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Irene Marinoff

IN VIEW OF LATER DEVELOPMENTS, IT SEEMS PROVIDENTIAL that, although not of British stock, I should have been born in England, a privilege the value of which I was to realize only in later years. My father, of Russian origin and Bulgarian nationality, had met my mother at Geneva, where he was studying medicine, my mother having left her home University of Berlin to pursue her French studies in Switzerland. Owing to the different marriage laws obtaining in both countries, they decided to marry in England. So it happened that I was born in Hove, on September 20,1901. By way of compromise between the Orthodox Church of my father and the Judaism of my mother, I was baptized in the Church of England and received my first, very deep impressions of Christianity in a Low Church milieu. Though German is my mother tongue, I began English in a kindergarten at the mature age of three, and went to various schools, mainly in London, till I was ten.

As my father died young, my mother decided to return to Germany to her parents. Here a German education was superimposed on my English foundations. As my mother had been one of the first, though not the very first, students at the University of Berlin, she wanted me to have the same classical education she had received. So I was sent to one of the best schools of the German capital, and learned Latin and Greek with great delight.

In choosing a career, I was torn between my two heritages. Was I to be a doctor or a teacher? Fortunately, the question was decided by our financial position which did not allow me to go in for so expensive a training as the medical. As I had a good command of English, I decided to study English, mathematics, physics and philosophy at the University of Berlin, where we lived. Only I could not take my doctorate there, owing to my queer combination of subjects; so I went to Marburg for that. After six years I was proud possessor of the Prussian Diploma for Secondary School Teachers, taken in Berlin, and a Dr. phil. (Ph.D.) of the University of Marburg, with a thesis on the British post-war novel. From 1929 to 1933, I taught at various schools in Berlin and the neighborhood, continuing my English studies in my spare time with a view to becoming a university lecturer in that subject.

Meanwhile, one of my early childhood wishes was by way of finding fulfillment. I remember quite distinctly, at a time when I could scarcely write myself, being thrilled at the sight of an adult's notebook filled with hieroglyphics from cover to cover. How I wished I could do the same-write my own stuff, I mean. I had written my first poem in 1926, and now made my debut, though not yet a Catholic, in a Catholic teachers' periodical with an essay on some of the abuses of the educational system then prevailing in Prussia. Other essays on educational subjects followed, and as I was at the same time elaborating my thesis, I was kept fairly busy. In 1932, Tauchnitz published my first book: Neue Wertungen im Englischen Roman, on the English novel of the twentieth century.

My future seemed assured. But then I had not reckoned with party politics. Alas, or rather, thank God, my mother was a Jewess, and I lost all my prospects of making my way in Germany. Then I bethought myself of the land of my birth and early years, which I had revisited only once, in 1927, previous to an important examination, to "brush up my English." After making some very valuable contacts in Switzerland, I went to London and started at the bottom of the ladder again. It took exactly eight years for me to recover what had been mine in Germany, a university degree (a B.A. from the University of London with first class honours in German and subsidiary Ethics), a good position at a secondary school, and publication of another book.

Yet how much more had been granted to me than I had lost! For one thing, I now possessed a second country with whose language and culture I was thoroughly familiar-a year's studentship at Westfield College, University of London, had given me an insight into English student life, while a series of lectures and war work of various descriptions brought me into contact with members of different social classes. But, above all, in November of 1939, I had found the Faith.

This was the culmination of a search which dated from 1930. Before that year, in spite of my childhood impressions in England, religion had been more or less dormant in my life. The Berlin of my school and university years provided no suitable atmosphere for the pursuit of God, especially for one whose relations were Jewish and whose friends for the greater part were agnostics. Yet even then the need for a Supreme Authority in life and morals made itself felt. Together with others of my generation, I questioned the validity of the then prevalent philosophical relativism, and even went as far as to doubt the reality of my own authority as a teacher. However, it was only in 1930 that the pursuit began in earnest. I began to study Catholic as well as Protestant theologians, and the experience of exile only served to intensify my desire for Absolute Truth. ~ This led me from the Evangelical branch of the Church of England, with occasional visits to Nonconformist services, via the Buchman group to High Anglicanism which, as with so many others, proved a stepping stone to the Catholic Church. However, it took the whole weight of Jewish persecution-how we laboured to rescue as many Jews as we could from Germany, my own mother among them!-and the agony of the early months of the war till I was prepared to take the final step.

My real life began on March 7, 1940, and with it a reorientation of all my powers. I was then doing part-time work at an excellent school in Sussex, the Burgess P.N.E.U. School, and had sufficient leisure to study and live in the light of the Faith. The first practical result of the mental and spiritual strengthening was a renewed occupation with a book on National Socialism, which I had begun at Westfield College and had never finished because it would not "come right." Now I experienced the truth of the saying that without the Faith we can do nothing, and as a corollary, that with it we can do everything. What had seemed so difficult before, to explain the nature and rise of National Socialism to myself and others, became easy. Considered as a heresy, National Socialism lost both its evil power and its fascination. I was fortunate in finding a publisher, Burns, Oates & Washbourne. In 1941, The Heresy of National Socialism appeared, with a foreword by His Grace, the Archbishop of Liverpool.

It was well received, and its author turned to subjects of more immediate interest to a recent convert-subjects connected with the new life that was growing within her. Spiritual subjects became my main concern, and articles of mine were published by Blackfriars, Carmel, the Franciscan Annals, the Tablet, and the Catholic Herald. Meanwhile, encouraged by my spiritual director, I wrote an account of my spiritual Odyssey entitled Two Passports and No Home, which however, together with two plays- a nativity play, The King's Quest, and a full-fledged five-act play, The Five Talents-have not yet been published. The Five Talents was written when already a higher call had sounded, and the apostolate of prayer had revealed itself as even-more effective than that of the pen.

In September of 1949, I entered a Benedictine Convent in Belgium. We are preparing a new foundation of Benedictines of the Byzantine rite who by prayer, study, and the recitation of the Divine Office in Slavonic, labour for the union of the Eastern and Western Churches. We work under the guidance of the Benedictine monks of Chevetogne, Belgium, who, for the past thirty years, have devoted themselves to this apostolate and are known throughout the Catholic world as the editors of the periodical Eirenikon.

Whether I shall be allowed to write again, I do not know. I leave the decision to my superiors. What I do know is that this work for the reunion of the churches is what God wants of me now. And that is all I need to know.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: In 1955, Miss Marinoff was back in England as a member of a conference on Christian ethics held at Downside during Low Week. The papers contributed to this conference, hers among them, were edited by John M. Todd, and published by Burns, Oates & Washbourne in 1956 under the title The Springs of Morality.]

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