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Rev. Hilarion Duerk, O.F.M.

I WAS BORN IN ST. LOUIS, Mo., Oct. 28, 1883, and am quite proud to be one of twelve children, the last. My immediate ancestors from both my father's and mother's side were thoroughly Catholic. Permit me to here recount the following:-When my mother was but a small child in Switzerland, she one day accidently poked a pointed knife into her left eye. The family doctor declared the eye hopelessly lost, but my mother's father refused to give up hope. He made a vow to the Mother of God and immediately undertook a pilgrimage to a not-too-distant shrine called, "the Holy Well" (of the Virgin Mary). At the place of pilgrimage, after fervent prayer, when the bandages were removed from my mother's eye, it was found that the wound had healed. Careful medical examination showed that she saw as perfectly with that eye as with the other. A blemish or scar remained in the eyeball, yet the cyesight was very good throughout her long life; even in her old age she never wore glasses.

In Switzerland, my mother's father was school teacher and parish organist in the village of Blaua, Canton Bern. Antireligious movements that had been smouldering for a long time' gained strength. Laws had been made forbidding teaching of religion in the classroom. Grandfather, at that time in the full vigor of manhood, continued teaching religion to his pupils. He was reported, apprehended, brought before a judge, and released with the warning that if he ever attempted religious teaching again he would be doubly punished. After a short time, however, he did not hesitate to resume religious instructions. He was reported and apprehended a second time. The judge banished him, giving him sixty days to leave the country. Although I was a rather wild and carefree boy, these events, treasured as a sacred and most precious heirloom in my family, made a salutary and lasting impression upon my mind.

However, the wonderful religious example and teaching of my poor, but excellent parents, and the ardent zeal of Rev. Francis Albers, O.F.M., my parish priest, did more, a great deal more, to influence my whole life and my published writings which are a part of me. In spite of my boyish conduct, or perhaps on that account, all Fathers and Brothers of the Franciscan Monastery at St. Louis treated me very kindly; nevertheless, I often received a well deserved scolding. I served Holy Mass every day, sometimes in vacation as many as five or six Masses a day, and was delighted to be permitted to do so. At that time I decided, God willing, to some day myself be a Franciscan priest. Almost from the very start of my studies for the holy priesthood, I learned to carefully read the best books of English literature, copying gripping passages, pointed expressions, beautiful descriptions, and painstakingly trying to reproduce similar "scripta" in my various compositions for the classroom. It was thus that my interest in writing took its beginning. Rev. Maurice Brink, O.F.M., was my excellent, sympathetic teacher in English.

June 24, 1910, to my great joy I was ordained a priest. Cleveland, Ohio, from 1914 to 1920, proved to be my first place of literary activity in connection with the press. Two small but vigorous Cleveland fraternities of the Franciscan Third Order (about 300 members) were entrusted to me. They wanted "Franciscan literature" to help satisfy their thirst for things Franciscan. Alas, in those days handy Third Order Literature was scarce. In desperation, I decided to myself write the kind of literature I needed. Cautious friends told me: "Unless you have an honest and live publisher, writing for the press is an expensive and precarious affair. Many an enthusiast could not sell his writings and was left behind with an empty purse. In some cases the financial loss was great." I highly appreciated this advice and grew determined to be cool and careful. During the day, hospital and parochial duties, prayers in choir and other monastic exercises kept me busy. Evening hours and nights were used for my literary activities. Knowing that publishers are not interested in low priced literature that by its very nature has a limited sale, I went directly to a printer, agreed on the printing, binding' and delivery cost, and then furnished my manuscripts. However, for Chalippe's Life of St. Francis, 1917, I procured a regular publisher. A little over five thousand copies of this book were sold the very first year and to this day sales continue to be excellent. My tertiary fraternities paid for the publication of a monthly bulletin that was eagerly read, and for six "de luxe" pamphlets having from twenty to forty pages. Each of these pamphlets, if I recall correctly, had a limited edition of 2000 copies; that is all we could use. We sold everyone of them, lost no money and made no money. Did they do any good? They did. In those years I received at Cleveland 2765 persons into the Third Order, mostly daily communicants. The great majority of these new members developed into excellent tertiaries. Many of them were young persons. I ascribe some of this success to my publications.

In 1920 I was transferred to Chicago, there to line up the First National Third Order Convention for October, 1921, and to write the official report of the convention. Well, I fulfilled both consignments, generally meeting with spirited co-operation. Printing and binding of the First National Third Order Convention Report, 1922, 1500 copies, cost exactly $3,500. Getting out this report was almost incredible labor, but I like to think that if there is anything I have ever written that benefited others it is that report. Nor was there any financial loss. Thanks to co,operation of Third Order members throughout the country, after all convention expenses were paid, including the report, we had still $2,109.63 on hand.

In subsequent years I wrote a number of short articles for various Catholic magazines and papers, including a two years series of Monthly Patrons for Franciscan Tertiaries published under the pen name Albert Blair in the Franciscan Herald, 1934 and 1935; likewise, a series of sermons on St. Anthony and St. Elizabeth, 1931, printed in the Third Order Forum, a periodical, established in 1921 by the First National Third Order Convention, ably edited ever since by Rev. James Meyer, O.F.M.

In 1934 I was sent to Memphis, Tenn. Among other important duties, teaching nurses psychology and ethics was assigned to me. Psychology was always one of my favorite branches of study. We sorely needed a textbook that is short, clear, to the point, and yet rather complete. In 1935 I published my psychology for nurses, and, upon request, the following year I got out a similar psychology for other students. Both books met with a very kind reception and are still selling well. My most recent publications are a parish history (1940), and a series of twenty-four historical papers (1941) published serially, with the proper ecclesiastical permission, in various newspapers of southern Minnesota.

Enough about these things. Now a few words to aspirant writers. Do we need Catholic writers and authors? Yes, indeed. Would that we had thousands of them in every branch of literature, history, science, art, and fiction. Publishers are anxious to receive manuscripts; they are begging for them. Yet, not every manuscript is accepted. '''Then you write for the press, select excellent matter that is apt to have a somewhat general appeal. Master your subject. Write carefully and well. Do your very best. Remember that writing in a sense is a trade. Learn the trade well and try to make your book better than others of a similar nature already published. Then you will have no trouble in finding a publisher. You may even succeed in writing lines that will live on long after you are dead and that will continue to bring wholesome recreation or gratifying information, salutary thoughts, noble aspirations, to many poor human beings hungering for the better things of life.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Father Duerk's works include Catechism of Psychology for Nurses, 1935, Kenedy; Psychology in Questions and Answers, 1936, Kenedy; and pamphlets mostly on various canonized membcrs of the Third Order of St. Francis.

Originally published by Walter Romig in The Book of Catholic Authors Volume Three, copyright 1945

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