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Rev. Leo John Trese (1902-)

MAY 6 IS THE FEAST OF ST. JOHN AT THE LATERAN Gate. On May 6, 1902, Pope Leo XIII was in the twentyfifth year of his illustrious reign. It is not surprising then, that when their fifth and last child was born to Joseph and Alice (Byrth) Trese in Port Huron, Michigan, on May 6, 1902, he should be named Leo John.

Joseph Trese operated a grocery store and butcher shop (the term "meat market" came later) and managed to show enough profit to send all his children through high school and the two youngest, including myself, through college. This was in the pre-supermarket era when a clerk from the store (usually one of my older brothers) called at the customers' homes in the morning to write down their orders, and returned in the afternoon with horse and wagon to deliver the orders. Practically all sales, in and out of the store, were on credit. On pay day, when the families came in to settle their bill, there always was a free bag of candy for the children. When a householder was sick or out of work, his bill would mount indefinitely until he went back to work. The friendliness of the local grocer was the only social security of that day. I would not, however, call them "the good old days." Standard wages for a laborer was $1.00 a day. I still remember my shock, when having supper with a chum, to learn that there was no milk for the tea because the family could not afford milk on the father's pay. I worked in my father's store, after school and during vacations, from the time I was old enough to sack a peck of potatoes or draw a gallon of kerosene.

My mother was a former school teacher; one who, fortunately for me, loved books and included several shelves of good books among her home's furnishings. I cut my reading teeth not only on such juveniles as Robin son Crusoe, Black Beauty, Gulliver's Travels, and Swiss Family Robinson, but also on such classics as Dante's Inferno (spine-chilling pictures") and Lamb's Tales From Shakespeare.

More than any other single influence it was, I am sure, the presence of books in our home and the encouragement to read them, that laid the foundations for my avocation of writing. There is nothing that will better develop a "sense for words"--for their right use and for the many nuances of their meaning-than early and extensive reading. This is not something that can be taught; it can only be absorbed. When I was old enough to hold a card of membership in the local Carnegie Library (and may God rest Andrew Carnegie!) I was frequent visitor, usually leaving with the two books allowed by my card, plus two or three more hidden under my jacket.

The grade and high school of St. Stephen's parish provided my basic education and Assumption College (now University) at Windsor, Ontario, provided me with Bachelor of Arts degree, philosophy as my major. Four years of theology at Mount St. Mary Seminary, Cincinnati, led to my ordination to the priesthood as a Detroit diocesan priest on February 13, 1927, at the hands of Bishop Joseph Plagens, then auxiliary bishop of Detroit.

After a five-year stint as assistant pastor at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral (then Blessed Sacrament Church) in Detroit, I was bitten by the foreign mission bug and joined the Benedictine Order to teach at the University of Peking. Before I could reach China, however, the Benedictine Fathers were forced by financial straits to relinquish the university to the Divine Word Fathers. At the expiration of my first vows (taken for three years), after a year of college teaching at St. Vincent's, Latrobe, Pennsylvania, and two years of work with homeless boys in Norfolk, Virginia, I returned to my diocese; a better priest, I am sure, for my four years of monastic life.

In 1936, the year of my return, I was assigned to establish a new parish, St. Christopher's, at Marysville, Michigan. There followed pastorates (1941) in Melvindale, and (1945) in Carleton, Michigan. The appearance of heart damage, stemming apparently from rheumatic fever in my youth, indicated the advisability of work less taxing than parochial administration In June of 1950, His Eminence Cardinal Mooney considerately assigned me as chaplain of Vista Maria school (a residential high school for girls) in Detroit. As I write this (1960), my present post is about to terminate in a leave of absence graciously granted by His Excellency, Archbishop John Dearden, to allow me to devote myself to an uninterrupted year of research and writing. It is my hope that the year will result in (among other things) a book on parent-child relationships which has been requested by one of my publishers. Perhaps I should mention that for the past ten years my principal work has been that of providing guidance for emotionally handicapped adolescent girls. To better equip myself for this work, I undertook studies in the field of guidance and counseling at Wayne State University, Detroit, and was granted a degree of Doctor of Education by that university in 1957. This is the background for the writing task which I am assuming.

When I was eleven years old I wrote a prize-winning story which was published on the children's page of the Sunday Detroit Free Press. After that I did no writing for the professional press until I was forty-two years old. In January of 1944, I decided to visit a priestclassmate of mine who was stationed in Puerto Rico. World War II was on, and to get transportation to Puerto Rico it was necessary to have business there. I told the airlines clerk that I was going to Puerto Rico to write an article about the island for a magazine. My reason was accepted. Not wishing to be a liar, I did write such an article and sent it in to the Commonweal. The editor liked it, in fact paid me $25.00 for it, and what was still more exciting, he published it in March of 1944. My career as a writer was launched.

Until the Commonweal article I never had realized that I could write or that I would enjoy writing. The dyke was broken, and I have been spilling words ever since. In addition to many articles for magazines (mostly Catholic), there have been seven books: three for priests, Vessel of Clay (1950), A Man Approved (1953), and Tenders of the Flock (1955); and four books for general consumption, Many Are One (1952); Wisdom Shall Enter (1954), More Than Many Sparrows (195 ), and The Faith Explained (1959). The first three were published by Sheed & Ward, the latter four by Fides Publishers. The manuscript for Many Are One, incidentally, was rejected by Sheed & Ward, yet Fides scored with it one of their greatest successes, having sold to date more than 100,000 copies of the paperback edition. Embryo authors may find encouragement in the fact that a publisher's judgment is not always infallible.

At present my regular writing commitments are the weekly "Father Jim Says" column for The Young Catholic Messenger, a monthly article for The Catholic Boy magazine, and a monthly article for the priests' magazine, Emmanuel, whose masthead lists me as a Contributing Editor. I do occasional articles, when requested and when time allows, for other Catholic magazines. For seven and a half years I did a weekly column for The Michigan Catholic and eleven other Catholic papers, until the pressure of deadlines became too great for me. I write best at night, when the world has quieted down and interruptions are rare. I do all my writing with two fingers on my typewriter, usually with one revision of the original draft.

For recreation I do a little bowling, a little golfing, and swimming in season, a little card-playing with my priest friends, a little visiting with my ten nieces and nephews and their thirty-five children. But mostly in my spare time I like to write. Putting words together to give clear expression to my thoughts, watching sentences form and ideas develop (sometimes, it seems, out of nowhere) is a fascinating pastime. It is hard work, and oftentimes I have to drive myself to sit down at the typewriter; but then time stops.

Writing, of course, carries with it a serious responsibility. That is why one of my permanent intentions in my daily Mass is "for all those who read what I write." Now that you have read this, you are included in that intention.

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


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