Thursday, November 5, 1964
I hadn't had so much fun since, oh, marching into Germany in the driving rain.
Last night, I had connected with Hank in the faculty lounge. He looked tired, but I was relieved to find that he wasn't totally snockered. He might have been, had he not reached the provincial by phone. The provincial, perhaps more used to solving personnel problems, reacted calmly to the nuns departure and suggested that he could find some short-term solutions to the missing cooks and nurse by the next afternoon. This left today's breakfast and lunch for us to manage.
As for lunch, the provincial suggested that we send the seminarians over to the south dining hall, which had a section serving the public and could accommodate 100 or so extra visitors if we sent them over in shifts. As for breakfast, well that fell on me.
I was to take over the kitchen while the seminarians were at morning mass, earlier if I wanted to.
I wanted to and showed up at 5 A.M. As it turned out, I needn't have showed up this early, though it did give more time to fret. At Hank's suggestion, I decided to keep it simple, forgoing any cooking. Thus, the job consisted mostly of finding the supply of individual-sized boxes of cereal, fresh fruit, and bread. It would be a little light, but no one needed to starve.
For bread, I found bags of hard rolls, which the seminarians liked. Boxes of individual butter pads were in the large refrigerator. The next task was to arrange the food for the runners to take to their respective tables. Under a counter, I found stacks of red plastic baskets, good for holding dry items, and began putting cereal boxes in one basket, bananas and apples in another, and rolls in another. I wasn't too sure how many items to put in each basket, deciding to put nine in each basket, one extra item for each table. I had to go out to the dining room to count the tables.
By 5:55, the seminarians were just getting up and I was good to go. I might have gone upstairs to mass, but I decided to stay here and fret.
The fretting took a solid hour, during which time I made some real coffee for the priest's table—they would have to survive on the same food everyone else was getting—and drank three cups myself, which prompted two trips to the latrine. I also smoked five cigarettes, regretting each one.
The seminarians didn't know the sisters had left, though there was some talk because the sisters didn't make any attempt to hide their departure, which was accompanied by what sounded like cursing in German and much slamming of the trunk of their car and all of its four doors.
The first to arrive were the priest-waiters, seniors who waited on the head table. When they saw me and what I had to offer, they wanted to know what was going on. I told them they'd find out soon enough. The next to arrive was the "milk man," a junior who muscled the farmer cans onto a cupboard of sorts, which held the cans and a plastic spout at the bottom, allowing table runners to fill up pitchers with milk. He was on autopilot, did his job, and didn't ask any questions. The next to arrive were the table runners who wanted to know why Mr. Foote was setting up the baskets intended for the seminarians' tables. I gave them the same noncommital answer, which did nothing to limit their speculations.
"The sisters quit." Good guess.
"They don't like Father Grease." Probably true at this point.
"The health department rejected their mystery squares." Not exactly.
"They were mad about the visit from the health department." Right on.
"The health department accused them of poisoning Upchuck." Nope.
Comments about the visit from the health department won the immediate popularity contest, which was interesting first because it was basically correct and second because they weren't supposed to know about it. The sisters own noisy reaction contributed to the rumor.
By the time they came back to pick up the baskets of buns, they were complaining about the meager breakfast.
"Is this all we get?"
"We're gonna starve."
"How are we supposed to survive on cereal? Half my table won't even eat cereal."
And so on.
I was busy and didn't hear the announcement about the sisters. The meal went on with gossip, speculation, and griping. The meal ended in a foul mood all around.
One benefit of the meager pickings was that the cleanup was easy. My cleanup team—two seminarians—had nothing to do except grill me on what they were going to have for lunch."
"I have no idea," I said.
"Well, we gotta have something."
"I suppose that's true," I said.
"I bet they're arranging something,"
"I suppose that's true," I said.
"We're not going to starve!"
"I don't suppose so."
"You're a lot of help, Mr. Foote."
Morning classes had a similar flavor. Everyone wanted to know what was up with the cooks. Speculation was rife that the good sisters were suspected of food poisoning, though I did my best to undermine that theory, telling that only one person (as far as they knew) had shown any symptoms of food poisoning, which made it unlikely that food poisoning was an issue, no matter what they thought of mystery squares and stewed tomatoes.
I did have the sophomore U.S. history class and was able to report on Nazis and homosexuals, mainly for the benefit of Dan Johnson. He asked a couple of questions, intended to establish that the treatment of homosexuals was not as big a deal as the genocide against Jews.
I explained as best I could that the Nazis clearly set out to exterminate the Jewish races, but it was not clear that the persecution of homosexuals rose to that level. "On the other hand," I told the class, "you didn't want to be a homosexual in Nazi Germany." Dan Johnson seemed to take this in stride.
During the last morning class, an English class for juniors, a senior came in with the announcement about how lunch was to be handled. We were to report to the public cafeteria in the South Dining Hall, freshmen at 12:30, sophomores at 12:45, juniors at 1, and seniors at 1:15. All anyone had to do was show his student ID. The messenger added that faculty would be eating with the seminarians, partly because we had to eat as well and partly to monitor the seminarians' behavior. "Pigging out," he said he was ordered to add, "would not be tolerated."
The assembled demonstrated their approval in various ways. A few applauded. Others said "great" or some other exclamation. Several joked, "What no pigging out! Aw!" No one complained. Though inconvenient, this was not particularly bad news to the seminarians. Grumbling about the sisters' cooking was something of an art form, and eating at the public cafeteria on campus would be a welcome relief—at least in the short term. Aside from that, they tended to look for opportunities to visit the Notre Dame campus.
Then, the messenger said he had another announcement. He read from a sheet explaining that there would be a wake tonight for Father Fox at Moreau Seminary chapel, beginning at 7 P.M. The wake would include a rosary, followed by a eulogy from one of his fellow priests, and then most of the group would repair to the dining room for a cafeteria style dinner. Holy Cross seniors and juniors would keep vigil over the body in thirty minute shifts until midnight, at which point St. Joe Hall seminarians would take over until 7 A.M. the next morning. The messenger said the schedule would be posted on the bulletin board outside the seminary's bookstore.
The news that some of them would have to keep vigil over a dead body for thirty minutes cast a pall on the room, though it was not unexpected. It was the normal custom when a member of the Holy Cross order had died, but the fact that this was a vigil over one who was truly their own made a difference. Holding the wake at Moreau Seminary was an aberration, designed to accommodate the Holy Cross seminarians who would not normally have attended the wake and following meal. Moreau was a large facility that could easily handle the extra mourners.
After class, everyone assembled at their appointed times in the university cafeteria. It went reasonably well, considering that the lines were already longer because of the visitors on campus for ND's game with Wisconsin on Saturday. Afternoon classes had been cancelled, leaving seminarians free to wander the campus. Thanks to a winter chill in the area, most of them walked briskly back to the seminary and entertained themselves there.
I was able to check in with Hank, who by then had made arrangements for the following day. Breakfast would be the same, though he assigned his secretary at my urging to lay in extra supplies—fruits, cereal, and buns. She would prove a good soldier, even though it required an emergency trip to the supermarket and three overfilled carts through the checkout line. For lunch and dinner—and subsequent breakfasts—Hank had worked out an arrangement with the student dining hall to provide us with the same meals the students were eating. The catch was that someone was going to have pick up the trays of warm food, get them to our own refectory, and set them up cafeteria-style. This required renting a van, another job that fell to his secretary. Two seminarians would be enlisted to pick up the food. The dining hall volunteered to send a veteran helper for the first two days, assigned mainly to show the seminarians how to set up and serve the food. The arrangement wasn't intended to be permanent, but it would have to do until we found a new cook or two.
The community wake shook things up a bit. After the rosary, led by a senior, Father Mike Miller, the order's provincial, got up and announced that the wake would not feature typical eulogies, though he invited the assembled to share their memories of Father Fox whenever and wherever they wished. Instead, he explained that it was important to read a letter that might change how everyone thought about Father Fox, for the better he hoped, but possibly not. The letter was dated June 27, 1946, and was addressed to the provincial at the time, the now deceased Father Emanuel Viognier.
I wish to recommend a young man to begin attending St. Joseph Hall this fall, with the prospect that he will wish—and the appropriate authorities will approve—to continue on a path toward ordination as a priest in the Congregation of Holy Cross. Before you approve of his petition to begin the requisite studies, you must know his story, a story that you may not wish to share indiscriminately.
I befriended this young man while I was assigned to the Vatican State Department toward the end of the World War. At the time, I was assigned to deal with issues related to those who had taken asylum in the Vatican. This was how I got to know a man who went at the time by the name of Bernhard Johan Fuchs.
He had come to us as a deserter from the German army, which was still present in Italy and charged with the task of rounding up Jews and others for shipping to various work and concentration camps. It took me some time to get to know him because, like many who came to us, he had been wounded both in body and in soul.
As for the former, he had a noticeable scar on his forehead and not much else. As for the latter, the wound went deep. He hardly spoke and when he did it was only to answer "yes" or "no", in American English, which made me wonder if he had roots in the United States.
In time, I learned from him that he was the son of an American history professor and a German woman—and was born in the United States in 1920. His father, Francis Fox, was a professor of history at our St. Edward's University in Austin, a good man, who died at the relatively young age of 45 in 1928. After a year—just before the crash—his widow decided to return with her son to the village where she grew up in Germany. In the process, she Germanized her married name—and that of her son—to Fuchs and began calling her son Bernhard instead of Bernie. When Hitler came to power, young Bernhard joined Hitler youth, an association that led naturally to a role in the Brown Shirts. When the purges came, Bernhard survived—though he never told me how—and he progressed into the SS. Germany was in difficulty, and much of the population looked to Hitler for a way out. Bernhard was a kid and was swept up into places he would come to regret. Over time, the ugliness of his role wore on him. By the time he was assigned to Rome, it only got uglier. When he saw the opportunity, he made his way into the Vatican.
I had dozens of asylum seekers to attend to, but Bernhard was special. He was rough around the edges, but no more so than the other Nazi deserters. To be honest, the St. Ed's connection made a difference—to me and to Bernhard. For him, it was a way of connecting to his father, to his life in the U.S., and to me. Knowing he was born in the U.S., I was certain I could get him back into the U.S. but I wasn't sure what he would do there. After some months, he brought up the idea of becoming a monk. He saw himself as damaged goods, incapable of raising a family, and he thought this would be a way of repenting for his past. We explored this option at some length. Somewhere in the process, he expressed some interest in becoming a teacher. He didn't say so himself, but I saw this as another way for him to reconnect to his father, his American parent, and away from his unfortunate experience in Germany. It was an interesting idea.
After some thought, I suggested that rather than joining a monastery, he might join a religious community of teachers—the Congregation of Holy Cross, for instance. He liked the idea immediately, and we both saw how this might grease his reentry to the United States,
And indeed it did. Once the war ended, I was able to get the U.S. State Department to expedite the processing of his passport, which was done under his birth name—Bernard John Fox—along with the warning that his past had put him on the watch list of more than one U.S. agency.
I am now putting the ball in your court, with the hope that you will facilitate approval of his request to enter St. Joseph Hall as a postulate in our congregation and to begin his studies as a freshman at the University of Notre Dame. I cannot claim to know where this will go, but I believe it is the right course at this time.
And this was signed by then Bishop—now Archbishop—Terrence O'Brien, CSC.The provincial paused to let the letter sink in. "I was vocation director at the time and, in that capacity, was shown this letter, which remains to this day in Bernie's personnel file in the provincial's office. All of Father Viognier's successors have known about this letter—and Bernie's background—but we were all instructed by our predecessor not to share the letter during Bernie's lifetime. This is the first time that anyone, aside from the provincial, has been privy to it."
He paused again. "I just want to say that, from the beginning, I trusted the judgment of Bishop O'Brien and Father Manny. I have learned of nothing since then that would make me doubt their judgment. However, I will note—as most of you know—that Bernie wasn't the easiest man to get along with. He was interesting, always fascinating, sometimes charming. He was often short with people and, on occasion, quite fierce. I noticed that his fierceness was always in defense of someone who needed a champion. Someone who might have been unpopular, for whatever reason. This characteristic sometimes got him into trouble, and people would begin to talk about him—precisely because he was defending the wrong people. Those few of us who knew his background—and his desire to make amends for the damage he had done in his earlier years—understood this behavior and appreciated him, even when it made our jobs difficult. We understood that Bernie, as a member of this congregation, embodies more than any of the rest of us the task of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. Moreover, he understood that that no saint was never a sinner. Whatever your experience of Father Bernie, understand that he was a hard man, a just man, and a good man."
He went back to his seat and sat in silence, during which you could have heard a feather hit the floor. After what seemed like forever, he got up, invited everyone—except the Holy Cross seminarians designated to sit wake—to the dining room.