The Passionist Research Center: A Quirk of Divine Providence

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by John Render, C.P., D. Min.

In this essay Fr. John Render provides an historical narrative as to the genesis of the Passionist Research Center in Chicago. Religious art of the Face of Jesus Christ is the focus of his work. For all of us it is a reminder that a combination of knowledge, steadfast discipline and desire, luck, creativity combines to make visions real. At the same time, it is such personal experience that becomes the foundation and conscience for the charism of the Passionist Congregation and a leaven to public culture.

In 1953 I was appointed Teacher of Modern History at St. Gabriel’s Passionist Monastery in Des Moines, Iowa. As a result of our Passionist seminary training and life-style I never knew very much history, because during my twelve years of preparation for priesthood (1940-1952) we were given no newspapers or magazines. Quickly, I realized that the teaching challenge placed before me was to organize my thoughts from the Renaissance to the present day.

The text we were using at the time was Political and Cultural History of Modern Europe by Carlton J.H. Hayes which contained the art, literature, music and political events as seen in relation to their respective historical period. It became obvious to me as I looked through the book that I knew little or nothing of the Art and the Music.

To remedy the situation I began to collect music tapes and slides which referred to the art. I went to summer school at Notre Dame University (1953-1954) and studied Literature and History; later at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. (1956) I studied Art. At the Des Moines Art Institute I took classes in Art Appreciation.

Still, I felt overwhelmed by the mass of the material to be digested into teachable form in the classroom. To ease the tension I decided to concentrate on the theme of the Paschal Mystery in Art from the Renaissance to the present day. Later I examined the study and collection of art, music and literature back to the catacombs era of the early church. By the time I ended my teaching experience in the Passionist Seminary at Chicago in 1962 I had a good collection of slides, tapes, pictures and books.

It was common place during that era to leave all our reference material for the next person who was to come and teach after the assignment had been completed. As a result I took none of my collection on to my next assignment. The person who came after me soon abandoned the collection and the community to its own fate.

I went on to other ministries. I served as Director of Students in Theology (1962-1965) and preached missions throughout the United States (1960-present). I used nothing I had learned or had collected in my previous teaching experience.

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