Learning to Build Bridges of Understanding: A Reflection on Passionist History

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By Rebecca Andrews

Editor’s Introduction:

The phone rang in the archives. The caller told me that her daughter wished to do volunteer work in the archives. After some thought I called her back and suggested that the young woman identify the table of contents for The Passionist. Sometime later all three of us met. I told the young woman that detail was important. I also suggested that she approach the task with a sense of intellectual curiosity. To my surprise the project captivated her interest. The following reflective article written by the young woman has reminded me that high school and college age students have an astute eye for the historical, specifically, in this case, the Passionist past. Looking back, I am reminded that I too first learned about the richness of Passionist history when I was in college. Perhaps all of us may find creative ways to have young scholars use our historical archives. Her compilation available on the Passionist Historical Archives website has generated several requests over the past year. Oh yes, I am pleased the volunteer project was a success. The woman who called was my sister, Beth. The writer of this article is my niece, Rebecca. —the editor

Old books, magazines, and texts in general have always captivated me. I enjoy flipping through the delicate pages of a seemingly ancient text, feeling the years weigh down the paper. So when I was offered the opportunity to create a table of contents for The Passionist, I didn’t hesitate to accept. The bi-monthly magazine included 13 volumes, ranging from the years 1948 to 1962. The job was to take the original publications and copy the title of each article, its author and its page numbers into a comprehensive list that would make these magazines more accessible. Each issue took approximately two hours to index, which meant that on any given Saturday, I could sit down with my laptop and finish two or three of them.

At first, I did the work with diligence but with little consideration for the information I was dealing with. I read and I transferred, but I did not digest the material. However, one Saturday, I read a headline that dealt with China. I was a little bit familiar with the Passionist community in China and, my interest piqued, I started to read the article. Ten minutes later, I realized that I had forgotten to document the last 30 pages. The history and the stories of a few Chinese missionaries had sucked me in, holding my attention with their devotion and sacrifice. Long after the China article had concluded, I had continued to read. From that point on, I was gaining something from these articles instead of treating them as meaningless phrases to copy and type.

As I paid more attention, I started to appreciate the extent of the impact of the Passionist community. I continually found myself stopping to read the diary of a missionary in Africa or the latest news (in 1950) about a flood in a Connecticut church. I had never realized the number of varied cultures and geographic regions under Passionist influence at that time.

After reading and documenting many of the articles, I found the Passionist history I was gleaning began to apply itself to my everyday life. One weekend, I went to meet my grandmother and some of her friends near Social Circle, a town recognized for its old age in Georgia. After eating lunch, we ventured towards a small and very old house to tour inside. In one of the rooms, as the tour guide presented us with the most interesting aspects of the house, I saw a door that looked familiar. As I looked closer, I realized that the design of the door had been explained in one of the early issues of The Passionist. The door’s design was in the shape of a cross and I proceeded to tell my grandmother and her friends the meaning of the door and why it was important. Its symbolism would have remained unknown to me if I had not happened to read that article. These primary sources that had existed for so many years were still relevant for me today.

Even as I went through Europe during the summer of 2006 with 40 of my high school classmates, I found myself recognizing the names of many of the places I visited. It took me a while to understand why I felt that I had connections to many small towns in the middle of Europe, but I soon realized I owed most of my heightened interest to The Passionist. The magazine had expanded my knowledge and had made the history applicable to my young twenty first century high school life.

One of the most interesting aspects of The Passionist for me was the amount of seemingly up-to-date information that appeared in the news section. As a high school student accustomed to the advantages and the convenience of technology, I started to think about how difficult it must have been to become such a widespread organization without the help of computers or high-speed Internet. As I finished one volume and moved on to the next year, the section of the table of contents that detailed the “Passionist News” grew larger and larger. It separated into multiple sub-sections and finally added an entirely new “Around the World C.P.” section to encompass the growing overseas community. The one or two-page table of contents that I had started out creating grew into four and sometime five pages, many of them with endless lists of provinces and retreats that had occurred just in those past two months, ranging in location from Des Moines, Iowa to Japan. The phrase “the Passionist Community” no longer had an empty meaning. The community of priests, sisters, and lay people had multiple extensions all over the world that wired back into the big Passionist network.

As I continued to skim the news section, it became apparent that the Passionist community focused on even the smallest parts of their continually changing and expanding provinces. Although many articles mentioned and talked about the larger events occurring in the general provinces, new churches and successful retreats in relatively small regions often were the most common subjects. The pictures that accompany the news clippings show everything from construction of a children’s school to multiple priests congregating to celebrate a dedication ceremony. Nothing was too small to be mentioned as newsworthy, and the growth throughout the communities is communicated not only in the bigger stories, but also through these smaller events.

Besides learning a little bit about the Passionists of the time period, volunteering to create this table of contents gave me some insight into what I might want to do in my future. I realized that not only do I enjoy handling the old documents, but the actual information in the text interests me as well. Perhaps a job as a historian is in my future as I head off to college at the University of Georgia. The experience has changed the way I read and changed the way I think about history.

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