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Rev. Hyacinth Blocker, O.F.M.

Hyacinth Blocker

IN LOOKING BACK, OFTEN AN AUTHOR IS CONFUSED WHEN HE tries to isolate the incidents or pinpoint the circumstances that led him to write. As far as I can recall, the first noticeable nudge to clothe ideas with paper and ink came from the Franciscan English teacher in my fifth year of the minor seminary. He coaxed me into writing poetry. That I consider an amazing achievement for any English teacher (having for a while been one myself).

Later, during my theological studies in the major seminary (Holy Family Friary, Oldenburg, Indiana), I discovered-and this is rather disconcerting-that I frequently had more time yo-yoing at my fingertips than I knew what to do with. Or was I deluding myself? Anyway, hours that otherwise would have been vacuous and vapid in this somnolent country village I turned to writing.

Being young at the time, brashly optimistic and utterly unacquainted with the ways and wiles of the world, I had that youthful color-blindness that sees everything through the sunset glow of poetry. For some time the first products of my neophytic pen were poems, simple and sugary little things that the editor of the St. Anthony Messenger condescended to publish. This was in 1926.

For the record, I should interpolate here that I was born on Lincoln's Birthday in 1904 in Louisville, Kentucky, the second youngest son of seven children of an old-fashioned but a moderately successful grocer and saloon-keeper. He had immigrated to the United States from Germany. My mother, a sliver of a woman who lived to be 86, came from a farm in Indiana. Some day I hope to write nostalgically of the 'good old days' in a book to be titled "Papa Was a Saloon-Keeper."

Ordained by Bishop Chartrand of Indianapolis in 1930, I was assigned to teach English literature and composition in Roger Bacon High School, Cincinnati, Ohio. During the summer vacations (what a misnomer for a teacher trying to get a degree!) I attended Catholic University, taking postgraduate courses in English and education. One of my campus companions was Theodore Maynard, getting his Ph.D. while teaching during the year at Georgetown; and one of my teachers in a course on the romantic poets of the nineteenth century was the accomplished author, George N. Shuster. It was here in Gibbons' Hall, that I also heard Sister Madeleva read her poems. Such chance contacts intensified my interest in literature and creative writing.

Naturally, my teaching assignments at Roger Bacon helped considerably too. I always believed that before I could actually teach my pupils the fundamentals of creative writing, I should be able to show them that I could do the very thing I expected of them. As a result, there were so many character sketches, descriptive pieces, informal essays and similar 'home-work' compositions that I wrote for and read in my classes that I seriously began to plan my own textbook.

During these years-and they were challenging, invigorating and consoling ones despite the drudgery and discouragement often associated with teaching--my extracurricular activities consisted in supervising the school's literary magazine, yearbook, poetry and debating clubs. With approximately 150 junior students every day in English, I had a program which, though heavy scholastically speaking, brought me into contact with much that was written, good, bad and indifferent, in the past and in the present.

Then suddenly-as often happens in religious life-after six years of teaching I awakened one morning to discover that I was an editor. The editor of the St. Anthony Messenger became gravely ill. I was told to take his place until he could return to duty. What for me was to have been a temporary assignment of a month or two lengthened into nearly ten years. How well I remember my introduction into the editorial chair! It was January 27, 1937, with the worst flood in the history of the Ohio valley inundating Cincinnati and throwing the city into panic and confusion. Deprived of both electricity and gas, using candles for light and additional layers of clothing for warmth, I put the February issue to bed, thanks to the help of the editor's secretary who managed somehow to drive by a round-about way from her home in the suburbs to the cold downtown of fice.

During these six years of teaching and ten of editing, I continued to write-poems, editorials, expository articles, even short stories, some under my own name, many more pseudonymously under bylines long since forgotten. My first book was a collection of poems, Locust Bloorn, published in 1938. Its sale was mediocre, one thousand copies, but it did satisfy a desire to have what I considered my better poems a little more permanently packaged. Not that posterity really cared !

That decade of editing embraced the happiest and, in many ways the most fruitful, years of my life. I came into contact with one of the finest fellowships in the professional field, the men and women of the Catholic press. There was a camaraderie in the national and regional conventions of the Catholic Press Association that would be difficult to duplicate in similar groups of individuals bound by a common cause. Even more, there was the inspiration and encouragement to be derived from association with men dedicated to an apostolate as essential for the salvation of souls as the pastoral tasks of preaching, catechising and administering the Sacraments.

I served one term on the executive board of the Catholic Press Association when the late and lovable Monsignor Peter Wynhoven of New Orleans was president; edited for one year the Association's monthly news bulletin; supervised the Association's annual short story contest; and appeared as speaker or discussion leader at various conventions. Busy years but happy ones because I was doing what l liked, and for which I considered myself qualified and equipped.

In the summer of 1946 my religious superiors transferred me to the Franciscan home mission band of the Cincinnati province of St. John the Baptist. During the next five years I preached parish missions, retreats to nuns, Forty Hours, triduums, and other courses of sermons wherever duty called me, traveling from Calumet in the north to San Antonio in the south, and from Lowell in the east to Gallup in the west. Living out of a suitcase, serving as the channel through which God poured His mercy upon sinners, I was able to see the United States more completely and intimately than if I had joined the army or navy. I have said more than once that this experience, in the rusty realm of dollars and cents, was worth a million, there being no better way to study the human heart and the sad results of original sin. No priestly work is so consoling and xo spiritually rewardling, but it takes a rough constitution, a rugged nervous system and a relentless faith to hold up under the work for a long time.

For me those years on the mission band proved in many ways the proverbial blessing in disguise. Between consulting bus and train schedules, clicking off thousands of confessions in that tiny dark box which holds the history of the world, and selling salvation by tongue, I was able to write two books, Good Morning, Good People, and Walk With the Wise. The former, a collection of retreat conferences for religious, will soon appear in its fourth printing, and the latter, sermonettes based upon incidents in the lives of fifty saints, is selling well in its second.

Authorship has many compensations, not the smallest of which is the fan mail and the friendships that unexpectedly come the writer's way. I have had letters (as no doubt many other writers have had too) from such faraway places as New Zealand, India, England, Ireland, the Philippines, Australia, Germany, most of them, I must admit, from nuns who had read my Good Morning, Good People. Much unsolicited mail also reached my desk from readers in this country.

In mid-June, 1951, I returned to Louisville, Kentucky, where I was then stationed, from two consecutive retreats preached to nuns in Dubuque, Iowa, and I had not even unpacked when a telephone call from Cincinnati informed me that the chapter meeting of our province had elected me a definitor, or board member. That same summer chapter appointed me the rector of St. Francis Seminary, situated in the rolling hills of Mount Healthy, a town bordering Cincinnati. This double post of definitor and rector I served for one three-year term, the assignments terminating in 1954.

The next year I taught English and American literature in Duns Scotus College, Detroit, where I also had charge of the large nine-hundred-member Third Order of St. Francis fraternity which meets monthlv in the college chapel.

Since the summer of '55 I have heen the clirector of the Friarhurst Retreat House, Cincinnati, where every weekend the whole year round, excluding conflicts with national holidays, a closed retreat is held for lay men and lay women. During the winter and spring months four to five local high schools also send all of their senior girls to Friarhurst tor a three-day closed retreat.

M future plans? I still have a book or two that I hope to write. These will evolve from the planning stage only when days have more than twenty-four hours or I can discover a method of going without sleep.

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