The Center’s main room is a long one, and the upper half of it is furnished like a living room. It is a very pleasant living room, with large, comfortable chairs, leather davenports, heavy rugs, and many books. The second half of the room has long library tables, for study, and bookshelves along the walls. Gradually it became necessary to move the library tables for the evening lectures, and to use every available inch of floor space in order to accommodate as many people as possible. It was in the upper part of the Center room that Father Feeney began his evening lectures. He would come down from Weston College on Thursday afternoon, and would see students until dinner time. So many students asked to see him that it finally became necessary for Father to come into Cambridge several days a week, and it eventually developed that when he did not have duties at Weston College he was to be found hard at work at St. Benedict Center.
We could scarcely believe the wealth of riches which Father Feeney brought to the Center, in himself. He brought us the example of real holiness, of priestly zeal. He brought us his great love for Our Lady, which everyone who has ever known him has acknowledged to be extraordinarily deep and beautiful. He brought us the fruits of his scholarship, of his many years of learning, here and abroad, in the Jesuit Order. His rich humor, his poetry; his love of the poets, his story-telling, at which he is a master, filled us with joy. He seemed to think everyone was good, everyone (of us) a genius, everyone almost a saint. We expanded under the warmth and charm of it. If we weren’t saints, we would try to be. At last we would work hard for God; and let Him take care of the saint part of us. It was in Father Feeney’s spiritual direction that we realized what a gift God had given us. Bishop John Wright, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Boston, recalled this to me in a conversation I had with him some years later, when we were discussing the many courses which had been added to the Center schedule.
“I should be very sorry”, Bishop Wright told me, “if St. Benedict Center’s school became so large that Father Feeney would, in his preoccupation with the studies, be taken away from his duties as spiritual director. He is a genius in the direction of souls.”
In his spiritual direction, Father Feeney brought out, by his patience and belief in us, the hidden aspirations and half formed longings for God that we had not expressed even to ourselves. However, Father told us our faults also. This he did when we least expected it. In the withering blast of his denunciation of whatever fault in us he wished to uproot, it was borne in on us that he saw with remarkable clarity the shadows in our souls, as well as the light. Very often he would preface his scolding with the remark,
“You have a very selfish streak in you.” Or, “Do you want my direction, or do you not? Are you trying to get me to tell you what you want me to tell you, or will you take what Our Lady has given me to tell you?”
He would never accept the direction of someone he was not sure he could help. Well known Catholics have travelled to the Center from cities distant to Boston to ask Father Feeney if he would undertake their spiritual direction, only to be told the name of an excellent priest in their own city who Father thought could much better direct them.
I don’t remember just when it happened, but one day Arthur Egan, in his official capacity as vice-president of the Harvard Catholic Club, telephoned me. “It’s all a mistake”, he said, “about Father Green, the Catholic Club, and St. Ben’s. I’ve been talking with Father Green, and I find that Monsignor Hickey somehow forgot to tell him that St. Benedict’s is approved by him. Could you come over and have a talk with Father Green?”
“I am very happy about the situation now”, Father Green said to us. “Monsignor just forgot to tell me, and we have learned to be a little reserved about outside help with the Harvard Catholic Club. In years past, on many occasions people have come to us and said, ‘You just don’t know anything about it. The Club isn’t being handled properly. We will show you how to do it.’ We believed them, and allowed them to go ahead. In a short while they got tired and let the whole thing drop. Sometimes they even turned out to be anti-clerical. But I’m entirely satisfied about you now. I will come over and see you some day.”
Father Greene came over the following afternoon. We showed him around the Center, told him about the program, described Father Feeney’s work, and the courses. Father Greene said he was delighted, and he would encourage the students to come to the Center.
He came over to see us again on the following Saturday afternoon, during a lull in the confessional hours at St. Paul’s. It was the first time we had the consoling experience of seeing what was later a familiar sight in the little square- the curates of St. Paul’s parish in cassock and biretta on their way across the street to visit St. Benedict Center.
“My coming at this time is deliberate”, Father Greene told us on that Saturday afternoon. “I want the people of our parish to see me coming in. It is one way of telling them that you are all right.” He smiled as he said it, and he won our hearts completely. He was a hard working young curate, and had come to know the problems in connection with the Harvard Catholic Club very well, in the ten years he had struggled with it.
Father Greene chose Tuesday night at the Center for his club. Father Feeney was delighted at the new turn of events, and he and Father Greene became very good friends.
The darkest cloud in our sky was the war. It was always threatening to take our boys, and even when it brought to us new men who were enrolled in the courses at Harvard, it also snatched them away when we had come to know and love them, and when they had settled down for real study with us. The war took Father Greene from us. So many priests had answered the call for Catholic chaplains during the war, that it was necessary to move the remaining priests around in order that the parishes would not be left understaffed any more than was necessary. It was in this redistribution, as we understood it, that Father Greene was transferred to St. Theresa’s Church in West Roxbury. We so regretted this that I went over and asked Monsignor Hickey if something could not be done about it.
“No,” Monsignor replied, “nothing can be done. Do you know which of the other priests here you would like to take Father Greene’s place?”
I could think of no one immediately, but after some thought I said to him, “Father Fitzpatrick spoke at the Center the other evening about his work with the Legion of Mary, and we liked him very much.”
“I will send you Father Fitzpatrick. He will not be able to come until the fall, but he will be over then. I am sure you will continue to like him very much.”
We did come to know and love Father Fitzpatrick. While he was with us he gave to Father Feeney and to St. Benedict Center the loving protection under which it was able to go ahead and do its work. When he was given his own parish and had to leave us, several years later, our sorrow was very real at losing him. If Father Fitzpatrick were with us, we have thought many times, much of what we have suffered since his going would not have been allowed to come upon us.
However, so beautiful is the Providence of God. It is true also that neither would we have been able to awaken the world to an awareness of doctrine, once more. Catholics had become vigilant about Communism, sociology, slum clearance, the Community Chest, cancer, and those things which pertain to man’s temporal good, but that which alone protects the precious Deposit of Faith, the guarantee of their eternal good,- Catholic doctrine- that had been long neglected. Liberalism had been eating in upon it until the virility, the substance of doctrine was fast disappearing.
Neither Father Greene nor Father Fitzpatrick, I am sure, would say that Father Feeney was ever any less a priest than they, that they understood orders any better than he. Nor could they say that St. Benedict Center, too, had not had its share of obeying orders with regard to its priests. As this story unfolds, and you recall that all through the controversy between St. Benedict Center and the local Church authorities the cry of “Discipline!” was raised, on the one hand, and “Doctrine”, on the other, perhaps you will reflect that St. Benedict Center must have had a mighty reason for its stand of Doctrine over Discipline. For it had. The controversy was, in the beginning, a question entirely of doctrine. St. Benedict Center had been trained through discipline, and it had been its joy to obey.