Sister Jean Marie Murray, O.P.
MY WRITING CAREER BEGAN IN HOLY
WEEK, 1929, at St. Benedict's College for Women, St. Joseph,
Minnesota, where Sister Estelle and I had come from our motherhouse,
Marywood, in Grand Rapids, to meet Father Virgil Michel, O.S.B.
We told him of our wish to attempt
some experimental manuals in Religion that would introduce children
to the liturgical life of the Church. And with his profound insights
into the significance of the liturgical movement, he opened windows
on expanses of Christian life of which we had not so much as
dreamed. As practical as he was contemplative, he brought his
attention back to our proposed manuals. "I'll go out now,"
he said, "and you write up a sample lesson, and then we
will see what we will do." Sister Estelle and I worked out
the "sample lesson," with which, all unwittingly, I
began what has proved to be a main work in my life: the writing
of textbooks in Religion.
From that day in 1929 until his
death in 1938, Father Virgil was a dominant influence in my life.
Through these nine years, Father, Sister Estelle and I worked
together closely on a program of liturgical-orientated textbooks
in Religion for grades and high school. Experiences of those
wonderful years with two extraordinary persons are etched unforgettably
in my memory.
My last visit with Father Virgil
was in the summer of 1938. Father James Byrnes, then superintendent
of schools in the Archdiocese of St. Paul, had invited me to
teach courses in Religious Education at the summer session of
the Archdiocesan Teachers' College. Father Virgil visited my
classes once or twice as did Father William Busch; the lectures
by these two pioneers in the Liturgical Movement were, of course,
the high points in the course. A surprise visit from Father Virgil
just before the close of the session afforded a fruitful conference
on various angles of our mutual undertaking and our hopes for
the future. That was the last time I saw him. His death at St.
John's Abbey on November 26, 1938, meant not only the loss of
a personal friend but of an irreplaceable guide and leader in
the work to which we were now dedicated.
Meanwhile the work must go on.
The eight volumes of the Christ Life series for the grades
had come off the press in 1934-35. Father Virgil had assigned
to me the writing of Books One and Two for high school, while
he would do Books Three and Four. Book One, The Life of Our
Lord, was ready for experimental use in schools in 1938.
For the writing of Book Two, Living in Christ, which was
to be based on the Liturgical Year, Father had advised me to
seek the direction of Father Vincent Kennedy, C.S.B., professor
of the history of the liturgy at the Institute of Medieval Studies
in Toronto. On the feast of St. Michael, 1938, 1 met with Father
Kennedy and discussed plans for my work. I enrolled then in only
one class, the History of the Mass, taught by Father Kennedy,
so as to devote the rest of my time to study and writing.
From the time I had first heard
of the Institute of Medieval Studies in 1931, while I was doing
graduate work at the University of Michigan, I had hoped that
I might see the place. And now I was established there for a
year! I loved it. During the following decade I was to spend
five years there with, however, a number of interruptions.
For three years, 1939-42, I was
again teaching in high school. This was a particularly valuable
experience as it provided me with many clearer insights into
the mentality of adolescents, for whom I was writing. Especially
inspiring was my contact with some three hundred of the students
at Catholic Central High School (Grand Rapids) who elected to
join a Missal Club which I was forming there. The spiritual penetration
of these young adults and their wholehearted generosity has continued
to be a reassurance to me in the face of the occasional unflattering
comments on young people today.
Two summers at Marquette University,
where I taught a class in The Teaching of Religion to the Adolescent,
clarified still further for me the particular problem involved
in writing textbooks for high school students.
Returning to Toronto in the fall
of 1942, I registered at the Institute for the regular courses
leading to a licentiate in Medieval Studies with a major in theology.
The necessity of continuing the writing made it impossible for
me to take more than about half of the courses scheduled for
each year. This necessity had its advantages, however, as it
gave me opportunity for further study there.
Then wider avenues for my work
opened. Dr. William Russell, then acting head of the Department
of Religious Education at the Catholic University, invited me
to give two courses on the teaching of religion during the summer
session of 1945.
Meanwhile, Bruce had published
my The Life of Our Lord, and had on the press my
Living in Christ. Planned as the first two volumes of
a high school religion series, these two books were actually
the only ones ever completed for the series, as Father Virgil's
two volumes were found to be too difficult for high school and
were used instead in temporary form as college texts.
Mr. Frank Bruce's invitation
at this time to write a text in Church History for high schools
introduced me to a new period of intensive research, most of
it done at the Library of Congress. Only those who have enjoyed
the extended use of a study room up on "Deck A" of
the Library of Congress, with all of the competent and courteous
service which the Library offers, will appreciate what it meant
to me. During this time I also taught a few hours a week in Religious
Education at Catholic University.
My study of theology at the Institute
in Toronto was based, of course, on the Summa Theologica of
St. Thomas Aquinas. The idea of doing a complete series in Religion
for high school persisted, and at some stage in my study of St.
Thomas I became convinced that the magnificent order in his exposition
of sacred doctrine held advantages for high school students as
well as for specialists in universities. Back in Toronto in the
fall of 1949 to complete my study for the licentiate, I began
somewhat privately to learn what might be done toward such a
simplified text based on the Summa as would make it acceptable
for high school students. When convinced of its possibility as
well as of its desirability, I was ready to work at it after
my return to Aquinas College in November 1950. In this work I
was aided by Monsignor William J. Murphy, diocesan superintendent
of schools and principal of Catholic Central High School in Grand
Rapids. He wanted the texts for use at Catholic Central as soon
as they could be available in temporary form. At the same time,
he asked Mother M. Victor, our Prioress-General, for six more
Sisters prepared to teach Religion. So began the special program
in Religion at Catholic Central. There, for several years before
their final publication, texts which were to become part of our
present Christian Life series were tried out by well qualified
By January 1956, the manuscript
was at such a stage of completion that it seemed time to investigate
possibilities for its publication. In mid-January I was invited
by Father Thomas Carroll of Boston, speaking for the Liturgical
Conference, to write a booklet on "The Restored Liturgy
of Holy Week" for the use of high school students to prepare
them to participate in the liturgy of Holy Week in 1956. Two
days later, Vincent Giese of Fides Publishers called me to say
that they had agreed to publish my booklet, which, of course,
was as yet nonexistent. At our meeting at Marywood on January
19, he reminded me that this year Easter would fall on April
1 and so the booklets would have to be available to the students
early in March. He also suggested a booklet for the use of grade
school children as well. And, of course, it would help if there
could be a Teacher's Guide for both! After the manuscripts were
finished, in order to save time, I would fly over to Chicago
when proofs were ready and go with the editors directly to the
printers to read them. Actually three printers were at work on
the several jobs involved. Observing Fides in action I was impressed
by their team spirit, their intelligent planning and, above all,
by their apostolic dedication. They had published no textbooks,
I realized, but I thought they might be interested in my Christian
Life series for high schools. And so, after the Holy Week
booklets, Full Measure of Grace (for high schools) and
Our Week of Grace (for grades), were off the press, I
showed them my manuscript as far as it was completed, and asked
whether they would be interested. The response was "Definitely."
Following my meeting with Father Louis 3. Putz, C.S.C., then
president of Fides, and Eugene Geissler, editor, and later with
the Fides Board, the staff went into action.
In the meantime, I met with six
school superintendents who after examining my plans consented
to accept responsibility as consultants: Father Francis Quinn
of San Francisco, Monsignors Dignan of Los Angeles, O'Leary of
Boston, Bezou of New Orleans, Terlecke of Chicago, and Murphy
of Grand Rapids.
Holy Week of 1956 was reminiscent
of Holy Week of 1929: coupled with the liturgical celebration
of the mysteries of our redemption there was in both years the
launching of an endeavor to help bring young Catholics to a more
perfect actualizing of their supernatural potentialities as children
Now, as I write (August 1960),
three volumes of the Christian Life series are available-in
fact, they have been in rather wide use in schools for two years;
volume four has just been published. An abridged edition of each
of the first three volumes for use by Confraternity classes has
been made by Vincent Giese. With the completion of the fourth,
there is available to Catholic students in public as well as
in Catholic high schools a well-rounded program of religious
As I think back over the past
thirty years my chief feeling is one of thankfulness. To my major
superiors: Mothers M. Benedicta O'Rourke, M. Evelin Mackey, M.
Euphrasia Sullivan, and M. Victor Flannery. To my collaborators:
Father Thomas Barrosse, C.S.C., and for a book on which I am
presently engaged, Father Felix A. Morlion, O.P., of Pro Deo
fame. To all my consultants. To the Sisters of our Congregation
and of all the other communities with whom I have at various
times stayed. To my sister, Marion, whose prayers have been continuously
with me. And to our Blessed Mother, to whose Immaculate Heart
my work has long been dedicated.
A "Thanks be to God!"
for the past and a "Comine, ad adjuvandum me festina!"
for the future.
EDITOR'S NOTE: In collaboration
with Fr. Virgil Michel, O.S.B., and the Dominican Sisters of
Marywood: With Mother Church Liturgical Press, 1929),
5 laboratory manuals in Religion for use in grades 3 to 12, in
connection with Catechism; The Christ Life Series in
Religion (Macmillan, 1934-35), 8 books, with Manuals,
for use in the first 8 grades: God Our Father, Jesus Our Savior,
The Story of God's Love, A Child of God, The Redeeming Sacrifice,
The Kingdom of God, With Mother Church, Through Christ Our Lord.
Simple Mass Prayers (Bruce, 1938); The Life of Our Lord
(Bruce, 1942), Confraternity edition with Sister Anne Catherine,
C.S.J.; Christ in His Church. (Bruce, 1946), a high school
church history text; The Full Measure of Grace, and Our Week
of Grace (Fides, 1956). The Christian Life Series (Fides,
1957-60), a 4-year program in religion for high schools: Going
to God, God and His People, Growth in His Holiness, Christ in
the world (books 2 and 4 with Rev. Thomas Barrosse, C.S.C.)
and the Confraternity edition with Vincent Ciese: On the Way
to God, God's People, God and Man. The Christian Formation of
the Adolescent (1958), basic principles for teaching religion
in high school.
published in The Book of Catholic Authors, Walter Romig,
Sixth Series, 1960.