AS A BOY AGED ELEVEN,
I once asked the New England schoolmaam who was my sixth grade
teacher:, "What are Jesuits, please?" Her usually amiable
countenance grew stern, her thin lips moved slowly and she answered:
"Jesuits- are members of a Society named after Jesus, but
they are not much like Him." It was a curious incident,
in view of my subsequent vocation. But it is not for that reason
I mention it here, but as an example of suppressed bigotry, only
occasionally articulate, in New England nearly half a century
ago. In my youth it was a blight upon the complete knowledge
and appreciation, of my Faith in all spheres except that of moral
conduct. In later life, the memory of it was my chief inspiration
to explore the manifestations of the Catholic faith in history
and literature, so that the young men in my classes might never
suffer from the deprivation I had known.
Rev. Terence L. Connolly, S.J.
When I graduated from high-school
- I was as unaware of the heritage of Catholic literature as
I was of Hebrew. A few years later, as a young Jesuit studying
poetry, the discovery of that heritage dulled forever my reaction
to Keats' lines, "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer."
The demesne I had discovered was so much more expansive and its
serene source, so much purer!
First it was Dante that attracted
me as the Catholic expression of what I found imperfecty conveyed
in Milton. After a comparative study of the two poets, I set
down a fragment of it in an essay. For correction I brought it
to the late Richard H. Tierney, S.J., then editor of America,
the only real genius I have ever known. In the midst of his
incredible labors, Father Tierney read and corrected the paper
in my presence and when he had finished, said: "Why don't
you publish it? If you don't publish now, you'll never do it."
Shortly afterwards, "Faith in Milton and Dante" was
printcd in the Catholic Mind.
It happened.that at this tim;
Long's History of English Literature was the prescribed
textbook in a course I was giving at Fordham. The obvious bias
of its historical background forced me to prepare corrective
notes for my classes, and later Fordham University Press published
them in two small volumes: An Introduction to Chaucer and
Langland, and The English Renaissance and the Age of Elizabeth.
About this time, while teaching
modern poetry, I was seriously handicapped by the lack of satisfactory
commentaries on our great Catholic poets. My attempt to meet
this need in the case of Francis Thompson, finally resulted in
the publication of his Poems with notes and commentary.
Study of Thompson led, quite naturally, to the study of Coventry
Patmore, the chief influence in Thompson's later life and poetry.
Comparison of Patmore's early work, before he became a Catholic,
with his later work in the Odes, revealed that the poet
no less than the man, under the inspiration of the Catholic faith,
attained heights previously beyond him. This, I knew from experience
in the classroom, would makc the study of Patmore productive
of immeasurable good for Catholic students with a flare for literature.
Too often they incline to the view that to be artistic one must
be "arty" or "daring." A sure antidote is
Patmorc's authentic mysticism, his apotheosis of woman, and his
theme of conjugal love, expressed with masterful and original
technique and with passion as intense as it is pure. The result
was the publication of Mystical Odes of Nuptial Love, including
Patmore's "'Wedding Sermon" and Odes, with notes
The work on Patmore led me
to make a new and original translation from the Latin of Saint
Bernard's On the Love of God, chief source-book of the
Odes. A partial translation of the work, begun by Patmore's
first wife and finished by the poet himself after her death,
was out of print, and a new translation was badly needed by students
of the Odes.
Through my interest in Thompson
I met Mr. Seymour Adelman, a young man who for more than ten
years had been collecting Thompson manuscripts and volumes. Shortly
after our meeting, young Adelman brought his collection to Boston
College for a public exhibition. Later, the entire collection
was purchased and presented to the College, and it was my privilege
to prepare it for permanent exhibition and edit the catalog,
An Account of Books and Manuscripts of Francis Thompson.
In 1938 an unexpected opportunity
sent me to Ireland to attend the Abbey Theatre Festival, and
to England to continue my Thompson studies. It was the newspapers'
"Silly Season" when I arrived in Dublin and I soon
found myself the centre of a terrific controversy, precipitated
by asking the meaning of Yeats' one-act play, Purgatory, which
was given its premiere during the Abbey Festival. The incident
greatly hampered my study of Irish playrights and poets. But
other happier experiences in Ireland are among my life's loveliest
memories. One day I hope to set them down for the enjoyment of
In England I visited the places
most closely associated with Thompson-Ushaw, Storrington, Pantasaph,
London-and from his sister, Mother Austin; from Archbishop Kenealy,
his "Friend, Philosopher and Guide;" from his class-mate,
Father Adam Wilkinson, and others, I learned much not found in
books, about the poet and his work. But as the guest of Mr. Wilfrid
Meynell who saved Thompson, body and soul, man and poet, I gathered
priceless information and was given an opportunity to study the
poet's manuscripts under the sure and kindly guidance of his
"Father, Brother, Friend." Through the over-whelming
generosity of Mr. Meynell, I returned to Boston with Thompson
notebooks, manuscripts and volumes many times more numerous and
precious than those already in the Boston College Collection.
After many months of labor the new treasures were added to the
permanent exhibit of Thompsoniana in the Boston College Library,
and now I am trying to prepare a new catalog of the enlarged
collection. The story of my Thompson pilgrimage is the subject
of my recent volume, Francis Thompson: In His Paths.
As must be evident, the chief
inspiration of the little I have published has been a desire
to help other students and teachers to know and appreciate Catholic
literature. If education is the harmonious development of all
the faculties, education in literature should not result in discord
and disagreement of intellect and will, with the imagination
and emotions. A Catholic student who is taught chiefly the poems
of Shelley, Keats and Byron, for instance, is being trained to
react emotionally and imaginatively to literature that often
expresses a philosophy of life that he has been taught to abhor!
But in the appreciation of great Catholic poets such as Thompson
and Patmore, all faculties of the soul sound in one great harmony
of aesthetic delight and spiritual exaltation. This I personally
experienced in my work of many years. The sharing of it with
others has been my chief reward. Deo volenti, it will
be the inspiration of much that still remains to be done this
side "the nurseries of Heaven."
EDITOR'S NOTE: Father connolly's
works include annotated editions of Coventry Patmore's Mystic
Poems of Nuptial Love, 1938, Bruce Humphries, and Francis
Thompson's Poems, revised edition, 1941, Appleton. His
most recent book is Francis Thompson: In His Paths, 1944,
Originally published by
Walter Romig in The Book of Catholic Authors Volume Three,