Rev. Peter Masten Dunne, S.J. (1889-1957)
EVEN IF CANDOR is admirable,
sincerity laudable, and realism desired, still it is with some
diffidence that one approaches and autobiographical sketch, even
if it be brief. That the sketch is to be confined to one's literary
development makes it easier. Yet, only absolute sincerity, tinged
with modesty, can make writing about oneself acceptable.
From the age of sixteen I enjoyed
writing. A Jesuit novice at seventeen, my literary ambitions
soared as soon as I had entered my studies, if one is to judge
from notebooks full of elegant phrases culled from the finest
beds of literature; or from efforts made to describe to myself
or to others orally the smiles of California's nature as dispensed
about the beautiful Los Gatos. Reciting choice bits from memory
did much to further bore my companions.
The first time I wrote for
publication was during my first year of teaching as a Jesuit
scholastic in St. Ignatius high school in San Francisco. It was
1915, the year of the Panama-Pacific exposition. I was intrigued
by the Chinese exhibit of the then infant republic and described
it in an article which I sent to America. It was rejected
and an unsympathetic superior said this would teach me a lesson.
I suppose he thought I was being too ambitious for so young a
Jesuit. I remember vividly my, perhaps pardonable, satisfaction
when in the early summer of 1919 I first broke into the pages
of America. It was while at our summer camp at Manresa
looking over the curving beaches of Monterey Bay, there where
Irving Cobb said Neptune spilt his bluing pot. We were sitting
under cypress trees after lunch amidst the tents when the day's
mail was delivered. The week's issue of America was there.
I had been waiting for it. Would it have my article! Eagerly
I reached for it; got it first and saw my first published effort
in a review which was for the general public. -This was for me
a good moment.
Four years of theology (1919-1923)
were done in the French seminary at Hastings in England. Anti-clerical
troubles had sent the Jesuits out of France. Here I continued
my writing. I bored my friends and perhaps my family with formal
descriptions of the charm of the English countryside at the changing
seasons; I kept a diary and put into it narratives of observed
beauty that had struck into my very soul; also, I wrote several
articles for America and for the Teachers' Review
of Woodstock College. All but one were accepted. This is probably
the reason why, at the end of tertianship, done in Cleveland,
Ohio, I was ordered to return to New York to become associate
editor of America. That was in 1924.
Another development occurred
in England which has borne fruit for all these years, which bearing
I hope will be continuous until the end comes for me here.On
the threshold of my departure for England in 1919 I took a summer
course in history from the later Father Theodore Pockstaller.
This stimulated an already pretty strong liking for history and
I decided to make of history a career. Father Pockstaller had
taken history at the University of California and received his
doctor's degree under the direction of that grand friend of all
human beings and especially, I think, of Jesuits, Herbert E.
Bolton. The latter was just getting out his Kino's Historical
Memoir of Pimeria Alta. Pockstaller took me over to the university
for an introduction and an interview. Bolton spoke of his Kino,
said it would be soon out. When that fall I (now in England)
heard of its publication I sent for a copy of the two volumes.
And I remember exactly what I wrote to Bolton in the fall of
1919: "If the Jesuits of old have done such fine things
in Mexico and Lower California why should not their modern confreres
know of them and write of them."
I determined to do both. Ore
Place, the Hastings Jesuit theologate, was a reflection of the
catholicity of Catholicism. All the nations were there. At least
we counted twenty-three. Irishmen from all over the world, and,
while French predominated, there were Spaniards, Belgians, English,
Dutchmen, Chinese, Poles, Jugo-Slavs, Egyptians, and a Mesopotamian
from Mosul in Iraq! One of the Egyptians, Nakhla, had huge black
and popping eyes and a great hooked nose, crowned by a thick
shock of coal-black curly hair. He surely must be a descendant
of old King Tut or of Ramcses II. I got hold of this vivacious,
energetic individual of extraordinary vitality, who knew all
the European languages. He graciously agreed, almost offered,
to tutor me. I must become familiar with French for it was the
language of the house; I must know Spanish if I intended later
to write about Mexican missionaries; and German ought to be thrown
in too. We carried out our program. At the end of the four years
of theology I had acquired a reading knowledge of the three languages.
I had learned my Spanish and could now be ready to do some study
and make some researches into the brilliant career of the Jesuit
missionaries of old Mexico.
Thus it was that in the second
half of the year 1919 there began burning the flame of a modest
ambition. The little flame is still burning, but the ambition
had years to wait even for the beginning of fulfilment. Complete
fulfilment must wait still for many years.
Editorial work on the staff
of America now (1924-1925) engaged my literary energies,
even though by the indulgence of Father Richard Tierney, editor-in-chief,
I was able to take some courses in history, in the graduate school
of Columbia University. I slugged away at book reviews, wrote
the news for the Latin countries, turned out an occasional article,
and helped in editing the Catholic Mind. Father Francis
Talbot, later editor-in-chief, was my immediate boss as literary
editor, and my contacts with him, with his engaging personality,
were of the most pleasant kind. Once we both agreed to write
an article for the Christmas number. Our colleagues would choose
the better for publication. frank Talbot won, of course. I was
and have since remained unable to reach the luster of his golden
Nor is that all.- I was a no-good
journalist and a worse proofreader. I was let out after a year!
To Santa Clara then, teaching history, and after a year to Los
Gatos to aid in giving the required literary formation to young
Jesuits. This was my old home, the novitiate, and I loved it.
I taught history too. My reading during theology and the Columbia
graduate school had made me familiar with the Renaissance and
the Reformation period, and I began to realize that many Catholic
writers and not a few Catholic historians were disingenuous and
unscientific in their presentation of the facts of this period.
I now had lots of fun criticizing the timid and over-conservative
school of Catholic historians. Articles were accepted by the
Historical Bulletin (St. Louis University), the Ecclesiastical
Review, the Catholic School Journal. I was forthright
in telling of the corruption of the Church in administration
and personnel. Criticism, even angry criticism, was aroused.
The Ecclesiastical Review was fine, but the then editors
of the Historical Bulletin rejected two other articles
on the causes of the Protestant Revolt. They said I presented
the Protestant point of view. But fifteen years later (1941-1942)
these same two articles were published in the same review when
it was under the direction of the late Father Raymond Corrigan!
We do make progress.
Now comes a book, a very modest
one. The San Francisco nuns, the Helpers of the Holy Souls, asked
me in 1928 to write a biography of Mother Mary of St. Bernard,
foundress of their San Francisco house. This I consented to do,
they furnishing the materials-letters, sketches of her early
life, and the rest. The first draft of the eleven chapters was
completed in eleven successive weekly holidays from teaching.
In print these fill one hundred and forty-seven pages, title
Mother Mary of St. Bernard (1929). But alas, on the very
seventh line of the first chapter there is an historical blunder
which neither censors, proof readers, nor the French nuns caught.
I call Louis Napoleon president of the First Republic.
Eleven years and then a second
book.- In 1930 I was sent to the University of San Francisco.
Criticism, I feel, of my presentation of Reformation history
was responsible for the move from Los Gatos. I had by now given
up hope of satisfying the old ambition of achieving the doctor's
degree in history. But in 1932 my Provincial superior, Father
Zacheus Maher, desired that I become a doctor. The Jesuit General
in Rome, the late Wlodimir Ledochowski, must approve because
criticisms of my intellectualisms had been numerous and had gone
to Rome. Father General did approve and I went to my old friend
Bolton to guide me in the historical field I had looked wistfully
upon from England thirteen years before, the early Jesuit missions
of Mexico. I was Bolton's fourth Jesuit, and being the most recent
I was a Benjamin at forty-five. He sent Father Jacobsen and me
down to Mexico to inspect old documents and to breathe an ancient
atmosphere. We did both. After my companion left for home, I
went far into the mission country, rode out over wild trails
on horseback, pierced deep into Jesuitland. Early in January,
1933, I went down alone from a mining camp, stripped, and tumbled
into a deep, blue pool of the Fuerte River (rich in Jesuit lore)
as it ran briskly through the foothills of the great Sierra Madre
range. It was a glorious swim in a mission river.
From all of this resulted the
second book and second of a series of works on early Mexican
Jesuits. Under the chief editorship of Doctor Bolton, Father
Jacobsen got out his Educational Foundations of the Jesuits
in Sixteenth-Century New Spain (University of California
Press, 1938). Then from the same press two years later issued
my Pioneer Black Robes on the West Coast. My third, and
third of the series, has become snagged in the press. War priorities
and the rest. It was due the fall of 1942 and was listed in the
California catalogue of publications as The Tepehuan Revolt.
There is a fourth and still
a fifth. One is a biography of a missionary, the other is on
a later group of Jesuit missions. These are completed and all
ready for the press. I have laid them away in moth balls. Here
they shall rest until the end of the war.
Originally published by
Walter Romig in The Book of Catholic Authors Volume Three,