Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Books of Maryknoll

A Pagoda on the Hudson?

When I first visited the estate of Maryknoll--a Catholic organization of "brothers and sisters in mission," I was completely struck dumb by the architectural beauty (and oddity) of their mother house just outside of Ossining, NY. To my surprise, the main building seen here at left, is a giant structure, which appears to be made of field stones and designed to imitate the architectural motifs of the orient, specifically China and Japan, where many of the early Maryknoll missionaries (or missioners) were stationed. Though not a pagoda, you can see the elements of these styles in the curled lipped roofs and clay-baked shingles. I had the opportunity once again to visit the Maryknoll complex in August, and spent a lovely morning walking the grounds and visiting the museum, in this same building, which I had not seen before.

There are long winding porches, which cast symmetrical shadows throughout the day, as the sun makes its own celestial peregrinations. And the contrast of red columns accented by algae green collars (which, incidentally, I have a hard time seeing with my mild color-blindness) against the grey stone walkways is both striking and regal. Looking out one set of windows along a lengthy hallway, I snapped this shot. In the background, you can see a variety of syncretistic Asiatic religious symbols, including bells and gates, which are poignantly settled into the grassy flats of the estate. It is no wonder that so many people come to this place for retreats, prayer, and general isolation. It is certainly somewhere for quiet reflection and calm thinking.

In the museum, there were a number of displays, which showed off the variety and expanse of the Maryknoll enterprise--indeed, a very extensive and historic undertaking, which continues vigorously to this very day. Some of the items I thought might be of interest, especially to you viewers, included the collection of Bibles and other Christian texts, which had been translated into not just Chinese, but various indigenous languages of East Asia. The image seen here is part of a typescript of a "Bunan Language and Culture New Testament Bible." This language, which seems to be fairly unknown, even among the more linguistically trained among us, is a tongue spoken in the boarder region between China and India. This translation, as you may see from the description in the photo, is relatively recent in terms of Biblical translations--being first published in the early-to-mid 1970s.

As you can see, the display case was full of texts and their descriptions. It was interesting to see the variety of languages, into which the missioners had translated the biblical text.  It may be hard to believe, but there are people out in the world today, who continue in this tradition of mission and biblical translation, translating the biblical text into languages which are either very rare (i.e. have few speakers) or may even be going extinct. Or simply, that the biblical text has never been translated into that specific tongue. Just like Bunan, there are not just a few dozen languages in this world, but thousands and thousands. I bet most of us can't even dash out a list of one hundred languages, let alone a thousand or five thousand! Now that's a serious task! This all said, this reminds me of a recent graduate of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC) here in Hyde Park, whose doctoral dissertation was about a brand of biblical interpretation, specifically dealing with translating the New Testament into a local language in the African nation of Cameroon. So, it's still happening.

One of the most facinating rooms in the Maryknoll buidling was a quiet alcove, which was semi-dark, but partially illuminated by stained glass windows depicting the Christ child and mother, but as if they were Asian. You will see this image below. But among the displays were some effects from the Maryknoll missioners of long ago, including local dress and shoes that were assumed by the missioners to blend into their cultural surroundings. As you will see also, there are various crucifixes and pocket-sized objects, which they carried around the fields and countryside with them.

The manuscript paper in this photo, which was also on display within the same alcove, shows the notes written by one of the former "Fr. Generals" (as it reads), prepared for an audience with the Holy Father (i.e. the pope, as he is most often referred to by adherents of the Catholic faith).  I am also intrigued with historical documents of this kind, which preserve a relic of time, which for one reason or another, transport us back to an event with an historical personality. In the case of a meeting with the pope, it makes it ever more real to "see the words" written on a piece of paper, which were then read before that historical figure, and heard by him. Certainly, this is a good example in hermeneutics: I definitely approach this text differently than if it had been just some piece of writing by the same person, but with this added element of historic recitation, the paper and its text take on a whole new level of meaning and understanding.

And here we have the image, which I mentioned earlier: that of the Christ child and mother, depicted of Asian ethnicity. These typologies are very common in areas where mission work has been done, as it was a way to re-contextualize the biblical "Word" and message of the various Christian denominations and missions. I did take photos of the other stained glass windows, but did not include them in the blog. They were, as noted in a plaque describing the images, St. Peter and St. Paul, both portrayed as Asian saints.

To the right of the stained glass windows is this little plaque, (which you can enlarge by clicking on). It describes the window as being part of a chapel of "Maryknoll's promotion house in St. Louis." It also describes the centrality of the Gospel's universality and the role that China played as the location of Maryknoll's first mission field.

In the Homes of Martyrs, seen in this image, is a book by the Rev. James Anthony Walsh (1867-1936). Born in Massachusetts, he ascended the ranks of the Church and is regarded as one of the two founders of the Maryknoll order, living his last days out here. (Maryknoll itself was founded in Canada, but Walsh started this order known as Maryknoll Brothers and Sisters). In an article about the Rev. Walsh, from the Maryknoll website, we have some biographical information about his later accomplishments:

A Lifetime of Service

In 1933, Walsh was elected to the episcopacy and named Titular Bishop of Siene. He was consecrated in Rome on June 29, 1933, in the College of Propaganda Fide by Cardinal Fumasoni-Biondi. He died at Maryknoll, New York, on April 14, 1936.

In addition to his writings in The Field Afar, he wrote a number of books: Choral Sodality Handbook (1898,1955), A Modern Martyr (1907), Thoughts from Modern Martyrs (1908), Observations in the Orient (1919), and In the Homes of Martyrs (1922).

A biography of his life, All the Day Long, written by Daniel Sargent, was published in 1941 by Longmans, Green & Company, New York and Toronto. Further biographical information may be found in issues of The Field Afar (Maryknoll Magazine) and in writings of Maryknollers."

An interesting man, for certain.

The Field Afar. As we have come across already, the magazine or journal "The Field Afar" was published by Maryknoll as its mission reporting text, among other things. As the subtitle suggests, it is "devoted to the interests of Catholic Missions."

In this photo I captured the images of the two founders of the Maryknoll order, which I spoke about briefly above. The man on the left is Fr. James Anthony Walsch, whom we've just written about. And on the right is Fr. Thomas Frederick Price (1860-1919), who came from North Carolina. If you look carefully at this image, on the right hand side you will see the full colored reflection of the stained glass windows.

Another books, Catholic Truth, dated October 1911, which was on display among the other items. If my investigative powers are working correctly, this publication was used to disseminate Catholic information and knowledge to broader audiences of Catholics in "out of the way places." But the word may still be out on this one.

Here is a fine little tome entitled "The Lily of Mary," which is a life of Bernadette of Lourdes, or Bernadette Soubirous, who was the young girl who saw visions and apparitions of "a young woman" in Lourdes, France in 1858.  Now, some century and a half later, some sources report that over 5 million visitors come to Lourdes each year!  All this because of the reported visions of a young woman so long ago!

As with many of the images on the walls of the interior of the Maryknoll house near Ossining, NY, the silver-types convey a sense of an almost forgotten past, like this Maryknoll Father, who as the plaque reads: "was reportedly killed by Japanese troops after he was removed from Sancian Island... ."  Other "martyrs" are enshrined in black-and-whites and hung along the walls of this hallway seen in one of the photos below.  

On the opposite wall from the image above, there were dozens of "class photos" dating back to the beginning of Maryknoll history.  Here is the Class of 1922, one of the earliest on display.

Books and photos and stained-glass windows.  The visit to Maryknoll was a pleasant surprise and yielded some fine bibliodiscoveries.  Yet walking down these cavernous halls was a throwback to another time and place.  To a quiet past of locality, where people could, presumably, find a time to think and have moments of reflection without the constant movement of society: of blackberries, cell phones, and the internet, among other distractions.  Yet, looking at the walls and the frozen images of now-dead missioners, lost to the tragedies of war, I wonder if it was ever much of a quiet world.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful posting. Thanks for the information.