Beatles, Marines and Chicago Zoo
HOW to preserve order in these jottings with events crowding in upon me thick and fast? Last week, I crossed the Rockies by train. To the beauty of the scenerymountains, glaciers, the Mississippi itself and the start of the River Missouri were added the thrills of a Marine guard.
We were in the train two days. At the start of each meal, a giant sergeant (300 lb. and five rows of ribbons) sat at my table, a revolver at his hip. Across the aisle, meal after meal, two N.C.O.s with glistening, plated handcuffs, faced two diminutive prisoners.
Three times per day, the sergeant, with some solemnity, opened scaled orders to announce how many dollarsworth of menu the prisoners might enjoy. Prisoners and guards then tucked in, cheer, fully, together; they -and the giant sergeant were partial to ice-cream.
LADNER This little township, fifteen miles from Vancouver, boasts an Augustinian priory. Three Fathers and seven Brothers farm a hundred acres and administer a retreat-house, parish church and school.
The church, opened this Palm Sunday, was built by the Friars and their parishioners. I have seen no better anywhere. Spacious, colourful and airy and with a lovely Blessed Sacrament chapel to the right of the building, the sanctuary has been designed for the new liturgy.
Microphones are plentiful and lectors need not jostle each other for a turn. The loud-speakers are hidden in the chandeliers and, thus, the word of God hits the congregation from above. At the back of the Church is the sacristy, apt for the opening procession and, also, a nursery for babes whose sense of music is still primitive.
The parish priest himself cut all the stained glass. His church will hold seven hundred; it cost $72,000 where the lowest commercial estimate was $152,000. Four of the community are Germans, one, a Dutchman; the most cheerful was born in Southall and reared in Twickenham.
ENTER THE NUNS The Augustinians market their milk, kill their own meat and serve most delicious meals. For the first time in months, I have had soup made from stock, home-made cookies, fresh meat, and chicken that has never seen a can.
The nuns were on to a good thing. Two loads of them arrived on Easter Sunday for their six-day, annual retreat. If the Friars remind one of Esau, the fifty Sisters added the Rebecca touch. They are from five different Orders. Each arrived with hymn-book, Gelineau psalms, Palmolive soap in a plastic container, towels, no doubt embroidered in the corner with I.H.S.
The Sisters have taken over the Friars' refectory. They have Bach with their meals. I see plastic brushes. pans, dusters in perfect order and not a cup or saucer out of place. The old Brother cook says ja many times with varying intonations and peacefully stirs his rich, non-pasteurised soup.
CONVENT DOGS Here in Vancouver, as earlier in Chicago, one must face the constant hazard of convent dogs. The Vancouver hound, by name Baron, has been specially trained, they tell me, to make for men of any type. It is reassuring to know that it rarely bites and is content if it can pin you to the wall or knock you down. Small consolation that it wears a medal of Mother Foundress round its neck.
One solution, proposed by a fellow-Jesuit, is that should carry a disguise in a suitcase and arrive at the convent dressed as a nun. With a medal of Mother Foundress to assist him, I doubt if Baron would be deceived. It wouldn't be nice-would itto see a six-foot nun streaking through Vancouver with a German sheep-dog on her tail? Sad to relate, these huge dogs are no luxury. Both here in Vancouver and, much more, in Chicago, vandalism is an urgent threat. The statue of the Sacred Heart in the Jesuit retreat house, Barrington, was smashed to pieces while I was there. Much worse, I had to ask for prayers in public for a retreatant, gravely ill in hospital. A gang was smashing up the statue of St. Francis in his garden and he came out to defend his patron saint.
IN 'THE SUN'
Yesterday, I was in Vancouver for an interview with the Vancouver daily paper, The Sun. The first question asked, turned on the decline of religion in England; was it true that the Churches were declining, even the Roman Catholic Church?
Next, I was asked about the attitude of the Churches to the Beatles; I could only point out that the Hierarchy had not spoken on the subject but that most Catholics liked them very much.
The visit of the Jesuit General to the United States has caused much press comment and I was quizzed about that. My interviewer, Low rather than High Church, I guess, was puzzled that I, as a Jesuit, should even try to write funny books. Surely the Jesuits were not supposed to be funny, being as they are. the Marines of the Catholic Church?
My friend was slightly puzzled about humour and religion but I had to point out that English Catholics are, in this, a little peculiar; I instanced Chaucer, Thomas More, G. K. Chesterton and Evelyn Waugh. The effect of my answer was doubled by the very sad news of Waugh's death. Here, on the other side of the world, he was deeply loved and admired and will be very much missed.
Since I wrote to you last, I have completed my book Priest in Paradise: with God to Illinois. Two months ago, it was not even in my head, now, already. it is set up in galley-proofs. Americans work fast.
They wanted a photograph of me in glorious technicolor but judged-and rightlythat a priest looks flat, peering thoughtfully across a desk.
So I found myself in the Chicago Zoo with a Director of the Press, a producer, two cameramen, a caddie and various hangers-on. I was photographed. first with the flamingoes but the mercury lighting in the bird house turned us all a very revolting shade of green.
Next, two giraffes were persuaded to look lovingly at me and at the marshmallow in my outstretched but very timid hand. At the critical moment when the Producer cried "Hold it", one giraffe drooling, hit me in the eye.
We, then, all returned to the office and I was photographed peering thoughtfully across a desk.
PERRY MASON After giving retreats in Chicago to a great many lawyers-and some judges-I was invited to the new civic centre to see some of the most up-to-date courtrooms in the world. I attended various civil cases, in one of which the counsel, in the style of Perry Mason, advanced to the front of the witness-box and then took a stroll round the room.
In the next court, counsel sat at a desk, English fashion. and never moved an inch. I was informed by my guides that the Perry Mason style is now less popular where eloquence counts less than facts, accurately produced.
In a third court, a young advocate, pleading the rights of a Chicago citizen to have a crane on his property. was flanked by two counsel representing the City and opposing his plea. The judge ruled in favour of the craneowner, at which his attorney turned and bowed to me, sitting in front of the Illinois State flag.
"As there is an English Jesuit present in court," said he, "I would like to state that I was trained at the Loyola University Law School."
I think the judge had put him up to it.