During the academic year 1946-47, under our new policy of fearlessly telling the truth, the number of Father Feeney’s converts increased. Many non-Catholics liked what Father was saying. It was what they had been looking for, the truth spoken as by one having authority. Our trouble has come not so much from non-Catholics, as from Catholics. The American Catholic is a sort of diluted Catholic, made so by force of circumstance, and the Boston Catholic is a sort of Catholic all by himself.
Some very brilliant and bright Irish were brought over to America, because persecution made it impossible for them to make a living in their own country. The auspices, however, under which their priests began to function in Boston was more of a church-building, housing problem than it was of ardent plans for the spreading of the Faith. The regime was holy and God-fearing. The Italian Apostolic Delegate who said, “The Irish do not love God; they fear Him”, was being, as anyone can see, more racial than religious. But those of us who have Irish blood in our veins might well wonder if he was not hitting a little too close to the truth for our comfort.
The Irish, and may I say particularly in Boston, were a warm, generous and loving people. The formality and restraint of their religion came from having merely good men and not saints as priests. Their settling among the Puritans of Boston did not help either, for Puritanism and Jansenism have too much in common. There was a wide streak of Jansenism in the Irish priest. Irish theology and Plymouth Rock manners are one of the weirdest and most difficult-to-live- under regimes this world has ever experienced. This strained combination is responsible for such slogans as Beacon Street bluestockings, Banned in Boston, and His preeminent Eminence, William Cardinal O’Connell.
Some of Father’s finest men came to him during the years 1946-47 and 1947-48, men of remarkable depth of faith and of courage. They are with us now, and have been, all through our trials. Father Feeney and I have spent the greater part of our lives in academic circles, and it is our measured judgment that the Center men are some of the most brilliant minds we have ever known. They are today more fully convinced than ever that we should keep on telling, no matter what befalls us as a result of it, the full truth, which is at once the protection of the Church and the safeguard of Her children.
The Center courses, during these academic years, doubled. The evening lectures were so filled that we had to turn people away, sometimes as many as two hundred at a time. Father Fitzpatrick, of St. Paul’s, and I went over the Center, vainly trying to make more room in order to accommodate those who wished to come to us.
Our vocations also increased, as did our engagements and marriages. Father brought students, and even older people, for baptism to St. Paul’s Church, to Boston College, to other parishes in the diocese. Every so often, we would fill Archbishop Cushing’s chapel, for Confirmation. And for the great occasion of their First Holy Communion, we were given permission to bring Father’s converts to the reverent quiet of Carmel, to the Sacred Heart Convent, to the Cenacle; or to Father’s own chapel in the Jesuit House on Harrison Avenue, and later to St. Andrew House, on Newbury Street, in Boston.
Monsignor John Wright was our frequent guest at this time. He seemed to enjoy dropping in during the evening, to listen to Father’s stories and the students’ skits. Father Feeney had a genius for bringing out in the students whatever talent they had, and often many people preferred not to go to the theatre or the movies on Friday and Saturday evenings; it was more fun at the Center on “Father’s amateur hour”.
Father, himself, had a most remarkable ability for mimicry. When he mimicked a person, it was a complete portrayal in voice, gesture, and form, precisely because Father never let the one he was imitating talk on a subject usual to him. It was one of Father’s theories that you can study form and style in an orator much better when you have him speaking on some subject alien to his ordinary interests.
Father would write and deliver a fireside chat of President Roosevelt talking, not on the state of the Government in Washington, but on the state of the Catholic Church in America. Father could imitate Miss Katherine Hepburn, broadcasting a prize-fight. He could give Governor Al Smith delivering a lecture on Scholastic Philosophy. He also could give a Sunday evening broadcast of Monsignor Fulton Sheen, on the subject of Coca-Cola.
Monsignor Wright enjoyed immensely all of Father’s imitations, with, possibly, the exception of the one on Monsignor Sheen. Father knew this, and so did we. Was it because Monsignor Wright saw the danger in the parody that might occur on his own style of talking in case Father chose to add him to his repertory? We think so, and events have proved it. Father Feeney always restrained himself on the subject of Monsignor Wright, partly through respect, and partly through affection. It is only fair to say that later, when Monsignor Wright had been appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Boston, and had called in the Boston newspaper reporters at eleven o’clock one night, so as to have Father Feeney “silenced” on the front pages of the morning papers, with no chance to make a statement in his own defense, that Father Feeney got around to giving us the long delayed imitation of Bishop Wright.
This imitation was different from the others. Father did not need to mimic Bishop Wright talking on a subject Father had chosen for him. He needed merely to rehearse, with the precise skill at mimicry for which he is famous, the usual address Bishop Wright gave to a Catholic audience, on the subject of Cosmic Catholicity, or “The Faith of the Future in Not-Yet Established Dioceses of the Church”.
Father Feeney’s strong message at this time, therefore, was to us students not only from the undergraduate colleges, but also from the Law, Business and Medical Schools. James R. Walsh and Charles Ewaskio, who with Fakhri Maluf and David Supple featured in the Boston Heresy Case, also came to us in these years.
Fakhri Maluf had resigned from Holy Cross College as the war drew to a close, in 1945. On Father Feeney’s recommendation, he was appointed to teach mathematics and philosophy at Boston College, the local Jesuit college. He was also appointed to teach philosophy at the Adult Education Institute of Boston College, “Intown”. His course at the Adult Education Institute was, through the years he taught there, very popular, and it was to one of these classes that James R. Walsh, still in Naval uniform, came one evening. He showed unusual interest in the class discussion, and asked some excellent questions. He returned later as a regular student, and after his release from the Navy, on the advice of Dr. Maluf he registered for graduate work in philosophy at Boston College. He had received his Bachelor’s Degree from Bates College, and before the war had taught mathematics for a year or two. When James Walsh had been at Boston College for a short time, he was offered an instructorship in mathematics, which he carried along with his graduate studies in philosophy.
Charles Ewaskio was one of Father Feeney’s converts. He was at this time doing research work in the Department of Physics at Harvard, having received his B.S. from Connecticut State College, his M.S. from Harvard (in physics), and having done special research in physics at Johns Hopkins and Harvard.
Father Feeney used to say that the tragedy of conversions to the Faith was that after the catechumen had finished instruction and had received the sacraments, he had no Catholic culture into which to return with his Faith. He was obliged to go back into our secularized society, where it was impossible to tell a Catholic from a non-Catholic. There used to be a time when this was not so, when becoming a Catholic meant a conversion in a total sense. This is no longer true in the United States, due, in no small part, to the secularization of our ecclesiastics, themselves.
Charles Ewaskio felt keenly the secularization of religion in the outside world. His conversion was whole and complete, and he was distressed by the lack of religious belief in the department in which he was working. He wanted, in order to grow in the Faith, to work somehow in the atmosphere of the Faith, to be with people with whom he could discuss it. He brought his troubles to Father, who told him that he admired his integrity very much, and that he thought Charlie could get what he wanted. He might, however, have to make somewhat of a sacrifice to accomplish it. He asked him how he would like to work in a Catholic college. His salary wouldn’t be as much as his present job paid him, nor would he have as much prestige. But he would be teaching in the same building with the Blessed Sacrament, there would be a crucifix above his desk, he would have priests for his colleagues.
And so Charles Ewaskio applied for a position as teacher of physics at Boston College, and was accepted. He and his wife and baby daughter left the convenient and attractive apartment which they had in a quiet university street in Cambridge, and moved to the only rent within their now limited means, one of the typical, poor houses in the streets just below the Harvard College dormitories and St. Paul’s Church.
Seven months later Charles Ewaskio was fired from that Catholic college to which, for spiritual reasons, he had wanted to go, at the sacrifice of so much earthly comfort. He was fired for holding that there is no salvation outside that Church into whose infallible arms he had run so short a time before from the uncertainty, doubt and despair which had all but torn him to pieces outside it, and had wracked him as he lay in a hospital worn with disease, after the war.
And that brings me to a great mistake which we made at this time, and to one of the most surprising and hard lessons we had to learn.