Robert HURTEAU, A Worldwide Heart: The Life of Maryknoll Father John J. Considine. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2013. 308 pages. $45.00 paperback. ISBN 978-1-62698-021-1. Reviewed by Arthur J. KUBICK, Providence, RI.
During the summer of 1965, a group of us from Catholic University joined hundreds of other college students from the United States and Canada to spend the summer living and working in remote villages throughout Mexico and Central America. CIASP (Conference on Interamerican Student Projects) had begun several years earlier with the 1960s enthusiasm generated by Pope John XXIII, John Kennedy, Vatican II, a new time filled with excitement and possibilities. Our Mexico Project was a kind of mini-Peace Corps or mini-PAVLA, a small part of the U.S. Catholic Church’s outreach to Latin America shaped by the Bishops‘ Latin American Bureau and its director, Fr. John J. Considine. We shared his concern for outreach to Latin America without knowing him, perhaps drawn more by the adventure than the mission. So this well-written comprehensive biography by Robert Hurteau offered an opportunity to get to know a Maryknoll priest who—indirectly—shaped the trajectory of my own life.
While John Considine may be especially remembered for his work on Latin America, it was only one part of a life committed to the mission of the church. Born in 1897 in New Bedford, Massachusetts, he joined the newly founded Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America (Maryknoll) in 1915, and for the next sixty-seven years dedicated his life to “his particular vocation as a journalist in service to mission.” Hurteau’s succinct description captures perfectly the life and work of John Considine. Over those years he wrote more than fifteen books and countless articles on mission—all of them accessible to the ordinary reader. Paradoxically he was a missioner who never served in the missions, all of his years as a Maryknoller being spent in administrative and journalistic endeavors. To remedy this he arranged to take extensive mission tours throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America, developing an in-depth understanding of the realities of life and mission in these countries.
After his ordination to the priesthood in 1923, John Considine’s service to mission followed an administrative/journalistic direction. From 1924 to 1934 he lived at Collegio Maryknoll in Rome, working with the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda Fidei and being seen as a consummate Vatican-insider, the founding director of Fides News Service. Returning to the U.S. he served in the leadership of the Maryknoll Society from 1934 to 1946, a “mission executive” concerned with administrative and personnel work as well as necessary mission strategy. His journalistic skills found a natural outlet in the years he served as editor of Maryknoll’s magazine, Maryknoll: The Field Afar, 1934-1960. From 1960 to 1968 he directed the U.S. Bishops’ Latin American Bureau, during which he initiated PAVLA (Papal Volunteers for Latin America), CICOP (Catholic Inter-American Cooperation Program), and CIF (the Center of Intercultural Formation) in Cuernavaca, Mexico. After his retirement in 1968 he continued to write and reflect on mission through Maryknoll’s Mission Research and Planning Department. He spent his final years living at St. Teresa’s Residence at Maryknoll, dying on May 4, 1982.
However, this cursory outline of Fr. John Considine’s eighty-four years does not even begin to do justice to the rich fullness of a life lived with a truly “worldwide heart.” Robert Hurteau, a former Maryknoller and now director of the Center for Religion and Spirituality at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, gives us a comprehensive portrait of an ever optimistic missioner-journalist whose key vision saw Christianity as a “world idea” capable of uniting the planet, “a solid alternative to communism, racist nationalism, and power politics precisely because it was a spiritual idea.” This was in no way a narrow-minded vision, but rather one imbued with a sense of openness and curiosity, a readiness to listen to and understand the experiences of others. Such an openness comes through not only in Hurteau’s text, but also in the several excerpts from Considine’s writings included in an appendix. It is very much a post-colonial, post-nationalist vision growing out of much twentieth century thinking on mission. In fact, Hurteau brings the reader into contact with this broad background of missiology. He intends Considine’s life story to serve “as a lens for observing two broad areas over the course of two thirds of the twentieth century: the Catholic mission movement in the United States—and in particular, the efforts of Maryknoll—and the growth of Catholic missions worldwide—and in particular, the pivotal moment of the papacy of Pius XI.” Anyone interested in Maryknoll and the Catholic mission movement will find here a fruitful source for reflection and analysis, and come to see this embodied in the life of one dedicated missioner who understood mission as constitutive of a healthy church.
Of continuing relevance for missioners today is the conflict between John Considine and Ivan Illich on mission to Latin America—specifically the needs of the church in Latin America, the relevance of PAVLA, and the perception that U.S mission was an extension of U.S. government interests there. The public moment of this conflict came with the publication in 1967 of an article by Illich on U.S. mission in Latin America, “The Seamy Side of Charity.” (The following year Illich would repeat these same accusations in a talk to CIASP leaders entitled “To Hell With Good Intentions.”) Both of these should be required reading for all individuals and groups planning to go to another country to “help” those in need. But at the same time it would be necessary to read Hurteau’s insightful discussion of “Seamy” and the conflict between Considine and Illich. He considers it such an important topic that he spends an entire chapter, “The Seamy Side of a Conflict 1965-1968,” analyzing this conflict and its role in the broader context of U.S. mission to Latin America. Illich’s article may provoke thought on this topic, but it is not the final word.
The obituary for Fr. John J. Considine published by Maryknoll included the final line from a letter written by Fr. Considine in 1976 asking to be relieved of his work in the Mission Department: “I have loved the work.” This love comes through in the pages of Robert Hurteau’s welcome biography. May it inspire others in that same love.