It all started with a teacup. My brother and sister had just arrived at our home in Walton, NY, a small town on the West Branch of the Delaware. As they settled into comfortable chairs in our family room around our wood- burning stove, we served tea. The conversation then flowed fast and furious as it always does at any of our sibling reunions. It started with the story of our teacups. After twelve years in the Jesuit Order, I had asked for a leave of absence in 1973, and I got my first apartment on the lower east side of N.Y.C. It was a five-flight walk up tenement apartment with the bathtub in the kitchen. I asked my mother if she had some extra eating utensils for setting up my new home. She gave me some bone china teacups which, to say the least, was incongruous in my new surroundings, but their beauty was oddly comforting.
We sipped tea by the fire and the memories of our separate journeys poured out in the conversation. My brother, after a successful business career, is retired with seven grandchildren. My sister is a religious in the Sisters of St. Joseph for over fifty years. I entered the Society of Jesus at the Wernersville novitiate, 19 years old, in August of 1961. I discovered that the training at that time was very monastic: family visits only a few times a year, no radio, TV or newspapers, and we only spoke Latin in the house. But to this day I remember the thrill of getting a letter from home.
I would recognize my father’s letters immediately. He typed them on onionskin paper, which fit in business envelopes. He also would retype my handwritten letters home using carbon paper and send them to our relatives. (No Xerox then) He considered himself the general correspondent for the family. Of course, he wrote to my sister also and to my brother when he went into basic training in the National Guard. He would type these letters at a huge wooden desk in the basement of our house where he could be quiet and collect his thoughts. He would write as if he were having a conversation with you face to face. It reminded me of Ignatius talking about prayer – centering yourself and having a conversation with a friend. In my father’s letters he would talk about God’s providence, prayer, the Eucharist, example, community, help for others, and the simple things of life. He didn’t write about these as abstract concepts, but as they emerged in the course of ordinary living. We continued this correspondence for over twenty-five years. When my father died, I discovered that he had saved my letters as I had saved his. Today this correspondence is a real treasure for me.
A few years ago I read John O’Malley’s book, The First Jesuits. He writes about the importance of correspondence in Jesuit culture. He emphasizes the extraordinary emphasis the Jesuit Constitutions placed on letter writing as a means of achieving “union of hearts.” Ignatius himself wrote hundreds of letters in his lifetime.
I continue to write letters, to my brother, sister, nephews and nieces on their birthdays and to friends on special occasions. I (also) like to think of this IVC blog as an opportunity to share with the IVC family enthusiasm for mission and mutual support.
My brother, sister and I shared many memories like this, and then my brother looked at me and said: “And it all started with a teacup”.
Jim Haggerty and his wife live in Walton, a small N.Y. rural town in the foothills of the Catskills. They are both retired. Jim is a former Jesuit who spent several years in the Society in studies and active in various apostolic works. He taught in a Jesuit high school and in a higher achievement program for children from the inner city, worked in prison ministry, and at Nativity Mission Center in New York City. After leaving the Society, Jim worked for the thirty years with Catholic Migration and Refugee Services, United States Catholic Conference and Catholic Legal Immigration Network, CLINIC in various positions. During this time he obtained a law degree. Before retiring he was director of special projects working on a national effort to assist immigrants and asylum seekers in detention centers across the country. In this effort he helped develop a partnership with the Society of Jesus to create law fellowships in Jesuit and Catholic law schools. Jim and his wife were also “support people” for Jesuit volunteer communities in N.Y.C. for several years. After retirement Jim served on the Board of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) and more recently he serves on the Board of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps. (IVC) Jim and his wife are active in their local town. Some of Jim’s favorite community efforts are playing traditional Irish music in a weekly session and helping run a monthly “coffee house.” The “session” raises money for a soup kitchen. The monthly coffee house brings free music to Walton.