Rev. Hilarion Duerk, O.F.M.
I WAS BORN IN ST. LOUIS, Mo.,
Oct. 28, 1883, and am quite proud to be one of twelve children,
the last. My immediate ancestors from both my father's and mother's
side were thoroughly Catholic. Permit me to here recount the
following:-When my mother was but a small child in Switzerland,
she one day accidently poked a pointed knife into her left eye.
The family doctor declared the eye hopelessly lost, but my mother's
father refused to give up hope. He made a vow to the Mother of
God and immediately undertook a pilgrimage to a not-too-distant
shrine called, "the Holy Well" (of the Virgin Mary).
At the place of pilgrimage, after fervent prayer, when the bandages
were removed from my mother's eye, it was found that the wound
had healed. Careful medical examination showed that she saw as
perfectly with that eye as with the other. A blemish or scar
remained in the eyeball, yet the cyesight was very good throughout
her long life; even in her old age she never wore glasses.
In Switzerland, my mother's
father was school teacher and parish organist in the village
of Blaua, Canton Bern. Antireligious movements that had been
smouldering for a long time' gained strength. Laws had been made
forbidding teaching of religion in the classroom. Grandfather,
at that time in the full vigor of manhood, continued teaching
religion to his pupils. He was reported, apprehended, brought
before a judge, and released with the warning that if he ever
attempted religious teaching again he would be doubly punished.
After a short time, however, he did not hesitate to resume religious
instructions. He was reported and apprehended a second time.
The judge banished him, giving him sixty days to leave the country.
Although I was a rather wild and carefree boy, these events,
treasured as a sacred and most precious heirloom in my family,
made a salutary and lasting impression upon my mind.
However, the wonderful religious
example and teaching of my poor, but excellent parents, and the
ardent zeal of Rev. Francis Albers, O.F.M., my parish priest,
did more, a great deal more, to influence my whole life and my
published writings which are a part of me. In spite of my boyish
conduct, or perhaps on that account, all Fathers and Brothers
of the Franciscan Monastery at St. Louis treated me very kindly;
nevertheless, I often received a well deserved scolding. I served
Holy Mass every day, sometimes in vacation as many as five or
six Masses a day, and was delighted to be permitted to do so.
At that time I decided, God willing, to some day myself be a
Franciscan priest. Almost from the very start of my studies for
the holy priesthood, I learned to carefully read the best books
of English literature, copying gripping passages, pointed expressions,
beautiful descriptions, and painstakingly trying to reproduce
similar "scripta" in my various compositions for the
classroom. It was thus that my interest in writing took its beginning.
Rev. Maurice Brink, O.F.M., was my excellent, sympathetic teacher
June 24, 1910, to my great
joy I was ordained a priest. Cleveland, Ohio, from 1914 to 1920,
proved to be my first place of literary activity in connection
with the press. Two small but vigorous Cleveland fraternities
of the Franciscan Third Order (about 300 members) were entrusted
to me. They wanted "Franciscan literature" to help
satisfy their thirst for things Franciscan. Alas, in those days
handy Third Order Literature was scarce. In desperation, I decided
to myself write the kind of literature I needed. Cautious friends
told me: "Unless you have an honest and live publisher,
writing for the press is an expensive and precarious affair.
Many an enthusiast could not sell his writings and was left behind
with an empty purse. In some cases the financial loss was great."
I highly appreciated this advice and grew determined to be cool
and careful. During the day, hospital and parochial duties, prayers
in choir and other monastic exercises kept me busy. Evening hours
and nights were used for my literary activities. Knowing that
publishers are not interested in low priced literature that by
its very nature has a limited sale, I went directly to a printer,
agreed on the printing, binding' and delivery cost, and then
furnished my manuscripts. However, for Chalippe's Life of
St. Francis, 1917, I procured a regular publisher. A little
over five thousand copies of this book were sold the very first
year and to this day sales continue to be excellent. My tertiary
fraternities paid for the publication of a monthly bulletin that
was eagerly read, and for six "de luxe" pamphlets having
from twenty to forty pages. Each of these pamphlets, if I recall
correctly, had a limited edition of 2000 copies; that is all
we could use. We sold everyone of them, lost no money and made
no money. Did they do any good? They did. In those years I received
at Cleveland 2765 persons into the Third Order, mostly daily
communicants. The great majority of these new members developed
into excellent tertiaries. Many of them were young persons. I
ascribe some of this success to my publications.
In 1920 I was transferred to
Chicago, there to line up the First National Third Order Convention
for October, 1921, and to write the official report of the convention.
Well, I fulfilled both consignments, generally meeting with spirited
co-operation. Printing and binding of the First National Third
Order Convention Report, 1922, 1500 copies, cost exactly $3,500.
Getting out this report was almost incredible labor, but I like
to think that if there is anything I have ever written that benefited
others it is that report. Nor was there any financial loss. Thanks
to co,operation of Third Order members throughout the country,
after all convention expenses were paid, including the report,
we had still $2,109.63 on hand.
In subsequent years I wrote
a number of short articles for various Catholic magazines and
papers, including a two years series of Monthly Patrons for Franciscan
Tertiaries published under the pen name Albert Blair in the Franciscan
Herald, 1934 and 1935; likewise, a series of sermons on St.
Anthony and St. Elizabeth, 1931, printed in the Third Order
Forum, a periodical, established in 1921 by the First National
Third Order Convention, ably edited ever since by Rev. James
In 1934 I was sent to Memphis,
Tenn. Among other important duties, teaching nurses psychology
and ethics was assigned to me. Psychology was always one of my
favorite branches of study. We sorely needed a textbook that
is short, clear, to the point, and yet rather complete. In 1935
I published my psychology for nurses, and, upon request, the
following year I got out a similar psychology for other students.
Both books met with a very kind reception and are still selling
well. My most recent publications are a parish history (1940),
and a series of twenty-four historical papers (1941) published
serially, with the proper ecclesiastical permission, in various
newspapers of southern Minnesota.
Enough about these things.
Now a few words to aspirant writers. Do we need Catholic writers
and authors? Yes, indeed. Would that we had thousands of them
in every branch of literature, history, science, art, and fiction.
Publishers are anxious to receive manuscripts; they are begging
for them. Yet, not every manuscript is accepted. '''Then you
write for the press, select excellent matter that is apt to have
a somewhat general appeal. Master your subject. Write carefully
and well. Do your very best. Remember that writing in a sense
is a trade. Learn the trade well and try to make your book better
than others of a similar nature already published. Then you will
have no trouble in finding a publisher. You may even succeed
in writing lines that will live on long after you are dead and
that will continue to bring wholesome recreation or gratifying
information, salutary thoughts, noble aspirations, to many poor
human beings hungering for the better things of life.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Father Duerk's
works include Catechism of Psychology for Nurses, 1935,
Kenedy; Psychology in Questions and Answers, 1936, Kenedy;
and pamphlets mostly on various canonized membcrs of the Third
Order of St. Francis.
Originally published by
Walter Romig in The Book of Catholic Authors Volume Three,