Clare Boothe Luce was a friend of Crisis from its beginnings — and even before its beginnings. As Cardinal O’Connor fondly recalls below, Mrs. Luce telephoned him often about the “damage” that the U.S. Catholic bishops were doing to the prospects for world peace and to the cause of liberty. For weeks, Clare urged me to prepare an alternative to the bishops’ letter on nuclear policy, long before I decided to do so. She welcomed the first issue of Crisis with pleasure—that thin, malprinted issue of November 1982, opening with the first editorial Reinhold Niebuhr had written for Christianity and Crisis during a similar era in 1941. She bought subscriptions to Crisis for many friends. During her last days, she kept the most recent copy at her bedside.
Most writers have underestimated the depth of Clare’s Catholic faith. Clare’s friendship with my wife and me and Crisis was rooted mainly in that faith, by whose travails she was sorely tried during recent years. She loved and trusted God, but He seemed to be testing her almost beyond endurance. At the moment she needed the church, it seemed to be fleeing from everything she had once respected in it. Terrible cancers struck persons extremely close to her, especially in her family. The awful suffering she saw close up taxed her deeply, not least because her own strength was being sapped by illnesses of which she did not speak. Her longtime secretary, Dorothy Farmer, was a fellow parishioner of ours in Blessed Sacrament parish and coached us a little, with discretion, concerning how and when we might be of assistance. My wife Karen, with delight, was often able to do little things for her; Clare seemed to deserve every shred of human kindness.
Clare was a light to our family. She said, in turn, she felt rejuvenated by conversation with “the young people,” as she called our friends at table, mostly journalists and scholars; she once made Robert Nisbet laugh happily by including him within the phrase.
Two of my children, it turns out, were baptized in St. Ann’s Chapel at Stanford University, which Clare built in honor of her daughter, Ann, who died there in an automobile accident in 1944, at the age of 19. Clare took a special fancy to Andrea and Alex, daughters of Morton and Millie Kondracke, and to our daughter, Tanya, who had reminded Clare of Ann even before Tanya was accepted at Stanford as a freshman. She and Tanya talked much together.
Karen never had “help” (except the kids and me) to serve the dinners at our house; they were low-key and family-like. Clare was always radiant in such settings. She put us “young people” to shame with her penetrating comments on world affairs, her stories, and her wit.
Throughout, Clare felt deeply about the Catholic church and the “crisis” in which she saw it now embroiled. She hated the soft “modernized” church it was becoming since Vatican II, was a strong supporter of Pope John Paul II, and sought eagerly after signs that the Lord would rescue it from its manifest slackness and loss of depth. Its present condition seemed to her part of the desert across which God was walking her, near the end. She trusted God. She was far less certain of some representatives of that church to which she had gladly committed her destiny.
She feared also for her country. Long before others became aware of what was happening at the new American embassy in Moscow, Clare knew of it and tried in every way to sound the warning. She had had more than fifty years of close observation of Soviet leadership and Soviet methods. She despaired of the softness and illusions of so many of her fellow citizens.
At times Clare wished that she were younger, so that she could continue fighting the necessary battles for yet another lifetime. She was the Bible’s “valiant woman.” She showed in battle depth, wit, raw courage, and finesse, such as few have ever shown. Among us, she forgave our faults and overlooked our shortfalls. She judged herself harshly, even felt she was a failure. Oh! she was so burdened near the end. All the more does she deserve now thunderous applause.
Clare has told how, when she was a child and turned out her lights every night, her mother Ann would cry out in the darkness in her gay and lilting voice: “The moon and the stars and the angels!” And so it is.
We all shall miss you, Clare.
Watch over us.