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Paul Haberer Hallett

I WAS BORN ON APRIL 26, 1911, IN CRIPPLE CREEK, Colorado, once the world's most famous mining camp but then beginning its rapid decline. A result was that the local Catholic school, which took pupils earlier than the public school, had more desks than children, and non-Catholics were welcome. Accordingly, I had my first experience with the Church at the age of five in St. Peter's school.

This experience in the first grade was to repeat itself ten years later when, still a non-Catholic, I went to Sacred Heart High School in Denver. The same accidental circumstances intervened: the neighborhood was emptying of its Irish inhabitants, who had supported the school, and there was room for non-Catholics who could pay tuition. But I am a little ahead of the story.

My father had died when I was fifteen, and the day after his funeral I went to work for the Western Union as a messenger. That had enforced my absence from the public junior high school I had attended in the ninth grade. When, in the following year, it was possible for me to return to school, while working nights, I would have had to repeat the grade at the public school. Sacred Heart High School was more understanding, and admitted me to the tenth grade on the basis of my knowledge.

I had not gone to Sacred Heart more than two months before I knew that ultimately I would become a Catholic. The old Betten and Kaufmann European History that I studied turned me more forcibly to the Church than any other book I ever read, and I read a good many of them. The person who was most directly responsible for my entry into the Church was my history teacher, Sister Ellen Marie, a nun of exceptional intelligence and force of character.

I did not become a Catholic while I was at Sacred Heart, but did so a year after graduation. I made my first Confession in the parlor of St. Joseph's Redemptorist rectory in Denver, October 20, 1931. Some twentysix years later I was to appear in that room every Monday as a member of St. Joseph's praesidium of the Legion of Mary, and I still do. I mention this coincidence because it underlines the role that seeming chance and unlikely combinations of events have played in my life, particularly in religion. Chance, as much as anything else, brought me to St. Peter's school in Cripple Creek, where, at the age of five, I received my first ineradicable impressions of Catholic things. Pure chance decided my formative years at Sacred Heart.

Chance continued to direct things. As a Western Union messenger, even before the depression of 1929, I was never able to make more than eighteen dollars a week. working seven days (every other Sunday off), ten hours a day; and only once or twice did I make that. In the depression years my pay check ranged from five to nine dollars for the same number of hours. This taught me not to expect too much of life, but it did not drown my thirst for an education. I taught myself Greek and read the Greek classics; and I acquired a reading knowledge of other languages.

In 1934, I was glad to avail myself of a place in the Civilian Conservation Corps at thirty dollars a month, together with room and board. There I stayed twentythree months.

In the CCC I came to know Father Damen L. McCaddon, who arranged for me to go to Grand Junction Junior College while continuing on my relief job. Through the kindness and understanding of the professors there, who were willing to assess me at the level of my learning, I was able to make the freshman year in six months. Then Father McCaddon procured for me a scholarship at Regis College, Denver, and gave me a hundred dollars out of his chaplain's slender salary to start on.

During my entire three years at this Jesuit college, I never had more than that one hundred dollars, plus twenty dollars a month in College Youth Administration work, to live on. That I was able to continue was, of course, owing entirely to my mother, who worked for our room by doing housework for the family in whose house we stayed, and by selling articles from door to door. She never made much, never more than ten dollars a week and rarely that, but she got me through college. The sacrifices of a mother-and of a father-all too often do not come in upon us until their graves are very old.

At graduation time, the old play of chance, which had kept me more than once from throwing up my Regis studies, operated again. I wanted to go into teaching, and was quite willing to accept a country school house at eighty dollars a month. One of my professors urged me to try for a position on the Denver Catholic Register. I did so, without enthusiasm, for I had never thought of going into journalism. Somewhat to my surprise, I was immediately accepted, and I went to work in the proof room on June 12, 1939. I have been with the Register ever since, and cherish a fond notion of dying in harness there about the turn of the twenty-first century. But chance, I am afraid, will have its say about that, not to speak of things that are more than chance.

Luck was with me from the start. The Register, then as now, insisted on weekly classes in grammar and rhetoric for its fledglings, and for two years I studied under a teacher who had the greatest influence on my life after Sister Ellen Marie. She was Hattie Homer Louthan, a non-Catholic of almost eighty, who lived for teaching. To her, and to the editor-in-chief, Monsignor Matthew J. W. Smith, I owe whatever journalistic ideals may be observable in my writings. To her especially I owe care with my writing, or at least the fact that I am always uncomfortable when I do not have care.

I had been with the Register not more than two years when Monsignor Smith tapped me on the shoulder and asked me whether I would undertake the translation of some Latin for the theological classes on which the Register had insisted, along with its training in English. That was the beginning of a kind of work that I liked especially to do and which opened up a world to me in the intricacies of language and the power and majesty of theological thought. I liked in particular Herve's Manule Theologiae Dogmaticae, known to every seminarian. Those four volumes of Herve have had a greater effect on my Catholic mind than any other book after the old Betten and Kaufmann history.

Unique in the world is the Register College of Journalism, from which I received the degree of Doctor of Letters in 1945.

On the Register I have had duties in almost every possible line of editorial work except copy reading. I still have to ask some one else for the count size on a 30 spit head line. Layout work is a mystery to me.

I was given the editorship of "The Literary Pageant" a year after I entered, and have been reviewing books ever since. I began writing editorials, a work that I first dabbled in when I was fourteen, five years later. My first editorial column, "Keeping Up With Events," began in December 1948, and has not missed an issue since. At one time I wrote a half-dozen editorials for both the national and the Denver editions of the Register. I am frequently called on to answer letters of general inquiry.

My first book, like everything else I did, was sparked by a casual circumstance. Some one wanted Monsignor Smith to write a book about Catholicity, but he had neither time nor taste for it. As an after-thought, he mentioned the idea to me and asked whether I wanted to undertake writing it. I accepted, and What Is Catholicity? (World Pub. Co., 1955) came out a year later. My second book, Catholic Reformer, a biography of St. Cajetan, came as a result of some work I was doing on a manuscript for the Theatines, whom St. Cajetan founded. They asked me to do the biography, and Newman published it in 1959. Similar chance incidents gave birth to Ecumenical Councils, a study-club booklet I did for the Catholic Bookshop, Wichita, Kansas, and The Laws of the Church, still to be published by the Knights of Columbus.

In looking over twenty-one years with what Pope Pius XII told Monsignor Smith was the largest religious newspaper in existence, I am struck, almost bewildered, by the many things that have changed, the many friends I thought perpetual who have dropped by the wayside. But one thing has endured: the need for the Catholic press, which I hope to have some part in filling to the end of my life.

Originally published in The Book of Catholic Authors, Walter Romig, Sixth Series, 1960.


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