Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Seminary Community Honors Santo Nino

by Dean Marshall

Mount Angel, Ore. – On Saturday, January 16, 2016, the Mount Angel Seminary community hosted a celebration in honor of Santo Niño de Cebú, one of the titles of Jesus Christ which sees particular devotion in the Philippines and in Filipino communities worldwide.

The main celebrant of the Mass was Fr. Terrence Tompkins of the Diocese of Oakland and Vice-Rector for the College at Mount Angel Seminary. Deacon Tetzel Umingli, a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon, preached the homily. During his homily, Deacon Umingli reminded those gathered that when we search for meaning in life, “we often fail to notice that the one person who will fulfill us is always there.” He reiterated that “we find what we are searching for in Jesus Christ our Lord and God.”

The Mount Angel Seminary Filipino community, led by Gerard Juan from the Diocese of Juneau, organized the celebration, which included a reception consisting of traditional food and music, following the Mass. Mount Angel Seminary boasts a diverse community of seminarians studying for dioceses in the Western United States, Canada, the Pacific Islands, and Hungary, in addition to seminarians from various religious communities and several lay students as well.

Friday, January 22, 2016

A Final Reflection on Art Reviewing

Editor's Note: The final element of the Unfamiliar Genre Project is the student's reflection on the experience of researching and working with the genre they selected.  After writing his article "A Walk in Catholic Mount Angel," Luis Trujillo offered this reflection.

Final Reflection Unfamiliar Genre Project: Art Review

My choice of genre for the Unfamiliar Genre Project was to explore an art review. I think that the overall experience of working on this project has been enjoyable and expanding to my academic skills. What I mean by academic skills is I revisited academic skills learnt throughout my career of studies such annotating works, notetaking, reading the newspaper, working with MLA, interviewing, and working on conciseness. In addition I would add taking pictures and editing them, something I had never really had time to do.

I have learned to be more concise in my writing, as well about as MLA formatting and punctuation. I learnedd to work on good titles, implementing people and verbs.  Along the same lines, I learned how to better use quotations in an effective way.  An example might be to help make a point for me instead of writing it out. I do not think its possible to leave out the elements of good journalist ethics by Kovach and Ronsenstiel and how they apply to our duty as writers and as readers.

I have learned that I went into a couple of different genres.  While working on my project the first one was in the category of art, and the second was in the category of photo review.  This was because my project consisted in the reviewing of artwork and taking pictures that encapsulate the interest of viewers.  From the art reviews I read I learned that descriptive information as well as critique is what makes up most of the review's content. In art reviews I also learned that the artist and the location of the piece are always represented in the review. Art reviews are at times very enthusiastically written, especially if they are displayed at an exposition.  In the photo reviews that I was able to read, I learned that angles, shading, and location of whatever is being photographed are key components. Most of the photo reviews are very short and are mostly pictures with concise informative headings or captions. I believe that the biggest part was actually putting research in practice; it was a temptation to stick to reading just one newspaper as a source.  I ended up reading from the news, subscribing to blogs, reading magazines, and researching on the web.

I finished my project as a hybrid of the two genres, photo and art review. I used techniques I saw in many of the art reviews which gave a tour via review in different locations. Popular reports came from the recent visit of the Pope to the United States, which caused great awe. I was able to read reviews of the places he would be celebrating mass in like the Shrine of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C. and even the furniture he was going to be using.

My overall experience is that I was able to take a big concept and in a creative way include two genres. In my project I went from having a review of all the artwork in all the chapels of Mout Angel to focusing it to the heart of the journalism class, which is focused on the students and staff of Mout Angel Seminary.  I am overall happy with my finished project

I think this project taught me about community life in many ways.  I was able to get an overall understanding of the attitudes and responsibilities of a good writer and how to be responsible with my audience. I think that also plays into the other projects we had in class like writing the news briefs and the profile and even the obituaries. More specific to my Unfamiliar Genre Project, I would say that because my project had me interview and visit different communities it taught me about different levels of living in community as well as some of the spirituality particular to them, not to mention the history of their order and residence.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

A Walk in Catholic Mount Angel

Editor's Note: Three of the journalism students this fall, Brother William Petry, Brother Jorge Haro, and Luis Trujillo, completed the Unfamiliar Genre Project. This semester, each student focused on a different type of reviewing.  MAS Journalism is pleased to publish their final centerpiece reviews as well as their reflections on the process of working with the Unfamiliar Genre Project.

MAS Journalism has also published the book review and final reflection of Brother William Petry, M.Sp.S., and the restaurant review and final reflection of Brother Jorge Haro, M.Sp.S.

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A Walk in Catholic Mount Angel: An Art Review by Luis Trujillo

Benedictine brothers and sisters, Carmelite friars, Missionaries of the Holy Spirit and diocesan seminarians all have their specific place of worship in Mount Angel. All of these places have beautiful chapels and in them artwork that represents who they are and their charism within the Catholic Church. Walk with me as I visit the chapels, drawing special attention to religious art in their residences.

St. Joseph’s Chapel
St. Benedict is one of the smallest towns in the United States; it is basically a town on a hill in the north end of Mount Angel. St. Benedict is made up of a monastic and a seminary community. In the crypt of the main Abbey church is St. Joseph’s chapel. This chapel was built for the use of the seminarian community and is to this day the place where the Liturgy of the Hours and mass is celebrated every day of the academic school year.

Icon of the Annunciation
To the left of the altar is an icon of the Annunciation written by Brother Claude Lane, O.S.B. Seminarians sing the Regina Caeli and the Salve Regina in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary after Evening Prayer as well as meditate on the encounter between the Archangel Gabriel and Mary which gave us salvation. The icon’s major figures are Mary whose pose is that openness and Gabriel who seems to be rushing to tell her the divine message.

Stations of the Cross
The Stations of the Cross are a mosaic made by Louisa Jenkins in 1955 and rest on the back wall of the chapel. They bring into St. Joseph’s Chapel colors that take life with the light.The mosaic is mostly made up of glass and shimmering stones. More importantly the mosaics portray the passion of the way of Calvary that Jesus endured up to his death. The 2x2 feet mosaics are unusual because they are not a complete depiction of the bodies, but in some cases just a symbol makes the major part of the piece. Such is the case of the fourth station which offers a close up of the face of Jesus and Mary. One other example is the sixth station where the veil of Veronica is the main part of the mosaic, which is when Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.

The Mount Angel seminarians follow the spirituality of the Benedictine monks since their foundation as a school for the Lords’ service in 1887 and are welcoming of all guests. Mass is celebrated daily at 8 a.m. and all are welcome.

Elijah House of Studies

Only one mile from the seminary is the Elijah House of Studies for the Discalced Carmelites. Three brothers study at the seminary and one is a formation director. Founded in 1999, the house has a total of 8 members, and their chapel is the center of their spirituality. A recurring theme is the arches in the structure, which are represented in the cathedra, altar, podium and ceiling, as well as the outside front entrance. The same arches are also in some of their icons, as is the case for the icon of St. Therese.

Icon of St. Therese
This beautiful icon, written by the hand of Brother Claude Lane of Mount Angel Abbey, is mounted in a niche of the back right hand side of the chapel. St. Therese is in a walking pose with one hand about to knock. The icon is written after her favorite passage of God knocking at the doors of our hearts: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (Revelation 3:20). The icon was written to commemorate the visit of her relics to the Abbey in 2003 and was gifted to the Carmelites.

When you are inside the chapel your eyes are drawn almost automatically to the tabernacle that is in gold leaf shaped as an arch to fit the reoccurring theme of the architecture and furniture. The tabernacle was a gift to the community from a parish in Tucson that they administer. The detail of the tabernacle shows Christ holding a host and a chalice. One angel at each side is prostrate in adoration and wraps their wings around the top, giving it the arch shape. When I asked Fr. John Melka, O.C.D., a formation director for the house, what makes this chapel particularly Carmelite, he said, “The simplicity and focus on the tabernacle.”

The chapel of the Elijah House of Studies

The tabernacle

Detail of the tabernacle

Icon of Elijah                                                                        
One other very attractive icon is that of the prophet Elijah which rests in the opposite niche of the icon of St. Therese. This particular icon is written on a piece of driftwood, so it is in an uncommon shape. Elijah takes up most of the icon’s space, but details such as the fiery chariot he is on are carefully detailed. The icon was written by Fr. Robert Barcellos, O.C.D., in San Jose, and is a piece that sits on a flat surface.

The icon of Elijah

Detail of the icon of Elijah

The Carmelites live a contemplative life; guests are welcome for Sunday mass at 8:00 a.m. and for Evening Prayer on the same day followed by adoration from 5 p.m. onward.

Felix de Jesus Rouguier House of Studies

The next stop is at the Felix de Jesus Rouguier House of Studies, home to the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit at only 0.7 miles from the Carmelite House of Studies. The chapel is named La Capilla de la Soledad and is dedicated to Our Lady of Solitude. Brother Jorge Haro, M.Sp.S, a student of Mount Angel Seminary in his third year of college, explained it was a fitting title because of the order’s particular devotion to Our Lady after the death of Jesus in her solitude. The chapel, built in 1992, is in a rectangular spacious wing of the home; large windows give a glimpse of the garden and the garden plaza.

The Altar Cross
Upon entering your eyes will immediately go to the cross that crowns the front wall. The cross fashioned of wood was designed by Roberto Saldivar, M.Sp.S. It features a whole theology of salvation and the most intimate mystic revelations of the Heart of Jesus as He explained to the foundress of the order, Conchita Cabrera. Its central part is a cross, representing the cross Jesus carried to Calvary for our salvation. A human heart is His heart in flames representing the zeal He has for our salvation. A smaller cross piercing the heart represents the suffering of Christ at the hands of people not striving for salvation and the suffering caused to His heart at the sins of His priests and religious.  At the top is a dove symbolizing the Holy Spirit who is the sanctifier and the guide to those who want to become holy. This piece of work is framed by a circular piece of wood that represents the clouds and God the Father. In conclusion, it is a Trinitarian cross that encompasses the spirituality of the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit.

The chapel of the Felix de Jesus Rouguier House of Studies

The Altar Cross

Tabernacle Altar
In their chapel is also a tabernacle to the left side of the main altar. The shrine for the tabernacle has a stained glass door behind it as if Jesus were knocking and the viewer had to open from the inside because there is no handle. The way it lights up makes the colors of the glass pieces stand out and reflect a colorful shine on the cylinder shape of the tabernacle. The tabernacle was a generous gift from Sister Teresa Gould, F.H., a hermit who teaches and shares her musical talents with the seminary and monastic community.

The tabernacle

One other piece that causes awe in viewers is the crucifix on the right wall of the chapel, which is made of banana leaves and coated in resin. The crucifix has been coated with an overlay of paint because it was too bloody, causing emotional reactions in the visitors. The dates of the modifications are unknown, but the viewer can still see the scars on the skin of the Lord, which were at one time probably very much a crimson red.

Detail of the Crucifix

The Missionaries of the Holy Spirit offer a welcoming attitude to all who visit them. They host a community event with affiliates of the spirituality of the community and an open house for all visitors every last Thursday of each month starting at 6 p.m. with the mass.

Queen of Angels Monastery

In Mount Angel there is also Queen of Angels Monastery, which belongs to the Benedictine Sisters. Two are staff members at Mount Angel Seminary, Sister Hilda Kleiman, O.S.B., and Sister Judith Bloxham O.S.B., and Sister Juanita Thurlow, O.S.B., is currently a student. The chapel that serves the community of sisters was dedicated in 1998, and guests are welcome to join them for the liturgies.

The Protecting Veil of the Mother of God
Inside the biggest icon sits on the back wall of the chapel, an icon written through the hand of Mary Katsilometes as a commission in 2009. The icon measures 11’x8’ in which the central figure is Mary (5’) holding a veil, giving the icon its title “The Protecting Veil of the Mother of God.” The triptych shows Mary as the central figure and two angels on the side panels.

The triptych has as its background models of the buildings of the monastery; the one on the left has the monastery with the steeple, as well as a small figure of the Mother of God that represents the one above the front door of the monastery.  The background of the angel on the right has the architecture of the current chapel displaying the reoccurring rose window alight.

The icon of the Protecting Veil of the Mother of God

Detail of the Mother of God

Detail of monastery architecture

Detail of the small Mother of God

Detail of monastery architecture

Throughout the chapel you may notice that a recurring theme is represented in the windows, doors, holy water font, icons, and even in the inner door of the tabernacle. That is a rose window design. This design gives the chapel a sense of common embodiment and a singular seal of style. The architect David Richen said he aimed for a “noble simplicity.”

The tabernacle

The holy water font

Wall Hanging
Before you exit through the main chapel doors the viewer may be caught up looking above at a tapestry inspired by St. Gregory’s description of St. Benedict’s mystical vision: Benedict “saw the entire world in a single ray of light.” (Dialogues of St. Gregory the Great).  Made mainly of silks, the seven white beams and numerous other cuts make up a perfectly round piece set on a blue background that matches the chapel chairs and carpet. The artist Eleanor Van de Water who completed the piece in 2000 expresses that the wall hanging “becomes another window in the sisters worship space.”

Chapel wall hanging

The chapel is suited for all liturgical celebrations and has elements of the previous chapel paying respect to its history. Sister Hilda Kleiman, O.S.B., explained how different elements of the chapel support the arts, for example by supporting Mary Katsilometes and Kathy Sievers who are teachers and iconographers for the Iconographic Arts Institute held at Queen of Angels Monastery. Other examples are the holy water font which is a ceramic made to fit the theme of the rose window.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

A Final Reflection on Reviewing Restaurants

Editor's Note: The final element of the Unfamiliar Genre Project is the student's reflection on the experience of researching and working with the genre they selected.  After writing his review K Town, Br. Jorge Haro, M.Sp.S., offered this reflection.

A Final Reflection on the Unfamiliar Genre Project

My unfamiliar genre restaurant review project gave me the opportunity to learn about a new culture.  I have never had the opportunity to taste Korean food before. My research led me to learn Korean customs and tradition when sharing meals. I got to appreciate their cultural values and their sense of family union.

As a writer, I was able to learn techniques to do good restaurant reviews. I discovered the different parts of a basic restaurant review and the basic descriptions needed to be done so the public will have a good idea of the restaurant in general.  The restaurant review genre does not have a set of hard established rules, so it gives the writer the opportunity to explore different ways of expressing his judgments.  It was interesting to see how different writers have different sections in their reviews and how their style expresses, in a way, their own personality.

During the whole process of my project, the help of others played an important role. Many times I had to ask for advice. I also learned to make use of tools that are available here at the seminary to help us during our writing process. I got a better understanding of how the library system works. The assistance provided by the different librarians was crucial during the whole course of my project. People who work at the writing center helped me in developing a new style of writing. It was hard to change from an academic type of writing to a style that was less structured but unfamiliar to me.  Keeping a journal where I wrote down my thoughts, things to do list, and things that I have done was a great new tool that I learned.  The journal made my research, advances, and struggles easy to track and follow up.

The scarcity of instructional books on how to write a good restaurant review took me to the Internet to look for good resources. I was accustomed to always finding books in the library, but this was not the case during my research process.  I learned the influence of social media in the food market. People are able to make comments and give feedback that will influence the decision of others at the moment of deciding what restaurant to visit. Restaurants’ reputations can be destroyed if people do not like what they offer.  I learned that as a restaurant reviewer, prudence and charity must be part of my style.

As a Missionary of the Holy Spirit, writer, and journalist, I am obliged to be truthful to reality and to my own experience, but I have to learn ways in which my comments will continue to show my Christian values and religious identity. In our days, this type of charitable writing style is not easy to find in many restaurant reviews. Covered by anonymity, citizens have the power to destroy the work and effort of many people in the restaurant business.  For me, it was a matter of simple discernment before writing down my comments.

At the end, I found myself excited about the unfamiliar genre. The opportunity to know places, the stories shared around the table, and the whole process of becoming a better writer motivated in me the desire for continuing to explore this and other types of genres and writing styles.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A Restaurant Review of Korean Town

Editor's Note: Three of the journalism students this fall, Brother William Petry, Brother Jorge Haro, and Luis Trujillo, completed the Unfamiliar Genre Project. This semester, each student focused on a different type of reviewing.  MAS Journalism is pleased to publish their final centerpiece reviews as well as their reflections on the process of working with the Unfamiliar Genre Project.

Thus far, MAS Journalism has also published the book review and final reflection of Brother William Petry, M.Sp.S.

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A Review of K Town by Brother Jorge Haro, M.Sp.S

K Town | ★★★ | Korean | $$ | 5450 SE 82nd Ave, Portland | (503) 444-7700 | Nov. 30, 2015

Part of my ministry as a Missionary of the Holy Spirit is getting to know the people that I am currently serving, and what a better place to share life stories than at the table.  Finding the right place where a true encounter may be possible is not always easy. Some restaurants these days are noisy and crowded. (I still have fresh in my mind the hour and a half that we had to wait to celebrate one of my brother’s birthdays). Fortunately, there are some restaurants where the basic elements to build up good relationships seem to converge. K Town Korean BBQ in Portland is one of these restaurants.

K Town Korean BBQ was opened to the public a few weeks ago and is close to St. Peter Catholic Church, where I am serving now. People were immediately attracted by the popularity of the Korean barbecue that has grown in the last years, becoming part of the well-established mosaic of cuisines in the United States. K Town followed the style that is part of the Korean barbecue tradition where diners prepare their own meal on a small grill integrated at the center of each table. Korean BBQ is all about community gathering around the table cooking and sharing laughs and stories. Each diner can grill a variety of famous Korean meats, especially two that are famous in Korean BBQ: bulgogi and galbi.

The word bulgogi means “fire meat” in Korean and refers to thin slices of sirloin or other prime cuts of beef that have been previously marinated with a mixture of soy and sesame sauce. Onions, mushrooms, and other vegetables with salt and pepper may be part of this mixture too. The word galbi refers to the small cut marinated beef ribs.

In K Town, for a fixed price, bulgogi, galbi, and other varieties of meats are part of an all-you-can-eat menu. Everything is served fresh, nicely presented, and ready to be cooked. Unlimited side dishes like white rice, lettuce and vegetables are part of this menu too. However, there is an extra charge fee for leftovers, so be sure to ask for only what you need. There is a limit of four dishes per table. For those that are on their first time in a place like this, instructions might be difficult, especially if you don’t read the black board at the entrance, but never hesitate to ask your server questions. K Town staff is always friendly. 

The Korean tradition is to wrap the meat with rice in the lettuce to eat it, and you must allow others to serve your drink and refill it as a way of service and respect. Another Korean BBQ custom is not overcooking the meat, because for them, it is not the best way to eat it; so you have to be attentive while conversing with people.

Another star in Korean food is their soup. Like in many other Asian countries, soup is part of daily Korean gastronomy. K Town cannot be the exception.  I was surprised by the size of their pot of kimchi noodle soup. It was placed on the grill, and we were asked to wait another few minutes so that the soup would finish cooking. Shrimps, beef, tofu, a kind of sausage, and vegetables were perfectly mixed in a savory broth. The combination of these ingredients made a delicious and light flavor soup.  My only disenchantment was the noodles that seemed to be from one of those one-minute instant packages of soup.  One of my companions explained that, sadly for me, these kinds of noodles are normal in Korean restaurants.

K Town’s atmosphere is perfect for youth groups and young families. Modern Korean music fills the atmosphere. The only Korean song that I recognized was the PSY worldwide hit “Gangnam Style” projected in two wall flat TVs; its volume was at the right level. Their Shochu Wall and the modern Portland mural with a fox driving a bicycle surrounded by birds, cars and bridges, highlighting the “weirdness” of Portland, are important elements in the decoration of K Town. Every table has a non-corrosive steal fan, and because the grills are made of the same material, the accent on industrial decoration is even clearer. These elements of urban style, the music, and its industrial decoration make K Town a good place for young people.

K Town offers for drink a variety of sodas and beers. They also serve Korean drinks like Soju Jinro produced in South Korea, or Shochu, a beverage well-known in other Asian countries that originates from Japan. It contains 25% of alcohol by volume, so responsibility is a requirement.  Water is continually served. 

K Town staff is always ready to help. Their active service and friendly attitude helped me to enjoy every moment of our visit. Situated close to another Asian restaurants, K Town has a great challenge to accomplish. I am sure that by continuing offering great food quality and good service, K Town will have a brilliant future. 

K Town Korean BBQ | ★★★
5450 SE 82nd Ave
Portland, OR 97266
 (503) 444-7700
ktownkoreanbbq.com (under construction)

Recommended Dishes: All you can eat menu
Price: $$ (moderate)
Open: Daily from 11:30 AM to 10:00 PM
Reservations: Not available at this moment
Wheelchair Access: Dining room and accessible restroom

What the Stars Mean: Ratings range from zero to four stars. Zero is poor, fair or satisfactory. One star, good. Two stars, very good. Three stars, excellent. Four stars, extraordinary.

More business info:
Delivery: No
Take-out: No
Accepts Credit Cards: Yes
Good For Dinner
Bike Parking: Yes
Good for Kids: Yes
Good for Groups: Yes
Attire: Casual 

Outdoor Seating: No
Wi-Fi: No
Caters: No

Monday, January 18, 2016

A Final Reflection on Book Reviewing

Editor's Note: The final element of the Unfamiliar Genre Project is the student's reflection on the experience of researching and working with the genre they selected.  After writing his review of the novel North of Hope, Br. William Petry, M.Sp.S, offered this reflection.

Final Reflection on the Unfamiliar Genre Project

I chose the genre of book review for my project because I am familiar with books but I am unacquainted with their reviews. I felt that this would be a good opportunity to learn something about this genre pertaining to something I really enjoy: reading books. I find myself recommending and referring to books all the time to friends, classmates, and confreres, so I figured learning about this genre would also help me in my day-to-day life. Throughout this semester and through this project I have come to distinguish the different components of a good book review, as well as the distinctions within the book review genre.

As I began my project, I had a wide vision of what book reviews are and how they are used. I started doing research and realized that there are many different sub-categories of book reviews. I saw that a non-fiction academic book review is very different in structure as well as style compared to a fiction novel review. I saw the type of qualities that the book reviewers had in order to write a book review and the different qualifications needed for these different types of reviews. I assumed that a book review had the standard objective of getting you to read or avoid the book reviewed. This is not always the case; different reviews have different objectives.

From my reading, an academic book review has the objective of proving coherence and verification of arguments or its lack of these qualities, commenting on the qualifications of the author, and providing personal comments on the work. A fiction book review has the objective of testing the quality of the literary work, commenting on the author and similar works, and providing a personal opinion on the piece. One is concerned about credibility and relevance, while the other is more concerned about quality. From these findings I realized that I needed to focus my project on a particular category, and I decided to choose fiction. Initially I chose fiction because I saw that the writers of academic or non-fiction reviews were generally qualified people, whereas the fiction reviewers ranged from professional to free-lance writers.

I learned about note-taking and research throughout this process. I explored the different components of a good book review by reading a number of reviews. I was able to annotate the similarities I found in each one and the things that caught my attention. This helped me to put into practice the note-taking skills I have acquired through the courses I have taken so far and use it in a practical way. I learned that the journalistic style of writing is very different to the academic style; journalism requires more character in my writing.

In my investigation I discovered a handbook on how to write book reviews. This is where I was able to pin down specific items to look out for to include in my review: main themes, main conflict, main protagonists, conventions and styles. I began taking notes of important themes and concepts as I read through the novel. When I completed the novel, I had already done more research on these types of reviews. I also had already written out the main conflicts, themes and descriptions of the protagonists. The main questions that I asked myself as I wrote the review were: What is at the heart of this novel? What spoke to me about this novel? What is Hassler really communicating, and why is it important?

Having completed this project, I feel satisfied with myself about what I have learned about the process and contents of this type of review and that I successfully wrote a review with all the components of a good book review. In addition to this, I now use book reviews frequently in selecting books to read, for leisure, spiritual life or academics.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

A Review of Hassler's Novel North of Hope

Editor's Note: Three of the journalism students this fall, Brother William Petry, Brother Jorge Haro, and Luis Trujillo, completed the Unfamiliar Genre Project. This semester, each student focused on a different type of reviewing.  MAS Journalism is pleased to publish their final centerpiece reviews as well as their reflections on the process of working with the Unfamiliar Genre Project.

Previous MAS Journalism students, Daniel Miller and Carl Sisolak, have also completed the Unfamiliar Genre Project.

A Review of Hassler's North of Hope by Brother William Petry, M.Sp.S

North of Hope: A Novel by Jon Hassler
Ballatime Books, 1990 518 pp.
ISBN: 0-345-36910-6

“Have you ever felt like killing yourself?”
“Neither had I, until this winter. It’s like hope doesn’t reach this far north.”

I picked up this novel after listening to Abbot Peter Eberle’s O.S.B. inaugural address for Mount Angel Seminary, in which he mentioned three fictional novels about priests who underwent dynamic stories of redemption. I chose Jon Hassler’s North of Hope: A Novel and was surprised by how well the story unfolded.

Jon Hassler (1933-2008) has a legacy as an outstanding novelist, even in his less successful publications, as in the case with North of Hope. Hassler was a professor at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, and spent the majority of his life teaching English and writing. He wrote about ordinary life events in such an eloquent way that it is relatable and exciting to an extended group of readers.

Though he did not intend to be considered a Catholic or religious novelist, his novels are imbued succinctly with his Catholic faith and has engaged both Catholic and non-Catholic readers. Hassler explores themes of fulfillment in life that are not based on a conventional romance, he seeks to uncover an internal conviction that is not based on an external relationship or cause. In addition to this Hassler explores the essence of good and evil in the 21st century.
These themes are clearly seen in North of Hope which focuses on an upright and adventurous Catholic priest who struggles internally with questions of love, purpose, and fulfillment in his vocation. Hassler allows his readers to enter inside the hidden world of Father Frank Healy and feel the rawness of his life as a mere man with a divine mission and reverberate with his struggle to fight for the good of those he serves. He struggles with his option for the priesthood and is perturbed by an unreconciled past which he is forced to confront in order to decide whether or not to leave the priesthood.

Father Healy’s life is affected by two women who are key to the development of his character and the ultimate decision he will make: whether to remain as a priest or leave the priesthood. Eunice Pfeiffer, a rigid, dominating, but well-intentioned woman, became Frank’s nanny as a child after his mother passed away. Eunice felt the need to remind Frank constantly of his dying mother’s wish that he become a priest. The second woman is Libby Girard, a delicate, light-hearted woman who seems to enamor everyone she comes in contact with by her physical beauty and natural charm. Her life first crosses Frank’s path in high school, and this connection is re-established by fate twenty years later. She becomes the woman he loves, causing him to question his ideal of fulfillment and the convictions he has for his vocation.

The elements of good and evil in North of Hope are intermingled as they are manifested in real life. The novel takes place in a tiny town in Minnesota where good and bad live amid each other. Hassler presents evil through alcoholism, drugs, and corruption, which lead to death through murder and suicide. A medical doctor caring for Native Americans unsuspectingly turns out to be the source of corruption in the rural town of Minnesota. In the middle of Frank’s struggle to care for the people in his new assignment, he finds himself tangled emotionally with Libby.

With an unsuspecting revelation by Eunice Pfeiffer on her deathbed, Frank’s motivations for becoming a priest are challenged. With his heart emotionally attached to his long-time friend Libby, he is forced to dig deep inside himself and define his convictions in the midst of blurred lines of life.
As I read through this novel, I felt instantly connected with the characters. I particularly related to Father Frank Healy’s role as a man struggling to consolidate his vocation as a priest.  I saw many of my own questions and ponderings about my vocation enacted in his feat in the story. I visualized my own life and the various factors that motivate me to make vocational decision to enter religious life as he did.

This novel, nevertheless, is not only applicable to seminarians, Catholics, or believers; Hassler speaks to everyone. This isn’t a novel promoting the vocation to the priesthood; it is a story that asks the question: Are you fulfilled?  The heart of the conflict isn’t about whether Fr. Healy is going to leave the priesthood or not; that’s a by-product of his real journey. The real question is whether Father Healy will ultimately find fulfillment.  Fulfillment, according to Hassler, is an internal dynamic. It isn’t even a religious topic; for Hassler these questions need to be asked by everyone. This is what leads Libby to attempt suicide, this is what makes Father Healy remain as a priest, and this is what drives Libby’s husband into the bottom of a frozen lake.

I was entertained from page one to five-hundred; Hassler’s easy to read and engaging style made this novel particularly enjoyable. He has an uncanny gift of unveiling the thoughts, doubts, and feelings of people who struggle to live a life of faith. He articulates simple day-to-day events as suspenseful and anything but humdrum moments. I personally appreciated this quality of the novel because it made it firmly set in reality; there were no fantastic or “too good to be true” results or causes for the characters’ plights. In the end, Hassler’s novel made me think of integrating all of life’s dynamics and discover the internal convictions that I have and that fulfillment comes from this deeper place.