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Law, culture, and Catholicism...up in smoke!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

"Better that boy stop a bullet in the battlefield than have carved his initials in my pew."

Readers of FUMARE know well of my training by the Jesuits and my continued devotion to that great religious order. Elsewhere I have brought to our readers' attention the contributions of some fine Jesuit legal scholars to American Jurisprudence. Before Charlie Rice was the standard-bearer for a restoration of a natural law jurisprudence over and against the dominating legal positivism, these men were fighting the battles during an age where the world saw the horrors of legal positivism writ large.(Incidentally, these Jesuits were the same men who taught Rice when he was but a stripling at Boston College Law.) Though junior to the Benedictines, Franciscans, and Dominicans, the Jesuits have long been recognized as the intellectual elite of the Church. With the Fourth Vow of especial obedience to the Roman Pontiff, the Jesuits were also at the forefront of evangelization and intellectual pursuit in the service of the Church and the world.

Unfortunately that is not so apparent anymore. Most of the stories we read today about the Society of Jesus generally concern indifferentism towards sodomy, apologists for pro-abortion politicians, peaceniks who protest the US Military, sodomy, love of heresy, and promotion of sodomy. In the face of these hijackers of the Society, I make bold to bring forth examples of "Tough Old Jesuits" to counter the sissification of the Society and as an encouragement to solid and faithful Jesuits laboring in less-than-faithful communities. I make no apologies for my candid assessment of some in the Society today. My only apologies are to my beloved Jesuit professors and mentors--living and dead--that my elegance in speech and expression of thought fall quite short of their high standards. To them I offer a mea maxima culpa. Today, I present:

Fr. James J. Mertz, S.J., Professor of Latin, Loyola University Chicago.

Father Mertz joined the Loyola faculty in 1922, teaching Latin, Greek and ancient Greek and Roman civilization. He was the driving force behind the construction of Madonna della Strada Chapel--raising funds and completing it even amidst the Great Depression. His moving account of the construction of that chapel bespeaks his great love for Our Lady and Her Son. He continued teaching until he was (literally) told to stop by his superiors in the mid-1970's. He finally retired from teaching at the young age of 96. His scholarly work brought forth Jesuit Latin Poets of the 17th and 18th Centuries. I find the reminiscence of Mr. Bert Hoffman of Chicago to be a most wonderful example of Fr. Mertz's priesthood,

Fr. James Mertz used to come once a month from Loyola University Chicago to St. Timothy's to offer Mass and talk about Madonna della Strada chapel on Loyola's campus, which I later found out was his life's magnum opus. I served Mass for him. He always had good, friendly words for us in the sacristy.

I "heard" him again while the student body at Loyola Academy was marching out of his chapel one day in 1943. Suddenly we were halted in our steps when we heard a voice that sounded like the wrath of God thunder, "Better that boy stop a bullet in the battlefield than have carved his initials in my pew." I can still hear his awful anger.

At two in the afternoon, our principal, Fr. Walker, announced that Fr. Mertz didn't say those words. The heck he didn't! Fr. Mertz also taught the religion class at Loyola University in 1947 that formed my religious life.

Contained in that small space from Mr. Hoffman are all the hallmarks of a good Jesuit priest: offering Mass and performing the sacraments; concern for the things of God; friendly and good to his young charges; anger at the desecration of the sacred; consummate scholar and dedicated teacher; and a muscular faith that forms good Christian men. Let us pray for more Fr. Mertzes.