Reflections on the Healys

April 16th, 2010 by akuzniew

Earlier this week, a reporter from the Chicago Tribune  contacted me to discuss Bishop James Healy, Class of 1849. The context was the announcement by the Archdiocese of Chicago that Father Augustine Tolton (1854-97), an African-American priest of Chicago, had become a candidate for sainthood. It was a pleasant conversation with an intelligent reporter who was trying to get my views regarding primacy: who was the first African-American priest. The context was complicated by a recent discussion at Georgetown about the fact that, for years, they had concealed President Patrick Healy’s (HC Class of 1850) racial background; but then revived it when his identity became an asset at the time of the civil rights movement and afterwards.

It’s an interesting question. My sense is that, in an era of intense racism, the Healys made the best of the situation by passing for white as sons of an Irish immigrant and his common-law wife in Georgia who was a mulatto. Their goal was “to help souls,” as St. Ignatius put it; and, since they could pass for white, they did so and accomplished great things in the vineyard of the Lord.


Father Tolton didn’t have that option. Being visibly black, he had to carry on his work in an atmosphere of hostility to persons of his race. So, was he truly the first? The best answer I could give was: yes and no.


Father Al Foley of the New Orleans Province of Jesuits  has written biographies of two of the Healys. Beloved Outcaste profiles James Healy; Dream of an Outcaste covers Patrick. James O’Toole has published an excellent history of the Healy family over several generations under the title Passing for White. They are a remarkable family, deserving of the publicity. And Father Tolton has to have been a remarkable priest. Several biographies are available and I hope to get to one of them before long.

Easter on Campus

April 5th, 2010 by akuzniew

Easter on campus is a solemn time. A strange stillness descends upon us every year on Wednesday evening, as almost all the students depart for their Easter break. This year, there were two special aspects that lent richness to Holy Week. The first was a beautiful greeting to us Jesuits from Rabbi Norm Cohen of Minneapolis, a house guest in Ciampi Hall when he visits his alma mater, a good and wise rabbi who enriches our house and campus with his presence. He had also greeted us for Ash Wednesday, another sign of support and prayerful solidarity. The other variable this year was the fantastic weather, as if God had raised the curtain on meteorological beauty after a month plagued by Noah-type deluge. The forsythia and other early bloomers fairly exploded on Holy Thursday when the sun came out full force and all the rain gear went back into the closet.

Four religious services bring the diminished community together–Fr. McFarland, Frank Vellaccio and other administrators; Alice Laffey and other faculty colleagues; a few local alumni and friends; members of teams that happen to be in residence–this year, baseball, men’s and women’s lacrosse, crew, and a few others.

Thursday and Friday services are in the Mary Chapel, the renovated space that has held its beauty for almost a decade now,  and enhances community worship by means of the centrally located altar.  It’s moving to watch the foot-washing ceremony on Thursday: after having your feet washed, you kneel and wash the feet of the next person in line. And on Friday, as the whole group of worshipers advance to reverence the cross, there’s a powerful sense of our oneness before the Lord, regardless of rank, age, or experience.

Holy Saturday,  in a good year like this, begins its service at dusk outside on the plaza with the blessing of the new fire and lighting of pascal candle. Our rector, Fr. Hayes, presided this year and braved his way through the sung Exsultet with satisfying success. And on Easter morning, again this year, Fr. McFarland presided in a space basically at capacity, as we sang the allelujas and lingered long afterwards to exchange our “Happy Easters.”

Now, on Monday afternoon, the students are returning and the oasis of tranquility has been displaced by the usual hustle-bustle. Even so, we are not exactly the same people we were a week ago.  For a few days, for those of us here to experience it, Easter became a verb. We are the richer for it.

Athletic Chaplain Reflections

March 8th, 2010 by akuzniew

Three bus trips with our men’s basketball team in the past week–a dramatic and ultimately sad ending to our season. As in other years, I found myself in three roles–one, as a priest and chaplain to offer support; two, as a member of the faculty to help represent the bond between studies and athletics; and third, this year, to enjoy the good company of Dr. James Walsh, now in failing health. I was disappointed that he was on board for diappointing losses at Lehigh and Lafayette, but unable to be present for our thrilling win at Bucknell last Wednesday.

I am always edified by celebrating Mass on gameday mornings with anybody who cares to participate–Dr. Walsh and Bob Fouracre always, Coach Kearney, and some of the coaches, managers and players. If it’s a small group, I make use of my room. Yesterday, being Sunday, we used a conference room at the hotel, sitting around a large table, almost as if we were figures in the famous DaVinci painting. Andrew Tanguay and Brian Zelesky, managers, gave the readings and helped set a prayerful mood.  For all of us, I hope, it helps create a context and add perspective to the trip, the group, the game, the tradition. Oh, for our Ash Wednesday Mass before the game at Navy, Andrew Beinert was at the end of the line as I distributed ashes; so I had him do me. I had many comments afterwards that the black cross he placed on my forhead was absolutely perfect. That kid has talent!

The bus rides provide the opportunity to attend to the reading that is part of my plan for this one-semester sabbatical. This week, I read Brian McGinty’s book, John Brown’s Trial, about the famous abolitionist who raided the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry in 1859 and was then speedily tried and hanged. McGinty takes his reader through the case with all the deftness and engagement of the old Perry Mason TV series, one really comes to understand the conflicting jurisdictions (VA vs the US) and the question of whether the charge of treason could be leveled against him since he was not a citizen of Virginia. I couldn’t put it down, and will make good use of it next year in the “Lincoln and His Legacy” course.

Slow Food

February 23rd, 2010 by akuzniew

Kimball was never so elegant! Last week, several students in Prof. Susan Rodgers’s Sociology of Food course invited me to join their class for a Slow Food meal at Kimball. At first, I expected a crock pot meal, then remembered that Kimball introduced this special program several years ago as an antidote to the all-too-common “fast food” that is ubiquitous in our society.

The meal was served elegantly, on the Holy Cross Wedgewood plates that the College purchased in the 1930s. The chef (an alumnus of the Class of 1999) spoke to us about the various courses, and then WE ATE. There was a delicious chicken consume with a sort of chicken dumpling. The second course was a salad with cranberries and nuts and a maple dressing. The third course was delicious osso bucco with a sweet-and-white potato au gratin and broccoletti. Finally a fabulous homemade tart for dessert. The meal was served slowly, and we conversed over almost two hours. My table companions were sophomores–three football players and a member of the women’s lacrosse team. Given the food and the company, time passed quickly.

As the saying goes: a good time was had by all.