Rev. Hyacinth Blocker, O.F.M.
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
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.