Thursday, May 18, 2023

UPDATED, 5/24/23: News from Eden: A new degree ... and a new Jesuit biography?

At the U.S. Botanic Garden, Washington, DC, April 29, 2023.

Although these days, when sharing personal news in a public forum, I usually post on Twitter @dawnofmercy, The Dawn Patrol is a special outlet for me because it was through this blog in the 2000s that I came to know many of my dearest friends. Moreover, social media is an imperfect place for marking milestones, since news once posted quickly becomes difficult to find without scrolling through minutiae. So I enjoy relating the more important events of my life here, and today I am blessed to have a particularly important one to share: my graduation last Saturday with a licentiate from the Catholic University of America School of Canon Law. But before I say more about that, I'd like to give some context by sharing about my life, work, and Catholic vocation in general during the past few years.

If you have been following my journey for a while, you will know that this latest commencement exercise was not my first rodeo. My new JCL degree is the latest of five graduate degrees that I have racked up at ecclesiastical faculties since 2010. It comes after my MA, STB, and STL from the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate House of Studies and my STD from the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary. When I graduated Mundelein in May 2016, I made local and national news as the first woman in the university's history to be awarded a doctorate in sacred theology.

While at Mundelein, I was headhunted by Father David Oakley, then the rector of St. Mary's College, Oscott, the seminary of the Archdiocese of Birmingham, UK. (He is now the bishop of the Diocese of Northampton.) Oscott was a wonderful place to spend my first year of teaching, during the 2016–2017 school year. But I did become homesick for the States, so I returned in the summer of 2017 to take an assistant professorship at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut.

In June 2017 I received a lovely send-off from the Oscott seminarians, who gave me a framed portrait of Cardinal Newman ...

... and from the faculty, who feted me at a dinner in the faculty dining room.

One unexpected blessing that I received during my year at Oscott was the news from my friends the Anderson Council back in the States that they had finally recorded and released a song I wrote for them back in 2000: "Girl on the Northern Line." Appearing on their album Assorted Colours, the song was played dozens of times on Sirius XM Satellite Radio stations Little Steven's Underground Garage and The Loft.

At Holy Apostles, I enjoyed having the opportunity to teach not only theology but also composition. My classes were more diverse than they had been at Oscott, as the student body included religious sisters and laypeople as well as seminarians.

I loved how my undergraduate Writing and Composition students at Holy Apostles put together a Christmas party during the last part of the last class of the Fall 2017 semester.

A delightful surprise during my first months at Holy Apostles came in the form of my first-ever BMI royalty check larger than pennies. Thanks to the airplay that "Girl on the Northern Line" had gained, I was able to invest in a new Epiphone guitar. I chose Epiphone because it was a favorite of Del Shannon, whom I was blessed to interview in 1989.

With my newly purchased Epiphone, October 2017

Returning to the States gave me an opportunity to renew my friendship with a brilliant and great-hearted woman of faith who had been a mentor to me for nearly a decade: Dr. Alice von Hildebrand, widow of the great Catholic philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand and a highly accomplished author academic in her own right.

I knew Lily (as her friends called her) through our mutual friend William Doino Jr., who introduced us in the late 2000s. In 2010, Lily drew upon my master's thesis in writing one of her articles critiquing the work of Christopher West, who made what Lily considered erroneous claims about Dietrich's (as well as John Paul II's) teachings on human love and sexuality. She credited me at the end of the article, writing, "Dawn Eden also deserves notable mention: her in-depth knowledge of the work of Christopher West has been crucial to me. Through her scholarship, I made the acquaintance of several texts I had not read. I owe her a special thanks." Two years later, she wrote a sensitive endorsement of my book My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints: "A powerful and poignant voice formulating in words the unspoken cry of the heart from those who have been shamefully abused and violated. Dawn Eden—a victim herself—shows readers that there is healing not in repression or misplaced self-blame, but in hiding in the wounds of Christ""

With Alice von Hildebrand and William Doino Jr. at Alice's home in New Rochelle, NY, March 3, 2018 

During my year teaching on-campus at Holy Apostles, Bill Doino and I visited Lily several, and we also communicated with Lily frequently by phone and email. Lily spoke often about feeling that her time on earth was speeding to a close. "The wick of my candle is very short" is how she would typically put it. After a September 2017 visit, I recorded a voice memo to memorialize some of the wisdom Lily shared with me and Bill, which you can hear via the SoundCloud player below.

When Bill and I visited on December 5, 2017, Lily instructed me to look through a large metal file cabinet to see the large volume of manuscripts of hers that it contained, many if not most of which were unpublished. In Bill's presence, she told me that she wished me to edit her unpublished works in cooperation with the Dietrich von Hildebrand Legacy Project (DvHLP), to which she had given the rights to her and her husband's literary estate. I was awed by her request, both because of her intellectual achievements and because I, like just about everyone who knew her, considered her a courageous and holy woman. It was overwhelming to realize that she had such faith in me and respect for me that she would entrust me with a role in maintaining her legacy.

Because of her advanced age—ninety-four—and her own stated belief that the Lord might take her home at any moment, I asked Lily if she might repeat her request so I could capture it on video; this she did gladly. Afterwards I wrote an email to her in which I gave my understanding of her wishes, so that she could correct my understanding if necessary: 

—You would like me to edit your unpublished works for publication. 

—You would like my editorial work to be done in collaboration with [Dietrich von Hildebrand Legacy Project President] John Henry Crosby and his father Dr. John F. Crosby. My understanding of what you mean by collaboration is that (1) I would consult the Crosbys at various stages of the editing process and (2) that the Hildebrand Project would retain the option of having your works published under its aegis, if it wished to do so. 

—You recognize that your works are in need of revision and you trust me to revise them in a manner that is in keeping with the philosophy and style of your previously published works. 

—You would like me to be compensated in an appropriate manner for my editorial work.

I don't have a record of whether Lily responded to my email, but we went on to correspond about how I might begin my editorial work in cooperation with the DvHLP. In April, she forwarded me an email she sent to John Henry Crosby with the subject line "important." Here it is, with minor corrections to spelling and grammar (she was nearly blind by that time and could type only with difficulty):

Dear John Henry: I leave my literary bequest to the DvHLP. However, it is my will that Alice Ann Grayson's work on Sex Education to which she has devoted many years be incorporated. Dr. Dawn Eden and her friend Bill Doino have generously offered to edit my very manuscripts historical and non historical but I wish them to submit them to the DvHLP for the sake of unity.  I do not expect any difficulty to arise; I have confidence in all of you and am grateful that God has placed you on my path. Affectionately in Christ, your very old friend Lily v H 

John Henry began to correspond with me and my literary agent about engaging me to edit Lily's work, beginning with an unpublished manuscript titled Truth and Its Counterfeits. In the meantime, with Lily's permission, I set about turning an excerpt from another unpublished manuscript that I had found in her file cabinet—a comparison of the moral philosophy of Dietrich von Hildebrand with that of C.S. Lewis—into an article. Eventually, also with Lily's permission, I submitted the 3,200-word article to Homiletic & Pastoral Review, which published it in July 2018: "Two Knights for Truth: The Ethics of C.S. Lewis and Dietrich von Hildebrand."

In the fall of 2018, I opted to move back to Washington, DC, where I had lived from 2007 to 2014. Holy Apostles permitted me to retain my full-time position and teach online. Part of my motivation in making the move was the belief that teaching online—which generally takes less time and energy than classroom teaching—would make it easier for me to begin devoting time to editing Lily's unpublished manuscripts. However, it did not work out that way. Ultimately the DvHLP decided to go into a different direction with preserving Lily's literary legacy, one that did not include my participation.

I did not know why the DvHLP decided not to go forward with engaging my services, but I opted against pressing the matter, to avoid causing Lily stress. She loved me—that I knew—and she also loved those to whom she had given the rights to oversee her literary estate. I remained in touch with her via email and phone through April 2020. After that, as her vision and hearing deteriorated, I passed on greetings to her through Bill, who remained in close touch with her until her death in January 2022.

In sharing this story—which I am relating here for the first time—it is not my intention to change the way things turned out. Just the opposite, in fact. I can see now that, of all the good things in my professional life in the past year—the publication of Father Ed, the acclaim it has received (including a Christopher Award), and the many public lectures I have given on it—none would have been possible if I had taken on editing Lily's work. I also would not have received my degree in canon law and would not have the hope of taking on a new biography that is close to my heart (which I'll tell about momentarily). The idea of making a lifetime project of editing Lily's work was appealing before I knew I was capable of such things. Now that I have a better idea of my capabilities, I know that Lily would want me to continue to follow my dreams.

Rather, I am sharing this story, first, because I want to give thanks for Lily's mentorship, which helped me remain grounded during a time of transition. It is lonely to be an academic, and it is even lonelier to be one of a very few women in a male-dominated field. Lily provided for me a model of faith, courage, and perseverance. Her faith in me, along with the support of my family and other friends (particularly Bill Doino), helped me believe God's grace was active within the vicissitudes of my life.

Second, now that she has gone to the Lord, I want the world to know the respect Lily had for me and the trust she placed in me. Proverbs 27:2 says "let another praise you," and that certainly holds for job-seekers like myself. Although Lily is no longer here to praise me, her correspondence is (as well as her published endorsements of me), and I believe she would want to encourage employers to hire me. 

As I write this, Bill Doino reminds me that, in addition to Lily, there were several others of my grandparents' generation (or near to it) who mentored me and buoyed me in my desire to serve the Church. My first great mentor as a Catholic was Father Francis Canavan, SJ, professor emeritus of political science at Fordham University, whom I sought out after reading columns he had written for Catholic Eye. After his death, I edited and published his columns with a title taken from a phrase in one of them: Fun Is Not Enough. As I have shared elsewhere, he is truly the Jesuit who changed my life.

Father Francis Canavan, SJ (1917–2009)

Bill additionally reminded me that two of his own greatest friends and mentors, who supported him in his Pius XII research, also took me under their wings: the late Father Paul Molinari, SJ, and Father Peter Gumpel, SJ, officials at the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints, who were periti (theological experts) at the Second Vatican Council. Father Gumpel in particular was highly supportive of my academic work. He read my doctoral dissertation and phoned me during my time in England to offer thoughts on the topics I had raised, drawing upon the extraordinary theological conversations that he had been a part of during the Council. 

I also think of Father Don Dietz, OMI, who died last September after a long illness. He too was a peritus at the Council and was also the longtime spiritual director for Cardinal Francis George. We befriended each other when I was at Mundelein, where he was a daily visitor to the library. He granted me a wonderful interview about his Vatican II memories and let me become his amanuensis, helping him create a blog. In his final blog entry, he thanked me as his "sister and friend."

* * *

At the end of the 2018–2019 school year, Holy Apostles eliminated all its full-time online teaching positions. Thankfully I was able to obtain regular freelance work as a theological editor and copy editor. I also worked on a book proposal for Father Ed, which to my great joy was accepted by Orbis in January 2020.

The pandemic shutdown forced me to suspend my archival research for Father Ed. I found myself spinning my wheels as my usual daily routine, including writing in libraries and caf├ęs, was no longer available to me. Seeking structure—and not being interested in the YouTube exercise classes that had become a pandemic fad (even though I no doubt needed them)—I opted to return to full-time studies, entering the canon-law program at the Catholic University of America. 

Canon law appealed to me because I wanted to help protect people from abuses of power. In any hierarchically organized society, there is a risk that some will take advantage of their authority to deprive others of their rights, and the Catholic Church is no exception. Now that I have my degree, although I don't intend to work full-time as a canonist, I am grateful that I am able when called upon to help people whose rights are being threatened or denied. 

Graduation day was beautiful! Here are a few favorite photos:

When I came to meet my mother and stepfather at their hotel before the ceremony, Mom wanted a photo of me in my doctoral biretta before I even put on my gown. Although my canon-law degree is a licentiate, I wore doctoral garb since my highest degree is a sacred-theology doctorate.

I felt terrifically blessed that my parents and stepparents were all present along with an aunt and my friend Kathy (not pictured). Here they are at the main, university-wide commencement exercise; degrees were conferred afterwards at separate ceremonies hosted by the individual schools. Dad is at left in the light blue shirt; after him are my stepmother, aunt, stepfather, and mom. (I am omitting the names of relatives pictured to protect their privacy.)

After the university-wide commencement exercise, I arrived at the School of Canon Law's degree-conferral and received joyful hugs and kisses from family. I love this photo of me with Dad.

I received my diploma from School of Canon Law Dean Monsignor Ronny Jenkins. In addition to their diploma, graduates also received a watercolor print of Caldwell Hall, home to the school.

My friend Kathy snapped this as I lined up for an official photo with the other canon-law graduates.

I was glad to get a photo with Dean Jenkins and my thesis director Father John Beal in front of Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom.
If it is rare for a laywoman to have a sacred-theology doctorate, it is even rarer for a laywoman to have both a sacred-theology doctorate and a canon-law licentiate. I don't imagine that there are more than ten laywomen in the world who have both degrees, if that. So at this point, I am a member of an extremely tiny club. I hope and pray that my achievements inspire other laywomen to gain the ecclesiastical qualifications they need in order to serve the Church in the manner that the Lord is calling them to serve.

One way in which I was grateful to serve the Church during the past year was as a contributor to an edited volume on an extremely important topic: helping the Church and its members find healing and renewal. Doing Theology and Theological Ethics in the Face of the Abuse Crisis, edited by Daniel J. Fleming; James F. Keenan, SJ; and Hans Zollner, SJ, is available as a free download from the Journal of Moral Theology and in hardback and paperback from Wipf & Stock. My chapter, which is adapted from a chapter of my doctoral dissertation, is also available as a separate free download: "John Navone, SJ’s Theology of Failure and Its Importance for Pope Francis’s Spirituality in Light of the Church’s Pastoral Mission to Victim/Survivors of Abuse."  

Now that I have received my canon-law degree, what next? My greatest hope is that the Lord will make a way for me to write another Jesuit biography: a life of Father Louis J. Twomey, SJ (1905–1969).

Father Twomey was a courageous New Orleans Jesuit who, from the 1940s onward, pressed for racial justice as well as the rights of workers and other marginalized populations. His achievements in New Orleans were so important that the city intends to rename a street for him. It is said that no Jesuit deserves greater credit than he for moving the Society of Jesus forward on racial justice so that it would lead rather than lag the wider culture in undoing historic wrongs. But there is no comprehensive biography of him; only a 94-page remembrance written nearly half a century ago that doesn't do justice to the breadth of his life and achievements.

Father Louis J. Twomey, SJ (right) with Society of Jesus Superior General Pedro Arrupe, SJ, in 1967

I say I hope the Lord will make a way for me to write Father Twomey's biography because I would need support in order to do so, such as a grant or a teaching fellowship with a research component. Right now, I am exploring those avenues. If you have any suggestions of possible funding outlets, or would like to offer assistance yourself, please contact me at the email address at the bottom of my "BIO/CONTACT page.  I ask your prayers that the biography will come to fruition, if it is God's will. 

Currently I have a freelance writing project that will occupy me until the end of June: a memoir that I am ghostwriting for a North American bishop. When the memoir comes out, it will include my name on the title page with words akin to "as told to." The bishop has a story that is important for the well-being and growth of the global Church, and I am grateful to help him tell it. Once that project is completed, I will be ready for the next step in my career.

If you would like to support me during this time of transition, one fun way to do so is by visiting my Bandcamp page and purchasing some of my demos, many of which date back to the 1990s. Here are a couple of the more popular ones: "I Kissed a Pretty Face" (1999) and "Birmingham Canticle" (2023).

And speaking of songwriting, the Anderson Council have a new album out tomorrow that includes two songs I co-wrote with singer Peter Horvath, "Alone with You" and "Times on the Thames," both of which have been chosen as singles. 

In addition to this video for "Alone with You," there is a marvelous video for "Times on the Thames" that I'll add to this post once it goes online tomorrow.

So ... who said canon law was boring? It's a rich life—in faith, family, and fun, at least—and I am richly blessed. Thank you for reading and for your prayers. Please know that I pray for all my readers every day. God bless you.

UPDATE, 5/19/23: Here is the groovy video for my and Peter Horvath's song "Times on the Thames," performed by the Anderson Council!

UPDATE, 5/24/23: And now "Times on the Thames" is a hit on Stevie Van Zandt's Sirius XM station Little Steven's Underground Garage! Deo gratias!