Search for Books by:  


Bookshop | Contact Us | Home


Join Our E-Mail Announcement List!

Rev. Francis Xavier Weiser, S.J.

BEING A COLLEGE PROFESSOR BY DUTY AND HABIT, I SHALL probably write this sketch as I would give a lecture in class. However, at times even a college class may turn out to be interesting and enjoyable.

I was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1901. At that time the city was still the gay capital of a famous empire. Furthermore, it was, and still is, the great metropolis of music and song. You might say that we grew up to the tunes of Haydn, Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, and Strauss. I have a vague feeling that this atmosphere of culture, music, and art, had much to do with my desire to write. At the age of eight or nine, while still a little boy in grammar school, I used to ask God daily in my evening prayer to "let me write books."

According to the Austrian system of education, I started the study of Latin at the age of eleven, and Greek when I was fourteen. For good measure, there was added a three-year course in Italian; also religion, literature, history, geography, mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, drawing, music, art appreciation, and singing. All these subjects, topped by a two-year course in fundamental philosophy, constituted the secondary schooling (Gymnasium). After that, at the age of nineteen, we were ready for the university.

However, instead of proceeding directly from the gymnasium to the university, I entered the novitiate of the Jesuit Order. In 1924 I started the seven-year course at the University of Innsbruck in the Tyrol. The fruits of these studies, at least the recorded ones, are academic degrees in philosophy, theology, and education. The unrecorded fruit (which is more important), is supposed to have become a part of my personality, and is known only to God.

After ordination in 1930, I came to the United States for a year of special studies. From 1932 to 1938, I was stationed at Vienna as editor of a youth magazine and national moderator of the student sodalities. When the Nazis occupied Austria in 1938, Catholic youth work was made wellnigh impossible. I "returned" to the United States that same year and have remained here ever since, first as a parish assistant in Buffalo and Boston, then, from 1943 to 1950, as pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Boston, and since 1950 as a teacher at Emmanuel College in Boston.

The desire and urge for writing never left me. My superiors prudently encouraged this trend even during my years as a student. From 1928 to 1953, I wrote sixteen books in German: novels, biographies, and six plays. Some of these works are still "going the rounds" in new printings. Since the first of them appeared twenty-eight years ago, many parents in Europe who had read my books as youngsters and whose children read them now, think of me as either dead and buried, or as a very, very old man. Who can blame them! I greatly enjoyed their startled looks when I met many of them in Europe last year. It does flatter your ego to surprise people by being younger than they thought you were.

But let us talk about my books in English. First, I am often told that my style is somewhat accomplished, clear, and pleasantly attractive to the American reader. Allow me to tell you a secret. I never had the benefit of "studying" English; never had a teacher or any formal instruction in this language. All the English I know, was-to use a popular expression-just "picked up" by reading good English books. (The word "good" refers to both English and books.) That is the reason why I am now so keenly and sadly aware of the incredible harm which the atrocious language and spelling of our comic books must cause to the minds of children. If reading "good English" books gave me my knowledge of the language, what kind of language habits will the comics produce in our children?

How did I come to write these books? When I arrived in this country in 1931 and again in 1938, I was deeply impressed by many aspects of American life. Among them was the charming sight of the popular Christmas celebration. This tradition had been molded into one unit out of the best national Christmas lore of various immigrant groups. It was only during the second half of the last century that our American Christmas observance came to be established.

Soon I discovered that most people have no clear notion of the origin, background, and true meaning of these customs which they observe in their homes. Since the great majority of our Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, and other observances actually go back to the inspiration of liturgical thought and symbolism, I judged it a worthwhile subject to explain. Also a priestly subject; for, given the fact that our popular customs contain the radiation of the liturgy, the understanding of this radiation would make the celebration of our Christian feasts within the family warmer, holier, and more truly joyful. At the same time, a better grasp of the religious meaning and message of our family customs would give parents valuable help for the religious training of their little ones.

It took me six years of research, which I did hobby-fashion, besides and between my many other duties. (Here comes the college professor again, looking at you over the rim of his glasses, raising his finger, and telling you that much can be accomplished in the course of years by using spare minutes.) I extended my studies over the span of the whole ecclesiastical year, its feasts and seasons, including both the liturgical observance and the traditional folklore.

At times, of course, I felt very much like abandoning the project altogether, especially when repeated efforts at clearing up a particular point remained fruitless. Once I tried for weeks to find authentic information about the traditional pictures imprinted on a certain kind of European Christmas pastry. In vain I searched the pertinent encyclopedias and other literature in various languages at the greater libraries of Boston. Finally, when on the point of dropping the matter completely and leaving it out of the book, I happened to be told by a family that they had an old Christmas pastry pan in the attic. Immediately I went and looked at it. Hidden beneath the dust of years, I found a mold pattern of fifty pictures-exactly the ones I had been looking for.

The books appeared at intervals of two years: The Christmas Book in 1952, The Easter Book in 1954, and The Holyday Book in 1956. In the summer of 1956 I wrote a booklet of about a hundred pages on Religious Customs in the Family which was published by the Liturgical Press at the end of the year. My plans for future writing hold as the next item a Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs, and after that-well, I'd better not look too far ahead.

I have not discussed the publication of books with other authors, so I really do not know much about the problems, disappointments, and frustrations to which writers might be subject, except from occasional hearsay. If you should infer from this remark that I am personally free from such annoyances, you have conjectured correctly. It is a pleasure, almost amounting to a duty, to publicly acknowledge the courteous and cordial spirit of cooperation exercised by my publishers, Harcourt, Brace and Company, and by all the members of the firm who had anything to do with my publications.

Autobiographical sketches are sometimes a nuisance for both writer and reader. In this case, however, it is different, at least on my side of the printing press. I did enjoy writing these lines; and since genuine joy is contagious, I hope and pray that my readers will not have wasted their time in perusing what I have written. God bless you all!

Originally published by Walter Romig in The Book of Catholic Authors

Bookshop | Contact Us | Home

copyright 2002-2005 Catholic Authors