Reverend 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
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
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
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
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
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
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.