Monday, August 11, 2014

THE ABBEY AND ME and the Story of the Takeover of the Alexian Brother's Novitiate IN 1975

Some books simply pull you in and won't let you go until you finish.  This was one of those books. In The Abbey and Me  J. Patrick Rick (2011)
shares a facinating story of a building and its history that can almost be described as simply tragic. At the heart of the story is the account of the takeover of the Alexian Brother's Novitiate in 1975.  However, beginning with the original construction of Jennie Peter's estate, begun in 1938 and finished in 1941 (built originally for her disabled daughter who died before construction was completed), Rick works though the years of the Peters family, through the brief history of the novitiate (1950-1968), during which the author was a novice himself for a short time, then into the takeover of the novitiate in 1975 by the Menominee Warrior Society, finishing with the history of the property to the present, which now only claims a gutted and aging edifice in a section of overgrown forest.  While reading the book I visited the property near Gresham, Wisconsin, but owing to the No Tresspassing sign I stayed at a distance with my camera and binoculars. The pictures here are the best I could get. If you look carefully at the center of the first picture you can catch a glimpse of the sole remaining building - the Peter's mansion. There are other pictures available from those who did get permission to enter.  But it's still a shaddow of its former self, a tragic ending to a property which once possessed so much potential.

Next year will mark the 40th anniversary of the take over, and I am curious how it will be remembered.  From reading the book I suspect that the current leadership of the Menominee Nation would probably prefer to simply put it deeply into the past, a story of a different era perhaps best left without too much attention. 

The book is available on Amazon for under $13, but I read a copy my wife secured for me through interlibrary loan.  Amazon gives this description of the contents:
Born from a film project, The Abbey & Me is a non-fiction account of invasion and seizure of a Midwestern Catholic monastery. The narrative chronicles a certain 1975 Native American act of Civil Disobedience and Thirty-Four days of armed occupation in harsh winter conditions. Researched and told by a former cloistered resident and novice-monk, this is a true contemporary, cavalry, Indian, and missionary story of hostages, vigilantes, renegades, and celebrity including the late Marlon Brando facing the Wisconsin National Guard.

I was a fourteen year old boy living in nearby Wausau in January 1975, and like many my age, I suspect, I had no real knowledge of this event, even though it was heavily featured in major newspapers around the country.  Coming on the heals of the Wounded Knee incident, the takeover in Gresham was part of the waning efforts of what was then known as the American Indian Movement.  In those post-Vietnam years some political movements, it seems, tended to be more violent and destructive.  Reviewing the history of the Menominee tribe, especially the history in the last half of the 20th century, helps you understand, in part, the frustration that led to the take-over of the novitiate.  This was the era prior to the successful casinos and lumbering businesses that now bring a comfortable revenue flow to the reservation.  But it is also a story of how the government, for a time, removed the tribal status from Menominee, causing all kinds of anger and resentment.

It is a shame that, in the end, this once beautiful building and the later additions added by the Alexian Brothers, had to be reduced to nothing more than an aging shell of brick and stone left to slowly rot.  The damage casued in the take-over and the vandalism and neglect in subsequent years put this once great edifice on the irreversible road to ruin.  I still hope that someone with sufficient capital eventually attempts to restore the last remaining building and then make it available again to the public.  But I am grateful to Rick for the labor of love he gave in researching and writing a story that was in danger of being lost and forgotten.  As the 40th anniversary approaches there will undoubtably be other articles - maybe even another book - as people rediscover this facinating yet painful period in our history and the shadow of a building testifying to past days of fleeting glory.   [Note: the links provided here, especially to Wikipedia articles, are very informative in gaining a basic understanding of the events chronicled by Rick in his book.]

Here are some additional links and pictures I originally posted on my Facebook page:
--Article and pictures (including a Google arial shot) regarding the Alexian Brother's Novitiate: http://americanurbex.com/wordpress/?p=2313
--Article and pictures on the Novitiate Ruins: http://travellingstrongs.blogspot.com/2012/08/ruins-of-novitiate-at-gresham-wi.html

Here is a link from the College of Menominee Nation containing various documents related to the take-over, including newspaper articles: http://content.mpl.org/cdm/search/collection/cmnlsc/searchterm/Alexian%20Brothers%20Novitiate/mode/exacthttp://content.mpl.org/cdm/search/collection/cmnlsc/searchterm/Alexian%20Brothers%20Novitiate/mode/exact

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Fault in Our Stars: A Theological Assessment

Although I mentioned this in the previous post, I thought that I would single it out here as well.  Many people by now have both heard of and read the popular young adult fiction The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.  Many more have also watched the movie.  John Green certainly did not write his book to promote a Christian or even a religious response to suffering and death, although he allows his characters to struggle with these in both religious and secular ways.  In an interview back in July with Issues, Etc. host Todd Wilken, I attempted to offer some theological assessment of Green's book.  Go here to find the archived interview, "The Will of God and 'The Fault in Our Stars'".


It's Been a While....

I took a break from this blog last year.  It impressed me that some people would actually enjoy and use what I wrote. It further surprised me that people stilll look at or read parts of this blog yet today, based on the "traffic report" I still receive from time to time. I created NS especially as an opportunity to write, since that is one of my passions and hobbies.  It was also a place to leave semi-archived information I might later need for reference.

Since I last posted in September of 2013, a few things have occured in the Seelsorger's life:
  • I received, deliberated and turned down a call to a larger parish to the west around November to serve as the senior/administrative pastor.  It was a congregation of over 1,000 with a school, a ministry I had known from my previous call in Michigan.  Amazingly (at least to me!) this was the only real call I had received in 13 years.  Fewer congregations are probably extending calls these days, due in part, I suspect, to the economic realities of the times.  Then there is the issue of age (I am over 50).  At any rate, I have no regrets over my decision and have continued to enjoy the mistry opportunities here east of Antigo. 
  • At the end of January I 'jump-started' my thesis research by taking a whole weekend to work at the library at Nashotah House.  It helped immensely.  Although my work was again stalled by various other duties, I have once again been able to make some headway and now have part 1 of chapter 1 complete in draft form.  I hope to have the entire thesis written in draft form by the first of the year, with graduation in May of 2015.  Stay tuned! (For those unfamiliar with my graduate studies, I have posts here, here, here, here, here, here, and here chronicling my experience with the STM graduate degree program at Nashotah House going back to 2010. The second-to-last "here" outlines the thesis proposal I submitted last Spring.)
  • In February of 2014 the Town of Antigo Volunteer Fire Department presented me with my 10 year Certificate of Service Award.  It's hard to believe it's been that long.  I started as a chaplain and then in 2008 expanded my training to become an actual firefighter.  Fire work has been a great experience, and I still enjoy the varied opportunities to grow and learn.  My goal now is to learn and somewhat master the operation of the pump equipment on the engine.  
  • This summer provided a number of great opportunties for growth and pushed me to do things outside my previous experience.  In January my classmate Pastor Peter Bender graciously extended an invitation to present at his Annual Symposium on Catechesis in June.  You can read more here. While I felt a bit 'out of my leaque' with the other presenters, I also discovered that I enjoyed the challenge and would like to do something like this again in the future.  In July I accompanied my daughter to the Higher Things youth conference at Concordia University- Wisconsin in Mequon.  While there I did a couple of sectionals on the topic of "The Fault in Our Stars or the Fault in our God: Wrestling with the Will of the Almighty."  You can read more about the sectional here.  This sectional also presented me with the opportunity a few weeks back for an interview with Pastor Todd Wilken on Issues, Etc.  If you would like to listen to the interview, which dealt primarily with the popular book The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, you can listen to the archived section here.
Well, that more or less catches you up on where I have been these last several months.