As a title for our on-line newsletter, English Department faculty has chosen The English Web. The name reflects our primary reason for launching this newsletter: our desire for connection, for maintaining the sense of community that imbues our two Benedictine institutions and shapes the lives of women and men who study here. Through The English Web, we hope to ensure strong ties with our majors and minors, past and present, who have been a part of our classes, our department, and our lives. We think that a web, with its many-directioned linkages and ties, best images that desire.
Years ago, before our two departments became one, the English Department at the College of St. Benedict published Writ, a print newsletter mailed to alumnae and to current students. But now, as our graduates have increasing access to the Internet, yet are often scattered around the globe, a better medium for maintaining our community ties seems to be the electronic web with its marvelous capacity for reaching out in many directions both at home and abroad.
Since the English Department is also building a list of graduates with e-mail capabilities, we invite those who would like to be part of this communication link to forward their e-mail addresses to [email protected].
Some of you may be wondering about changes in the English Department over the past few years. We certainly have had them: seven of our faculty have "retired." I put that word in quotations for our folks give a new meaning to retirement.
I'll begin with Pat Peters, who retired from our English department in 1996 and moved to be closer to her family in Scottsdale, Arizona. In addition to being a full-time grandmother, Pat has been teaching a course entitled "Researching, Thinking, and Writing about Ethical Issues" at Scottsdale Community College. She has also been working with Alzheimer patients (see a more complete description of her work in the spring 1999 issue of Benedictine Sisters and Friends). In my most recent contact with her, Pat told me that she is feeling quite well; you might recall that she discovered she had cancer right before moving to Arizona. That cancer is in remission. True to her nurturing spirit, Pat is moving to Pennsylvania for the next six months to care for her daughter who will soon be a mother.
More recently, several longtime members of our department retired; we fondly refer to them as the "Retiring Ladies and Guy." First, Sister Sheila Rausch. In her "retirement," S. Sheila is working as editor of Benedictine Sisters and Friends, a publication of the Development and Public Relations Office run by the Sisters of St. Benedict; in addition she edits and writes for Community News, the sisters' in-house publication, composes obituaries of sisters for CSB/SJU Connections, and writes thank-you letters for our department head. She is also a member of the World Justice/New Jubilee group, an administrative committee for the monastery; and she contributes to monastery liturgies, writing petitions and doing readings for the Eucharist and Liturgy of the Hours.
Another "retiring" lady is Virginia Melton, better known to you, I suspect, as Sally. She volunteers at the Albany Hospital as well as for blood drives; she is part of the Public Relations Committee for the hospital expansion drive and, in connection with that drive, has written for the Enterprise, an area weekly newspaper. She also chauffeurs residents of the nursing home or the Mercy Manor Apartments to the doctor's office, the hospital, or to stores for groceries or shopping. In addition, Sally has been precinct judge during the last two elections.
Still another "retiring" lady, Angeline (Angie) Dufner, says that retirement has relaxed "the pace of my life, which may not have helped my brain but surely has helped my body--and I like the freeing that has occurred (so does my blood pressure)." She is doing some fishing and lots of gardening. For two years she has coordinated the membership drive for Common Ground Garden, a community-supported agriculture venture between St. Ben's monastery and the local community; she also writes for and edits Common Ground's newsletter. A major undertaking for her in the last year has been her efforts to establish a farmers' market in St. Joseph. After working with Sister Phyllis Plantenberg and three interns (all of whom Angie supervised), she presented plans for the market to several City of St. Joseph groups, and she currently works as a member of the market's steering committee. Angie's work has been quite successful; we can expect to see the market open late spring and conclude in early fall. Angie has also remained connected to the Department by creating an on-line celebratory page of new English major grads, and she now functions as editor of our departmental on-line newsletter. She has also managed to do some traveling to Hawaii, Arizona, and Missouri.
The final "retiring" lady is Sister Kristin Malloy. Officially, Sister Kristin is doing three things: writing (the early fund-raising history St. Ben's, for example), editing other people's writing, and doing calligraphy. What she misses most is students, classes, and interacting with students in and out of the classroom, something she did for 54 years. She treasures the visits of both past and recent students, including having them as guests for lunch or dinner. As current advisor for the staff of Diotima, one of three student literary magazines produced on the two campuses, she maintains contact with students on the staff. Meanwhile, she is still discarding fifty years of files full of pages she developed and treasured but now must let go. Sister Kristin also continues to garden, feasting on seed catalogs in mid-winter, starting the best of next year's new vegetables under grow-lights, enriching the soil in raised beds, and learning the newest ways of interplanting. In addition, she continues to enjoy a lot of Irish writing. Best of all, she says, is that she has leisure to pray and be still.
Most recently retired is our department's "retiring" guy, Father Patrick McDarby. Father Pat concluded his teaching career at the end of last year (see his presentation to our graduating majors elsewhere in this newsletter) but quickly glided into monastery work. He is editor of the in-house newsletter, Confrere, and is abbey personnel liaison, helping monks who are fairly new to the community or are in work-related transition to find congenial work. He also helps monks hoping to teach in the university thread their way through the requirements of both the university and abbey. Fr. Pat says, "These jobs are such that, aside from the eight-times-a-year deadline for the newsletter, there is negligible pressure. And the lack is, probably, what I treasure most about retirement."
In addition to these faculty changes, our department instituted two new activities last year: an English Department Night, held in early fall, and a Recognition Banquet for our majors, held in late spring. The first brings our majors, minors, and those interested in English together with our department faculty to answer questions about our programs and to provide information about ways to apply skills and talents as English majors or minors on and off campus. The second event, our Recognition Banquet, is an opportunity for the Department to acknowledge the accomplishments of our majors, including those who are scholarship recipients, honor society inductees, editors of campus literary publications, student teachers, honors thesis writers, English Club officers, and, of course, our graduating seniors. At our first banquet last April, Fr. Pat McDarby was our keynote speaker. The success of these events has prompted us to continue having them on an annual basis.
J. F. Powers was perhaps the best known "Catholic" writer at midcentury, having made his reputation with two story collections, The Prince of Darkness in the late 1940's and The Presence of Grace in the mid-1950's. A third story collection, Look How the Fish Live, was published in 1970. His first novel, Morte d'Urban, won the National Book Award in 1963, and his second novel, Wheat That Springeth Green, was nominated for the same award in 1988. His favorite subject from the beginning to the end of his career was the Catholic priesthood.
His brother-in-law, the Reverend Thomas Wahl, a monk of the abbey, said the memorial Mass on June 12, as he had done for his sister Betty eleven years earlier. On that earlier occasion he had read from, and commented on, the letters she had sent him over the years. This time he lost, somewhere between the sacristy and the altar, the homily he'd prepared. He apologized, gathered his thoughts, and delivered an eloquent eulogy, describing, for one thing, Jim's frustrations as a novelist.
Which prompted me to recall several of Jim's remarks about the chore of writing. On revising: "I know a page is satisfactory when it doesn't make me throw up any more." Asked what time of day he did his best work, he replied, "Never." He considered himself a short story writer at heart, and claimed that his publishers, after two story collections, more or less forced him into the novel. Someone who had heard him read the first chapter of Wheat That Springeth Green asked him whether a certain element at the beginning would appear again later in the book. "No, I'm really not a novelist," he said. "I don't chew over things I've already chewed."
After Wheat was published in 1988, I saw him in the library day after day searching for reviews. There were many, and all were favorable, for critics were treating him like a long-forgotten artifact. Some admitted they thought he was dead. Twenty years earlier he had been deeply wounded by Roger Sale's review of Look How the Fish Live, his third story collection. The review began, "The heart of J. F. Powers, never large, seems to have shrunk," prompting Powers to remark, "Once you get knocked out of the ring it takes courage to climb back in." All of which proves that if public opinion meant little to him as a man, it meant a great deal to him as a writer.
Father Thomas went on to describe Jim's reactionary opinions about the present-day church. He pointed to the place at the center of the vast (and acoustically troubled) balcony where we were used to seeing Jim sitting during Sunday Mass. "When I asked him why he preferred that spot," said Father Thomas, "he told me, 'It's the one place in the whole church where I can't hear anything.'"
We weren't a great crowd of mourners at the memorial, something less than 150 in number: relatives, teaching colleagues, former students, a few monks, several sisters from nearby St. Benedict's Monastery and a couple of celebrities-Garrison Keillor and Eugene McCarthy. Filing outside after Mass, we stood around in the June sunshine shaking hands, which, out of respect for Jim's disdain for the practice, we'd been asked to refrain from doing before Communion. It occurred to me that with the death of J. F. Powers, St. John's, the center of liturgical renewal, may have lost its last holdout against change. Certainly it lost its most interesting character and best writer.
Leaving campus, I drove past the cemetery where, without waiting for our blessing, Jim had at last joined wife Betty, whose grave he had visited almost daily for the past eleven years.
[A longer version of this eulogy appeared in America 17 July 1999; used with permission of Jon Hassler.]
In May of 1999, Father Patrick McDarby retired after nearly forty years of teaching English students here. The featured speaker at the departmental recognition dinner on April 28, Father Pat earned a standing ovation from those of us who heard him offer the following reflections:
Patrick McDarby, O.S.B.
Revered Chair, Esteemed Colleagues, Indispensable Secretary, Cherished Friends, and--our excuse for being--Tuition-paying Students, especially you who are about to graduate:
It's something of a puzzle to me that I should be standing here, orating at you this evening. Really. It has to do, of course, with my retiring from teaching as a member of the university's best departmental faculty. As if mere endurance were a virtue. I have been in school, one way or another, since I was 5 years old, 66 years in all, 40 of them on the power side of the podium, 3 of those in our prep school, 37 in this department. It just doesn't seem that long; it doesn't seem long at all. Am I really that old? Good God, WWII seems like yesterday. And then I look in the mirror or creak to my feet after sitting for an hour or two, and, yeah, I'm that old and WWII was another era, another world.
When what this dinner date entails hit me, I went to the compassionate mother of us all, who can soothe any vexation or supply any professional need, Bev Radaich. I sought sympathy for my having to whomp up some kind of spiel for this gala and wondered what in God's name to say. She suggested that I trace my path from high-school teacher to emeritus professor, with all its classroom triumphs and horrors, its student conferencing partnering and head-butting, its departmental-meeting tedium and near-hysterics. And so I propose to take us, year by year, from the beginnings of my career in pedagogy unto this very evening. We begin with my term of practice teaching in the spring of 1948. This history should keep us here till at least 3 a.m.
I see faces that register dismay, derision, yes, even unbelief (O ye of little faith!). Now, would I dump such a load of ancient garbage on you? Sure I would, if I thought I could get away with it. But I no longer have the power of the grade, so I can keep you only if I have your interest or your love. I would quickly dissipate what wisps might linger of the former and surely extinguish whatever might smolder of the latter.
So instead, I'm going to do what pedagogues do almost as much and as compulsively as they teach: I'm going to give you some advice, sage as clichéd advice should be. Just a few guidelines for now and for the rest of your life, drawn from proper and vicarious--but, tutored by Henry James--carefully observed, experience, directives which, because they have to do with your spiritual health here and hereafter, I put in the traditional form of commandments, directed particularly at those about to graduate:
First, thou shalt not let thyself get caught in a career that thou dost not find mostly fun and fulfilling. There are all kinds of corollaries to that principle, of course, having to do with personal relationships, taking risks, finding what's really valuable to you.
Second, thou shalt sometimes go crazy and maybe stay that way, remembering that "Much madness is divinest sense."
Third, thou shalt be utterly honest with children, especially thine own.
Otherwise, you become an accomplice in messing kids up as we have been messed up by the sentimentality and hypocrisy, however well-meant or unintentional, of grownups. Such honesty demands, of course, that wrenchingly difficult virtue, honesty with oneself. But that, after all, is what studying literature and writing well is really all about, isn't it?
I could give you more, but that's enough time on Sinai for one evening. I can't say that striving to observe these three precepts will make you happy; but they will help make you not unhappy, which is better. Even better yet, you will, in the long run, make others not unhappy, which is perhaps the greatest of desideratum of them all.
And you, my senior colleagues. How can I adequately acknowledge your essential place in not merely my career, but my life. On this many-yeared journey, professional and personal, you have been not just companions, but inspirers, challengers, drivers, nurses, and just plain friends. I must note especially the enrichment to vision and feeling I have experienced since the union of St. Ben's and St. John's English Departments.
Finally, a word about the future of this department without me. Unimaginable? No. I consider our younger faculty, those taking more and more responsibility for the ever-evolving aims and curriculum of our department, and I think, by damn, the English Department is going to be even better. They're almost dauntingly lively, imaginative, innovative, and just plain smart. They're passionately devoted to their students. You not-yet-senior English majors, you're academically in about the best hands available.
Thanks for this opportunity to talk to you all. It's an honor of which I am deeply sensible. And I think I'd better sit down now, before I start blubbering and make a fool of myself.
Nancy Hynes, O.S.B.
Colleagues and friends gathered to honor Professor Emerita Eila Siren Perlmutter in October, 1999. The scene was Quad 343, affectionately referred to as the "little theatre," lovingly designed and single-handedly carried through by the drama lover herself, Eila Perlmutter.
From her wheelchair she told spell-binding stories of the endless roadblocks to her idea to stage live theatre in the classroom. "We fought the good fight and won," she exclaimed with the same passion she used to explain a rhetorical trope or the intricacies of a Shakespeare scene. She took students to London plays during January Term for twelve years.
The handsome wooden sign reads: "The Eila Siren Perlmutter Theatre"-Siren, her Finnish name in honor of her novella, Sirkka (1995), and the British spelling of theatre in honor of her love for the London stage.
SJU president Dietrich Reinhart, O.S.B., and author Jon Hassler and wife Gretchen were among the people who paid tribute to Professor Perlmutter.
Former students who wish to write her can address their letters or cards to Eila Perlmutter, 22 486 Eagle Ave., Winsted, MN 55395, where she lives with daughter Josie and son-in-law Tom Hickman.
Rebecca Tusa, CSB '98
In the spring of 1998, as I wound up my senior year at St. Ben's, I frantically searched for a job that would satisfy my desire to use my English major. None of the job opportunities at consulting firms or insurance companies seemed right to me. In fact, I had a nagging urge to get a teaching license. When I learned about the Master of Arts in Teaching programs offered at many Minnesota universities, I knew that I had found my place. Now I am beginning my fourth semester at the University of St. Thomas, pursuing a Master of Arts in Teaching Secondary English.
A Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) is a graduate degree available at several area universities, including St. Thomas, the University of Minnesota, Hamline University, St. Cloud State, and St. Mary's. This degree differs from a regular master's degree because it focuses on the teaching of a particular subject rather than focusing on the subject itself. The program for an MAT is usually two years long, depending on the student's course load.
Many students pursuing the MAT choose to take a full class load in order to finish the degree and start teaching sooner. B. Daniel Rosch, a 1998 graduate of St. John's, chose to attend an accelerated program at the University of Chicago so that he could get into the classroom quickly. "I wanted to attend a school with a good reputation in education, but I also wanted to start teaching as soon as possible so I went to Chicago and got my MAT," Rosch explains.
The reasons for choosing to pursue a master's in teaching are varied. One reason is to allow for more latitude in undergraduate course selection. Some students are intimidated by the rigorous list of required coursework that accompanies licensure at the B.A. level; others prefer an undergraduate degree with a broader base. An MAT allows students to spread out those required courses over their undergraduate and graduate careers.
Still other students, like me, may not decide until late in their undergraduate careers to become teachers. The MAT offers an opportunity for students to pursue deferred goals of becoming teachers. During my first year at St.Ben's, I thought that I would get my teaching license, but I soon changed my mind. It was only when I was preparing to graduate that I realized that I still wanted to be a teacher.
The increased pay scale that comes with getting an MAT is another benefit of seeking a master's degree. Some educators, however, argue that school districts won't want to hire a teacher with a master's degree because the district will have to pay the teacher more. Based on my discussions with educators in school districts around Minnesota, this argument seems truer in rural schools or schools which are struggling financially. Urban and suburban schools seem more willing to pay higher salaries if they know the new teacher has a solid education. In addition, as the need for teachers in Minnesota and throughout the United States grows, the job market for teachers looks brighter every year.
Many of the universities with an MAT program cater to working students, enabling future teachers to have full- or part-time jobs during the day and go to school at night or on weekends. This option has been especially beneficial to me because I've been able to work full time and experience a bit of "the real world" while still taking two classes each semester.
Regardless of the reason for pursuing a Master of Arts in Teaching, this degree offers another option for students to pursue a career in teaching. Graduates of St. John's and St. Ben's can share their knowledge with--and learn from--young people by getting their MAT.
Maria Stanek (2001) and Stephanie Frerich (2003)
Our two campuses have an ongoing English club, which offers students an opportunity to explore the wonder of the written and spoken word. Our club also sponsors a chance to enjoy some interesting and unique activities.
In the past, for example, we have arranged poetry readings by our very own faculty members as well as sponsored trips to other poetry readings. This year, we helped to provide a bus that traveled to the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities to hear the poetry of Robert Pinsky, current poet laureate for the United States. We have also helped schedule trips to theater performances, both local and regional, such as Jon Hassler's The Staggerford Murders at the Lyric Theater in Minneapolis.
Frequent and informal socials are also a large part of our activities. In the fall, we usually sponsor a social for students and English faculty, a means for both groups to get to know one another. The main focus of the club, however, is to serve students on our two campuses. We recognize students for their successes by helping to organize events on campus, such as the annual English Department spring banquet, where graduating English majors and minors are honored. Our club has also offered informational sessions on types of off-campus opportunities available for English students. Last spring, for instance, we held a very successful internship night at St. John's, where students had the opportunity to learn about the many careers available to English majors and minors.
We are currently planning some exciting events. We may, for instance, attend Shakespeare in Love during J-Term and A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Paramount. We are also beginning to plan the annual spring banquet. More information concerning our activities can be located through the CSB/SJU English Department website, including dates and times of events. Most of these events are organized by the club's officers, although we wecome input from other sources.
By the end of 1999, we had elected a new group of officers: Maria Stanek, president of the club; Stephanie Frerich, vice-president; Shari McHarg, secretary; and Ryan Schultz, treasurer. We draw on the help of our faculty advisor, Sister Mary Jane Berger. Both Sister Mary Jane and the new officers are enthusiastic about fostering additional growth of the club.
Becoming a member is easy: simply sign up or sometimes even just show up at an English Club event. Membership is open to any person interested in attending our events or simply supporting the efforts of faculty and students in the English Department. Although all English majors and minors are automatically considered a part of the organization, participation is key to being a true member. We invite your active participation and your suggestions.
David Rothstein, O.S.B.
English Department Scholarships
Did you know there are five, yes five, English Department scholarships that CSB English majors can apply for? Contact Sr. Nancy Hynes (363-5995) or Bev Radaich (363-5175, -3552) for applications and further information about these scholarships, whose values vary somewhat each year. Congratulations to the four winners of English scholarships for 1999-2000:
-Sister Nancy Hynes Scholarship - $1000
Current holder: Amy LaCross, CSB 2000
-Sister Kristen Malloy Scholarship - $1000
Current holder: Keri Phillips, CSB 2000
-Sister Mariella Gable Scholarship - $800
Current holder: Katie Neunsinger, CSB 2000
-Margaret Friel Murphy Scholarship - $800
Current holder: Elizabeth Marsh, CSB 2000
-Dr. Angeline Dufner Scholarship - new for 2000-2001
If you have been elected to membership in Delta Epsilon Sigma, an undergraduate scholarship is available, as is a graduate fellowship; each award is $1000. Applications are due March 1. Contact Sr. Carol Berg, History, 363-5588.
For CSB or SJU English majors planning to attend graduate school in English or another field in the humanities, you should consider applying for one of these national scholarships:
The Davies-Jackson Scholarship: A two-year scholarship for a B.A. degree at St. John's College, Cambridge, England. Includes full tuition, room and board, and a travel grant. Intended for college seniors. Apply from Labor Day through December 1. Contact Cindy Malone, English, 363-5384.
The Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship: Pays for graduate study leading to a Ph.D. in some field of the humanities. Apply in senior year. Applications due late December. Contact Brother David Rothstein, English, 363-2789. Or visit the Mellon website: http://mellon.org/.
Jacob K. Javits Fellowship: Pays for graduate study leading to a Ph.D. or Master of Fine Arts in the arts, humanities, or social sciences. Apply in senior year or soon after graduation. Applications due in February. Contact Brother David Rothstein, English, 363-2789. Or visit the Javits website for more information.
For further information about scholarship opportunities, contact our financial aid offices:
Director of Financial Aid
Director of Financial Aid
College of Saint Benedict
Saint John's University
Here's a bit of verbal fun from Morris West, a former professor of Romance languages at Cornell:
I lately lost a preposition;
It hid, I thought, beneath my chair.
And angrily I cried, "Perdition!
Up from out of in under there!"
The Best of Bishop. Ed. Charlotte Putnam Reppert