In February of 1942, David Donald Supple came to us. His picture was familiar to newspaper readers, in the days which followed upon the Holy Week (l949) publication of St. Benedict Center’s doctrinal controversy, as one of the four teachers who were fired by the Jesuits for holding that it is the teaching of the Catholic Church that no one can be saved outside it, nor without personal submission to the Pope, its visible head. Newspaper publicity was very far from David’s thoughts when he came to St. Benedict Center. He had heard about the Center while a student at Brown University where he was a member, and later president, of the Newman Club. During his college days, David frequently visited a priory not far from Providence. It was on one of his visits there, just the weekend before his coming to us, that someone spoke to him about St. Benedict Center and David came over from his home in Newton to investigate. He had been looking for some such thing to fill in his time while he was working in nearby Watertown. He had one more year of college before receiving his degree, but he could not complete it until after the war since his older brother was away from the family, with the Navy. His father, a well-known Boston surgeon, had died several years before, and David’s younger brothers were still in school.
So much a part of the Center did David become, and so devotedly did he study, that Father Feeney was able to say of him, when he came to his defense during the controversy: “There is almost no point of Catholic doctrine or program on which David has not a seasoned judgment, expressed with his inimitable grace and ease. Strong faith has a tradition in his family. His two uncles, Monsignor Supple and Dr. James Supple, are imperishable memories in the minds of all unequivocal Boston Catholics.”
David worked with Fred Farrell a great deal in those days at the Center, in 1942. Fred had graduated from Harvard, and was waiting for induction into the Army, where he had made application for admission to the Language School. There are no two Center boys of whose lives Father Feeney and I were more happy to become a part than David Supple’s and Fred Farrell’s. Fred’s mother and father gave us their warm support all through the years. Mr. Farrell, a Harvard man himself, telephoned me, soon after Fred’s coming to the Center, and asked me to tell Father Feeney how grateful he and Mrs. Farrell were to have Fred and his sister, Mary, with us. He said that he had felt the need of some such place as the Center during his own days in college, and he was delighted that it had come into being for his son and daughter.
Fred left us for the war years, was commissioned, and spent a year in Japan after the war, working for the Government. He came back to us then, and has been with us ever since. He is one of the many Center people who were not asked to make a profession of their Faith in the newspapers, but who were ready and waiting to make that profession whenever the chance would be given them. He is, in our eyes, along with the other members of the Center, none the less a confessor of his faith in a world grown old and cold, a world at the end of the post-Renaissance, the end of the Reformation, the end of excessive nationalism, and the beginning of we know not what.
And then one day, in the fall of 1942, there came to us, by way of Syria, the American University of Beirut, the University of Michigan and Harvard University,- Fakhri Maluf. He had been having lunch with Father Vincent Flynn, now President of St. Thomas’ College in St. Paul, who was doing some research at Harvard. Father Flynn had spoken at the Center one evening, knew its work, and he suggested to Dr. Maluf that he might find the Center of help in many ways. Fakhri came for the first time on a Thursday evening. After Father’s lecture he said to me, “Father Feeney is exactly the priest I have been looking for. It is simply amazing.”
Fakhri Maluf was born in Syria. His father, an intellectual who taught in a school of his own founding, lost the Catholic faith for himself and for his children. He died when Fakhri was a boy, and his mother had to take over the running of the school. Fakhri and his brothers and sisters were educated in the family school, and then they all went up to the American University of Beirut. Fakhri received a position on the faculty of the University upon his graduation, and taught physics there for five years. He then came to the University of Michigan, on a scholarship, and received his Master’s Degree in 1941, in philosophy. He wrote his doctor’s dissertation in the Philosophy of Science, and was given his Ph.D. Degree from Michigan in 1942. He was awarded a fellowship for further study at Harvard University, where he arrived in the fall of 1942.
He had chatted with a Catholic priest on the boat coming to America, and the priest had awakened in him an interest in the Catholic faith. Fakhri had no idea how he might satisfy his longing to know more about the Faith, but he told himself that if God wanted him to have it He would provide a way. God did provide a way at Michigan, several ways,- in the person of the Catholic chaplain there, of some fellow students who were also interested in philosophy, and in the person of “a very dear friend, Mary Healy (Maluf), an undergraduate student who was a devout Catholic”. It was while he was a graduate student at the University of Michigan, that Fakhri Maluf came into the Catholic Church.
Fakhri had an eager enthusiasm for things mental and spiritual, and this he passed on to others. His quiet, gracious manners, his sincerity, his unobtrusive erudition, his pursuit of a way of holiness were so convincing and so refreshing that he won our hearts almost immediately. Such a person was rare in our experience, where the order of the day in college circles was the deliberately cultivated, bored manner of the disciples of Higher Criticism.
Ann Cobb, who came back to us from two years spent in Germany and ran right into the flare of our newspaper publicity, had always sought Fakhri Maluf to explain to her Radcliffe classmates the Catholic philosophy. It was out of one of these discussions that “Dr. Maluf’s philosophy night” at St. Benedict Center grew, which in popularity and attendance was second only to Father Feeney on Thursday night. Fakhri suggested to a group of students that they read St. Augustine’s Confessions. They said they were not sure what they could get out of it, reading on their own, and they asked Dr. Maluf if he would direct them in a study of St. Augustine. This he agreed to do, with the approval of Father Feeney, who said that he would attend the meetings and give his help in the theological and philosophical difficulties, as they arose.
From this beginning grew the Tuesday evening lectures in philosophy and theology which Fakhri Maluf has given at the Center, almost without interruption, from the winter of 1943 until the present day. The list of books studied came to include the De Anima and the Metaphysics of Aristotle, the City of God of St. Augustine, the De Trinitate of St. Augustine, the Republic of Plato, the Treatise on the Love of God by St. Bernard, the smaller Dialogues of Plato, the Reduction of the Arts to Theology by St. Bonaventure, the Treatise on Habits, the Treatise on Man, the Treatise on Faith and On Hope in the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas, the Summa Theologica in general, and many other books of similar nature.
“It is extraordinary, how much can be accomplished”, Fakhri has said, “in one evening a week dedicated to the classics of philosophy and theology, if it is done with constancy and perseverance over a period of many years!”
He also says of this very successful course of his, “in these Tuesday evening lectures I was both a student and a teacher at the same I was learning not merely from the books, but also from Father Feeney, who made it a point to be with us. Whenever we came to a problem or a difficulty which touched the Faith, Father found time to investigate it thoroughly and to give us a full, authoritative solution. You will notice, from the books used, that as time went on our interest in pagan thought was waning, as we became increasingly aware of the wisdom, the holiness, and the unction in the writings of our own Doctors of the Church. Our work became centered in the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas. The fact that these Tuesday evenings attracted large numbers of people is a tribute to the fact that serious interest in philosophy and theology are never lacking on the part of men.”
And so the Center life went quietly and steadily on during the academic year of 1942-1943. We added a course in the language and the poetry of Dante, which was given by a member of the Romance Language Department of Harvard College. The Catholic faculty and students of Harvard and Radcliffe, and the Chaplain’s School at Harvard, had come to take the existence of the Center for granted, and they, found it of much use. The Center monthly Communion breakfasts had become popular. Father Feeney would say Mass for us at the Cenacle Convent in Brighton, through the gracious arrangement of Mother Mary Shannon, and after Mass we would come to the Center for breakfast and to listen to a speaker. Father Feeney drew from his own store of friends for our Communion breakfast speakers, and in the course of a year we heard many well-known authors, artists, musicians, of whom Mlle Nadia Boulanger was one.
Toward the middle of the year, Father Thomas Carrol, the chaplain at the Cenacle Convent, began to worry about our absence from our parish churches once a month. He thought it better that we did not use the Cenacle chapel for Mass. Since St. Paul’s Church was filled every hour on Sunday mornings for Mass, we tried to get a free time in one of the convent chapels in Cambridge, but were unable to find it. In the end we were obliged to ask Father Feeney if he would inquire of Monsignor Hickey if he could fit us in somehow in St. Paul’s.
“I’m sorry,” Monsignor Hickey told Father, “there isn’t an available time anywhere on Sunday morning, either in the upstairs church or in the basement. They will have to come to one of the large parish Masses and do the best they can.”
“They’ll be glad to do that, Monsignor”, Father said.
“Yes, I will say this for them,” Monsignor Hickey told Father Feeney; “they are very, docile.”
I went home to Hartford for Thanksgiving, with my family. St. Benedict Center became the subject of the dinner conversation. A cousin of ours was present who had, over the years, become well known in newspaper work, and who was now on The New York Times. He had spent a great deal of time reporting the labor situation in this country, and he was very much disturbed by the activities of the Communists. He used to say that he thought the Times had hired him for his conservative New England background. That same week he had witnessed what was to him the shocking spectacle of New York school teachers out on strike. He suddenly conceived the Center as a bulwark against Communism in the college; in fact, he conceived, on the spot, a Center at every college in America. It was a wonderful idea, and just the thing! He would ask if a man could be sent up from the paper to write the story of St. Benedict Center for the Sunday Times.
However, his enthusiasm for St. Benedict’s was dashed forever by my first avowal of our later oft-repeated policy. “Thank you, but we don’t want any publicity for the Center.
It can best do its work quietly.”
“For heaven’s sake, why?” asked this child of publicity.
I told him the story of the Center’s policy about publicity (the reason for which will unfold as this story goes on) but I don’t know that I convinced him. He did come to see us, on a Thursday evening, a year or two later. He stayed for Father’s lecture. It was our custom, after the lecture, to serve coffee and doughnuts to the students while they stood about, talking for an hour or two. I can still see my reportorial cousin, standing in the middle of the Center floor watching the students, a forbidden story in his eye, as he drawled in his dry way, “My God! If anyone had told me I would come to Cambridge and watch Harvard students listen enthralled to a sermon by a man who could pack them in at Madison Square Garden, and then behold these same students finish the evening off on coffee, I wouldn’t have believed it!” He went back and had a word with Father, not as one Catholic to another, for this cousin is still running away from the Church, but as one writer to another, and then he took his solitary way home, to New York.