An Overview of a Life of Faith
I think that my best method of describing such a life will be to mention the people and the geographical locations of some of the major contributors to the life of faith acquired there.
I have to begin with the shared and contributed life of faith from my parents, Mollie (1901-93) and Maurice (1878-1957) Gilmore. They were progressive pre-Vatican II Catholics. My father was a convert who had lived with Catholics in Latin America for about thirty years, and converted to Catholicism right before marrying my mother in 1937. My mother's father, George Henry Barnes, for whom I am named, was Protestant. His wife, Mary Evelyn Brosnan Barnes, was a staunch Catholic whose own parents were one Catholic (father) and one Protestant. Both my parents went to Mass every Sunday, confession every two weeks, said grace at dinner, and we had the family rosary in the 'fifties. I heard a story about my father soliciting among the Catholics of our neighborhood for the family rosary, and the person answered the door, and there was my father in a suit and a hat, with a cane, saying “I come as an emissary of Our Lady.” We were all expected to say morning and evening prayers at our bedsides, and I clearly remember my father, with his head sunk into his hands, at his bedside every night, for what must have been twenty minutes or so.
Such significant Catholic piety notwithstanding, I think my parents, possibly because of the broadening effects of their Protestant loyalties, were pre-Vatican II “liberals,” as I saw when my mother had to make tough decisions about friends who had left Catholicism. She was particularly “liberal” as a member of a Washington, DC parish when Cardinal O' Boyle took a tough line against freedom of conscience during the crisis of “The Washington 19,” a group of Catholic priests challenging a strict interpretation of what advice Catholic priests were allowed to give in the confessional. She was the sort of Catholic who was a member of the altar society, fell asleep with her rosary in her hands, but stood up in her parish church of Our Lady of Lourdes, and walked out while a letter from the Archbishop was read condemning the actions of “The Washington 19,” one of whom she knew well personally.
That same parish of Our Lady of Lourdes nourished me through seven years at the hands of the Sisters of St. Francis (OSF), after I had been asked at age 5 ½ not to return to the Convent of the Sacred Heart, because of apparently uncontrollable boisterous activity. Such departure notwithstanding, my mother was a very close friend of Mother Elizabeth White, RSCJ, and we were close to Sr. Helen Regina, OSF, who taught me at Our Lady of Lourdes, while my grade in conduct sank from D to E to no grade (report cards kept by my mother).
After the unhappy conclusion of my seventh year at Our Lady of Lourdes, I was sent to the Jesuit high school, Georgetown Prep, which was the Catholic high school nearest to where we lived in Bethesda, MD, and of course presented the academic reputation of the Jesuits. Once there, apparently I calmed down considerably.
After five years at GP (at that time they had a seventh and an eighth grade), with great teachers like Kelvin MacKavanagh, SJ, with five years of Latin and three of Greek, I was accepted into the Jesuit Order at cloistered Wernersville, PA, the Novitiate of St. Isaac Jogues, two years novitiate and two years college.
Again I was gifted with terrific teachers and wonderful spiritual models, chief among them Fr. Thomas Gavigan, SJ, who was the novice master, and was quite patient with me, and Fr. Hugh Kennedy, SJ, the rector, who was also an inspiring music teacher, having been trained by the St. Vincent's Latrobe, PA, Benedictines. He knew Solesmes Gregorian, and renaissance polyphony as well, and our liturgies, especially Christmas and Holy Week liturgies, were devoutly spectacular. I loved and still love Wernersville. I eventually made two thirty-day retreats there, the second voluntarily in January, 1972 as I was deciding to leave the Jesuit Order. Wernersville was obviously a house of spiritual growth and beauty, but also a lovely outdoor experience of “laborandum” significant physical labor, and terrific athletics, notably handball and ice hockey. One was also steeped in Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Cicero and Vergil.
After four years at Wernersville, I was sent to Shrub Oak, a Jesuit seminary just north of New York City. This was just as Vatican II was about to start, and Jesuit seminary training was still in the fixated cloistered rural seminary mode which it has now long since abandoned. But there we were, literally cloistered in the boonies, again with no radio or TV or any “social media” other than our classmates, with whom we were specifically discouraged from cultivating anything that smacked of “particular friendships.” The academics were top-notch, but abstractly dry Thomistic philosophy for the most part, although masters' program were initiated which allowed us all to graduate from Fordham University with a bachelor's and a master's degree in a particular field (in my case, classics) and a master's level degree in philosophy. It was at Shrub Oak that I was also introduced to the thought of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ, Bernard Lonergan, SJ, Joseph Marechal, SJ, Albert Einstein, Louis and Mary Leakey and an eccentric teacher who had known Sigmund Freud personally while getting a degree in anthropology in Vienna. The rural ambiance did have its rewards as well as its isolation. I remember again the handball and the ice hockey, but also sneaking out after the beginning of Sacred Silence, and ice skating by the light of a full moon on Lake Mohegan in an absolutely crystalline blue-white fairyland, oblivious of under-ice springs which could have sent us hurtling into frozen paralysis.
After three years of “philosophy,” we were sent into the Jesuit high school system, in my case to teach Cicero, Vergil, Euripides and Aeschylus for three years at Washington, DC's Gonzaga High School, where I also supervised tennis, the debate team, public speaking and student government, all of which implied full days and weeks, and wonderful interplay with smart-aleck Jesuit high school males. At that time that section of Washington was still slum, and someone was stomped to death across the street. That locale is now a practice football field. It was also within walking distance of Union Station, the Capitol, the National Gallery of Art, and John F. Kennedy's funeral. Those years were also the arrival of the Beatles, folk music, the happening of Vatican II and the death of John XXIII. Lots happened.
“Happening” continued at Woodstock College, then “the theologate” (since 1869) of the eastern provinces of the Jesuits. I was there for three years interrupted by summers doing French in Quebec and German in Salzburg and as part of the singing group, the Woodstock Singers, three weeks in South America, mostly Buenos Aires, performing for a weekly variety show called “Sabados Circulares.” The three years at Woodstock occurred at a time when Woodstock was surely one of the top Catholic theology schools in the world, with such luminaries as John Courtney Murray, SJ, Avery Dulles, SJ, and Joseph Fitzmyer, SJ. Besides the brilliant work of these men themselves, they introduced us to Karl Rahner, SJ, Karl Barth, and many Protestant, Jewish and Catholic luminaries of the twentieth century. These were years of great cultural and spiritual revolution (“the 'sixties”) and it was an ideal and supportively challenging time for everyone at Woodstock, which was planning to move either to the campus of Yale University or Georgetown, or independent status in New York City, which was its eventual choice.
I was allowed to take my final of four years of theology in a PhD program at Fordham, which brought me into contact with significant Jesuit philosophy professors such as Quentin Lauer, SJ, and Joseph Donceel, SJ, but also Thomas Berry, CP, Robert Neville and Robert Johann who had also taught me at Shrub Oak.
After leaving Fordham, I was employed at Spring Hill College, the Jesuit college in Mobile, AL, where I have taught World Religions, Human Sexuality and Marriage, Teilhard de Chardin, Christology, Zen, and Sacraments for forty-two years. I was privileged to work with several outstanding priests at Spring Hill, notably Frederick Gunti, a diocesan moral theologian, who was my closest personal friend, Gregory Lucey, SJ, longtime president of Spring Hill, presently chancellor, who is also a close personal friend, and who until recently celebrated daily Mass in the college Sodality chapel. A final dear friend, deceased in 2010, was Msgr. Anthony McDevitt, JCD, for some forty years judge of the Mobile marriage tribunal. He had been the adviser (“peritus”) to Mobile's archbishop at the entirety of the Second Vatican Council. Tony preferred “Father,” by most, or “Tony” by his close personal friends, and team-taught part of a Spring Hill course with me on “Human Sexuality and Marriage.” Spring Hill conducted an MA program with classes in Jackson, MS, Birmingham, AL, and Atlanta, GA as well as Mobile. Theology faculty had the opportunity when staying over for Sunday morning talks at Catholic parishes, to spend Friday and Saturday evenings living in various rectories with diocesan clergy.
The shorter version of this list of places and people could be a simple observation that my life has been enormously privileged by the presence of deeply Catholic, progressive, unpretentiously devout, learned, and likeable Catholic priests and scholars, some of international repute. One could not share classrooms and lives with such people without experiencing some of the best spirituality the Catholic Church, and the world, has to offer. I might hope that whatever of Catholic spirituality I embody as a Catholic in some way reflects, at least minimally, something of what the Church has been for the last three-quarters of a century.