Sunday, December 30, 2007

I'm Back, & I'm a Little Bit Smarter

It's nice to get a nudge from blog readers, wondering where I am, because that is evidence that there are blog readers for "Catholic Writers"! It's evidence of the interest in this vast and important topic.

While this field lay fallow, I've been involved in two ways with an important project worth mentioning on this site: the International Catholic University [ICU], a low-cost, no-residence distance education program set up by Dr. Ralph McInerny. The ICU has designed M.A. in Theology and Philosophy programs that are administered through the distance education department at Holy Apostle's Seminary and College in Cromwell, CT. These are real degrees. A catechetical certificate program is also in the works through ICU.

This fall, I left a certificate program and jumped into a more challenging distance ed MA in Theology, and the Holy Apostle's program won, over other quality programs such as Franciscan University and the Catholic Distance University. The compelling reasons: no residence requirement, low tuition based on course cost alone, and a generous completion time [10 years to finish!]. Meanwhile I was asked to assist in developing a course for the certificate program. I've been delinquent, and should have been posting a diary on "The One and Triune God," but I've honed my precision in thinking and have learned again to abstract, to simplify, to meditate: skills that atrophy or die a violent death in a fast-paced global society.

I recommend the coursework for all ye writers and readers... but, for those unable to do coursework, DVDs or audio course tapes are available.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Ellen

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Yankee Poetry

I wrote this for a poetry class that I have yet to complete. The emotions of the inner self can be so intense that they must be put aside for a while. This is the last poem I wrote; not quite a love poem, more an angry dirge. It's a first draft.

The Big Easy

Anger is a cloak, a burning cigarette, a dagger, a scarlet scarf
waved by a matador to goad a bull to its death.
Violent like the storm surge lashing the beach,
Lasting as the sledge that clogged Lake Ponchatrain,
Overflowing as the levee burst killing this old Creole city--
The birthplace of anger! Home of cloaks and daggers, Spaniards and cigarellos,
Unholy black masses, graveyards, orgies, careless emotions, fate and fortune-tellers.
Town of Cain, your brother’s blood cries from the ground
And your anger brings down a curse, a deluge.

Cain grew angry, seeing that God accepted his brother’s offering.
Envy and anger, twin furies. The first maiden of Orleans--- Jean d’Arc—was a warrior,
Angry but generous, jealous for God and for her king.
You envied Orleans, and Saint Joan, for its glory
But stolen pirate booty, not spoils of war, made you rich, king of the South.
There are no slave halls in Domremy: New Orleans, notorious killing field,
Your black brother’s blood cries out from the ground!

God looked down and saw the city.
In it was sin. The poor suffered, while casinos and prostitutes ate up the fat of the land.
Let us destroy that city, God said, and the pirates and gangsters lost a foothold in God’s country.
Sadly, the saints of New Orleans died that day. God’s poor, uncared for by their evil keepers, died of thirst on the causeway. They disappeared in buses, never heard from again.

New Orleans is gone now, scarlet city of the south.
It has gone to Texas, that dusty cattle-rustling, lynching land hated by God.
Why today do the floods swallow Texas?
God snuffs out the last cigarette of the tawdry ceremony,
A beer bottle and hurricane lamp drift along the lazy creek,
its swollen mouth spitting sludge on signs reading God Bless Texas and The South Will Rise Again.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

A Timely Biography

In April 2005, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger surprised many Catholics and Church-watchers by taking the name "Benedict XVI." Yes, he meant to carry on the tradition of Benedict XV (more on that soon-- it's interesting!), but he was mainly calling to mind Benedict of Nursia, better known as St. Benedict, father of Western monasticism, father of Western Christianity.

How much do you know about St. Benedict? Chances are, let's be honest, probably about as much as you know about Sts. David of Wales, Kieran, Boniface, Scholastica, Clotilde, and other Catholic saints of the Dark Ages. Fortunately, we are not left in the dark completely. St. Gregory the Great undertook to write a short biography of St. Benedict, The Life of St. Benedict, that has been republished by TAN Books as a $3.00, 70-page booklet. This little book can be read in a day, and will provide context for the present papacy and a great deal of thematic inspiration.

After reading this biography, turn to Salt of the Earth and God and the World by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger and Peter Seewald. There are great passages on what St. Benedict meant to Cardinal Ratzinger long before he became pope.

Have a good Sunday! Ellen

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Canon of Catholic Writers: Discovering Eusebius, the ITI reading list, etc.

This weekend, I went on a shopping spree at the Notre Dame bookstore and our amazing local giftshop, Divine Mercy Gifts. I gave my dad an early birthday present: Eusebius's History of the Church. My choice was partially one of desperation: the collection of Patristic scholars in the college bookstore was pretty picked over. I could choose from Origen, Augustine or Eusebius, so, for novelty's sake, I gave Eusebius a try.

The gift was a big hit. I hope to read it soon. I'm on a quest to rediscover the canon of Catholic "great books," and was very pleased with this accidental find. For more information on Eusebius, see this link:

The best and most rigorous guide to salient Catholic literature is found here:
The International Theological Institute, located in Gaming, Austria, is headed up by Michael Waldstein, editor of a new and important work on what is popularly known as John Paul II's Theology of the Body [actually, the catechesis on men and women was not originally entitled "theology of the body," and this phrase can cause immanentist misunderstandings, and this must be guarded against in this materialistic, Marxist-influenced culture]. The Chancellor of the ITI is Christoph Cardinal Schonborn, who is the editor of the great Catechism of the Catholic Church. The reading list is amazing. I am pondering St. John Chrysostom's books on Marriage and Family and the Priesthood-- they are great for meditation.

The point of this post is that, in order to pursue fun, expressive writing that is rooted in the legacy of the Church founded by Jesus Christ, it is helpful to know the tradition and the canon. I have a lot to learn. I am just now finding out who Eusebius is. Eusebius scholars, chime in! How can his history of the early Church inform our understanding of reality, of our own times, of culture and humanism?

Good Tuesday to you all! Ellen

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Wisdom from Cicero

  • In so far as the mind is stronger than the body, so are the ills contracted by the mind more severe than those contracted by the body.
  • A mind without instruction can no more bear fruit than can a field, however fertile, without cultivation.


Is this why so few books are really worth reading???

Don't pick up the pen and write. Go study first!

Vacation Diary

Greetings after a long absence! I recently took a road trip to the East Coast [1 week vacation, plus one week of added work on either end. The vacation sandwich: a hazard of self-employment]. There were great times, and plenty of themes to reflect upon, plus a few literary discoveries along the way.

  • For entertainment in the car, I listened to a few of the CDs from this year's American Chesterton Society conference, which I was unable to attend. In particular, I listened to Dale Alquist's talk, "The Man Who Was Today," and Dr. Steven Safranek's outstanding lecture on Marriage and Divorce. Although the other CDs were tempting, Chesterton conversations are only suitable for the Ohio flatlands. One could, conceivably, drive off a West Virginia mountain listening to ruminations on the great abstractions. Better to save them for straight roads when wide awake!
  • I'm a big fan of channel surfing, and had the surreal experience of locating a French Canadian folk station radiating from Toronto across Lake Erie to the gray and rain-soaked highways around Cleveland. I listened to it, alone, for nearly an hour. It was as if I had escaped across the ocean to the plains of Normandy! How nearly so many of us came to living in French America; and what would have happened if the Louisiana Purchase had not taken place? Would I be writing bonjour, mes amis rather than Hi, everyone!?
  • Pittsburgh has great radio stations, esp. if you're from Indiana. Who would guess, however, that the tony suburb of Upper St. Clair would have a South Park Drive?
  • "Miss Potter" is a must-see movie for writers, artists, and singles. It details the marginalization of young Beatrix Potter before her "bunny books" became published. The movie also treats the theme of marrying for love rather than for social advantages. At a time when marriage is under attack, and men and women marry for monetary or prestige advantages, it is beautiful to see a film about two people in love who were willing to overcome the disapproval of a dying and snobbish society.
  • Caught up with many friends and relatives. In a kitchen conversation with four toddlers and infants hanging around, a few of us kicked around this idea. Young mothers who stay at home need to think like project managers. Each group of young women needs to function like a work team... dividing up the menial tasks, using flow charts and Gannt charts like they do at work until they quit and become moms [or work from home single writers like me], and really getting organized in order to save their time for more important things-- like having a life, going out on dates with their husbands, reading books, spending fun time with kids. Read "Women and the Common Life" by Christopher Lasch, and "The Way Home" by Mary Pride for more on the concept of the common life, "homeworking," and organic ways of living that were interrupted by the work-away-from-home model of the Industrial Revolution.
  • Caught up, on a different day, with a husband and wife professor team. The wife works part time-- also needing "a life of the mind." However, they are blessed to live about twenty five yards from their workplace. How can we foster communities of workers and scholars, as Dorothy Day would put it? The original Benedictine model was to work, pray and study. That's the life that most people reading this blog are seeking.

Would love to see your trip diary posted in the comments. Why not blog it?

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Pope Benedict's Jesus of Nazareth

For my recent birthday, I received as a gift, Jesus of Nazareth. This book is really Part One of Pope Benedict's book on Jesus Christ, and it covers Jesus's public ministry. I have not yet been able to delve into this book, but plan to asap. I have found some great commentary on it at

I'm terribly disappointed, though, that this book has been met with much less press coverage than John Paul II's first book as pope, Crossing the Threshold of Hope. Surely, the novelty factor of finding a Pope's book in the corner bookstand has worn off. But, if that's the only reason people bought the late pope's books, didn't they miss the point anyway?

I hope some readers of this blog have read Jesus of Nazareth and can fill us in. I hope to post on it soon.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Interesting Thomistic Essays

Long time no post... the "End of our affair with mannerists" debate got pretty good.

Today was spent proofing some essays for two volumes to be published by the Thomistic Institute, and then running errands and watching "Rocky Balboa." I must say, some Thomistic philosophers are very good writers, and then some are incredibly good. Christopher Kaczor and Fulvio di Blasi stand out as two scholars who are superior at using interesting examples, appropriate abstractions, and clear logical arguments. Stay tuned for the two volumes that will be published sometime this year through St. Augustine's Press. And, google "Christopher Kaczor" and "Fulvio di Blasi" if you wish to learn more about St. Thomas Aquinas's philosophy. A layman will be able to understand their work.

My errands today reminded me of Dorothy Day's "On Pilgrimage." If you have not read this book published by Eerdman's, give it a try. It's a good spiritual autobiography. Actually, much of my life reminds me of Day's year spent roughing it on a farm in West Virginia. Today, an inescapable task was to take all the fresh but aging food in the refrigerator and turn it into something decent. "Waste not, want not." The results: an apple crisp, cream of celery soup, snapped fresh green beans. And from the garden, fresh thyme and turnip greens to wash and prepare, and some extra to give to the poor.

Finally, Rocky Balboa. This movie, written by Sylvester Stallone, is not merely, in my opinion, about a boxer trying to sort out his demons in his fifties. It is about an old world meeting a new world which seems to have no use for simple people from South Philly. The message is not merely populist, though; it is about which values will prevail. Will the sign of the Cross, burying the dead, chivalry to women, and picking out ugly dogs at the pound [Balboa's approach to life] win the day? Or is the soulless showboating of the computer age bound to consign Balboa to irrelevancy? Not to spoil the ending, I can only say that Balboa is not irrelevant, and that the movie makes the viewer look at their most cheap but dearly held and cynical information-age values, and listen to Rocky's take on them. The film is good for the soul.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Hymns of St. Thomas Aquinas

Today, in the Catholic liturgical calendar, is the Feast of Corpus Christi. This feast was instituted in 1264 by Pope Urban IV. He commissioned St. Thomas Aquinas to compose an Office for Corpus Christi, which yielded the following beautiful hymns:

  • Pange, Lingua, Gloriosi (Acclaim, My Tongue, This Mystery).... stanzas five and six of this hymn have become the famous "Tantum Ergo Sancramentum," often sung at Eucharistic benediction ceremonies.
  • Sacris Solemnis Juncta Sint Gaudia (Let Joys Be Joined to Solemn Feasts)
  • Verbum Supernum Prodiens (The Word from Heaven Now Proceeding)
  • Lauds, Sion, Salvotorem (Praise, O Sion, Your Redeemer)

The Office for Corpus Christi is included in Devoutly I Adore Thee: The Prayers and Hymns of Saint Thomas Aquinas, published in 1993 in Latin and in original English translation by Sophia Institute Press.

On this beautiful feast day, spend some time in quiet contemplation and adoration-- and, perhaps, pen the thoughts that are inspired by your thoughts and God's inspiration.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

The End of our Affair with Mannerists

Anyone else out there bored by the "Catholic writing" commentators who talk in endless circles about Graham Greene, Flannery O'Connor and Walker Percy? Are you interested in creating original work that will not be seen as a manneristic footnote on penumbras emanating from Percy's lousy, hackneyed wreck of a book, "The Thanatos Syndrome"? [Thanatos, in Freudian writing, was the death urge. Catholics cannot afford to wallow anymore in the culture of death. Read Joyce Kilmer, below, on self-destruction. The only logical response to self-destructive behavior is Kilmer's flip question, "And don't you think you were an ass?"] Anyone else wondering why we need to suffer through two hundred pages of shock reading to get to a not-so-bright point about morality?

An inordinate amount of Catholic "literary commentary" focuses on modern works that focus on ugliness. I'm sick of ugly books about sin. I'm at a loss to explain why conservative intellectuals who recommend books about sin [i.e., about breaking the sixth commandment] also trumpet family values and point fingers at politicians or other public figures who might need to go to confession every now and then. I suspect they're playing a game of Hegelian dialectic on us--- with the prudery of their public positions playing off against the license of their artistic voyeurism [please, someone explain to me the difference between Percy's verbal pornography and Paris Hilton's films. Will certain intellectuals finally completely flip their lid and discover that Paris Hilton is creating "art films" that illustrate the plight of modern sinners? Give me a break!]. So, with prudery on one hand, and literary voyeurism on the other, the commentators are set up as the pathfinders who can show us exactly what narrow path to walk so that we can be naughty and nice in just the right measure. [Jesus, by the way, wasn't into "naughty and nice"... goodness and redemption and true enjoyment instead. He also said to call no man father, that is, to elevate no one to a godlike status-- which would imply that we should be cautious about letting critics of any kind tell us what to read.]

I submit that the way out of this dialectical fraud is for Catholic writers to stop reacting to the Catholic critics. We can, of course, read what we want to, but must read critically. At some point, we must question why they keep recommending the same five or six authors. [I hope they have read other books....] Therefore, while the philosophes bore one another extolling the ugly books, I would like to recommend something transcendant. Fordham University's website features an Internet Medieval Sourcebook. As we readers and writers redicover the real canon, the modern literature of the grotesque can shrink to its rightful stature.

Note well that no Western Catholic writer of the twentieth century wrote a traditional epic. You can't spin an epic out of ugliness.

Enjoy the Fordham University Medieval Sourcebook:

And, if you don't want to read it, you don't have to. There's freedom to think for yourself on this website.


Friday, June 8, 2007

"Slavonic Pope" Poem Needs Translator

I have grown up in a Polish town, and know enough Polish to know that roughly 50% of the children in that town were "brats." Sadly, I do not yet know enough Polish to render a worthy translation of the most important Catholic poem of modern times, Juliusz Slowacki's "Slavonic Pope." I hoped to use this as a foreword for the John Paul II LifeGuide, and labored over this poem quite a while... In the interests of time and accuracy, though, I punted and including Pope Benedict's amazing funeral homily, itself quite poetic.

Nonetheless, current English translations of Slowacki's poem are very poor, and often abbreviated. Most omit Slowacki's spicier put-downs-- including those of Italian popes of yore, particular "that Italian" who fled Rome... I would imagine that's Pius fleeing from Napoleon.

I include the Polish text for my readers down on Milwaukee Avenue:

If you are able, please translate this! It is quickly being forgotten. The pale and annoying legend of a political "John Paul the Great" is nothing compared to Slowacki's vision, which is all the more dramatic because it was prophecy.


Thursday, June 7, 2007

Antidote to 20th Century Angst

To A Young Poet Who Killed Himself
by Joyce Kilmer

When you had played with life a space
And made it drink and lust and sing,
You flung it back into God's face
And thought you did a noble thing.
"Lo, I have lived and loved," you said,
"And sung to fools too dull to hear me.
Now for a cool and grassy bed
With violets in blossom near me."

Well, rest is good for weary feet,
Although they ran for no great prize;
And violets are very sweet,
Although their roots are in your eyes.
But hark to what the earthworms say
Who share with you your muddy haven:
"The fight was on -- you ran away.
You are a coward and a craven.

"The rug is ruined where you bled;
It was a dirty way to die!
To put a bullet through your head
And make a silly woman cry!
You could not vex the merry stars
Nor make them heed you, dead or living.
Not all your puny anger mars God's irresistible forgiving.

"Yes, God forgives and men forget,
And you're forgiven and forgotten.
You might be gaily sinning yet
And quick and fresh instead of rotten.
And when you think of love and fame
And all that might have come to pass,
Then don't you feel a little shame?
And don't you think you were an ass?"


Res ipsa loquitur. File this poem away and read it, next time someone presumes that writing is a foppish, self-destructive escape from reality.


Friday, June 1, 2007

Dateline: St. Louis

(EP)-- Catholic Writers has uncovered another unknown and worthy literary society. It is called the T.S. Eliot Society, and it is devoted to studying the work of amazing American poet T.S. Eliot (a St. Louis native, if I recall his bio from my Philosophy of Literature class). Eliot's The Wasteland was the most eloquent portrayal of modern atheism. His Four Quartets could be interpreted as his Anglican answer to The Wasteland.

A pop culture note on Eliot: the Crash Test Dummies' '90's hit Afternoons and Coffee Spoons was a reinterpretation of the Lovesongs of J. Alfred Prufrock.

Another random note. I had the privilege to take several worthwhile literature courses while at Notre Dame. I'll have to blog more about Philosophy of Literature--I signed up believing I'd be studying Dante's Cantos with medieval maven Eleanor Stumpf. On Day One, I walked in [in red plaid shirt and ripped jeans, like all the other disaffected nirvana-era philo majors] to meet Wes Kirkpatrick, disaffected atheist grad student and the best interpreter of modern literature I have yet met. Everyone in the class loved him because he would not allow us to dismiss serious questions with airy platitudes about "making a difference," "changing the world," "progress of history," and other foolish nineteen year old notions that poor writers carry with them into their careers.

If Jesus is the answer, we must be able to ask, "What was the question?" Remind me to search through the boxes of college notes...

In the meantime, here's the TS Eliot Society.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Catholic Great Books Study Series

While surfing today, I came across a great-looking high-school resource from Catholic Heritage Curriculum, a home schooling company. They have created book and study guide packets to guide students through great Catholic books. Packets are available for Chesterton's poems Lepanto and The Ballad of the White Horse, Hilaire Belloc's Path to Rome, T.S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral, and others. The resources are designed with an introduction to the author, a discussion of literary elements, questions and exercises, an answer key, and teacher's resources.

In her classic on speechwriting, Simply Speaking, Peggy Noonan stressed that you write your best speeches when you are reading great speeches. Analogously, you will write great books and poems when you are reading great books and poems. Self-study is an essential part of the writing life. Even if you are fifty-five, a well-designed book and study guide can improve your understanding of great ideas, great literary forms, and great authors.

Each of us writers can find areas of literature into which we have never delved. Why not use a study guide to assist in the exciting discoveries involved in the literary life?

Hopefully Catholic Heritage Books will continue to make additional volumes available in this series. It is a great idea.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

May 1st: Feast of St. Joseph the Worker

Today is one of many Church feast days dedicated to St. Joseph. It celebrates St. Joseph the Worker, the carpenter and humble artisan to whom God entrusted his Son and Our Lady.

On another feast day of St. Joseph, March 19, 1997, John Paul II spoke the following words on the subject of work:

The Church reminds all who attempt to assert the predominance of technology, thereby reducing man to a "product" or a means of production, that "man is the subject of work," since in the divine plan "work is 'for man'" and not man 'for work.'"

Have a wonderful Tuesday, and don't get too frazzled at work!

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Everything's online now, even Elvish!

No, not Elvis. He really is dead.


This can provoke thought about whether Tolkien's stories about little people have any moral merit, whether it is a waste of time or a noble use of our speculative intellect to create alternative worlds, etc...

or Elvish can be used the way kids use it: as a secret language to speak in when you don't want the teacher, boss, party officials, etc to know what you're really talking about. I believe it sounds quite a lot like Latvian. Others claim Tolkien based it on Irish.

Analyzing how Grimm's Fairy Tales differ from pagan folk tales because of our Christian beliefs is an area of interest... My reservations about Tolkien, Lewis, MacDonald, etc, is that to my knowledge, in 20th century England people didn't really believe in witches [or did they?]. Was it an inauthentic device, kind of like our liturgies that involve faux folk music-- written in New York apartments?-- to whip up inauthentic emotions? Also a real caution for Catholics is the problem of focusing on magic-- a thing forbidden by the Lord our God. A complex topic-- certainly we are allowed to imagine; but how do we tell stories without swallowing the evil we are trying to smash? WWJD?

Gentle reader, I hope these are enough distractions for today.

Comments most welcome!


P.S. WWJD: back to Genesis: did giants like Finn McCool really live on the earth in antediluvian times? Maybe so....

My favorite website on the Middle Ages

Dear Catholicwriters fan,

This website provides many hours of distraction, as well as edification.

Learn all about the first Irish monastic settlements, and the beehive-shaped stone cells the ascetics lived in. Also fascinating: St. Brigid's Fire, lit for the poor to warm themselves at Kildare by this saint called "The Mary of Ireland." The fire has burned continuously and the nuns at Kildare tend the flame of hospitality to this day. Learn about Iona, St. Columba's home in the Outer Hebrides. Or Clonfert, the ruins on the Shannon, consisting of a door....

The thought has struck me again and again that the British Isles will not be reconverted to ardent faith while the holy places, where learning and faith were nourished, are left in ruins. We have no memory of what we cannot see, whether it is the battlefield of Manassas under a shopping mall, or four lands with silent monasteries destroyed by pagan Danes, or those lying wasted under manors built after the seizure of lands during King Henry's tenure. The British Isles once sent missions to Charlemagne's court which led to the reconversion of the continent ... if these halls of prayer, song and writing stand again, what could happen? Dream big dreams. God like big prayers, not little ones.

Never again have an unpublished thought!

Today a fan knee-deep in work wrote in and asked me to post some distracting updates. I think this update, "Never again have an unpublished thought," will, if properly pursued, lead to at least an entire week of distractions!

A bit of brainstorming and inspiration conspired to serve up the Big Rock Candy Mountain of writer's websites:

That's right: a whole site devoted to "Calls for Papers in English and American Literature." Jump on the listserv, browse the archives of announcements, or join in a conversation on Brit Lit. Hours of entertainment, and a listserv subscription too!

If you yearn to deliver papers on Catholic writers such as Flannery O'Connor, Walker Percy, John Henry Cardinal Newman-- or examining how Catholicism influenced and haunted writers like Hemingway and Hawthorne... here is your site!

As well we must remember that to be Catholic does not always mean pursuing theology... Pursuing beauty for its own sake is good. After the VA Tech tragedy, the world could benefit from a sound paper on "Call me Ishmael," [not Ismail Ax] or an analysis of what George really meant when he showed Lucy Honeychurch the interrogation mark [another literary illusion possibly copied by the assassi, whose paper header one day replaced his name with a "?" Is this to be taken at face value? Or was this a bright loose cannon who was trying to flirt with the teacher, Brit lit style? Was a literary allusion mistaken by illiterate journalists as a sign of deep disturbance? Surely the eventual killer had read "A Room with a View."]

The disturbing VA Tech massacre, perpetrated by a student of English, causes us to pause and think about the real purpose of letters. Art and beauty can lead us to God, or we can distort the arts into an egoistic and meaningless pursuit. Catholic writing must serve our ultimate end and the glory of God.

A frivolous distraction has provoked some serious thought. We need good papers, hard-thought, courageous papers, to address the topic of literature's moral purpose, and we need good literature that honestly address free will, good and evil, our ultimate end of Heaven, and the like.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Distance Ed for Catholic Writers

The founder of a Christian screenwriter's guild tipped me off to this distance ed resource:
UCLA has a prestigious Writer's Certificates program. You can take classes in creative writing, screenwriting, writing for TV, etc. Great basic training at a time when the market needs and demands Catholic content onscreen and in books! I hope to take a class this summer...

Lots of great Catholic distance ed programs exist, but the International Catholic University is singular in its versatility as well as its faculty. Started by Ralph McInerny in the 1990's, the ICU pairs audio/video material with a course syllabus. The courses are offered for M.A. degree credit, in either theology or philosophy, from Holy Apostles' Seminary in Cromwell, CT. Courses are also offered for self-study on DVD/audio or VHS, at a reasonable cost of $75 a course. Starving Catholic artists can purchase a course on, say, the Liberal Arts, Religious Art History, or Christology... and then when they sell their first novel and their budget for continuing education is greater, enroll in the M.A. program.

More on this topic later!

Government Funding Deadlines May 1st

It is a little-known fact that the National Endowment for the Humanities offers research grants to independent scholars. Affiliation with a university or think-tank is not a requirement for receiving government funding for a worthy project.

While endorsements of a particular religion using government funds is prohibited, many humanistic topics that are faith-related could be researched, provided they are tied to the greater goals of the NEH guidelines. The current NEH head, Dana Gioia, is an accomplished writer with a sound mind.

Several deadlines are coming up on May 1st. Whether or not you intend to apply this year, bookmark this page:

Who knows, maybe this year's winning research project could be the "Collected Works of St. Katherine Drexel"?

Catholic Journalism Scholarship Fund Apps Due May 1st

Freelancers or staff writers who are members of the Catholic Press Association are eligible to apply for the Catholic Journalism Scholarships.

Unlike many writing fellowships, the CPA Scholarships can be used for continuing education:
"Scholarships given are in the $250-$1,000 range, and a person who received one grant may apply for a second within five years, up to $2,000.
Scholarships have been granted to learn Spanish, enhance graphic skills, take pastoral ministry courses, go on study trips for Appalachia, pursue M.B.A’s--anything allied to the communications field and their job in the Catholic press.
Applicants need to have been employed in the Catholic press for at least three years."

For complete information, and for eligibility requirements for belonging to the Catholic Press Association, go to:

This blog will endeavor to publicize funding opportunities, conferences, recommended courses, lectures, etc. Stay tuned for more announcements!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

They shave the heads of the novitiates, poor girls!

Got your attention! This is not the title of a Father Dowling mystery, but an ad of sorts for one of our newly listed Writer's Resources. [see left]. The Oxford English Dictionary [OED] word of the day features not only a word but info about etymology, proper usage, etc. Today, no surprise, the word of the day is "novitiate." If you are wondering why notiviates get their heads shaved, go to the OED; "go look it up," as your fourth grade teacher used to say.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Lost Catholic Classics

Father Kinsella's letters remind us of the mentor/ student relationship that is fundamental to any writing endeavor. This certainly holds most true when the students of Catholic literature seek to find source material that transcends current Oprah offerings that aim at a neutral goal of "getting people to read good/ great books."

In order to search for truth, this website will phase in discussions of Great Catholic Sources.

In the meantime, here are a few of my favorites from the lost ages of Christendom. It is imperative that we rediscover this source material:

  • St. Benedict, Rule of St. Benedict
  • Pope St. Gregory the Great, Life of St. Benedict
  • Beowulf, Seamus Heaney translation
  • Dante, Divine Comedy
  • On Marriage and Family, St. John Chrysostom [available from St. Vladimir's Press]
  • Catena Aurea, St. Thomas Aquinas' collected commentary by the Church Fathers on the Four Gospels
  • Hymns and Prayers of St. Thomas Aquinas
  • Prayers of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who had a great devotion to Our Lady

By now, it may be obvious that JMD is a Jesuit-trained firebrand, a talented apologist for the faith. I had the privilege of being schooled and trained by Dr. Ralph McInerny, whose knowledge of all things medieval surpasses Fr. Dowling's knowledge of all this deadly.

Next time: A list of what's on my art book shelf [I am a former art history student, with a concentration in the medieval and high renaissance periods]. Visual imagery is a key to rediscovering our Christian identity.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

"Letters From Fr. Kinsella, S.J."

I have had the writing bug in me for quite awhile now, but being an amateur I have always had difficulty in (1) getting started and (2) putting my thoughts into a format that folks would enjoy reading. Most of my friends know that I have been very blessed to be educated at Jesuit schools. From St. Ignatius High School, where I first developed my tastes for the classics and was introduced to Chesterton, to Loyola University Chicago, where I continued my classical studies and was introduced to the rich heritage of the Catholic intellectual life--especially the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, the writings of Belloc, and the academic tradition of the Jesuits. Integral to this education was my purposeful seeking out of the Jesuit professors in their 70's and 80's and above. These were the most brilliant men in the world. They could hold court with any of the reigning Oxford dons and they would also be just as interested--if not more so--with daily life of a housewife taking care of multiple children. Sadly, most of my professors are now gone. There are only 2 left--both in their eighties--and still teaching at the university. I can say with a fair degree of certitude that I likely learned more through conversations with them than through formal classes.

In this spirit, I have chosen one of these men, Fr. John Kinsella, S.J., Professor of Law (Requiescat in pace), as the inspiration for a series of "letters to a young man" that I am writing. Though Fr. Kinsella is the name I am using, the particular literary device of a "priest-letter writer" is an amalgam of all the old Jesuit professors that I have had and also (Ellen, you'll like this) Prof. Charlie Rice. One of the reasons that I have chosen these gentlemen is that they have maintained the faith throughout most of a very turbulent century, and they have that rare blend of common sense and humility which is severely lacking today.

I will be periodically submitting these "letters" for comment and critique by our friends and colleagues here. I hope that they will be both entertaining and substantive and I look forward to your comments--if you hate it don't be sparing in the criticism!

(This letter is handwritten, it is just typed here for ease of reading.)

July 31, 20--
The Feast of St. Ignatius Loyola

Dear Joe,

It was good seeing you and the family several weeks ago. It sounds like you are quite busy with conditioning for your upcoming football season and getting ready for your junior year. Today is a very special day for us Jesuits as it is the Feast of St. Ignatius. I arose and offered Mass early, as is my custom. Our house has an old chapel with multiple altars where the Fathers may offer their private Masses. I prefer the stillness of the early morning hours when all is quiet and I can most prayerfully unite my heart and mind to Our Lord’s sacrifice. Today I offered Mass for my fellow Jesuits and also for you and the family.

While I have email, I thought that I would write you this letter as it seems to be becoming a lost art. In our technological age, where everything can be done at a moment’s notice, a handwritten letter seems to be a rarity. I recently read a wonderful piece by Dr. Mitchell Kalpakgian--I suspect your father may have read some of his stuff--on letter writing. I think it is a wonderful piece and I wrote down several of his passages that really struck me. (Incidentally, I will try to obtain a copy for you and send it to you as I’m sure that you will enjoy it.) Anyway, Kalpakgian writes:

As the world becomes more impersonal and dehumanizing, a personal letter cheers and warms the heart and humanizes daily life. Life is not just business or work but play and delight, and a friendly letter serves no utilitarian purpose but is an activity enjoyable for its own sake.” (New Oxford Review, “The Lost Art of Letter Writing” Sept. 2004)

How true this is! Today, the world seems to be lost in efficiency. A latent attitude that seems to prevail is, “if it takes time, it is not being done right.” Hence our fast food culture. We Americans are famous for our desire for instant gratification. Kalpakgian continues:

Personal letters reassure people that they are unique, not merely social security numbers or anonymous customers. Someone found the time and took the interest and gave priority to the importance of communicating to a friend, relative, or loved one; someone realized the importance of the little things that beautify and civilize daily existence; someone still knows and practices the virtue of graciousness. A friendly letter testifies to the goodness of the human heart.

The arrival of a letter, however, not only rejoices the spirit of the recipient but also expands the heart of the writer. The art of letter writing involves imagining the presence of the other person. The writer must recall everything about the person being addressed -- his character, temperament, sensibility, interests, and background -- and imagine being in his company and holding a conversation with him. Letter writing cultivates in the correspondent the art of pleasing another person by engaging in common topics of interest, displaying a sense of humor, offering wise advice, acknowledging gratitude, or expressing love. Letter writing requires effort, concentration, and thought, even though it can be lighthearted, whimsical, and informal. One must find something to say that is substantive, engaging, or entertaining. In short, letter writing cultivates contemplation, an essential higher mental activity that transcends the mere exchange of information. (NOR, “The Lost Art of Letter Writing” Sept. 2004)

Kalpakgian says it so well! In my day, letter writing was a common thing. It was always exciting to receive a letter from a friend and especially when it was unexpected. I still have some personal handwritten letters from the past that I have saved--some from loved ones, others from very holy men that have meant a lot to me. Anyway, I write these thoughts to you because I prefer to communicate in this way. You remind me a lot of myself when I was younger and I hope that you would consider coming to me should you need anything. I won’t lie to you. I sincerely hope that you consider being a Jesuit one day. I know that you have a girlfriend (didn’t you call her a “knockout?” I would tend to agree.), but you can’t blame me for bringing it up! Anyway, I hope to hear from you soon. Do well on the football field--I hear you guys have a tough schedule this year. Don’t forget to focus on your studies when the term begins as well. Please give my regards to all the family.

In Domino,

Fr. Kinsella

Thoughts on a Catholic Press

A special thanks to Miss Rice for inviting me to contribute to this blog, which I hope will be a promising venture to bring together good Catholics and good writing. In an essay on the need for a Catholic press, Hilaire Belloc once opined that a "Catholic press" is not one that is overtly Catholic, i.e., expounding upon the great dogmas of the faith or citing theological treatises in its writing; rather, a Catholic press--and the one that is needed--is a press that sees the world as it truly is, i.e., making full use of the arsenal of faith and reason. It is a press that that recognizes truth from error and seeks to bring others to the true, the good and the beautiful--for that is indeed why we have been created.

Thus, the Catholic press should and ought to speak not only to Catholics but to everyone. This is not to say that such a press should be silent on the theological or the explicitly ecclesial, certainly not. But it should nonetheless be able to intelligently comment on the issues of the day or bring forth literature that is common sensical and oriented towards man's end. This blog, in a small little corner of cyberspace, I hope will contribute to such an effort.

Ad multos annos!

Update: Though not the essay I was referring to, here is another by Belloc that touches on the same themes.

Monday, April 2, 2007

John Paul II: Artists, Be Yourself!

Not said quite that way. But on the second anniversary of his passing, here is a notable line from his Letter to Artists, which will be quoted often here:

"The history of art... is not only a story of works produced but also a story of men and women. Works of art speak of their authors; they enable us to know their inner life, and they reveal the original contribution which artists offer to the history of culture."

There can be as many types of artists and writers as there are individuals. "Works of art speak of their authors" and "enable us to know their inner life." This takes great courage, especially when formalists demand a uniformity of product. Greatness, and great writing, consists in developing the unique and special gifts given by our Creator and Father.

Restraint in portraying evil

From the Vatican II Decree on the Media of Social Communications, Inter Mirifica:

"the narration, description or portrayal of moral evil, even through the media of social communication, can indeed serve to bring about a deeper knowledge and study of humanity and, with the aid of appropriately heightened dramatic effects, can reveal and glorify the grand dimensions of truth and goodness. Nevertheless, such presentations ought always to be subject to moral restraint, lest they work to the harm rather than the benefit of souls, particularly when there is question of treating matters which deserve reverent handling or which, given the baneful effect of original sin in men, could quite readily arouse base desires in them."

This provides food for thought. It demands order and charity and restraint in the artistic handling of moral evil.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Why this site?

While trade newsletters and websites abound in the writing industry, the need for this online community is great.

Catholics, the heirs to the fulness of the Truth given by Jesus Christ through the Church under the See of Peter, are theoretically the most qualified to contemplate and write about truth, goodness and beauty. Sadly, we are removed from our tradition by lack of exposure. Also, few emerging writers who work in the Catholic market are familiar with the artistic aspects of writing. Therefore, this community will offer postings from a range of writers. We will explore different facets of our intellectual tradition, post information about happenings for writers, and just have a good time.

Please enjoy our blogspot, and come back soon!