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Rev. Urban Nagle, O.P.

ON THE TENTH OF SEPTEMBER, 1805, FATHER SAMUEE T. Wilson of the Order of Preachers-one of the four founders of the first American Province of Dominicans and its first Provincial Superior-arrived in the United States. One hundred years later to the day, I arrived. That is the end of that little story. There are no conclusions to be drawn from the interesting coincidence, but I've always wanted to see it in print.

Since Father Wilson is out of the narrative now, it doesn't matter where he arrived, but my independence was established in Providence, Rhode Island-the plantation which separated itself from England two months before the other twelve colonies.

My father, Edward John Nagle, and my mother, Mary Elizabeth Keefe, were born in Providence too, and went to the same parochial school, but all that happened a long time before my story begins. With striking originality, they had me chirstened Edward John Nagle (they were used to the name), so officially I was "Junior" until I picked up "Urban" on joining the Dominicans. No one made much of the "Junior" however, and I suppose it is too late to start worrying about its recurrence now.

The only grandparent I remember was Mike Keefe, who came to live with us, and when he told me that he had fought on both sides in the War between the States (he did come from Wilmington, Delaware, close to the border), I knew there was a great capacity for impartiality and understanding in the family, but I didn't know until later that he was to be the prototype of some of the amazing exploits of "Uncle Malachy."

A brief sojourn in Warren, Rhode Island, from my fourth to my ninth year-the term of a five year lease that father had on an iron foundry-introduced me to the bucolic joys of a small New England town, marked my debut into variety, and completely submerged the entire family in Kirkman's soap.

Mother wanted some new furniture for the larger house, but father made it clear that he had put all the money he had and was able to borrow into the foundry. That announcement didn't impress mother at all, although she must have heard the words, because when father wanted to make a point about money, he was inclined to roar. She needed furniture, and the incidental fact that our venture into capitalism left us very broke was a trifle. So she resorted to wiles and asked father if she might get some furniture with Kirkman's Soap wrappers, to which even father had to agree. She forgot to say that she hadn't bought the soap. We got the furniture, but for five years and more every time one of us opened a closet door we were deluged by an avalanche of hard, sharp-edged cakes of brown soap without designating wrappers. It was a clean house. We had much more soap than food.

My debut into the theatre-at the age of six-was a moment of ecstatic joy followed by weeks of sadness and remorse. I was asked to sing at the parish catch-all or variety show, having been discovered by the music teacher at school. She and mother agreed that "Robin on a Tilting Bough" would be appropriate for one of my tender years performing under such pious auspices.

However, the piano player who was an old pro even to the cigarette that was glued to his lower lip, gave me a hasty education out of the side of his mouth. He said the second last spot was top billing and that Robin, no matter how loud I bellowed, would lay an egg. So for his edification I ran the underworld repertory of the average sixyear old. Came the night, and as I sauntered onstage in my white Russian suit, really intending to sing about the tilting bough, he beat out the intro for Casey Jones and I went through the four verses and choruses as loud as I could. That the house came down was inevidible. It's a ridiculous picture even now. Then when I did a chain of encores that I didn't exactly understand, I was lifted up on the shoulders of stars of an hour before who had suddenly become merely the supporting cast. But when mother and father appeared in the wings, I was dropped on the floor. Mother was mortified and wept. Father roared. It was from him I got the voice. The reason I know that mother was mortified was because she said so about fifty times. I was never quite trusted theatrically again after that mortification, but I had my moment.

Father moved his foundry back to the suburbs of Providence and his family and what was left of the soap back to where we started from, and there I met the Sisters of Holy Name School. Little did I dream that I would one day be chaplain at a Motherhouse, nor did they, I presume, or I would have been singled out for an intensive and highly specialized education.

High School brought me the good fortune of having the Christian Brothers. In the good old days, before the State told the Church how to run its schools, these specialists offered erudition to their charges with all gentleness, but if it was spurned, they pounded it in-and if you think that's a metaphor, you're. . . well, you're young.

There was a bit of sheer luck in the fact that the class of '22 contained an exceptional batch of bright or shrewd young men who have, as my forebearers would have undoubtedly said, "gone far." It made for competition, and to keep pace with the more literate and literary characters, I read practically all the hogwash of the early twenties just as they were beginning to roar. I don't begin to keep up with the market now because those who write haven't time to read.

It would be a display of erudition or a feat of memory to list the authors, but you know the standard bearers of the lost generation. They confused the world and they confused me, but the futility was so obvious that it had a salutary effect on some of us. We had to escape into orthodoxy.

My romantic reaction toward security sought cold stone cloisters and stained glass and this became concrete as the Dominican Fathers opened Providence College. There was a pull toward the priesthood and I was very friendly with my uncle who was a pastor in the diocese, but he lived in an ordinary rectory not too unlike our own house, and I think I was going through the Miniver Cheevy stage. Every seventeen year old in those dear dread days wanted at times to be an anarchistic Communist (we called it Bolshevik) or a Trappist.

There is a minor mystery about religious vocations-and all vocations-in that one is attracted according to his current stage or phase, and as the years pass, the reasons which brought him into the place in which he finds himself are quite forgotten, but the call rings more deeply for new and more fundamental reasons. After becoming a Dominican, I learned that they were known as guardians of theology. I didn't know that theology needed any guarding and I certainly wouldn't have chosen myself for the job.

My interest in white stone cloisters is certainly diminished in favor of steam heat and running water-but the Dominicans accepted me and the party for whom I can speak is very happy about it.

There isn't much that can be said about the quiet life and the years of wrestling with St. Thomas Aquinas in this brief space, except that in the long run St. Thomas usually wins, and that poetic thinking and fanciful writing usually get laced into syllogistic form, and that crisp, clipped Anglo-Saxon prose gets beaten down into cumbersome Latinisms. The seminarian has to do battle to keep from writing like every other seminarian.

By way of diversion, I wrote plays for the novices and students. For the benefit of collectors, may I suggest that none are extant, and that is the best thing that anyone could say about them. The first ambitious venture was Barter (which I can't pronounce, being a New Englander), and it won a national prize, so after achieving unexpected success as a playwright, I made an effort to learn how to write a play. The next comparable distinction came from the Christophers for City of Kings. So I am reconciled to winning a prize every twenty years. Watch out for 1968!

There was a detour in the quest of a degree in psychology in the days when I thought that this science would be a help to understanding people and their problems. But the degree has done no one any harm as I've never taught a single class in that mysterious subject.

Ordination brought its share of world conquering zeal, and it seemed that a new era was at hand (just for me) with the moving pictures and the radio. My tangential studies and aberrant accomplishments might be directed to the more widespread dissemination of what I believed. That was the drive in my contribution to The Blackfriars' Guild. This latter enterprise, which consumed hours that grew into years, was filled with joys and sorrows, successes and failures, and all of these that I could capture are packed into a book called Behind the Masque. Being half told in some three hundred pages, it's too much to tell here.

That was the exciting avocation and it brought me another world of vicarious living. But there were the bread and butter jobs (I don't like butter, so I never eat it, and it makes this sound foolish but you can't say "the bread jobs") and so I taught for six years at Providence College and edited the Holy Name Journal for six years. It seems I did everything in terms of six years, like living in Washington, Providence, Manhattan, and Jersey City. That decision wasn't in the bond but it always happens. And that is one of the wonderful things about the religious life. You make one decision and the poor superiors (in the Irish meaning of the word "poor") have to make all the others.

Radio and television held a fascination for me and "Uncle George and Uncle Malachy" have been done in both media on seventy to eighty network shows. (We use the word "show" in deference to the commercial jargon.)

The perfect squelch caught me after the fourth talk- at the end of the first series-in which George had to be invented to be a foil for Malachy. There were about fifteen people in the show, with a quartet and a string ensemble, announcers, technicians, etc., and they all flew out to other assignments between 11:59/30 and 12 m. I stood all alone picking up my notes sure that no one loved me, until the last of the four talks when a little man came out of the control room and said, "That was the best series of talks i ever heard." I filled up like a blowfish, so overwhelming
was my gratitude, so he continued. "You were twelve minutes on the nose every Sunday." He didn't know what language I was using.

Twenty years in what the current heresy of Communism calls "the transmission belt"-theatre, moving pictures, radio, television and journalism-many of them running concurrently made for a pin-wheel pace, and I began to think that my escape from the twenties was something of a boomerang.

But good things come to him who waits enough six year spells, and I was relieved and made chaplain of the Dominican Sisters' Motherhouse at St. Mary of the Springs in Columbus, Ohio.

It's a quiet existence and seemed startlingly different at first. The Sisters have some unendurable customs like "Early to bed and early to rise makes you healthy"-and that's all. I wrote most of my plays in the early morning hours, and now I'm getting up when I used to go to bed.

But the current production has a permanence. You don't strike the sets and say "Good Night" to the actors when they head for home in their street clothes. These people are real.

I think I've found my white stone cloister at last. Maybe I'll do a book about it. There is much inside the walls which the world should know-much of joy and hope, labor and sacrifice, and the sprinkling of sorrow needed for sanctity-and perhaps most of all the awareness of God.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Father Nagle's published plays include Barter (Longmans, 1929), Catherine the Valiant (id., 1931), Savonarola (in Theatre for Tomorrow, edited by Emmet Lavery; id., 1940), Lady of Fatima (McMullen, 1948), and City of Kings (Christopher Press, Rochester, N. Y., 1949). Among his works, other than drama, are Behind the Masque ( McMullen, 1951), Uncle George and Uncle Malachy (Bruce, 1946), and a number of pamphlets published by Our Sunday Visitor.

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