Wednesday, May 12, 2010

His Heart In Our Work: Fr. Francis L. Filas, S.J.

"LOVE ME, LOVE MY BOOKS" MIGHT BE THE MOTTO OF ANY author, but if I talk too much about my books, it is only that I wish you to love the man about whom all of them were written-St. Joseph. I honestly do not mean by that, that I think of myself as a worthy disciple of St. Joseph, because that is not true. In moments with myself I am almost aghast to think that my wagon has been hitched, as it were, to the star of St. Joseph. Without St. Joseph as my subject, I do not think I would have a single book on the market. The best I hope for is to be called a publicity man for St. Joseph, achieving the purpose of a publicity man to some worthwhile extent.
I was born in Cicero, Illinois, June 4, 1915; it was ten in the evening of a First Friday. My parents were the late Thomas M. Filas, a pioneer Cicero architect and builder whose ideas were two decades ahead of his time, and Emily Francis Seery, a mother who insists that her praises go unmentioned.
While in the fourth grade at parochial school, I was invited to be an acolyte. It is from this attraction to the altar as a boy that I trace my desires for the priesthood. For lack of funds I attended public high school. I had only the vaguest idea I wanted to be a priest. Between freshman and sophomore years I happened to read a newspaper advertisement for Loyola University, Chicago; and thinking in my ignorance that one had to attend Loyola to become a Jesuit, I sent a random speculative request as to what was really necessary. The late Father Joseph Reiner, S.J., told me to come down for an interview, and that was how I met my first Jesuit. At the suggestion of Father Clifford LeMay, S.J., who then took over my direction, I arranged to complete my high school in six semesters in order to have a year off to study Latin.
That year had two side jobs, both leaving strong impressions. I was hired as a garage bookkeeper who was to double as grease monkey. My talents in this field must have been unique. Within a month my employer told me that business was not good enough to warrant such noble tries (among them, mechanical efforts on a three-car "stable" kept by a west side gangster who later died of lead posioning, administered by sub-machine-gun. ) The second job lasted for even less time-laboratory boy for two weeks amid the most immoral atmosphere I ever experienced. The miasma of raw paganism that permeated this commercial laboratory was too dangerous to risk much longer, and it was rather no job than that, even during depression times.
With the whole-hearted approval of my parents and elder brother and sister, I entered the Society of Jesus at Milford, Ohio, on August 12, 1932. My first vows as a Jesuit were in 1934, followed by two years of classical studies called the Juniorate. This period saw my first literary production, a translation of a French pamphlet on the Way of the Cross, which a kindly master of novices had earlier asked me to do as a means of relieving the strain of the novitiate.
In 1986 our class moved on to the three years of philosophy at the then recently acquired West Baden College in southern Indiana. This had been the West Baden Springs Hotel, a nationally known spa until depression and the inroads of competition from Florida hotels had closed it in 1931. Its owner, the late Mr. Edward Ballard, donated it to the Chicago Province of the Society of Jesus for use as a scholasticate.
Abortive visions were in my mind of attempting an article for some national magazine on "I Live in a Roundhouse"-a catchy title, and perfectly true, for the hotel had been built in circular form, with two concrete series of rooms surrounding an enormous central atrium that was topped by one of the largest domes in the world. Yet the great providential occurrence at West Baden, as far as my books on St. Joseph were concerned, was the discovery of a German history of the devotion to St. Joseph written by an almost unknown but very painstaking writer, Joseph Seitz. As a result of this accidental find, my first idea on seeing how much solid material Seitz had gathered was to translate his work, since I did not have the necessary background nor free time for original research. Above all, there seemed such a crying need for something about St. Joseph that was not dependent on the contradictory, doubtful, and merely sentimental statements that had been based on fragmentary history, pious legends, or private revelations.
My translation was an abysmal failure. It was too "German," at times not accurate, and every publisher I contacted told me he could never come close to breaking even. More than once I was inclined to throw the long manuscript into the wastebasket. The idea was shelved during my three years of teaching mathematics as a Jesuit regent at St. Ignatius High School, Cleveland (1939-41), and University of Detroit High School (1941-42).
Only in first year theology, back at West Baden now, did the old dream return. It was encouraged by Father Aloysius C. Kemper, S.J., a professor of theology, who very kindly oQered to give a critical reading to what I wrote. Mr. William C. Bruce at this time also suggested that while the old translation could never be successfully marketed, his company would be agreeable to an original survey of the material it contained. From those beginnings came The Man Nearest to Christ, on the nature and history of the devotion to St. Joseph.
The title, highly fitting as it is, was the one I had vetoed most strongly cut of the twenty-two possibilities that were considered. I thought that it resembled too closely other "Man Who" books. I believe it originated with the wife of a Bruce editor. At any rate, the publishers fortunately overruled my veto, and the book appeared in the fall of 1944. The first printing sold out in two weeks. To everyone's amazement we finally went through four printings and a British and a Braille edition, with an Italian translation still projected.
It was this same school year of 1944-45 (my third of theology) that saw my ordination in June. Jesuits get a fourth year of theology, during which they somewhat grimly call themselves "toy priests"-still in studies, with little of the active apostolate permitted. But hard as this is for the eager young priest, the wisdom of gaining experience before publicly exercising Holy Orders is beyond all reasonable doubt.
During this closing year of theology (1945-46), I found extra time to write The Fam~ly for Families, a book equally divided in its emphasis on family life and the life of the master model, the Holy Family of Nazareth. Providence worked deviously again. In all the history of this book's first publishers, only one manuscript has ever been lost- and that was the original of The Famil?y f or Families. Fortunately I had carbon copies, but the delay entailed before the loss was discovered and then by the long search meant that t~he book appeared in ofI-season and missed the familylife reading lists. None the less (to skip ahead a few years), the disappointment over the mediocre showing in the hardbound edition acted as an incentive for me to be on the lookout for some way of salvaging the idea. The chance came in 1950, when Paluch Publications of Chicago began their pioneering Lumen Editions, attempting to put Catholic pocket-size titles on the market. In this format, The Famil?~ for Families has since gone through six printings. I think in all fairness that when credit is given for opening the pocket-size market to Catholic books, Paluch should not be so completely overlooked in favor of later comers in the field, even though the later "giants" accomplished the break-through which the earlier and smaller companies did not reach to the degree they desired.
My Jesuit course of training was still not finished in 1946; there remained the final so-called tertianship, the "third year" of novitiate to be gone through as a priest. My provincial superior postponed this for two years, in view of the need for teachers after World War II. These were very happy years at the University of Detroit where I was primarily a teacher of religion. I say 'primarily' because in the second year I helped open a downtown branch of freshmen, to relieve the pressure on the uptown campus. My jobs were (among others) Dean of Men, Student Counsellor, Religion Professor, Sodality Moderator, Assembly Preacher and Disciplinarian, Keeper of the Faculty Parking Lot, and Supervisor of the Gymnasium. You can see why the students presented me with an album bearing fourteen titles, so that I could make it clear at any time in what capacity I was speaking to them. They did not wish to incriminate themselves to Father F, Dean of Men, while thinking they were telling Father F, Student Counsellor, confidential opinions about the teaching of Father F in college theology.
It was during this rushed period at Detroit that I was asked by the Detroit Council of Catholic Women to help organize the local Cana Conference movement for husbands and wives, which was a new idea then. I am proud to have been associated with Cana ever since, and still consider it one of the apostolates I prefer, as long as God wants me to exercise it.
Tertianship finally came in 1949-50, and then a chance to get a degree of Doctor of Sacred Theology under the new pontificial charter at West Baden College. I wrote my dissertation on the fatherhood of St. Joseph, aiming at the same time for the regular book market. This plan culminated in the 1952 publication of Joseph ar~d Jesus: a theological study of their relationship. At the present writing this is the only single work in English, or any other language, that treats of the fatherhood of St. Joseph in such detail. Because of it and my allied work on Josephite theology, I was privileged to be a charter member in the founding of the Research and Documentation Center at Brother Andre's St. Joseph Oratory, Montreal.
My assignment to Loyola University, Chicago, came in the fall of 1950, as a professor of college theology. An unexpected new field opened up in lecturing on the Holy Shroud of Turin throughout the midwest. Ultimately, this lecture appeared annually on Good Friday telecasts both locally and nationally.
Throughout these years I had tried to keep up magazine articles and Queen's Work pamphlets as time permitted. One of the magazines on the list was a quarterly bulletin for priests called Alter Christ?~s. When the little periodical had to be discontinued in 1950, it seemed a shame to bury with it the excellent material (especially on grateful devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus) which it had received from so many Catholic writers. Accordingly, I edited many of these articles aimed at the sanctification of priests under the title of His Heart in Our Work, appearing in 1954.
Joseph Most Just: the logical questions about St. Joseph, was published in the spring of 1957. To put it informally, this might well be "the last of my wad" concerning St. Joseph. But even though ideas for another book are being worked out on a new topic, I still wish I had more material to use about Joseph. I wish I could write the book of the ages about St. Joseph, not for any selfish satisfaction but to produce something remotely worthy of the man whose nobility merited his choice as virginal husband of Mary and virgin father-of Jesus, closer to Jesus and Mary than any other created being.
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