One Life in the Passionist Community
by Owen Sharkey, C.P.
With this contribution by Fr. Owen Sharkey, C. P., the Passionist Heritage Newsletter initiates a new feature. We encourage Passionists throughout the world to write about their experience in the Congregation. While documents and historical studies are necessary, the Historical Commission and editors have a desire to let individual Passionists reflect on their life and ministry. Please send any contribution to the Historical Archives in Union NJ.
My name is Father Owen Sharkey. For a time in the past I was simply “Neil.” There were two other “Neils” that I knew. One came before me; the other after me. I have been asked to explain, if I can, my life in the Passionist community. This is now December, the last days in 1993. I am being asked to go back in my mind to September 1935, fifty-eight years ago. I can remember that I packed and unpacked.
I packed all the things I had in this world in a brown-green trunk and unpacked them in Dunkirk, New York. All the things I packed and unpacked—with the first Valentine from my girlfriend—are gone, lost, worn out or thrown away. All that remains are a handful of students who were there, then, and a distant relationship which affected me deeply. My first superior, Father Damian Reid, is still living. He has been a fine speaker and writer, an editor, a retreat master, using words so you could build an image in your mind. He used words like G.K. Chesterton. He thought and spoke in paradoxes. It seems “No”; but more deeply it is “Yes.” This is what I remember. Dunkirk has gone, faded away, and was sold.
I packed all the things I had, with a new black suit, and unpacked them in Springfield, Massachusetts. I was one of the last novices out of that place. Father Cassian Sullivan, the Master of Novices, gave us, or rather put me into, the black habit and the black belt. I put the sandals on myself. Today, a black habit and the same black belt hang in my closet by my bed, though I have been told I lost them somewhere along the way. I understand what people say to me even when I just look back with a dead face. Such remarks, in my case, could be good, bad, or humorous. From my side there is a good, a bad, and a sadness. I have seen myself in a habit only in photographs, with other persons with me, either sitting or standing and smiling. Those who were with me then, in a habit, are not with me now. Brother Damian Carroll lives with me, today, in Riverdale, New York, by the Hudson River. We were novice companions. At times it happens that we sit together and look out, at, and over the river. The river flows up and down, like life. At present he is all that is left of what I packed and unpacked in Springfield.
I packed and unpacked in Brighton, Massachusetts. I think I packed and unpacked with 17 other students. I have a picture in my desk from September 1938, and I count 18 altogether. It was there, in Boston, that I began to study philosophy in a formal manner creating particular and general ideas, or concepts, in my mind. I had never thought, before, with a conscious mental logic using clear ideas as you defined them. My first teacher in philosophy was Father Xavier Welch. Philosophy, as he taught me, is not a strict system of fixed ideas like one, two, three, four, and this is how it is whether you like it or not. Rather, philosophy is the journey of your mind, or intelligence, towards Wisdom or towards the Truth, the Good, the Beautiful, the One of the whole of reality. Genuine philosophy is given with agreements and disagreements as human persons come together in a common sense understanding, like in a city, a state, a religious order, or in the Church. Father Xavier, having been an English teacher, was a humanist and explained the ideas of Aristotle through readings taken from the New York Times. He said words and ideas must be alive and be related to what is simple and easy. What he thought was like what Thomas Aquinas said: “You must go to the sea by the streams, and not all at once.” My memories of Brighton have faded away along with the faces of the other students. All I have now is the one picture in my desk and the way I use my mind.
As a student it was more “we” than “I.” Our rector in Brighton was Father Gabriel Gorman. He later became Provincial. Our rector in Jamaica, New York, was Father Carrol Ring. He then became Provincial. Our director of students in Jamaica was Father Canisius Hazlett. He also became Provincial. Our first teacher in Scripture was Father Gerard Rooney. He also became Provincial. Our rector in Springfield was Father Ernest Welch. He also became Provincial. Our first teacher in Canon Law was Father Paul Nager. He became General Consultor. Our teacher in Moral Theology was Father Theodore Foley. He became General of the Order. There was plenty of packing and unpacking as we moved from one to the other. There was plenty of packing and unpacking as the Province moved from one to the other. Of these, only Father Canisius Hazlett is alive. What I remember of him has been his kindness and friendship.
In my study of Theology, I packed and unpacked books. Some of these books have gone where I went and are still with me in the one room. I have my first philosophy text book in two volumes by Joseph Gredt. I have The Human Caravan on the meaning and direction of history. I have The Mysteries of Christianity by Matthias Joseph Scheeben. I still have The Spirit of Catholicism by Karl Adam. I still have The Mystical Element of Religion (2 volumes) by Baron Friedrich von Huegel. I have Dialogical Thinking by Bernard Casper. I also have all kinds of Bibles in all kinds of languages to understand how the metaphors worked from one mind to another.
If you were to ask me, today, what I really was doing as I was packing and unpacking, I would say that I was going from God to Christ to the Church to the Order. If that statement makes little or no sense, I will say that the only way I came to understand who God is, who Christ is, or what the Church is, was in the Passionist Order. I would add on the remark that I have always been very careful to be who I am to protect my nobility. The soul is equal in all human beings. The Spirit lives and acts in all as the Spirit wills. I have to say to myself that many persons and many personal lives are much finer than mine. But then I will say none has been finer for me, for my person, my mind, my nobility, must be unique. All who have been in the Passionist community should be able to understand. All who come after us will come to understand as they pack and unpack…