Archive for April, 2022

Catherine of Siena’s Self Image

I took some time to transcribe the chapter on “Self-Knowledge” and Catherine of Siena from my book Praying with the Pivotal Players since I thought it pertains to a lot of conversations we’re constantly having these days.

You can get the book here. I don’t ordinarily link to Amazon, but WOF has put it out of print, and there are lots of used copies there. I was pretty proud (oops) of that book, and think it’s worth a look, even if you’re not using it in conjunction with the series.

For I told you in the beginning that one comes to knowledge of the truth through self knowledge. But self knowledge alone is not enough: it must be seasoned by and joined with knowledge of me within you. This is how you found humility and contempt for yourself along with the fire of my charity, and so came to love and affection for your neighbor, and gave them the service of your teaching and your holy and honorable living.

By any standard of any era thirteenth or twenty-first—Catherine of Siena was a remarkable woman. In fact. the twenty-first century finds much to praise her for, and in terms that it finds comfortable and familiar. She was successful and achieved a great deal. She enjoyed widespread fame and popularity. She was respected and had great influence. She thought and even lived outside the box in ways quite unlike other people, especially women of her time. She used the gifts and talents God gave her in heroic service to others.

Catherine had a lot to be proud of. She must have felt very good about herself!

But wait. What is this?

In the passage above, from Catherine’s Dialogue, she relays her experience of God’s word to her, recounting how she had found ‘humility and “contempt’ for herself.

Is this a good thing? Contempt for oneself? That sounds a lot like having a negative self-image, and we all know how important it is to avoid that.

Perhaps translating Catherine for my own time is not as simple as I thought. Perhaps she, like Francis—and every other Catholic saint—confounds my sense of what life is about, makes me suspect that I am formed more strongly by modernity than I thought, and plants me right in the middle of that paradox that comes directly from Christ himself:

He would save his life must lose it. The last shall be first.

The paradox, as it reaches me through Catherine’s experience. Is that of a fruitful, joyous, peaceful life built on a foundation of “contempt” for oneself. What does this mean?

It begins with the reality, so essential to Catherine, of truth. The fundamental truth, of course, is nor an idea, but God. The only real way to be is in relationship to the Truth that created us so that we can, indeed, know him. When we know who God is. we know who we are. When we know who we are—beloved, weak, tempted creatures made in God’s Image, in need of redemption lest we be lost—we can reach out to the only One who can, indeed, save us. And here rests the paradox: as we embrace Truth, we humbly accept our emptiness and dependence on God, and then we can finally be filled—to overflowing, even.

Here is the way, if you would come to perfect knowledge and enjoyment of me, eternal Life. Never leave the knowledge of yourself. Then, put down as you are in the valley of humility, you will know me in yourself, and from this knowledge you will draw all that you need.

So this denial of self, humility, and what Catherine calls “contempt” —these are not at all about hatred of one’s self as God’s creation (which would be blasphemous), a disparagement of one’s own existence or of human nature and qualities.

It is simply the only truthful way to live in the real world, the only honest way to walk on this earth permeated by the transcendent that brought it forth and sustains it still—to understand my place: a weak creature graced, if I say yes, with the chance to be filled to overflowing with infinite Love.

This helps us understand Catherine’s life and activity. We speak of-success” and “achievement,” but Catherine uses other language. She speaks of understanding her own smallness and weakness, accepting it, and only then being radically open to God’s grace at work in her. She would not claim credit, as we would give it, for her ‘abilities”: her boldness, courage and self-assurance, her willingness to stand out, her defiance of convention, her leadership, her spiritual insights.

The saints are a varied lot. They are extroverts. Introverts. rich, poor, young, old. artists, queens. beggars. scholars, and doorkeepers. But all of them, Catherine included, embody authentic humility. Their sense of a life well-lived challenges mine. Success? Achievement? Opportunity? Talents? I some-times wonder how to navigate all of those values, especially as a disciple of Jesus. I’m here on earth right now. I’m willing and able. What am I supposed to do and how am I supposed to figure it out? In Catherine. I get a glimpse of another landscape, one not that far away after all, one peopled by those who know the truth of who they are, how precious and yet how small; who know their own weaknesses; and who know that God’s infinite strength is as close as their own fiat.

By this gentle glorious light the soul sees and rightly despises her own weakness: and by so making a fool of herself she gains mastery of the world, treading it underfoot with her love, scorning it as worthless.

We like to say that Christian discipleship is characterized by paradox – and there you have it – right there, in Catherine’s call to nothingness for the sake of everything, for a world we are called to tread underfoot with our love, a world that we scorn as worthless.

More on St. Catherine of Siena today.

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St. Catherine of Siena

Today, of course, is her feastday.

From a couple of years ago, a column in Aleteia  that is basically an excerpt from the book Praying with the Pivotal Players and the sections on Catherine:

Blood. Some of us are wary of the sight of it or even repulsed, but in Catherine’s landscape, there is no turning away. The biological truth that blood is life and the transcendent truth that the blood of Christ is eternal life are deeply embedded in her spirituality. We see these truths in the Dialogue, in passages like the one above, and even in her correspondence.

For in her letters, Catherine usually begins by immediately setting the context of the message that is about to come:  Catherine, servant and slave of the servants of Jesus Christ, write to you in his precious blood….

The salutation is followed by a brief statement of her purpose, which, by virtue of Catherine’s initial positioning  of her words in the context of the life-giving blood of Jesus, bear special weight and authority: in his precious blood… desiring to see you a true servant….desiring to see you obedient daughters…desiring to see you burning and consumed in his blazing love…desiring to see you clothed in true and perfect humility….

In both the Dialogue and her letters, Catherine takes this fundamental truth about salvation – that it comes to us through the death, that is, the blood of Christ – and works with  it in vivid, startling ways. She meets the challenges of describing the agonies and ecstasies of the spiritual life with rich, even wild metaphors, and the redemptive blood of Christ plays its part here. For as she describes this life of a disciple, we meet Christ’s friends, followers, sheep, lovers as those drunk on his blood, inebriated. They are washed in the blood and they even drown in it:


Here is the scan of the first page of one of the chapters on Catherine from Praying with the Pivotal Players. I’ve transcribe the whole chapter in the following post, which is here.

In 2016, Siena was a part of our three weeks in Italy. It did not end up being the thoughtful pilgrimage day I had for years envisioned. We did not stay overnight there, but stopped for an afternoon on the way from our days in Sorano to Florence. And then it rained. Because of that, and because of restrictions on photography in many of the Catherine-related sites, my photos are limited…but here are some of them.

Oh, and of course, Catherine is also in the Loyola Kids Book of Saints.


She’s under “Saints are people who surprise others,” along with Celestine V, Simeon Stylites and Joan of Arc.

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Sts. Louis & Gianna

Today’s the memorial of St. Louis de Monfort, St. Gianna Molla, along with St. Peter Chanel, and of course many others, as per usual.

Monfort is in the Loyola Kids Book of Saints, included in the section, “Saints are People Who Teach Us New Ways to Pray” 

(Along with St. Benedict, St. Dominic and St. Teresa of Avila)

"amy welborn"

Speaking of St. Louis de Montfort – here is a good article about his impact on John Paul II:

“Reading that book (True Devotion to Mary)”, he said, “has marked a decisive turning point in my life. I said ‘turning point’, although this is a long inner journey…. At that very moment this unique treatise came into my hands, one of those books which it is not enough ‘to have read’. I reread it constantly and certain passages in succession.

“I soon realized that the book contained something fundamental over and above its baroque style. The result was that the devotion to the Mother of Christ of my childhood and my adolescence gave way to a new attitude, a devotion that welled up from the depths of my faith, as at the very heart of the Trinitarian and Christological reality”.

In the book Crossing the Threshold of Hope by John Paul II (in which the Pope is interviewed by Vittorio Messori who wrote the introduction [English edition, Jonathan Cape, 1994]), the Holy Father responded to a precise question from the interviewer.

“Totus tuus. This phrase is not only an expression of piety, or simply an expression of devotion. It is more. During the Second World War, while I was employed as a factory worker, I came to be attracted to Marian devotion.

“At first, it had seemed to me that I should distance myself a bit from the Marian devotion of my childhood in order to focus more on Christ. Thanks to St Louis de Montfort, I came to understand that true devotion to the Mother of God is actually Christocentric, indeed, it is very profoundly rooted in the mystery of the Blessed Trinity, and the mysteries of the Incarnation and Redemption” (pp. 212-213).

In the book Gift and Mystery. On the 50th anniversary of my priestly ordination (Vatican Publishing House, 1996) John Paul II made this confession: “At one point I began to question my devotion to Mary, believing that, if it became too great, it might end up compromising the supremacy of the worship owed to Christ….

“I was greatly helped by a book by St Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort entitled Treatise of True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. There I found the answers to my questions. Yes, Mary does bring us closer to Christ; she does lead us to him, provided that we live her mystery in Christ….

“This treatise by St Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort can be a bit disconcerting, given its rather florid and baroque style, but the essential theological truths which it contains are undeniable. The author was an outstanding theologian. His Mariological thought is rooted in the Mystery of the Trinity and in the truth of the Incarnation of the Word of God” (pp. 42-43).

Of course, it’s also the feastday of St Gianna Beretta Molla, who’s also in the Loyola Kids Book of Saints, under “Saints are people who love children,” along with Nicholas, John Bosco, and Elizabeth Ann Seton.

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Wednesday Random

I’m on the road today, so this comes to you pre-scheduled.

  • This week’s posting, aside from this kind of randomness, has been centered on repurposing bits of a presentation I did this past weekend. Here’s today’s post, and you can wander backwards from there.
  • I am still processing this week’s Better Call Saul – I’ll have a post on that (and the season so far) on Friday.
  • Today’s Gospel is part of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus from John. Here’s the first page of the pertinent entry from the Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories.

Funny story about that.

I don’t know how other publishers work it, but when I’ve had a book with illustrations published the process goes like this: I send specs, as I write, of what the illustrations should contain. Guidelines for the artist. Then, as the artist completes his or her work, images are sent to me for approval. Most of the time, of course, they are absolutely fine. But when this was sent to me, I immediately wrote them back saying…big problem here. The background is….daylight. 

Because, of course, Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night is a pretty important element of the narrative…

Fortunately, a quick fix!

The final show of the 2022-2023 season will be The Song of Bernadette, presented May 19 – June 11, 2023. This world premiere developmental production, presented in partnership with Indie Theatrical and by Special Arrangement with Buena Vista Theatrical, is a breathtaking musical based on the novel ‘The Song of Bernadette’ by Franz Werfel. It tells the true story of Bernadette Soubirous, a young and impoverished girl living in the French town of Lourdes who sees a vision that would change her life, the town of Lourdes, and the world forever.

This inspiring and empowering story of hope and perseverance is composed by Broadway’s Frank Wildhorn (Jekyll & Hyde, Bonnie & Clyde, The Scarlet Pimpernel).

Here’s a song. “Tear it All Down.” It strikes me as the “Let It Go” of this production. Take that for what you will.

And another one – same mood. “Living Out Loud.”

I mean, I hate this style of music anyway – is it a “style” or really just a template? Anyway. These songs strike me as having been written, not in service of any story – especially this one – but more to be used in innumerable auditions and show choir performances, over and over again….Lord.

Change the world/Make it shine/Word by word/One girl at a time/Maybe if the world can change/It’s better off than before I came/I will have done you proud/Living out loud..

Can you see it? Can you?

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Fray Pareja

Continuing to share the fruits of my research for a recent presentation – let’s move to look at the work of Fr. Francisco Pareja. Who was he?

Sorry to be lazy but:

Friar Francisco Pareja (d. 1628) first traveled to Florida from his homeland Spain in 1595. As friars of the Franciscan order, Pareja and the eleven priests who accompanied him to Florida followed Francis of Assisi’s example of living a peaceful life and helping the needy. An ethnographic and historical source, the Confessionario was originally written in Spanish and Timucuan in 1613 in an effort by Franciscan priests to introduce the sacrament of confession to the natives of Florida. Though Pareja would later write several other books in and about the Timucuan language that would lead to his being recognized in 1614 as the unofficial scholar of the Florida Franciscans, his Confessionario stands out amongst his other works because it offers insight into the lives and motivations of the Spanish explorers as well as the Florida natives.

The site of San Juan del Puerto is Fort George Island, in Jacksonville across from the Mayport Naval base.

The website for the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve, where the mission was located.

From Wiki:

His primary historical importance was as a linguist: he developed the first writing system for the American Indian Timucua language. In 1612 he published the first book in an indigenous language of the United States, a catechism in Spanish and Timucua. From 1612 to 1627, he published eight other works in Spanish and Timucua, for the use of his teaching brothers; six of his works survive. He taught Timucuans to read and write within six months.

You can see five of these works on the site of the New York Historical Society.

How were the printed? The text was sent to Mexico City, where it was typeset and printed, then books sent back to Florida. In the early 17th century, while the English were trudging around Jamestown.

A portion of the Confessionario is translated here.

Are you a doctor? Did you cure someone badly in such a manner that they had to call you again and give you something more? In order that they pay more, have you said: if you don’t give me something, the sickness that you have will return?

Have you cured anyone with prayers to the Devil or with the ceremony of adulation? Have you cured some person, entreating the Devil to improve him and doing and saying those things that he commands be taken out and done, have you done this? Have you produced a new fire or made a fire apart to cure someone? Have you believed that with these prayers and superstitions a person can be cured?

When they are running for some prize or stake, have you made someone in the race faint with some herbs? Have you taken an herb to run faster than the other in order to take the bet or the prize that they put up?

After someone ill has given you something to be cured, have you not returned until he pays you more?

There are other documents related to Spanish Florida at the same site. For example, a translation of a friar’s account of the version of the ball game played among these peoples here.

A sixth work of Pareja has only recently been discovered – in the Oxford library by a Florida scholar:

A Flagler College professor has discovered a rare Spanish-Timucua book that will help researchers learn more about the native people of St. Augustine.

The book was written by Friar Francisco Pareja in 1628, and its title translates in English to “Part Four of the Catechism in the Timucua and Castilian Languages, which treats the manner of listening to the Mass and its ceremonies.”

The book is a rare find because the native Timucua were wiped out by disease, war and slavery, and their language is no longer spoken.

The last time a Timucua book was found was back in the 1800s. Two books published in 1612 are the oldest written materials in an indigenous language of the present-day U.S., making this book another valuable piece of history.

Professor Timothy Johnson, who teaches religion at Flagler, discovered the book while on sabbatical for the fall 2019 semester. He was researching Spanish-Timucua sermon stories from 17th century Florida and came across a reference to the book in the Codrington Library at Oxford University in England.

“I thought, ’This must be a mistake.’ Scholars had no knowledge of him publishing a book in 1628,” Johnson said. “I got a knot in my stomach because I knew this was going to be something totally new.”

The book can be viewed here.

Johnson wrote about the discovery for an issue of the St. Augustine Catholic last summer. You can read it here.

So, why the fuss about a book of some 129 folios? The title begins to answer this question: The Fourth Part of the Catechism in the Timucuan and Castilian languages which treats the manner of listening to the Mass and its Ceremonies. Published in Mexico, this may be the only extant liturgical catechism produced in Mexico during the Spanish Colonial Period. Tracing the trajectory of the volumes Friar Pareja published with the assistance of Timucuaco-authors, we realize that earlier works treating the foundations of faith, baptism, confession, and Eucharist culminate in the celebration of the sacred mysteries of the Mass found in The Mass and its Ceremonies.

Similar to other period catechisms, The Mass and its Ceremonies begins with a series of questions and answers regarding why someone should go to church. … This introductory section also describes the benefits of holy water and concludes with a prayer to be offered when entering a church:

“I will enter Lord into your house and temple, and confess and adore your holy name, Amen Jesus.”

The substance of the following folios is dedicated to commenting, in both Spanish and Timucua, on phrases from the Latin Mass and subsequent prayers. A striking trait of both linguistic versions is the detailed and extended focus on the Via Crucis of Good Friday before the consecration and The Our Father preceding the sign of peace.

Since the prayer that Christ taught his disciples, the Our Father , holds such a prominent place in the celebration of the Eucharist, it is wonderful to find that Friar Pareja and his fellow Timucua author(s)offer a rich commentary on each petition.

Evident are the hardships of daily life in the Spanish and Timucua Christian communities. When elaborating on the seventh petition, “And liberate us from evil,” they write in part,

“All powerful and eternal God, liberator of human weakness and sickness, and of the infinite, almost unnumberable evils that surround, enclose, tire, and squeeze us in the course of a miserable life: Consider well that we are not forgetful of you, nor lose sight of you in the necessities of each day, hunger, thirst, heat, cold, plagues, many types of sickness, wars, fires, flooding, heresies, errors, schisms, and affliction. Against so many evils, we are without arms, forces, and capabilities. You are our recourse, a city of refuge and protection.”

This commentary on the perils of life, a meditation on the Lord’s passion, prayers, and other reflections shared by those who gathered to celebrate Mass in and around the city of St. Augustine in the 1600s, offers a glimpse into a rich, forgotten era of Christian history. The turn of each folio of The Mass and its Ceremonies confirms a unique and now lost expression of multicultural faith in the 1600s and belies the long-standing stereotype of Native American illiteracy

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Continuing our recap of some interesting points from the presentation I gave at a local parish this past weekend.

Let’s circle back to the beginning – to La Florida.

When it comes to European missions to the Western Hemisphere, what gets our attention are the missions in South and Central America, Mexico and California, as well as the French – mostly Jesuits – in Canada and adjacent present-day United States territories.

But what about Florida? Okay, there’s Saint Augustine. But was there anything beyond that?

There certainly was – and it was substantial. But because of historical circumstances, territorial issues and an environment that’s not amenable, to say the least, to preservation of archaeological evidence, the efforts of these missionaries does not have the place in historical memory as the others.

The Spanish made various efforts to figure out Florida before Menendez claimed St. Augustine in 1565, beginning with Ponce de Leon, continuing through de Soto and others whose efforts failed for various reasons, including hostility from those whose home the land was, no obvious natural resources to exploit and then things like hurricanes.

Once St. Augustine was settled, the missionaries set out – the string of missions in La Florida stretched across to Pensacola and then up the coast as far as Parris Island, South Carolina.

A list of missions.

Some maps:

The website for St. Catherine’s Island, Georgia, with very active archaeological activity.

Florida has attempted to designate a tourist trail for this “Camino Real” – for which they certainly deserve an “A” for effort – except : “There are no standing remains of any Florida missions and few remnants of the road that connected them.


Aside from St. Augustine, the major site is the mission of San Luis in Tallahassee. The website is here, and it looks like they’ve done a nice job with it.

(Stone in middle photo is, they say, the foundation of the chapel’s baptismal font)

So what happened?

Well, the Spanish lost Florida, that’s what. After the French-Indian War, Spain, which had allied with France, was given the choice to hand over either Florida or Cuba to the British. They chose Florida. At which point all of the Spanish and most of the Christian native peoples left. By the time of American independence, there were eight Catholics in the territory of Florida.

But even before that, the string of missions had been essentially destroyed by British incursions, formal and informal, most of the time with allies of native tribes like the Creek. The British of course did not like the Spanish being down there, and they particularly didn’t like the fact that slaves who had escaped from British territory were heading for freedom in Spanish Florida.

In 1702, the governor of Carolina, James Moore, led an raid on St. Augustine. He destroyed the missions on the coast and much of the settlements around the town, but not the fortress, and the effort was considered an expensive failure. Chastened and humiliated and stripped of his powers, he seethed and decided to return, which he did in 1704, this time with the goal of destroying the Spanish presence outside of St. Augustine, which he did – burning, pillaging, and enslaving.

More on that in a minute.

So let’s talk martyrs –

First, in 1597, the Georgia Martyrs – five Franciscans killed because a chief, who had been married sacramentally, was told that he couldn’t take a second wife.

From the site dedicated to their cause:

Friar Luis Geronimo de Oré (a Peruvian Franciscan friar) recorded in 1618 after visiting La Florida, that on September 1597, the friar assigned to the mission of Tolomato (near Eulonia, Georgia) did not allow a baptized, Guale man to take a second wife. Juanillo, who was the heir to a Guale chiefdom, opposed Friar Pedro de Corpa’s fidelity to Christian teaching on marriage and killed him on September 14th, 1597. Juanillo and the men he assembled continued to the other missions to kill all the friars.

Before arriving to Saint Catherines Island, Juanillo ordered the chief of the island to execute the two friars stationed there, Friar Miguel de Añon and Friar Antonio de Badajoz. Unwilling to carry out the order, the chief begged the friars to flee south to the mission on San Pedro Island (present day Cumberland Island), but the friars refused to believe the rumors of coming murder. Once Juanillo and his men reached Saint Catherines, the two friars were brutally killed after they prayed fervently inside the mission, today marked by twelve palm trees.

The Guale men also killed Friar Blas de Rodríguez near Darien and Friar Francisco de Veráscola as he returned by canoe from Saint Augustine to his mission on present-day Saint Simons Island.

A sixth friar, Francisco de Avila, was kidnapped and experienced horrible tortures until he was liberated months later.

Then the Florida Martyrs.

In 2015, the cause of the Florida Martyrs was introduced to the Vatican out of the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee. Here’s the site dedicated to the cause which includes plans for a shrine. The martyrs whose cause is being proposed is a group of over 80, mostly indigenous laity, but also including seven Spanish lay persons, Franciscans, Dominicans and one Jesuit, all martyred at various points between 1549 and 1761.

Here’s a list.

A couple of articles, first one focusing on Alberto Cuipa, a lay catechist, married husband and father, who was martyred in Moore’s raids:

La Concepcion de Ayubale was over a twenty mile run from San Luis. Along the way, Antonio and his companions stopped to see a Franciscan priest named Fr. Parga to receive absolution from their sins before confronting the British. After blessing the men, Fr. Parga told Antonio he was joining them for the defense of Ayubale. When Antonio protested, Fr. Parga declared, “I must go and die with my children!”

When Antonio and the others arrived, they found Ayubale in a state of chaos. The British attacked with overwhelming force. None were spared. Fr. Miranda, the local pastor along with twenty-six men had gathered the woman and children who had not been killed into the parish church where they sought to fend off the British with bows and arrows. The assault began at 7:00 a.m. that morning. It was now late afternoon.

Antonio and his small group of Indians were no match for the assailants. They were quickly captured. The British and Creek forces needed to find a way to humiliate these Catholic fools who attempted to stand in their way. As the aggressors looked around the burning rubble, they caught site of a series of wooden crosses stationed around the church. That was it! What better way to mock these men then have them die in the same way as their God.

The captors stripped Antonio and his companions of their clothing and tied them to the crosses. The men were tortured as they hung upon these wooden crucibles, the soles of their feet scorched off by fire and their bodies impaled with burning coals. The British teased Antonio as he died. Yet, amidst this cruel deprivation, Antonio never recanted the Catholic faith. Instead, he preached from the cross, asking God to forgive the men who were crucifying him and begging for the salvation of their souls. He also encouraged the other men crucified with him to remain steadfast in “the faith of their fathers.”


EWTN has done a program on the martyrs of La Florida, but I haven’t watched it, so can’t attest to its quality.

Tomorrow: a most interesting Franciscan from this period, and then Thursday, some notes on Catholics and race in the South.

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Fulton Sheen in Alabama

I’ve spent the past week or so on a deep dive on Catholicism and the Deep South for a parish presentation. I foolishly thought I could do a decent job surveying the Florida missions, Catholics and racial issues from antebellum years through the Civil Rights movement with this fun addendum on Sheen, all in one hour.


I ended up spending way too much time blathering on about the Importance of History, and found myself at the end of part I with 15 minutes to go. Well. Rush job, it was, for the rest of it.

I’ll be sharing parts of that presentation here over the week, and I thought I’d start with the Sheen info.

Fulton Sheen was, of course, an evangelist. His evangelism was not just limited to the page and recordings. He evangelized in person, and he put his money where his mouth was.

There is probably more information out there, but my quick bit of research turned up the following interesting tidbits.

(Sources: the Birmingham News archives, Sheen’s autobiography, Treasure in Clay and the book The South’s Tolerable Alien: Catholics in Alabama and Georgia 1945-1970. )

First, funding:

Fulton Sheen had resources. Resources through the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, of course, but also funds bequeathed to him personally by donors and those he simply raised for causes in which he believed.

Some of his Alabama-related gifts from the 1940’s-50’s. The parishes are all in the northern part of the state, in what is now the Diocese of Birmingham (But during this period – and until 1969 – part of Mobile.)

  • $7000 to St. Margaret’s in Birmingham. (He apparently attended the dedication of the church, but I can find no record)
  • Sometime between 1949-1952, contributed the altar for St. William in Guntersville
  • 1949 contributed funds for a parish for Black Catholics, Immaculate Conception, which at his request was renamed Our Lady of Fatima.
  • 1951 Contributed funds to St. Thomas in Montevallo
  • Unknown year – $5000 for Holy Infant of Prague, Trussville
  • Funds for Our Lady Queen of Heaven Chapel in Margaret Mines, a coal mining center that boomed and busted and is a stop in the road now. But according to this, Sheen visited:

One of Margaret’s greatest events was a visit by Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, who had a popular weekly 1950s TV show called “Life Is Worth Living.” He’d been invited by a highly optimistic local lady, and surprised everyone by actually coming to Margaret, where he delivered a fine homily to a huge crowd in the town park.

According to A.B. Crane, in a talk given to the St. Clair Historical Society in 1994, “… He spoke with the same interest, same detail, the same thoughtfulness, the same expression that he would have used if there had been five or ten thousand people there.”

He spoke at some conventions held in Birmingham and visited churches while he was here. Some clippings. From 1943:


(Always love the ads in old publications)

One of Sheen’s close local connections was with priests of the “North Alabama Mission Band” – priests who traveled this part of the state providing Mass and other sacraments, as well as evangelizing in rural areas which had Catholics, but no priests. He even spent a week with the band, evangelizing in the area, at one point.

Sheen was close friends with Archbishop Toolen of Mobile, and through him funded projects down that way, including the Martin de Porres maternity hospital for Black women and their newborns.

 In April 1947 ground was broken for this new project. At this ceremony Monsignor Fulton J. Sheen was the principal speaker. “This hospital is really a national institution, not just one for the city of Mobile,” said Msgr. Sheen after disclosing that contributions sent to him for this hospital had been received from every state in the Union.

Application was made for Federal funds as provided under the Hill-Burton Law. In 1949 this application was approved and one-third of the cost was assured by the Government. On Feb. 2, 1949, construction was started on the new hospital and finally in April of 1950 it was opened for patients.

On May 14th of the same year the dedication ceremony was held on the hospital grounds. Msgr. Sheen, whose continued interest and generosity had made the new Blessed Martin de Porres Hospital a reality, was again the principal speaker The total cost of this building was $616,000.00. Practically $225,000.00 was given by Bishop Toolen, Msgr. Sheen, and friends; $195,000.00 was provided by the Federal Government; $11,- 000.00 was donated by the Negroes of Mobile.

An interesting sidebar, from Jerome Gary Cooper, who entered Notre Dame in 1954 with the encouragement and support of Sheen:

Growing up in a devout Catholic family in segregated Mobile, Alabama, I had never heard of the University of Notre Dame until I was eleven or twelve years old. It was 1948 when Archbishop Fulton Sheen of New York, with a police escort, pulled up in front of my home on a dirt street in a black neighborhood in Mobile. He was accompanied by Clare Boothe Luce, the wife of the publisher of Time, Life, and Fortune magazines. My Daddy was raising funds to build a hospital for black folk, and the archbishop heard of the effort and wanted to help. Under Jim Crow laws at the time, black women were not admitted in hospitals in Mobile and had to have their babies at home. My Daddy, a graduate of Hampton Institute, had plans to change that. A popular radio personality, Archbishop Sheen was a nationally known figure and helped raise funds. While visiting, he asked me if I had heard of the University of Notre Dame. I told him I had not. Then he told me that it was a great college and one day, if I wanted to attend, he would be happy to write a letter of recommendation and help me get a scholarship.

In 1950, Mobile’s first African-American hospital opened not far from my home. It was named Blessed Martin De Porres Hospital. By then, Notre Dame had become my college of choice. A few years later, I wrote to Archbishop Sheen, and he wrote back: “Thank you for your kind and warmhearted letter, which brought to mind the happy occasions when I visited with your wonderful family in Mobile…. You have my hearty approval to use my name on your application to Notre Dame University. I shall be delighted to recommend you.” I still have the letter today. So with the help of an academic scholarship, I headed to Notre Dame in the late summer of 1954, climbing aboard the all-black “Jim Crow car” on a train from Mobile to Chicago. It was called the Hummingbird.

Tallassee is a small town between Montgomery and Auburn. In the 1950’s, a wealthy woman from Tallassee got interested in Catholicism and read her way into the church. She got in contact with Sheen, who told her to visit Catholic churches in her area – she said there weren’t any. He told her if she built one, he would preach the first Mass:

No one in Tallassee would sell land to the Catholics.  Yet, the Blounts owned a lot of property around town and especially along Gilmer Avenue, the main thoroughfare that is Alabama Highway 14 as well as Alabama Highway 229.  Roberts and Mildred handed over the land deed to the Vincentians, mission priests who were around the area, and the current St. Vincent de Paul Church was born.

The Colonel later joined his wife and converted to Catholicism, as well.  The Vincentian priests went door-to-door in Tallassee and invited people to the opening of the church.  They encountered no resistance.  On opening day, Archbishop Fulton Sheen visited Tallassee and indeed, he spoke at the first Mass!  The appearance of Sheen in Tallassee was big news in its day, and so many people crowded into St. Vincent’s, people gathered at the Armory nearby to listen to the radio broadcast on that day in 1954.


From rural Alabama, to mission bands, to downtown Birmingham to Black Catholics fighting Jim Crow, we end up with…Melkites.

Sheen was Bi-Ritual and celebrated many liturgies in the Melkite rite.

In 1958, the Melkite National Convention was held here in Birmingham. I’ve written before about the long-standing presence of Eastern Catholics (as well as Orthodox and the Jewish population). 2000 Melkite Catholics gathered and Sheen celebrated the closing Mass.

A recording was made of the Mass and released with Sheen narrating. It’s very interesting!

By the way – the 1958 date is definitely incorrect. This convention was in 1960, using the newspaper archives as a resource – the 1960 convention is identified as the third national convention of this type, and there’s no mention of a 1958 convention in Birmingham.

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St. Mark – April 25

Here’s the first page of the entry on the evangelists’ symbols from the Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols.

The facing page has a more detailed explanation.

BTW – I have written the manuscript for another volume in this Loyola Kids series. It’s what I spent last fall doing. It’s at a mysterious stage in the process, is supposed to be published next spring, but as I said – where it’s at right now is….mysterious to me.

As soon as we have a cover and a pub date, I’ll let you know.

I am in a bit of a state of recovery today. I gave a presentation yesterday for which I spent way too much time preparing last week. That means that you, gentle reader, will benefit in this space, as I don’t want those hours of labor to just vanish into the ether of Sunday morning. More coming in a bit, and then dribbled out over the course of the week.

The other reason for recovery is nothing that I did, but that the youngest, Piano Guy, did yesterday – his final recital for this stage of life, a performance of the 1st movement of Saint-Saens 2nd Piano Concerto (his teacher playing a piano reduction of the orchestral part). PHEW. Lots of stress there, but he did it, and did a marvelous job! I don’t generally post his performances for the general public – they are his performances, not mine – but there are some snippets over on Instagram Stories until early this evening.

Since this is, in the end, rather a random post, we’ll end with this somewhat Mark-related mention- from the Cathedral of St. Paul in Birmingham, a FB post with a close look on the details of the gorgeous Paschal Candle, made by Regina Sanctorum Studios. (Instagram: @reginasanctorum)

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Today is, of course, Divine Mercy Sunday.

Here’s the homily preached by our rector at the Cathedral of St. Paul last yeara on this Sunday. I thought it was very good and worth sharing.

A while back, I posted on an interesting fresco in Florence – an “Allegory of Mercy.” Here’s that post, and here’s the image and a bit about it.


In the fresco, a large frontally-posed female figure, a personification of the Lord’s Mercy, towers over smaller kneeling male (to her right, the position of privilege) and female figures (to her left). Eleven historiated roundels depicting the six canonical works of mercy, plus the non-canonical seventh, burial of the dead, decorate her cope. An early-Florentine cityscape, with Santa Croce and the Cathedral still under construction, is at the base of the fresco. The entire composition is framed by a decorative border representing the personified virtues; interspersed herein are an image of a stork defending its nest against a serpent and a pelican piercing its breast to feed its young. While similar in composition to the popular Madonna of Mercy image-type, the painting’s central figure is commonly believed to be an allegorical representation of the Lord’s Mercy rather than the Virgin Mary; on her crown are inscribed the words “Misericordia domini.”


Related to today’s Gospel, here’s a page or two from The Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories.  

The story includes most of the post-Resurrection appearances, including the Thomas narrative, the focus of Sunday’s gospel.

Arranged, as I have mentioned before, according to the point in the liturgical year one would be most likely to hear that passage proclaimed in Mass (most Catholic’s point of encounter with Scripture).

And then, St. Faustina from The Loyola Kids Book of Heroes. 





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St. George

Peter and John, however, said to them in reply,
“Whether it is right in the sight of God
for us to obey you rather than God, you be the judges.
It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.”

today’s first reading from Mass. 


Both this first reading from Mass today and the feast of St. George jostle our consciences with reminders of the role of courage in the Christian life – its source and why it is always needed. In other words, there’s always resistance to the Good News, from within and without.


Today is the commemoration of St. George.

St. George is in the Loyola Kids Book of Saints In the first part of the chapter I try to strike the balance between what we think we know about George and the legendary material. But I also always try to respect the legendary material as an expression of a truth – here, the courage required to follow Christ. He’s in the section, “Saints are people who are brave.”

"amy Welborn"


"amy Welborn"

Here’s a bit more on context of this feast from The New Liturgical Movement:

The Byzantine Rite has no such reservations about St George, as is often the case with some of the best loved legends and traditions about the Saints. He is honored with the titles “Great Martyr”, meaning one who suffered many and various torments during his martyrdom, and “Bearer of the Standard of Victory”; in the preparation rite of the Divine Liturgy, he is named in the company of martyrs second only to St Stephen. His feast always occurs in Eastertide, unless it be impeded by Holy Week or Easter week; one of the texts for Vespers of his feast refers to this in a very clever way.

Thou didst suffer along with the Savior, and having willingly imitated His death by death (thanato ton thanaton … mimesamenos), o glorious one, thou reignest with Him, clothed in bright splendor, adorned with thy blood, decorated with the scepter of thy prizes, outstanding with the crown of victory, for endless ages, o Great-Martyr George.

The phrase “having willingly imitated His death by death” makes an obvious reference to words of the well-known Paschal troparion, “Christ is risen from the dead, by death he conquered death (thanato ton thanaton … patesas), and gave life to those in the tomb.”


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