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Rev. Albert Nevins, M.M.

IT WAS BENJAMIN DISRAELI WHO ONCE REMARKED that an author who talks about his own books is almost as bad as a mother who speaks about her own children. To this might be added that an author who attempts to be his own biographer and critic runs even greater risk of condemnation. Yet there is something of an exhibitionist in every author that causes him to tumble out his innermost thoughts for public display, and yet protestations to modesty are completely consistent. With this schizophrenic preface out of the way, I shall attempt to set down a few remembrances of personal times past.

This particular author was born in Yonkers, New York, on September 11, 1915, a fact he has always accepted on faith since he has no personal recollection of it. At the age of three and a half, he was trundled across the street to public school. He recalls very clearly learning the alphabet and the excitement of using this knowledge to form meaningful words. The book from which he learned to read was called The Little Red Hen and the pictures and text made such an impression that he can clearly see them today, many decades later. This fascination with words was never to leave him.

Not many of us make conscious note of the wonderfulness of the gift of literacy-a gift that opens the doorways of the world. While he may not have analyzed this marvelous gift, he did apply it. From the time he read of the little red hen clucking as she walked, the magic of books was a constant companion. He became one of the public library's habituees and advanced rapidly past the Rover Boys and Tom Swift. He can remember when he was twelve-years old how his mother went in great perturbation to their pastor because she had found him reading The Life and Times of Savonarola. I am sure she didn't know who Savonarola was, but the fact that he was burnt at the stake was enough to make a book about him suspect.

While in Gorton High School, our author obtained a job with the Yonkers Herald, then later transferred to the Yonkers Statesman, just before the two papers merged. There was also some stringer work for several New York City dailies. He was also editor of his high school paper, a weekly. While this was not necessarily the easiest publishing venture in which he ever engaged, it was the most relaxing from the financial point of view. When he took charge of the paper, it was struggling with a tight budget. He had the good fortune to appoint a young lady as advertising manager who knew how to sell advertising; in fact, she brought in such a volume that the paper was able to publish eight pages each week, and frequently carried full-page advertisements. Our author can claim no credit for foresight. It was not until success came their way that he investigated the techniques of his advertising manager; while her approach was more than legitimate, it did not hurt her sales pitch that her father was one of the better known gangsters and beer barons of the late prohibition period.

About this time came a point of decision. He was interested in a career in journalism; and, although he had never gone to a Catholic school, he also had a desire to become a priest. While attending the First Mass of a friend, he decided on the priesthood. As he left the church after making this decision, he accidentally came across a torn copy of the Marykuoll magazine, and quickly concluded that this was the priestly work he would like. He noted the address, wrote for information, and within a couple of months was in the seminary. The choice proved a good one. If he had chosen journalism, all the blessings of the priesthood would have been lost. As it turned out, he has had both careers.

He was ordained on June 21, 1942, and ever since that time has been connected with Maryknoll's magazines and publications in one form or another. At the present time (1960), he holds the titles of Director of Cultivation and editor of the Maryknoll magazine.

Each year in Catholic Press Month a flock of letters cross his desk from youngsters in various parts of the country who, as part of a class project, have been directed to write and find out how one becomes an author, or how one goes about writing a book. In his own case, the answer is "Accidentally." His first book was written because he had rashly promised a publisher a manuscript that he would get done by a Maryknoller, and when he couldn't find the Maryknoller to write it, he had to do it himself. One book looks lonesome on a shelf so others followed-so far about fifteen of them.

Another question frequently asked is "How long does it take to write a book?" This is a difficult question to answer because the book is written while a multitude of regular daily tasks go on. The time also varies with the nature of the book. The Maryknoll Book of Peoples took three years of research and about a year of writing and editing, steadily but not exclusively. The Young Conquistador was completed a month after the publisher asked for it, although research had been gathered at irregular intervals over several years. Actually, he works several books ahead, watching for material and ideas, and putting them in a file until it comes time to write.

Motion pictures are another accidental career. Maryknoll decided to launch a motion picture program but found costs prohibitive if regular professional talent was used. In order not to have the project fail, there was nothing else to do than to write the script and photograph the film himself. He never had a motion picture camera in his hand until he began shooting "The Story of Juan Mateo," deep in the Guatemalan mountains. Fortune sometimes favors the foolish because "San Mateo" turned out most successfully, winning many awards, among them a first prize in an international film festival. Since then there has been a whole series of films shot in all parts of the world.

He became Children's Editor of Our Sunday Visitor by accident. The editor wanted to get a Maryknoll Sister to handle this end of the paper. Unfortunately, no Sisters were available at the time. Rather than lose the opportunity of talking to thousands of children each week and assisting in their formation, he accepted the chore himself. Thus life becomes a chapter of accidents-fortuitous, perhaps, but unplanned except in God's own providence.

Finally, this brief story would not be complete without a mention of the Catholic Press Association which he has served as board member, treasurer, vice president and, in 1960, president. The CPA has done much to raise the standards of the Catholic press in the United States, and in the years he has been associated with the organization he has seen a vigorous and dynamic press develop.

A writer deals with many unknowns. He realizes that he exercises influence but there is no way of gauging where that influence ends. Sometimes, however, tangible evidence is forthcoming. Our author has won a number of awards for his work, among them a national award from the National Conference of Christians and Jews. He is a member of the Gallery of Living Catholic Authors, the Mark Twain Society, and the Overseas Press Club. He finds his relaxation working for the Civil Air Patrol, an auxiliary of the United States Air Force. He is a group chaplain with the rank of major. He holds a private pilot license, and likes nothing better than to go flying in the evening when the air is still and the soft shadows of twilight change the face of the earth.


EDITOR'S NOTE: Father Nevins' books include The Adventures of Wu Han of Korea (Dodd, 1951), The Meaning of Maryknoll (McMullen, 1954), The Adventures of Kenji of Japan (Dodd, 1952), St. Francis of the Seven Seas (Farrar, Vision Books, 1955), The Adventures of Ramon of Bolivia (Dodd, 1954), Adventures of Men of Marybnoll (Dodd, 1957), Adventures of Pancho of Peru (Dodd, 1953), Away to East Africa (Dodd, 1959), Adventures of Duc of Indo China (Dodd, 1955), The Making of a Priest (Newman, 1957), The Maryknoll Book of Peoples (Crawley, 1959), and The Maryknoll Golden Book (Book Treasures, 1956).

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


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