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