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