War chaplain; in Salisbury, England.

So our guy made good! Here’s some other stuff he wrote pseudonymously:

John Ayscough’s Letters to His Mother During 1914, 1915, and 1916. War letters. (1919)

First Impressions in America. Nonfiction travel and commentary. (1921)

Levia-Pondera. Essays. (1913)

Mariquita: A Novel. (1922)

San Celestino: An Essay in Reconstruction. Historical novel about Pope St. Celestine V and his wanderings.

Pages from the Past. A memoir. (1922) has a ton more.

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Fr. Baltasar Gracian y Morales

This Jesuit is best known for his book of maxims, El Oraculo Manual, translated into English as The Art of Worldly Wisdom (among other names). The young George Washington even went to the trouble of copying many of his sayings into his journal. Definitely some good advice here for being as clever as serpents!

However, thanks to our friends, we can also read his less known work El Comulgatorio, translated by Mariana Monteiro as Sanctuary Meditations.

This looks like a pretty good devotional book to take to Mass with you. Drawing on Scripture stories, and in his characteristic plain but eloquent style, Gracian encourages you to improve your mental attitude towards God. There are meditations to encourage humility, and others to give confidence. Some examine gospel people’s attitudes towards Christ, and still others deal with Old Testament types and customs. Finally, with the blunt practicality of the old devotional books, he includes a meditation for receiving viaticum at the point of death. So yeah, you’re ready for anything….

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Missionary Linguists and Radio Astronomers

The diversity of the work done for God by the old religious orders is really amazing. Check out this page of obituaries for priests and brother of the Society of the Divine Word. You’ll find Toledo’s Br. Vincent Webb, who could do anything from work in a creosote factory to New Orleans Creole cooking and running a dairy farm; Fr. Henricus “Harrie” Vanderstappen, an art history professor who went from the Nazi frying pan into the Chinese Communist fire; Fr. Wilbert Wagner, who fled Holland on a bicycle and set up seminaries in Latin America;  Fr. John Koster, radio astronomer in Ghana and physicist/computer science teacher in Taiwan; Fr. Louis Luzbetak, cultural anthropologist, linguist, inventor of phonetic alphabets for tongues with no writing system, and missionary; and many others.

But it’s not as if there’s anything stopping people today from doing equally amazing things. With God, all things are possible.

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Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos

Fittingly, one of St. John Neumann’s students also stopped by the diocese of Toledo, and also strove for heroic sanctity. You can read about him over at Catholic Architecture and History of Toledo, Ohio.

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More on St. Alphonsus: Olden Days Parish from Hell

This weekend, over at Half Price Books, I saw that they still had that Volume II of the history of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood; and this time I realized that I’d be an idiot not to buy a rare-ish book like that. Volume I presumably covered the history of Mother Brunner, her large brood of kids who mostly became priests and nuns, her own founding of a lay adoration group which became a sisterhood of teachers and housekeepers, and her son Francis’ involvement with the Precious Blood movement and founding of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood. Volume II begins with said son already in America with a bunch of cohorts, setting up shop in the Ohio wilderness that would eventually become known as “God’s Country” for its many churches, and serving the German-speaking immigrants there. They would soon be joined by a large chunk of the Precious Blood sisters, who proceeded to grow like nobody’s business.

But first, they had to survive… St. Alphonsus Parish! (Dun dun dunnnnn.)

St. Alphonsus Parish was founded by the same pious group of German settlers who founded Peru, Ohio, and in the same place. (Btw, the parish was originally named “St. Michael”. Later on, it was changed to St. Alphonsus, probably referring to St. Alfonso Turibio Mongrovejo, bishop of Lima in Peru. But I’ll call it St. Alphonsus here.) The catalyst for the parish was the “Waldschwester”, Sr. Francisca Bauer, once a Sister of Holy Providence but who left and went to America with her brother and his family. She continued to live like a sister, in a log cabin hermitage, and was certainly hard-working, charitable, and devout. Like the Ohio sisters who would follow her, she was skilled with axe, hoe, and gun as well as rosary and asceticism. She helped many people and donated the land for the church, and many felt that she died in sanctity.

But man, do you get the impression that she was a pain in the butt to live with. She helpfully designated herself cook and housekeeper to the Redemptorist priests; but apparently felt she had the right to be parish administrator, too, since after all she’d got the thing going. She apparently also felt that when Sister was fasting or performing austerities, so should the priests….

She and her fussing and feuding community did not drive off young Father John Neumann, who was made of sterner stuff (and would eventually become Bishop of Philadelphia, die far too young, and in 1977 be declared a saint). But after Neumann’s term of duty was done, the next priest apparently got sick of the whole thing and pleaded to be sent somewhere else.

Just at that point, the Bishop of Cincinnati was presented with fresh missionary meat. Since the new Precious Blood priests were yet fully trained, Brunner wanted them to stick together in community for a while. So the entire American wing of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood ended up in St. Alphonsus, the Parish from Hell.

And since the Precious Blood Sisters weren’t in America yet, guess who acted as cook and housekeeper? Why, the Waldschwester, of course!

There was tons of other stuff going on, too — feuds with English-speaking Catholic priests, feuds with priests or schoolteachers wandering around from parish to parish making trouble,  internal tensions in the orders, cholera epidemics…. Ohio went from being all Cincinnati to adding the Cleveland diocese (at the poor Cincinnati bishop’s request), and the Missionaries of the Precious Blood incorporated in Ohio!

All in all, it was very enlightening reading. We never learned about any of this stuff either in Ohio history or in parochial school. If people realized that the Church always had a lot of challenges (and infighting), and that it’s not just us who are specially unholy, I think they’d feel encouraged.


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RIP Robert Jordan

But may perpetual light shine upon James Oliver Rigney, Jr. — the man behind “Robert Jordan”, “Reagan O’Neil”, et al.

Don’t much care about the Wheel of Time, but I know people who do. So I’m glad to hear that he left notes and an outline for finishing his current book — which was meant to be the end of the series. It shows a care for his fans and his legacy.

(BTW — I’m kinda sorry that Bellisario’s Airwolf period didn’t intersect with the Jordan fame days — and this becoming broad public knowledge earlier, of course. Imagine Hawke running into his old chopper buddy who’s now a fantasy writer, and what havoc might ensue! It’d make for a great “ripped from the headlines” story idea, yet another excuse to make gentle jokes about sf conventions with cameos from fans, or even one of the odd Bellisario fantasy/horror eps. Heck, it would have been cute even back in the non-AU eighties, because Jordan was writing pretty good Conan novels and there’s a lot of story gold there.)


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Augustinian Rule Online

No purty pictures on this academic site, alas. However, I’ve never seen the Augustinian Rule before, and it’s tons shorter than the others I have. Also, since the Augustinian Rule has its own Irish monastic quest legend attached, I naturally wanted to take a look!

Of course it’s in Latin.

UPDATE: But it’s also available in English and French. (Sorry for the confusion.)


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