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Reverend Godfrey Poage, C.P.

WHEN MY FRIENDS ASK HOW I STARTED WRITING, ALL I CAN do is smile. For my first published articles were travelogues and love-lorn columns in the Sunday magazine section of the Des Moines, Iowa, Register and Tribune.

All this began back in June of 1937. I had just finished a year of college at the Passionist Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, and was looking for a summer job. The local newspaper needed filler-copy, and I volunteered to furnish it.

In the bales of manuscript that I turned out the first week, the editors selected one little three-hundred word article. But it was enough. I saw my name in print. There in a newspaper with half a million readers was a thought that had passed from my brain to a sheet of paper and through the medium of type to thousands of people. Something happened to me in that moment and some of the printer's ink must have passed into my blood. From then on I wanted to write.

Now, years later, I look back on those hours in the newspaper office as the most valuable technical training I ever received. There I had to meet deadlines. There my material had to be tailored to a certain amount of space. Always tny subject had to be concrete, definite, and clearly presented.

As the weeks went by, the feature editor took more of my articles and I gained more of his attention. Time and time again I heard him groan as he worked over one of my long, rambling articles: "Keep your sentences short; the shorter, the better. Keep your paragraphs short; the shorter, the better. Use plenty of periods!"

This advice kept my thoughts from bogging down in the middle, and I learned that any time a reader has to go over a sentence twice to get its meaning, I had misfired.

The following year I was elected to the editorship of the Prepannual, the seminary publication. In my sophomorish enthusiasm I thought that the editor was the one who wrote the whole magazine. In consequence, I tried to rewrite most of the contributions, until the moderator, Father Emmanuel Sprigler, C.P., straightened me out. "Give the others a chance," he ordered. "They have to learn too."

When I headed for the Passionist Novitiate in St. Paul, Kansas, in the summer of 1939, I carried along my love for writing. It seemed to me that the apostolate of the pen was the most fascinating possible. But in the novitiate there was little time for writing. If I got half an hour a day, I was doing well. I used most of this time to transcribe the instructions and meditations given by Father Malcolm LaVelle, C.P. These were the richest possible material for later conferences and retreats of my own, and were always exquisitely worded and to the point.

The year following my novitiate, I was sent to St. Paul's College, Detroit, for further studies. There I wrote my first two popular vocational booklets, Follow Me, and Follow Him. Most of the matter in these works I had given many times over in talks to boys and girls. When it came to actually publishing the material, I first mimeographed copies of the proposed manuscripts and submitted them to seventh and eighth grade teachers in the neighboring parochial schools. Their students were asked to delete any word or scratch out any section that did not appeal to them.

When the manuscripts were returned, I correlated all the corrections and criticisms. Practically every manuscript, for example, had the word "extraordinary" crossed out. It finally dawned on me that this was too big a word for most of the youngsters to read. They knew its meaning, but simply skipped it in a text. I substituted "unusual" and the sentence was easier to read. Now after fifteen years of circulation, the sale of these two booklets has topped three million.

In the years that followed I wrote other vocational pamphlets, but none has ever enjoyed the circulation of these first two-with the exception of my latest, Many Are Called. This is a booklet on answering parental objections to religious vocations. It had an initial run of one hundred thousand. Now the sales are getting close to a quarter million.

After ordination, I was invited by the Central Office of the Sodality to handle the vocation classes at the Summer School of Catholic Action. There I came under the influence of the late Father Daniel A. Lord, S.J., and from him I learned the importance of letter-writing. In the five summers I spent with him I could not begin to calculate the number of letters he wrote. I recall how once he worked all day on letters as we travelled together across the country in a Pullman. At the station I mailed about forty letters for him and thought he was through for the day. Later that evening he came to my hotel room and inquired: "Do you know where there is a mailbox?" In his hand were seventeen more letters.

When I commented on this writing, he said "Letters are my favorite form of expression. For to me the task of writidg is really the pleasure of a one-sided conversation. I fancy that across the table from me sits someone in whom I am interested, and to that person I pour out the ideas that seem important."

Another time Father Lord confided: "If you wait for inspiration, you will seldom if ever write. Writing is a craft. Learn your craft and exercise it as any other craftsman does. When you have something to say, sit down at your typewriter and let go. Rarely in life does the genius produce the work of genius. Generally he is content with good craftsmanship."

I have quoted Father Lord at some length because I know of no other person with whom I have spent more time in my priesthood or who has influenced me more in writing.

However, it was not Father Lord, but the late Father Joseph Husslein, S.J., who induced me to bring out my first book. Father Husslein had been watching for young writers for his Science and Culture series, and thought he found a contributor in me. After attending some lectures I gave at St. Louis University in 1948, he asked me to put them into book form. The result was Recrniting for Christ, which was published by Bruce in the Fall of 1950.

During these years I was also doing a number of articles for various Catholic publications and continuing my pamphlet writing. In 1952 I published Catholic Religious Vocations for the Vocational Guidance Manuals of New York, and in 1955 another guidance book for Bruce, entitled For More Vocations.

This brings me up to date. And all I need to add is that I have yet to write anything without putting at the top of my paper the motto, "B.V.M." It is not that what I write will contribute much to the glory of Our Blessed Mother, but I do ask her help in putting the message over. I look upon writing as an apostolate and to be truly and lastingly effective it must have the blessing of God . . . and the smile of Our Lady.

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