How to Self-Help Without the Self-Loathing

Monday, June 24, 2019




We've all heard it. The how-I-became-a-better-person story in every self-help genre book. It normally starts with a tale of woe about how awful they were, how not enough, how behind, and how horrible the world was for them.
Maybe it's true, maybe some people have to hit their own rock bottom before making a change. But every time I read these stories I wonder how much more encouraging they would be if the self-loathing wasn't such an integral starting point?

Like what would happen if women (because let's be real, that's the typical target audience of these stories) could hear story after story of people making a change in their life out of a place of acceptance?
What if instead of fad dieting, in its many forms, we ate food for nourishment and in connection with other people?
Couldn't there be balance in our activities?
Making a change out of a desire to grow, instead of a desire to run away from our now-selves?

I think what's missing from most of the writing of self-help authors is a knowledge of the goodness and inherent dignity of each person. They're missing God.
Which isn't to say they don't respect the people they are writing for - clearly they think we are capable of becoming more than what we are. They just miss the point where without an understanding of the humanity end game, it's very hard to travel to that destination.

Most self help books fail to answer why we should want become what the author is proposing. Yes, sometimes it's wrapped up in studies showing why we should make this change, but those are often less convincing when investigated. Too often the author is arguing we should remake ourselves in their own image.

I have a favorite quote from St. Anthony of Padua on the subject - yes the guy you pray to to help you find lost stuff.  Many don't know that St. Anthony was a prolific writer, and we still have many of his homilies and talks. He has a beautiful perspective on how to approach becoming our best selves:

"Do you want to have God always in your mind? Be just as he made you to be. Do not go seeking another ‘you’. Do not make yourself otherwise than he made you. Then you will always have God in mind."

Oh how wonderfully freeing! 

What St. Anthony gets, and most self-help books don't, is in order to become our truest selves we must have a complete understanding of reality. An understanding of truth that leads us to see ourselves completely and fully as who we are. We have to seek ourselves to seek God, and seek God as we seek ourselves.

That means we can't buy someone else's prepackaged wellness religion. We can't shut off whole parts of ourselves. It often means leading a very different life from our friends and loved ones.

But we get something so much better.

We get to love others without the comparison, envy, and eventually hatred that comes from loathing ourselves. 
We get to take perfection out of its oppressive, perverted, usage and reclaim it for it's truth - that seeking perfection is seeking God who is perfect. 
We can take all of the anxiety and worry and pressures we have heaped on our shoulders, and notice that it's never been our burden. That was never meant to be there.
We are meant for love, we are meant for God, and we are meant to be who were created to be.

Thankfully, God is patient. He lets it be a process. I have all the leeway in the world to get frustrated, angry, and just done with trying. He lets me be sorry. He lets me stand up and try again. He's infinitely patient, infinitely good.

Seeking his path and truth is the image I want to discover in myself. It does take work. It does take effort. It sometimes looks like getting my butt to the gym and eating well. It does mean making time to read and continuing to nurture my mind. But that only stays helpful if I am seeking the me God sees. Because I am already who he loves - this isn't about making myself good enough for God. It's about learning to see myself in God's truth.

That's real self-help.

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How I Do Grief + Blogging Thoughts

Friday, June 14, 2019



1

I have a particular need to do something meaningful, or tackle a project that has been forgotten, when I'm grieving a loss. Really any loss, but especially a death.
It's why my house looks oddly clean for someone morning her child.
And why you are likely to find the entire contents of a closet or drawer on the kitchen table while I re-organize spaces that have bugged me for months.

When things are happening that are not in my control, it helps to make my surroundings just a little better.

2

If not apparent from the above, I'm awful at resting.
I'm a slow physical healer and I know the need to rest is a thing for promoting better healing. But I hate it. I hate feeling like my body can't let me live my life.
So I bribe myself....

3
With books!
But not fiction. For some reason I have a decided distaste for most fiction, and it gets bad in grief times. When there is so much to process, and so many things I can never know or understand, I love me some thick history books. 
History is knowable, verifiable, and enlightening for the present. Understanding a little more about something beyond my own grief is what lets me be ok laying in bed when I'm supposed to do so.

4

Tea is amazing.
I still love my coffee, but for some reason Earl Grey tea has been my jam during this time. Hot drinks, even in summer, remains an important tool for reminding myself to pause.

5

Then there's writing.
I do keep a bullet journal and do some writing processing that way, but this time around I haven't been as inclined to write about it on the blog. I know the words might come eventually, but I'm deciding it's also ok to not share everything with the internet (as lovely as y'all are.)

6

Speaking of the blog, Kelly at This Ain't the Lyceum wrote about blogging as a side hustle vs. leisure as her 7 Quick Takes today. If you can't tell by the fact that I'm still a proud blogspot.com URL user in 2019, this is not a side hustle blog. 
Growing the blog was never about getting well known, getting my writing out there, making money, or launching a career (which is good because I'd say most of that has not happened.) I've always written this blog hoping to reach just one person who needed to hear it. Just to let one person know they were not the only person on this Earth who shares their struggle, concern, or perspective. Just let one person not feel so alone.
"Grow enough to reach the one" is basically what I do around here.

7

I did have a goal to participate in community better, perhaps via the blog, back when this all started in 2015. Sometimes I forget how successful the internet has been in that regard.
Going through another miscarriage has brought that reminder.
Far away internet friends have sent cards and restaurant gift cards. I've relied on books written by fellow bloggers to help me through this. Priest friends read the update and offered prayers and liturgies for our baby.

Over the years there have been conference meet ups, skill shares, Facebook groups, and messaging friends I only know from the internet when I happen to be traveling through their town to ask them to get coffee. It can sometimes be weird to be so invested in people I've never met in person, but thank you to all the people who have said yes to hanging out with me. 
Thanks to the mighty few who have been readers since the beginning. 
The ones who keep coming back even when I float away from speaking to your specific season of life. Thanks for riding on this journey with me.

**********

New this week:





The Power of the True Story

Tuesday, June 11, 2019



Have you ever considered how many stories were instrumental in shaping your family, neighborhood, environment, and your personal experience? How many of those stories left their mark but were not told to you?

The families that have lived in your home before you.
The parishioners who built your church.
The long gone loved ones who changed the people who raised you.

In the true story, the lived story, there are true surprises. Little details can really surprise the main characters.
I'm an awful theater person when watching a play or movie. I'm always on the look out for the whys. In a scene that has been edited, work shopped, rehearsed, and choreographed - nothing happens without a reason. It's nearly always possible for me to get a scene or two ahead in the story just by paying attention to the little details.

But in real life those little details have unforeseeable and lasting consequences. They can't always be anticipated even by the most observant person.

Those little, personal, details manage to speak to seemingly unrelated stories. The story of the mom going through chemotherapy while homeschooling her kids can speak deeply to the story of the mom experiencing Hyperemesis Gravidarum with young children at home. Yes, their experiences are not identical, but both are going through a time of intense life change that is largely outside of their ability to control. There are multiple subjects within their stories that ARE shared: coping strategies, emotional and physical care coordination, keeping kids busy when you have intense needs.

The true story remains true, even when the specifics diverge. That means the story of a person who looks radically different from me can still speak to my life and struggles.

How cool is that?!

Once you start to gain an appreciation for the true story, it becomes a lot harder to shut people out. Because all of those people can now potentially speak to your story, despite what appears to be polar opposite situations. No longer can you compare the checklist of external identifiers to determine if this person has anything to share that will speak to your life. It makes telling these true stories, discovering the personal side of history and society, an extremely powerful tool for building empathy and entering into communion with each other.

Telling a story is not just about the subject of the story - it also tells a lot about the storyteller. I am not going to tell a story in exactly the same way as you might. Different aspects will speak strongly to me that might not have even been noticeable to you. The aspects of a story that I choose to highlight say a lot about what I see as important and how I view the subject of the story. When I write about a priest who was murdered by the KKK or a woman who became a modern day anchoress, I'm not trying to write the most accurate story possible (even though everything is accurate to the best of my knowledge), I am writing to convey something I find important within this person's life story.

The historical is personal, for history is made up of the story of persons. It lets us practice seeing the trials and surprises of life in a bigger context. In the context of the human story.

***************

Some updates.

I have LOVED writing the Cool Historic Catholics of America series. But I don't know if y'all have noticed, but it's going to take a looooooong time to release all 51 stories via blog posts. Even with doing 3-4 at a time. Like over a year long.
Before starting to write this series, I did identify someone for each of the 50 states plus Washington DC. If your state hasn't come up yet, I DO have someone for you.
I want to finish telling you some of the stories of Catholics and the Catholic story in the US, but I am going to pause and rethink how best to do that. Stay tuned!

***

If you follow me on Facebook or especially Instagram you have probably heard that we recently lost our baby (and that pregnancy announcement was the last thing I published on this blog). Recovery is very long and slow, and it's going to be a little touch and go for a bit here. I am still active and writing when I am up to it. If you're interested in updates, most of those will probably be on Instagram and sometimes Facebook.
Thank you to everyone who has reached out, prayed, showed up. Just all of it. Thank you.

Yes, This is an Announcement

Tuesday, May 21, 2019


We interrupt your regularly scheduled history programming (which I would love to hear your thoughts about the three installments so far) to bring you this special announcement:

We're Expecting!!!

Baby #4 is due a little after Christmas. Which in my case will probably mean January.

This baby is a lot of firsts for us.
The first baby to be born in Amelia Hill House.
The first winter baby (like send all the tips for surviving a postpartum in the middle of a Minnesota winter!)
The first baby where I get to have the same care provider as a prior birth.
The first baby who will be born in the middle of our homeschool year.

I love that even this many kids in, the firsts keep rolling and it's still exciting.

Kids reactions were as follows:

John and Therese - fist pumps, whoops, hollers, bets on gender (guess which one John wants so bad!)
Felicity - "No....no baby...................tummy?"

So she's getting there.

I'm feeling pretty good. The early pregnancy fatigue means these late night rehearsals are kicking my butt. And it's not even Tech weeks yet! (For non-theater speaking people: Tech is when you add in all the costumes, lights, and sound, and make your actors stay very late very frequently. It's the period where everyone starts to hate each other just a little bit. It's the necessary time before the show opens and suddenly we all LOVE this cast and NEVER want it to end! It's a thing.)

This baby and Felicity will be just slightly further apart than John and Therese. I liked that spacing so hopefully it works well again.

It's going to be quite the Christmas season this year!



Delaware to Georgia - Cool Historic Catholics of America

Tuesday, May 14, 2019



From left to right: the cemetery at Coffee Run, Delaware (site of the Fr. Kenny house), prayer card for the cause of Antonio Cuipa - martyr of La Florida, and Fr. Ignatius Lissner, S.M.A.
All of the following examples of Cool Historic Catholics lived in times of transition. We're going to touch on a little of what life was like for a Catholic living in the British colonies and the early United States, our ancestors who were martyred for their faith in La Florida, and another part of the story of combating racial injustice during the early part of the 20th century.

Delaware - Fr. Patrick Kenny

We're going back to Colonial America!
Your experience as a Catholic living in the American Colonies was highly dependent on in which colony you lived. In only four of the original colonies were Catholics not suppressed, banned, or under civil disabilities by 1785: Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and Delaware. Anti-Catholic sentiment, and restricting laws, didn't loosen in most colonies until the Revolutionary War made the new Americans rather dependent on the Catholic French. (Funny how easy it is to hate a group until you need them.)

Surprisingly, despite this history of being somewhat of a haven for non-Protestants, Delaware had very few people to appear in my search! So we're going to talk about an early priest who is notable not so much by what he did, but by the records he left behind.

In the Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia from 1896, there is found a biography, and excerpts from the diary, of Fr. Patrick Kenny.

Fr. Patrick Kenny was born in Ireland in 1763, and arrived at the port of Wilmington, Delaware in the summer of 1804. The heat of American summer was overwhelming, and the priest immediately tried to secure passage back home on the same ship. But a full passenger list thwarted his plans. So he began life as an itinerant priest.

Itinerant priests were very common in the early days of the US. Catholic communities were often sparse and spread far apart from each other. Most were poor farmers and could not afford to support a priest alone. Priests came exclusively from overseas, as the first Catholic seminary in the US was not founded until 1822 - leaving the total number of priests in the dozens to serve thousands spread throughout the land. These priests lived by going from community to community. Most stayed for a time with various Catholic families, and communities paid a small subscription to the priest to come and say mass and perform sacraments for their community. Masses at this time were often performed in homes.

Fr. Kenny regularly attended five stations, and one church, spread between two states (Delaware and Pennsylvania). After a few years of living this essentially homeless life, Fr. Kenny bought a farm, located at Coffee Run, in 1808 from the Jesuits. The order had been under papal suppression since 1773, and were unable to staff their US mission areas (which is a much longer story for another time!) Fr. Kenny decided that the old Jesuit mission could be used as a future center to serve the Catholics of Delaware.

It was at Coffee Run that the first Catholic church was established in Delaware. It was a log mission church built in 1790. The cemetery was established then, and it is all that remains of the original site today due to arson.

His diary gives a real, rough, picture of what life was like for those early priests. They were constantly moving, working in rough conditions, and managing many different communities. Small as the American Catholic community was, they managed to have their fair share of controversies and struggles. Itinerant priests could find themselves stuck in the middle of a fight that both exasperated them and they felt responsibility for settling.  Sickness was frequent, food often short, and the weather hard.

Fr. Kenny died in 1840 at the age of 79 following a stroke, and was buried at Coffee Run - next to the church he had pastored for nearly 40 years.

Florida - Martyrs of La Florida

We tend to think of the American story as starting in 1607 with Jamestown, Virginia, but the American Catholic story in Florida begins much earlier.
A Spanish mission in St. Augustine, Florida was founded in 1565, but the Dominican order attempted to start a mission near Tampa Bay in 1549.

In total there are 54 martyrdom events of La Florida under investigation. Some are for one martyr, others are for multiple martyrs. The specific events under Vatican investigation start with the Dominicans in 1549 and end with the martyrdom of three Apalachee natives killed protecting the Eucharist in 1761.

Although there were diocesan priests serving in La Florida at the time, all of the Proto-martyrs (between 1549 and 1597) were members of three Catholic orders: Dominican, Jesuit, or Franciscan. 1647 marks the date that native Christians began to be martyred, starting in Apalachee.

1697 to 1707 were particularly bloody. Many massacres, brutal attacks, and destruction of many missions. This period includes the lead martyr for the causes of the Martyrs of La Florida - Antonio Cuipa. He was an Apalachee layman particularly devoted to St. Joseph who would die tied to a cross in an English led raid in 1704.

Reasons for attacks on missions and Christians varied. Sometimes it was neighboring tribes who objected to the new religion for a variety of reasons, but many were due to slave raids. Growing English presence in the north led to a growing demand for slave labor. Tribes raiding each other for slaves to sell were frequent.

When the Catholic Church investigates martyrdom events, she requires all documents to be sealed during the investigation. I'm looking forward to learning more from the historical sources when they become available as this case moves forward. I encourage you to see the website for the martyrdom cause as they go into as much detail as is available for each of the 54 martyrdom events.

Georgia - Fr. Ignatius Lissner, S.M.A.

This is the story of a French born Catholic priest who would be a game changer for black Catholics in the US.

Ignatius was born in the Alsace region of France in 1867. His father was the descendant of Polish Jews, and he had converted to Catholicism. Out of the nine children in Ignatius' family, five would grow up to enter Church service. Ignatius was drawn to the priesthood early. He entered minor seminary and would continue his theology studies at the major seminary in Leon. He was ordained in 1891 at the age of 24.

Fr. Lissner was ordained a member of the Society of African Missions - a missionary society dedicated to serving the people of Africa and people of African descent throughout the world. His first assignment was in Whydah in the Kingdom of Dahomey (now Benin). Much of the documentation from this period has been lost. We know he stayed in Whydah about five years, he began traveling through the US and Canada raising funds for the Society in 1897, and was assigned to Egypt in 1899. In 1901, he would be sent back to the United States.

At this time the United States was classified as a mission territory by the Catholic Church (it would remain so until 1908.) There was slowly growing infrastructure to support the immigrant Catholic population, but Fr. Lissner quickly noticed the lack of care for African-American Catholics. The Holy See decided to take action by instructing the Bishop of Savannah-Atlanta to use the Society of African Missions to provide the needed pastoral care. The bishop called up Fr. Lissner.

In 1915 a bill came before the Georgia legislature that would have made the education of black children by white teachers illegal. The Catholic schools in Savannah at the time were served by Franciscan sisters - who were all white. To avoid closing the schools, Fr. Lissner proposed a new religious congregation of black sisters to the Bishop. This would become Handmaids of the Most Pure Heart of Mary. Under the leadership of Elizabeth Barbara Williams, who took the name Mother Theodore, the order was open to Catholic women regardless of race. However the bill that inspired their founding did not pass, and after struggling to survive in Georgia, the sisters relocated to New York where they found a home in Harlem.

At this time there was no seminary in the United States that would accept a black candidate. Fr. Lissner saw establishing a black clergy as part of his mission. With funds from St. Mother Katherine Drexel, S.B.S., a property was purchased in New Jersey, and St. Anthony's Mission was established in 1921. Fr. Lissner recruited six black candidates, all of whom graduated and were ordained. However, they experienced so much prejudice and hate in their congregations - all of them ended up serving outside of the United States. Those same forces led to the seminary's closure in 1927.

 As the Society expanded to the West Coast, it became apparent the work serving the blacks of America could not be staffed by Europeans alone. Fr. Lissner began working on establishing a fully functioning region of the Society of African Mission in the US. A novitiate and seminary were constructed in New Jersey in 1938, and the Society in the United States was moved to the status of a full province in 1941. Fr. Lissner was the first provincial superior.
World War II caused recruitment to be nearly impossible due to the draft, and travel restrictions made the work of a missionary society difficult even within the US. Fr. Lissner saw the Society through the challenges of WWII, including the burning down of the seminary in 1943.

Fr. Lissner retired as provincial superior in 1946 due to age and illness. He died in Teaneck, New Jersey on August 7, 1948.


Make sure to check back on the series announcement post for links to the other installments of the series, and a refresher on the criteria I used to create this list.

California to Connecticut - Cool Historic Catholics of America

Tuesday, May 7, 2019


Welcome back for more Cool Historic Catholics of America! Today we're adding in California, Colorado, and Connecticut with three amazing women. They are all very different, but they all exemplify how sometimes you might need to get creative to live your vocation.

Mother Antonia, Julia Greeley, and Nazarena of Jesus


California - Mother Antonia

Born to a privileged family in 1926 as Mary Clarke, and raised in Beverly Hills, CA, Mother Antonia had a heart for service from a young age. She participated with her family in a variety of help programs, both international and domestic.

She first married at 18, would eventually be married twice, and raised seven children. She continued to feel a strong call to serve the needy and remained heavily involved in charitable work - while also running her deceased father's business and raising said seven children.

In a documentary made about her life (Faith Inside the Walls) Mother Antonia speaks about a dream she had in 1969. In this dream Jesus appeared to her and offered to take her place. She refused his offer and tells him that she will never leave him. During the 1970s she would choose to devote her life to the Church in part because of this dream.

Within just a few years, she was again divorced, sold her home and possessions, and moved to Tijuana, Mexico to serve the prisoners there full time. She moved into a 10 x 10 cell in the women's wing of La Mesa penitentiary.

As a divorced woman, and being past the age of admittance to most orders, Mother Antonia found herself unable to join most religious orders. So she took private vows, with permission of the bishop, and donned a religious habit.
After a year of serving in this way, her work came to the attention of the bishops of Tijuana and nearby San Diego. The Bishop of Tijuana made her an auxiliary Mercedarian (an order devoted to prisoners) making her a sister at the age of 50.

 After receiving multiple requests to join Mother Antonia and follow in her footsteps, The Eudist Servants Of The Eleventh Hour religious community was founded in 1997 at the urging of diocesan leaders in Tijuana. Accepted by the Bishop of Tijuana in 2003, the order is for older women who feel the call to serve God later in life "a kind of “encore” dedicated to Our Lord."

Mother Antonia is remembered for her ever present smile and love for everyone. She was known to get in the middle of prison riots and diffuse tensions. In a quote to the Washington Post, Mother Antonia said "“Pleasure depends on where you are, who you are with, what you are eating. Happiness is different. Happiness does not depend on where you are. I live in prison. And I have not had a day of depression in 25 years. I have been upset, angry. I have been sad. But never depressed. I have a reason for my being.”

A period of declining health forced her to move out of the prison and into a local home in Tijuana. She died on October 17, 2013 at the age of 86.

Colorado - Julia Greeley - Servant of God

Born into slavery in Missouri sometime in the 1840s, Julia had a very hard early life. She was physically abused, lost an eye during a beating, and became permanently lame. Freed after the Civil War, Julia worked as a housekeeper and nanny. She moved to Denver to follow a job offer by a Mrs. Dickenson. Mrs. Dickenson who would eventually marry William Gilpin - the first territorial governor of Colorado.

Mrs. Dickenson was a devout Catholic and it was through her influence that Julia converted to the Catholic faith. Julia had a faith that would become legendary in Denver. Associated with Sacred Heart parish since it's establishment in 1879, Julia was a daily communicant.

She had a particular devotion to the poor, children, and for firemen (who worked a particularly dangerous job in the 19th century.) She was known to visit every single firehouse in the city of Denver monthly, distributing Sacred Heart leaflets. There was not a single fireman, Catholic or not, in the city of Denver that didn't know Julia. All of this despite not being able to read, write, or even count, herself.

She was constantly visiting the poor and begging for their needs. Her charity knew no bounds. She would often deliver her charitable gifts at night and in secret as she learned that many white families were embarrassed to be seen accepting charity from a black woman. She was frequently seen carrying coal and groceries to needy families, despite being so poor herself she needed assistance from the city charity department for her own fuel and groceries.
She was victimized multiple times by charity fraud, but her obituary remembers that "Julia’s rule seemingly was that it was better to give than to be too careful and deny assistance to someone who needed it."

Her love for children was well known. Julia was always up for taking care of babies, and she was trusted by all in Denver. She was remembered as a loving nanny for her many little charges over the years. The only known photograph of her, taken in 1916, shows Julia cradling a child.

Julia died on June 7, 1918, fittingly on the feast of the Sacred Heart to which she was so devoted. Her funeral attracted huge crowds as people from all over the city came to pay their respects to "the woman with the wide winged spirit."

Connecticut - Nazarena of Jesus

Born Julia Crotta in Glastonbury, Connecticut on October 15, 1907, this is a story of the talented girl next door who was called to a rare vocation.

The seventh child of Italian immigrants, Julia showed a talent for music. She started her studies at the Hartford Conservatory and moved on to study piano and and violin at Yale. She would leave Yale for a small Catholic school, to the dismay of the Yale music school dean, after an event her junior year that changed everything.

Julia is not remembered as a particularly devout person as a youngster. When a Dominican nun invited her to a Holy Week retreat in her junior year, her agreement to go was reluctant. It was an event in the chapel as she prayed alone in the evening of Good Friday that changed her life. She had a mystical experience in which she felt distinctly that Jesus was calling her into the desert.

She would spend years trying to discover what was this desert.

Julia finished college, and found work as a secretary. With her spiritual director she tried to understand this call to the desert. She tried the Carmelites of Rhode Island but find that found that was not the right fit. Her spiritual director sent her to Rome to wait for God to show his plan for her life. She tried the Camaldolese monastery, but felt restless. The superior advised her to try the Carmelites of Rome, where she would remain for five years - through the harsh trials of World War II.

The day before she would pronounce final vows for the Carmelites - Julia decided to leave the order.

She found work in a soup kitchen, but her spiritual director had an idea that Julia should enter the Camaldolese again - but not as a novice. This time as a "private recluse".

The private recluse, or anchoress, is an ancient custom and traditional to the Camaldolese order. But typically only after a number of years in the order, and even then only with special permission. The vocation is rare, almost unheard of outside of the Middle Ages.

A priest friend of Julia's arranged for her to have a private audience with Pope Pius XII. The Pope looked over the one page document that described Julia's proposed rule for her future life.

“Isn’t it a bit too rigid?” he asked, “I wish it were even more so!” Julia responded. The Pope smiled and said, “If this is the rule by which you wish to live, then take it as it is.”

On November 21, 1945, Julia entered the Camadolese monestery as a recluse - taking the name Nazarena of Jesus. She was restricted to a single cell, never allowed herself an idle moment, and attended mass and received food through a grille. She never spoke a word to anyone, except for once a year when she spoke to her spiritual director. These direction sessions could last for hours - with Nazarena talking all day.
She died in the monastery on February 7, 1990 at the age of 82.

Nazarena of Jesus, nee Julia Crotta, isn't remarkable because of the strictness and rigor of her eventual vocation - although it is that. I find her remarkable because she persisted in pursuing her vocation. Despite many false leads, dead ends, years of waiting, and last minute changes. This was not a girl who always dreamed of becoming a nun. She was called to a medieval vocation as a talented, educated, modern Catholic woman. Yet she still said yes. Even to the improbable.


Make sure to check back to the announcement post and scroll down to see other installment of the series!

Alabama to Arkansas - Cool Historic Catholics of America

Monday, April 29, 2019

Welcome to the first installation of the Cool Historic Catholics of America series! I hope you will learn a little bit about some people you have never have heard of before. 
Please make sure to read the intro post where I explain the selection criteria and process before you get upset about who is listed for your state. M'kay? 

Here we go!


Fr James Coyle, St. Herman of Alaska, Fr. Kino (sketch by Francis O'Brian 1962), Fr. Gregory Keller


Alabama - Fr. James Coyle

Born in 1873 in Ireland, Fr. Coyle is a good example of some of the pressures American Catholicism was facing in the latter part of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Ordained in Ireland at 23 years old, he sailed for America was another priest later that year to serve in Birmingham, Alabama. He was one of many Catholic priests brought to areas with growing Catholic populations in this period. In Birmingham's case, it was the large number of European immigrants coming to work the mills and mines.

Anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant, and racist beliefs were converging, and the Ku Klux Klan was ascending in Alabama. On August 11, 1921, Fr. Coyle was shot in the head while sitting on the swing of the parish rectory. The gunman was an enraged Protestant minister and Klan member. Just two hours earlier his daughter had been married to a dark-skinned Puerto Rican man, in a ceremony celebrated by Fr. Coyle.

Fr. Coyle died 40 minutes later on the operating table. His funeral was one of the largest ever held in the history of Birmingham.

Despite multiple eye witnesses to the murder, the shooter was found not guilty. It was a case defended by a team that included four clans men, paid for by the Klan, and heard by a Klansman judge.
The verdict had a chilling effect on the Catholic population.
But it marked the climax of anti-Catholicism in Alabama at the time. A local woman remembers, "After the trial there followed such revulsion of feeling among the right-minded who before had been bogged down in blindness and indifference that slowly and almost unnoticeably the Ku Klux Klan and their ilk began to lose favor among the people. It took a long time to accomplish this, and the feeling has broken out again periodically at odd times. We know that it will never be entirely wiped out, but today I should venture to say that the Catholics of Alabama enjoy the respect and good will of 85 per cent of the state. Let us not forget the martyred priest, who by his death was the instrument for bringing about in such large degree this happy state of affairs."

Alaska - St. Herman of Alaska

Ok, I know I said these would all be Catholics. But Alaska had slim pickin's and this guy is a really cool Orthodox who had a big impact on Alaska. We're a Church with two lungs, right?

So Herman of Alaska! He was born in Russia in the 1750s-ish. All the historians disagree/just don't know about his early life. Everyone agrees that, while well liked by his monk brethren, Herman felt called to a more solitary life. He became a hermit with his abbot's blessing. While offered ordination to the priesthood, and a nice mission assignment to China, Herman refused - preferring his simple life.

Russian colonization of Alaska was in full gear through the end of the 18th century, and the Shelikhov-Golikov Company appealed to Most Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church to send priests to minister to the natives. Catherine-the-Great decided to send an entire mission. The final mission included 10 monks from Herman's abbey, including Herman. They arrived on September 24, 1874.

Conditions were far worse than than monks had been led to believe, and promised supplies were wanting. Despite those challenges, the mission was very successful among the Native population, and the monks became the defenders of the native Kodiac population against overwork and abuse.

Despite still not being ordained, Herman became head of the mission in 1807.While he had very good relations with everyone, he longed to be a hermit again. He retired from active duty and moved to Spruce Island. The Island is separated from Kodiak by a mile-wide strait.

But even in his hermit habitat, Herman attracted a following. At first it was mostly Native visitors on Sundays and holy days. Then a chapel and guest house were added next to his hermitage. Then an orphanage. Whole families moved out to the island to be closer to him. He spent the rest of his life on the island until his death on November 15, 1836.

Which just goes to show even a vocation of solitary prayer can have a vigorous active ministry.

Arizona - Fr. Eusebio Francisco Kino, S.J. - Servant of God

Born in Trent in 1645 and educated in Austria, Eusebio decided to enter the Jesuits after recuperating from a serious illness. He officially joined the Society on November 20, 1665. He completed his priestly training, taught Mathematics for a while in Ingolstat, and was ordained to the priesthood on June 12, 1677.

He wanted an assignment to China, but was instead sent to New Spain. He missed the first boat, and had to wait another year to catch the next one. But while stuck in Spain he made some important astronomical observations, and discovered a comet. (Way to stay productive!)

Now New Spain was really a GIANT area, and Fr. Kino was specifically assigned to lead an expedition to Baja California. It was a massive failure and they had to return to Mexico City.

His next assignment was better. He arrived in the Pimeria Alta (modern day southern Arizona, northern Sonora, Mexico) in 1687. He established the first mission in the river valley of the Sonora Mountains, at the requests of the natives. He would eventually found or start 21 missions.
He mapped much of the ancient trading routes through Arizona and California. His maps would remain the most accurate of the region for 150 years after his death, and they remain the first accurate maps of PimerĂ­a Alta, the Gulf of California, and Baja California.
His mission also taught the native people about European agriculture, seeds, and livestock. His mission herd of 20 cows grew to 70,000 - making him Arizona's first rancher.

He interacted with 16 different tribes, and strongly opposed slavery and the compulsory labor in the silver mines that was Spanish policy at the time. This made him controversial among his co-missionaries as most enacted the laws imposed by Spain on the colonized territories.

He remained in the missions until his death from fever in 1711 at the age of 65.

His cause for sainthood calls him Patron Saint of the Borderlands. "Kino’s apostolic routes traversed every highway and desert trail in the Sonoran Desert Borderlands that are now traveled in danger by today's migrant. Kino's greatest legacy is the inspiration that his life gives to people on both sides of the U.S - Mexico Border who work to ease the suffering of today's migrants. Kino is Patron Saint of The Borderlands - Borderlands of peace, solidarity and prosperity."

His cause finally began when his skeleton was identified in 1966 in Magdalena de Kino, Sonora, 50 miles south of Nogales, Mexico. They are now awaiting the two required miracles.

You might also see his name spelled "Eusebio Francesco Chini". The Kino came into use in Spanish speaking regions, and he is best known as Fr. Kino.

ArkansasFr. Gregory Harding Keller 

And now for a just fun one! Or should I say sweet one?

Fr. Keller was a priest-inventor who had big contribution to make to the world of candy. Specifically, candy canes.

Candy canes have a long lore and history, at least to the 17th century anyway. Candy canes were recorded being made in the United States by 1847, but they were all homemade.
In 1919 Bob McCormack founded McCormack’s Famous Candy Company - eventually to be called Bob's Candies. McCormack's made candy canes on a larger scale. But the process was very labor intensive, all hand done.

But Bob McCormack had an inventor in the family, his brother-in-law, Fr. Keller.
Fr. Keller invented one machine that twisted the candies into the distinctive spiral shape and cut them. Later he invented a second machine that added the characteristic hook. The combined machines become known as a Keller Machine.
The Keller Machine is what makes the candy cane industry possible.

But that's not all he invented. Fr. Keller held patents on to process peanut butter cookies, package peanuts, decorate candies, and a "stick assortment gathering machine" to create assorted packages of candies.

He held eight degrees. After completing his first doctorate in Rome, he found himself unable to return home due to World War I. So he stayed and got another doctorate. (As you do, I suppose.)

He died on September 1. 1979 after completing 60 years as a diocesan priest serving near his hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas.


I will keep updating the intro post with each new part of the series. Check back there if you miss one!

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