Thomas C. Hennessy, S.J., a professor emeritus of education at Fordham University, has produced a delightfully unique book, a deftly edited compilation of primary sources that shed light on the early days of the Society of Jesus in what evolved into New York City. All sources are translated into contemporary English for the reader's convenience; they include sundry biographical sketches, excerpts from diaries, Jesuit house histories, and similar annual letters to Rome, and even cemetery records with explanation of and documentation for how a cemetery gets moved.
The body of the volume is set among foreword, introduction, prologue and two epilogues, each one worthy. The documents may grant great benefit even from perusal, for the reader's imagination must often "construct" the narrative. The pieces at either end, in contrast, demand study.
Jesuit Father Joseph A. O'Hare's foreword notes that the documents within the volume give ample evidence of the perduring Jesuit mission to the poor and disadvantaged. (He is seconded in this by contributors O'Malley, McCool, Blaszczak.) Father Hennessy's introduction nods to the earlier Jesuits who sojourned in New York. including St. Isaac Jogues, but emphasizes that all that the Jesuits undertook was to "spread the Gospel of Jesus" (v).
Father John W. O'Malley, S.J., observes that the documentation here presented can serve to puncture stereotypes of nineteenth-century Catholicism; such depend largely upon recollections from immediately before Vatican II. He helpfully wonders about the veracity of the book's matter, but is struck by its seeming honesty, and he hopes that some themes of the raw documentsósuch as Jesuit work with Negroesówill stimulate research.
The last word is given to Father Gerald R. Blaszczak, S.J., who writes mystically on "Minstry and the Lessons of the Fordham Jesuit Cemetery." Religious life is a community that transcends life in this world, and so the "folly" of the cemetery's restoration was an enactment of this belonging; religious community is based not in "utility and mutual advantage" but in "common history and shared vision" (252). Christian belief in the Resurrection of Jesus implies that these deceased Jesuits "are in truth apud nos ("among us"), living the risen life, which makes them like the Risen Christ himself, not less but more available to us, and we to them" (252). The cemetery memorializes the Jesuit brothers, for whom no buildings are named and whose vocation "signals unambiguously what is the core of the following of Christ, and what is the essence of our human excellence: that love incarnated in Jesus, which forgets itself in humble, everyday service" (253).
Gerald McCool's penultimate epilogue is called "Jesuit Education: A Continuous Tradition." He observes that the Jesuits in the New World were faithful to their own Jesuit roots, but that the challenges of the new environment demanded of them, too, "energy and ingenuity" (246). In the same vein, he cautions that the reports herein translated from the Latin may not do justice to these traits. McCool sketches, for those with an interest in curricular history, the genealogy of the plan of education that was to prevail among Jesuits in the Eastern half of the United States, the Loriquet plan (247). Father McCool admits to having first set foot on the campus as a matriculant seventy-two years ago, and then declares that the Fordham of 1932 had more in common with the Rose Hill St John's College of 1846 than it has with the Fordham of 2003!
Hennessy himself credits twenty-one Jesuits and one layperson for assistance with translations, and two among the Jesuits are singled out for helping to unravel "Latin and French puzzles" (x). One amazing example of such decoding could be this Latin abbreviation, "cur. lac. et lamp." as a description of the duties fulfilled by one Brother Patrick MacNulty, S.J., for eleven years. As Hennessy puts it, this "seems to have meant, 'cares for water basins in rooms and for the kerosese lamps in the residence'" (210). The translators not only had to know the languages, but also the "customs followed by the whole society before Vatican II." (251) Hence Father McCool's concluding and modest assessment: