Sunday, March 11, 2012

Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J. On The Passing Of Fr. Leonard Feeny

I regret that I did not make notes on some of Leonard Feeney’s conversation. His table talk was brilliant and memorable. He would teach us to look on the world with fresh eyes and to delight as he did in the variety of God’s creation. 
He was particularly fascinated by the animals, as appeared in many of his poems. One of them, written for children, begins characteristically: "Moo is a cow/ When she makes a bow/ To a meadow full of hay./ Shoo is a hen/ When she’s back again/ And you want her to go away." 
As a spiritual director Father Feeney carefully trained his disciples. Although he was capable of sharp admonitions and rebukes, his general practice was to lead by positive encouragement. He was generous in praising others, both in their presence and when they were absent. When he noticed faults in the members of the group, he would correct these in a good-humored way, with playful mimicry, rhymes and puns. (For his views on the value and limits of the pun it would be worthwhile to read his little article, "How Much Do I Like a Pun?" [Am., 9/26/36].) 
Father Feeney’s light-hearted mockery extended not only to members of the Center but to the public figures of the day. Parodying their rhetoric and mannerisms, he would deliver with mock solemnity imaginary speeches such as Al Smith on the fallacies in Descartes’s philosophy ("putting Descartes before the horse"), Fulton Sheen on merits of Coca-Cola ("Ho, everyone that thirsteth for the pause that refreshes!") and Franklin Roosevelt on the decline of sacramental religion ("Some of our underprivileged are having to get along on two paltry sacraments, or even none"). 
In other imitations he presented Katherine Hepburn reporting a championship prizefight and Eleanor Roosevelt broadcasting the events of Good Friday. We listened to these imitations with our sides splitting, almost sick with laughter. Then at a crucial moment Father Feeney would be likely to remove his clerical collar, put it over his head like a wimple and begin to speak in the broken English of Mother Cabrini.
Link (here) to the 1978 obituary in America Magazine of Fr. Leonard Feeney written by Fr. Avery Dulles, S.J. 

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