Alcoholics Anonymous, and other twelve-step recovery groups, work because they point people to Christ. While the life of addiction is spent in a chaotic and endless bipolar pattern of clinging to some thing and then falling into the ugly waters of shame and despair, the program invites people to live from one pole, a middle place of integrity and stability. This pole is ultimately the Cross which links deep trust in God – as the first eleven steps call for an accounting of what dwells in our souls and thus directs our lives – with a willingness to spend ourselves reaching out in service to others that they may also share in the peace that only God can bring – the twelfth step. The famous Serenity Prayer, fundamental to the entire recovery tradition and offered at every single meeting, says as much: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change” (the love that God has for me), “the courage to change the things I can” (the way that I relate to other people), “and the wisdom to know the difference” (Christ, who, especially crucified, is the very “wisdom of God,” cf. 1 Cor 1:24). May we each adopt Christ as the captain of our ship on this lifelong recovery journey and thus move from the anonymity of suffering to the uniqueness of being a child of God. Ave Crux, Spes Unica.
Brother Theophane (John) Schmitt, CSC (1911-1963)
First Headmaster of St. Patrick’s H.S., Monrovia, Liberia
A tragic accident ended a life of thirty years of outstanding service in Holy Cross. On the morning of July 9, 1963, Brother Theophane drove from St. Patrick’s High School to the Firestone Plantation Hospital in Monrovia. On returning, his car was hit by a speeding car that struck him broadside on the driver’s side. A German doctor stopped and administered first aid, and then took him back to the hospital with broken ribs as well as head and face lacerations.
Upon receiving a telegram, Bishop Carroll and Brother Donald Allen drove to the hospital. During the next few days, and the week that followed, Theophane seemed greatly improved as he was making plans to return to St. Patrick’s. During the next week, however, his condition deteriorated, and his health became so alarming that the bishop administered the last rites. He died on July 15 with Brothers Donald and Austin Maley by his bedside. After a Requiem Mass in Monrovia, the body was returned to Notre Dame where he was interred in the community cemetery.
John Schmitt entered the Congregation of Holy Cross as a Brother in 1930. In 1936, he received a bachelor of science degree from the University of Notre Dame. He began as a teacher at Sacred Heart Juniorate in Watertown, WI in 1936, and in 1938, he was appointed to be the vocation recruiter. During the next seven years he demonstrated that he could use his outgoing and dynamic personality and his kindness to aptly describe the life of a brother to numerous young men—many of whom entered the Brothers.
In 1945, Brother Theophane was selected to establish a prep school, Gilmour Academy in Gates Mills, OH. The new school opened in 1946 and, very soon, proved to be a high school with a reputation for high standards with excellent academic and athletic programs.
Because of his organizational and administrative ability, his name came to the attention of the General Administration in Rome, Italy. Plans were in the making to move the general administration from Rome to New York City while a new Generalate and seminary were being constructed. Brother Theophane was selected to oversee this massive undertaking in a language he did not speak, and where the attitudes and methods of doing things were very different than in the States. Nonetheless, the new buildings were ready for occupation in 1954, and Theophane remained in Rome through 1956 as the General Steward and a member of the General Council. In 1957, he was assigned to Monrovia. (Adapted from the writings of Brother Edward Sniatecki, CSC, January 1984)
St. Paul uses the psychological “I” a lot in his writings. He has classic lines like, “I have been crucified with Christ” (Gal 2:20) and “I have fought the good fight” (2 Tim 4:7) and “I can do all things through Christ” (Phil 4:13). In an age when people generally recognize the problem of having a “big ego” (literally “I”), but don’t seem to know what to do about it, or simply try to annihilate it or avoid it, it is refreshing to hear how Paul strives to align his “I” with Christ. Indeed, Paul spent three years in Arabia (Gal 3:17-18) after his powerful encounter with the risen Christ (Acts 9:3-6) so that he could be purged of all of his negative emotions, false perceptions and sensory attachments, with a new “I” emerging out of this milieu as a more authentic expression of his humanity. Paul invites us to undertake this same kind of psychological journey of conversion that puts a positive spin on the “I,” so that with David we might proclaim, “O God, you are my God, for you I long” (Ps 63:1); with Mary, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord” (Lk 1:38); with Magdalene, “I have seen the LORD!” (Jn 20:18); with Christ, “I thirst” (Jn 19:28); and with the Church, “I believe.” Ave Crux, Spes Unica.
BROTHER BERNARD (EUGENE) GERVAIS, C.S.C. (1881-1963)
CONGREGATIONAL HISTORIAN AND MULTITASKER
Born in Momence, IL, Francis Gervais entered Holy Cross in 1896 and professed firsts vows in 1899 at Notre Dame. He enjoyed telling the story of his first assignment as a candidate in 1896. Two days after entering, he was asked to dig the grave for Brother Francis Xavier Patois, the last of the six brothers who came from France with Father Sorin in 1842. He recalled that this was his initiation into the rich history of the Brothers of Holy Cross in America. Almost to his last day, he collected and wrote articles on the history of the Congregation.
At the completion of his novitiate, now Brother Bernard was assigned to St. Vincent Scholasticate until receiving a Master of Accounts from the University of Notre Dame. In September 1901, he was assigned to teach in the Cathedral School in Fort Wayne, and at the end of the year, he was reassigned to Holy Cross College in New Orleans. Because of his background in commercial subjects, in 1906, he was transferred to St. Joseph College in Cincinnati, OH. In 1909, he returned to Cathedral High School as a member of the school’s first high school faculty under the leadership of principal Brother Marcellinus Kinsella.
When the University of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in Watertown, WI phased out its academic program in 1912, Brother Bernard was assigned as the first superior and director of the new candidate program, Sacred Heart Juniorate, through 1918. One of his first candidates was his own brother, Felix, later Brother Benedict.
From 1918 onward, Brother Bernard was given assignments that allowed his leadership and financial skills to be fully utilized: 1918-1924, principal of Cathedral High School; 1925-1931, director of the scholasticate, Dujarié Hall; and 1926-1950, holding several roles on the General Administration—councilor, steward, treasurer either at Notre Dame, Washington, DC or in New York City. During those 24 years, he would also direct other activities too: 1925-31 as superior at Dujarié; another one-year assignment at Cathedral High School; and superior of St. Joseph Farm, Granger, IN from 1931-1934. A true multi-tasker!
Perhaps, from the view of any of the congregation’s many archivists, his greatest accomplishment was bringing the General Matricule, a membership register, up to date, beginning in 1820 and ending in 1944. Bernard spent eight years researching and compiling the data. Beginning with Father Jacque Dujarié as number one and ending with number 5,700, Brother Gabriel Rondel, he compiled the chronological list. He then built an index where each member is cross referenced by religious name, e.g. Ildephonsus, and surname: a monumental effort because all of it was typed with very few errors.
From 1950 until Brother Bernard’s untimely death in 1963—he died visiting his family in Seattle, WA—he enjoyed working in the Midwest province archives and gardening. Brother Bernard Gervais was one of the many early twentieth century titans who worked to move the Brothers into the “modern” age of secondary education.
Adapted from the writings of Brother Edward (Hyacinth) Sniatecki, CSC, January 1984.
The Bible is filled with tree imagery: the Tree of Life (Gen 2 and Rev 22), the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen 3), the tree planted by running waters (Ps 1), the fig tree (Mt 21), the wild olive tree (Rom 11), and the list goes on. Trees are important symbols in the spiritual life for several reasons: they are stable points of reference that are firmly rooted in the earth; they defy the heavy burden of gravity as they soar heavenward; and in the pairing of a single trunk with a vast array of branches, they remind us that our fundamental vocation is to love the one true God and our many sisters and brothers at one and the same time. Let’s go for a walk today and marvel at all of the trees in our communities, our neighborhoods and in our very back yards. What is more, let’s have the courage to go inside, to look within, and realize that there is a great tree within ourselves just waiting to burst forth in splendor and truth. May the one who was hung on a tree (Acts 5:30) help us to remember that we too are called to be planted deeply in the Spirit, to be opened wide to the living God and to bear the kind of fruit that lasts. Ave Crux, Spes Unica.
Father Paul Gillen, CSC (1810-1882)
Civil War Chaplain: “The Damndest Clergyman I Even Saw”
Rev. Paul Gillen, C.S.C. (170th New York Infantry Regiment, October 1856—July 1862)
The following is quoted and adapted from Schmidt, James M. Notre Dame and the Civil War, Marching Onward to Victory, The History Press, Charleston, SC, 2010.
“The first of Notre Dame’s priests to go to war as a chaplain was Father Paul E. Gillen. A native of County Donegal, Ireland, Gillen came to the United States in 1840, probably in his later teens. Shortly before the Civil War, he became a priest and entered the Holy Cross community at Notre Dame.
“When the war broke out, Father Gillen was on university business in the Northeast. Impressed with the number of Catholic men joining the ranks—and concerned with their spiritual well-being—he appealed for permission to offer his services, and Father Sorin granted the request. [He] arrived in Washington, D.C., on July 20, 1861, on the eve of the First Battle of Bull Run, and immediately began his ministry among the soldiers. Although in his late fifties, Gillen – “a tall, thin, spared old gentleman of clerical appearance”—had seemingly endless energy and did not leave the service until after the surrender of Appomattox.
“Gillen preferred to roam from unit to unit as needed. Because of the large compass of his ‘parish’, he needed a horse. Appealing to Father Sorin and Major General George McClellan, he succeeded in not only getting the horse but an ambulance too. He was able to put a bed and a portable altar in the ‘new and unique’ conveyance. Setting the altar ‘within the frame of the bed, [he could] set up the buggy with candles, candlesticks and all requisites for the Mission.’ One solder commented that ‘No matter whether we were on the march or a scout, Mass was always offered every morning at Father Paul’s establishment.’
“Father Gillen’s good standing with the soldiers and officers was marred in 1861 over rumors of drunkenness. The Archbishop of Baltimore and the Bishop of Philadelphia had heard that Gillen was seen ‘in a state of brutal intoxication.’ These prelates requested that Sorin call the chaplain back to Notre Dame. Eventually, the rumors were proven to be false and both prelates apologized for becoming prey for rumor-mongering. Actually, the chaplain acquitted himself with courage on the battlefield. ‘He would frequently expose himself to great danger in order to administer the rites of the Church to the dying men.’ A soldier was impressed that Gillen was not afraid of walking alone behind enemy lines after a battle, and exclaimed that he was ‘one of the damndest venturesome old clergyman I ever saw.'”
The word ascesis literally means “exercise.” This may sound funny to us as we try to imagine how many calories are being burned by the ascetic person who takes lukewarm showers, prays regularly, rises promptly in the morning, or makes any number of small sacrifices throughout a given day, but these are truly disciplines that make one healthy. Indeed, the hours spent jumping rope or lifting weights or running on a treadmill – by which our muscles are challenged and we are physically strengthened – are symbolic of the soul’s deeper need for spiritual sculpting, that is, the revelation of a good and beautiful soul within. And because there are no ankles to sprain or knees to blow out, spiritual exercise – needing only intellect and will and the courage to dig deep! – is a long-term game plan for our lives. Let’s therefore look to the ascesis of Jesus who kept vigil (Lk 6:12), who fasted (Lk 4:2), who went to Church (cf. Lk 4:15), and who prayed on his knees (Lk 22:41) in a way that enabled him to hand over his very body to his heavenly father (Lk 23:46) and thus sound forth the lasting health of resurrected life (Lk 24:31). Ave Crux, Spes Unica.
BROTHER ANSELM (ARTHUR) TATRO, C.S.C. (1891-1989)
Brother Anselm was born in St. Anne, Illinois in 1891. He helped out on the farm and worked at a manufacturing company before he entered Holy Cross in January of 1917. He served on the staff of the Notre Dame Post Office for eight years before going to the Ave Maria Press where he worked as a Linotype operator until 1980. He was so accurate at his work that he was given much of the Notre Dame scientific writing to set into print. He lived in the same room on the second floor of Columba Hall from 1919 until 1981 when failing health forced his true retirement in 1981 at Dujarié House.
Anselm had three hobbies—he loved to hike, collect songs and solve word puzzles. He was the “father” of exercise enthusiasts in Holy Cross. His legendary hikes were not short—they were 20 to 30 miles long, seldom more than a 15-mile radius around the University of Notre Dame. He enjoyed hikes on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays keeping him lean and trim. Often, he would return with a pocket full of change and other items he had found along his various trails. All his booty was dutifully turned in to whoever was the superior that day.
He was in constant good spirits and became known as the smiling-brother of Columba Hall noted for gentleness, kindness and Trappistine simplicity. He would often stop some brother in the hallway asking them if they could name the tune; he then would either hum or la-la-la. The story was also told that when it was time for him to move from Columba Hall to Dujarié retirement house, it was nearly impossible to get into his room. He had stacks upon stacks of South Bend Tribunes and Scholastics in his room—one brother estimated he had not tossed away any paper from as early as 1919!
Upon his death, his directory of prayers was filled with countless cards and slips of paper. One read: “Lord, as I grow older, keep me from getting talkative, give me wings to get to the point, grace to listen to others, keep me sweet, make me helpful since I want a few friends at the end.” He had far more than just a “few” friends. Someone said, “If you seek creative ideas, go for a walk. Angels whisper to a [person] when [they] go for a walk.” Angels must then have been in constant conversation with this good and gentle Holy Cross Brother.
Good biblical interpretation always begins at the literal level. While we know that the veracity of the literal level is a matter of genre – think of how epic poetry differs from history in this regard – the meaning of all texts at that deeper spiritual level is always true. Indeed, the exterior drama simply serves as an invitation to the reader to take the risk of entering into the spiritual depths, and how could that act of trust ever result in anything but truth?! The Cross is the boundary marker that makes this kind of understanding possible. When we make that move from the literal to the spiritual – and what courage is required to undertake that journey! – we are dying to self. In that moment, the certainty, familiarity and comfort of the literal level give way to an openness, vulnerability and receptivity to the Word who is really and truly speaking to us in some distant still point in the soul. Let’s not be content with a perpetually literal perspective on things or a fearful fundamentalist posture in life. Let’s instead allow our restless hearts to feel and respond to those deep promptings of the Spirit. Let’s make the Cross the lens through which we read scripture and thus understand ourselves and our lives. Ave Crux, Spes Unica.