Any experienced teacher will tell you that the true sign that learning has taken place in a student is her or his ability to generate a new idea at the end of a given unit, semester or course. This is the whole essence of doctoral studies and the goal that is articulated in modern educational theories. Indeed, when the mind has wrestled with, organized, analyzed, weighed and assessed material and then drawn a conclusion, what was originally information is transformed into some new insight, some exciting fruit that just must be shared with others! It should not surprise us therefore that the Divine Master, the Logos, who is the eternal “word” or “idea” of God, allowed his very self to be examined, wrestled with, beaten up and ultimately concluded, or ended (cf. Jn 19:30), upon the Cross. And what happens next? That life-giving, eucharistic blood flows from his side, some new fruit of this drama that is shared with others and as such literally generates new people – saints, disciples and apostles. If we could just become like Christ and adopt a constantly crucified form interiorly, we would stand to gain much! We would become people with a deep knowledge of the meaning of life and we would spend our days feeding others the fruits of this contemplation. Ave Crux, Spes Unica!
Father Alexander Kirsch, C.S.C. (1855-1923)
“As a boy of seventeen he left Luxemburg for America and received the Holy Cross habit in 1873 being ordained in 1880. For the next two years he studied at the University of Louvain, Belgium, where he prepared to assume the heavy teaching duties [in biological sciences] at our university. It is almost impossible to form an estimate of the sacrifices which his half-century of educational work involved…. Father Kirsch taught as many as thirteen hours a day; taught subjects ranging from German to zoology. The work actually left him without sufficient time to get meals, so that only the robust constitution of the man could have resisted the appalling grind of daily labor. As the school grew he got time to devote himself to those branches of science in which he remained most deeply interested—zoology, anatomy and geology. His name was synonymous with authority in these subjects, and during the years of his prime no teacher enjoyed a greater popularity with his classes or served them more devotedly…. Father Kirsch coveted no honors, sought no applause. The testimonial of his desire was honest service bearing fruitful results” Scholastic, 1923.
“The root of biology at the University of Notre Dame is grounded in the work of Rev. Alexander Kirsch. A successful anatomist, cytologist and bacteriologist, he formally established biology at the University in 1890. A somewhat reclusive person, the large-framed priest was seldom seen on campus except in the classroom or the laboratory, where he would spend as many as 13 hours a day. He established a four-year course in biology in 1890. The new curriculum was billed as ‘an immediate preparation for the study of medicine or veterinary science or with a view to teaching or otherwise engaging in biological science.’ Kirsch has devised a rigorous curriculum of 19 courses in the department—the majority of which he taught. The biology department continually expanded during Father Kirsch’s term as head. Father Kirsch suffered a heart attack on December 28, 1921. Never totally recovering from the original attack, he died at the age of 67 in 1923.” Jane Kane and John Monczunski, Department of Information Services, University of Notre Dame, nd.
The Cross is the way that we come to know and understand things; indeed, it is only by analyzing and assessing some thing (bringing it to its “end,” Jn 19:30) that we become properly disposed to the Truth which the thing points to (cf. Jn 14:6). And if we do not go through this Cross process, we will simply be stuck in a world of sensory data that never arrives at the Truth. This is why in every question of his famous Summa Theologica Thomas Aquinas examines all angles of a given problem and even adopts, if only for a moment, the arguments of his opponents. Once the process has been completed, he can unambiguously present the concluding Truth. Perhaps this is the meaning of the Prodigal Son’s journey, that he cannot feel at peace in his father’s house until he has taken all of the other possibilities to their proper end. When he finally crosses the threshold back into the loving embrace of his father’s arms (and it is no coincidence that this happens through the blood of the slaughtered calf, Lk 15:23), his tearful and happy comportment is juxtaposed with his bitter and angry brother who stands in the Truth but who never went through the process of taking ownership of it. Let us therefore not be afraid to be prodigals and theologians who are led through life by that constant interior process that is the Cross. Ave Crux, Spes Unica!
BROTHER FLORIAN FLYNN, C.S.C. (1850-1923)
Brother Flo (James Flynn) was born in Ireland in 1850 and entered Holy Cross in 1876. After a brief illness he died in 1923. He was a teacher for most of his years in Holy Cross and spent the last twenty years at the University of Notre Dame as a rector of St. Joseph Hall (now Badin Hall). In 1916 he became the university guest master.
The following extracts are adapted from a 1923 Scholastic article written in his remembrance. “While the field was ringing with enthusiastic delight in one of the best games Notre Dame has seen, a little bell rang out also to say that Brother Flo had died. We should have chosen no other setting for this last voyage of his; he must have liked to know that as the hard days were drawing to an everlasting end for him, the boys were back at the old school once more, thronging in to find it the same place that their youth had dreamed it was…. Brother Flo was a man of God, of course, but also a man of the earth. There was the unflagging question mark in his character which beguiled us. There was the canny calculation of a mind utterly too simple for strategy. You met Flo, but that wasn’t the end of it. Every new contact was a revelation that made you not only smile, but also smile affectionately. He had in himself everything that has run like a stream through generations of education here. His pockets were crammed with community cigars, which atrocities were bestowed with a condescending grace that somehow perfumed the ensuing smoke with odors of Havana. The flavor of Flo’s handshake combined something of the dignity of a Presidential greeting with the spice of a recklessly off-side—as if this expression of cordiality on his part were being done against all the rules of the game, for the sheer pleasure of the game. And to proceed with Flo down the spaces of the art galleries! His were the remarks of a connoisseur who treated every picture with reverence—and originality. There never was a better Notre Dame man. Every stone and stick of the place were catalogued in his heart, and he treasured the voices of old boys long after they had been brushed away by the long winds.”
And from Brother Aidan’s Extracts: “The life of Brother Florian was a golden moment of Christian Charity. As rector for ten years of St. Joseph Hall, this noble man of Christ wound himself inextricably into the lives of the motley throng…. To those who went to him for advice, for a faculty cigar, or merely for the opportunity to enjoy his loveable and unique companionship, he was a real friend…. About him hung a mantle of human feeling which he was ready to share with any disheartened wayfarer. In a world that in places seems more or less ungodly, he pierces the gloom with the homely glow of memory.”
The prophet Isaiah gives us a very beautiful image of what it is like to enter the kingdom when he says that we shall be “clothed with the garments of salvation” (61:10). The embrace of our loving Father is indeed like having our whole being covered with his Spirit as a robe is fitted to a body. So what then do we make of the unusual detail that Joseph’s robe was “multi-colored” (Gen 37:3)? This beloved son of Israel received this tunic with great honor, something special that set him apart from his brothers, but the dream-coat quickly became a source of jealousy and thus a burden that caused poor Joseph much suffering throughout the ordeal of being sold into slavery and eventually imprisonment. Like the patriarch Joseph and eventually Christ, before we can rightly be clothed with that dazzling garment of salvation, we must first accept the uniquely textured and multi-faceted robe that is laid upon us. At first we may see these beautiful threads, like Joseph, as a source of great pride, but then we discover just how heavy those colors can be! Fear not, however, because it is precisely through our willingness to take ownership of the drama of this, our cross, that something resurrectional can be woven out of our souls, and that is our salvation. Ave Crux, Spes Unica!
Sister Mary Aloysius (Hanora) Mulcaire (1845-1916)
Hanora Mulcaire was born in Ireland, in 1845, the daughter of Michael Mulcaire and Mary Stokes. She entered the Congregation, February 6, 1873, from Ireland. She received the habit, August 26, 1873, and made Final Profession, August 15, 1875, at Notre Dame du Lac, Notre Dame, Indiana. She died at Holy Cross Convent, Notre Dame, Indiana, January 12, 1916, and is interred in Our Lady of Peace Cemetery, Saint Mary’s, Notre Dame, Indiana. Eight hundred cadets from the Notre Dame battalion marched in the funeral procession. The funeral oration was delivered by the Very Rev. Dr. Cavanaugh, president of the university. Sister Aloysius was a teacher. With the exception of one year at Saint Bernard’s, Watertown, Wisconsin, she taught at Saint Edward’s Hall, Notre Dame, Indiana. “She came to the Notre Dame of the seventies (1870’s) as a simple Irish girl with a sweet brogue and blue eyes.” A “resourceful woman, meeting every difficulty with some wise settlement, every trouble with unobtrusive sympathy.” (Scholastic, January 15, 1916) Sister Aloysius was the head of the Minim department for so long that even she, blunt and direct as she was, might have objected to an exact computation of the period of years. Certainly, it was in the early 1870’s that she assumed the guidance of Father Sorin’s “Princes.” “[A]s she knelt before him [Father Sorin]: ‘Honora Mulcaire, hereafter you shall be called Sister Aloysius;’ and in thought added ‘You shall take care of my Minims — my Princes — down the years’. . . for the past forty-odd years, she made young boys from six to twelve . . . gentle and thoughtful, strong, studious and resourceful. How she did this was her secret. . .” Perhaps when one says Sister Aloysius’ system was her personality one arrives nearest the truth. Of her ability and tact, there is no doubt. She was a lovable sort of tyrant who knew well how to get along with both parents and children. Hers was a motherly soul that went directly to the heart of these children in whom Father Sorin placed the “future of the Church in America.” One might say that she was a political saint. She knew how to make peace between all parties. Very seldom was her word contradicted. She found herself almost always a “final board of appeal between disputants.” I [Father Arthur Hope] have seen a letter written by a disturbed parent, in which he made some complaint concerning his son who was a Minim. The letter was sent originally to Father Cavanaugh who turned it over to Brother Paul the Hermit [Macintyre], who, on account of his acerbity, was called “The Hornet.” Paul made an annotation on the letter remarking that the woman (Sister Aloysius) was an “old tartar;” the letter found its way to Sister Aloysius, who added, under the Brother’s remark, “And he calls me an old tartar!” After her death, one who knew her well wrote: “One more well-known figure passed out of the complex, busy life of Notre Dame University when Sister Aloysius died at the convent infirmary last Wednesday. After the great Father Sorin himself, Sister Aloysius ranks next in years of service at the University.” (Hope, CSC, Father Arthur, Notre Dame—100 Years) Below is a poem penned in her honor by an unknown admirer:
AND is this death, to take Life’s very Bread,
And with her High-Priest Christ go hand in hand
Into that—shall we call it—shadow-land,
Where day’s dominion is forever spread?
And should we mourn that lights about her head,
Stand as four great archangels there might stand.
That now she lies as deathless vows had planned?
If this is death, then she indeed is dead.
For she had need no more of word or sign.
For she has passed from darkness into day
Where there is no more fear, or loss, or strife.
Than we she was more wise who did not pine
To leave the body’s broken house of clay.
Who knew the truer name for death is Life.
Generosity is an excellent sign that the Cross has been integrated into the fabric of our being. Generosity not in the sense of giving out of our abundance, but in the sense of giving spontaneously, moved by the spirit, and out of our poverty. This giving-pattern is an indication that we are no longer enslaved to the feeling of interior attachments and comforts that we think we need to guard and protect, but that our Beloved dwells in our inner room and with nothing to hold onto and nothing to lose, we simply give. We give and give and give and give and give and give and give! It makes us happy and healthy and human. Even nailed to the Cross, Jesus gives – forgiveness (“Forgive them Father…” in Lk 23:34), community (“Mother, here is your son…” in Jn 19:26), vulnerability (“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” in Mt 27:46), humility (“I thirst.” in Jn 19:28), and trust, (“Into your hands, I commend my spirit.” in Lk 23:46). Jesus even gives us the Eucharist, flowing in the form of blood out of the side of his dead body (Jn 19:34), and continues to feed us with the life-giving Spirit from his place at the right hand of the Father (Jn 14:16). Indeed, when all else fails, and it will, simply give. Ave Crux, Spes Unica!
Brother Basil (John) Magnus, CSC (1828-1909)
“It was a sorrowful message the Church bells announced to us on Friday, February 12, 1909; another member of Holy Cross has been called to his reward, a member long esteemed and loved by all—Brother Basil—[he] left suddenly, but not unprepared. His entire life has been an act of preparation for the supreme moment.” (Scholastic, 42:349) “He was a man of extraordinary modesty. When he joined the Congregation of Holy Cross he came with no blare of trumpets. It was not known then or afterward until it was accidentally discovered that he was gifted with a genius for music; that in all America there were few who knew the contents of musical literature as he did, and fewer still could interpret them with such exquisite delicacy and feeling.” (Father John Cavanaugh, funeral oration) “Genius seldom hides and when it does, someone uncovers it. For some months after Brother Basil joined the Congregation…in 1852, he revealed nothing of his musical background he had acquired in Bavaria, Germany. The fact was that he was something of a child prodigy, playing viola when he was eight years old and learning the violin previous to that age.…Professor Maximilian E. Girac, a music teacher at Notre Dame…discovered Brother Basil. No longer could the modest religious hide the fact that he excelled at piano and organ and proficiently played on many instruments, among them oboe and flute. Professor Girac is believed to be the founder of the music department at Notre Dame, and the list of the faculty members in 1852 contains just one musician, Brother Basil.” (Schmidt, CSC, Br. Evan, “One Man’s Music”, N.D.) He was the organist at Sacred Heart Church for fifty-six years; his only assignment for the entirety of his religious life. Perhaps he was best memorialized by renowned Holy Cross poet Father Charles L. O’Donnell, C.S.C. (d. 1934) who wrote the ode “The Dead Musician” on the day of Brother Basil’s death. Below is the first verse:
He was the player and the played upon,
He was the actor and the acted upon,
Artist, and yet himself a substance wrought;
God played on him as he upon the key,
Moving his soul to mightiest melodies
Of lowly serving, his austerities,
And holy thought that our high dream outtops, —
He was an organ where God kept the stops.
Of all he gave us came so wondrous clear
As that he sounded to the Master’s ear.