James P. McFadden (1930-1998)
The world lost and Heaven gained a great soul when Jim McFadden died October 17, after a protracted struggle with cancer. Beneath the grit and grumble, James Patrick McFadden was as tender a man as I have ever known. After his Savior and his family, the most conspicuous objects of his affections were unborn children, to whose loving defense he devoted three decades of selfless labor. His capacious soul was composed, in more or less equal parts, of martial courage, Franciscan humility, and irrepressible mirth, all balanced in felicitous harmony. He began and ended his days on his knees, at Mass in the morning and at bedside in the evening. The space between was filled with good conversation, prodigious work, and the pleasurable duty of caring for his adored and adoring family. Warm, witty, and unexcelled in friendship, no one wore better of an evening with cigars and whiskey. And there was no one you would rather have had with you in the foxhole when the enemy came over the top.
The pro-life cause has had many heroes, but none wiser than Jim, whose focused political insight and editorial genius brought disciplined sophistication to a movement that in its infancy consisted largely of well-intended amateurs. He transformed the pedestrian editorial vehicle known as the newsletter into a work of art. Bach at his console in Leipzig found his match in McFadden sitting before the keyboard of his battered Royal upright. Jim’s Lifeletter was for many years the marrow of pro-lifers throughout the country. In four pages of pungent observation and mordant wit, delivered every month in inimitable McFaddenesque staccato, Jim directed the order of battle, rallying loyalists and confusing the opposition. Filled with brilliant political analysis and hard-headed tactical advice, Lifeletter became a force to be reckoned with, especially on Capitol Hill, where it was parsed with Talmudic intensity by friend and foe alike. He added strategic weaponry to the pro-life arsenal when he founded the Human Life Review, the distinguished quarterly that has provided a continuing stream of intellectual enlightenment on the intersection of law, morals, and medicine for nearly 25 years. It remains an indispensable compendium of wise and eloquent reflection, a veritable university-in-print.
For most men, such accomplishments would have been enough for a memorably worthy life. But the full flowering of Jim’s genius appeared some twenty years ago with the launching of catholic eye, the newsletter of the National Committee of Catholic Laymen. Eye was, quite simply, Jim McFadden reembodied in print: at once gingery and philosophical, grave and hilarious, irascible and charitable, grumpy and hopeful, importunate and humble, but informed always by his devotion to the sacraments and his unshakeable faith in the promise of redemption.
It was, on one level, a monthly encyclical to the faithful, teaching them about the depositum fidei and assuring them that it would endure despite the spirit of the age. On another level, it was a detailed syllabus of errors, that, with devastating accuracy and pointed wit, called to task wayward clerics who had stayed too long and drunk too deeply at the Vatican II party. On yet a third, it was Jim’s personal lamentation for the passing of the old order within the Church and in the world at large. He could not forgive the mindless trashing of the ancient rituals or the ritual trashing of traditional doctrine by fatuous bishops and effete theologians. He celebrated the papacy of John Paul II as a providential gift to a demoralized Church and prayed fervently that the precepts and example of that great man would inspire a new generation of Catholics to rediscover the truth that had fired Jim’s soul and inspired his work.
Jim’s last years were difficult and would have broken other men. He began his battle with cancer in 1993, and in the following year lost his beloved son, Robert, to the same dread disease. He was deprived of his ability to swallow and, eventually, his ability to speak. He suffered the indecency of repeated hospitalizations, surgeries, and radiation—and, perhaps even more painfully, the loss of the sociability he treasured and was so good at prompting in others. He endured it all, confident that his Creator had a special purpose in mind, whose mysteries would be revealed in the fullness of time. In the ordeal of his death no less than in the course of his life, Jim did not hesitate to put on Christ. He soldiered through his torment, knowing that the transforming grace of the imitatio Christi would bring the peace and love that surpass all understanding. Jim would scoff at the notion, but what was said by a contemporary of Cardinal Newmann could be said of him too: “There is a saint in that man.”
—Michael M. Uhlmann
Julien Green (1900-1998)
The greatest living Catholic novelist died in August only a few weeks short of his ninety-eighth birthday. His vast body of work, more than 65 books, including novels, journals, plays, letters, books of spirituality, and literary criticism, has often been remarked upon in these pages. Green’s reflection on the conversion of his father was published in our July/August 1995 issue (“Et in Jesum Cristum: A Memoir”).
Julien Green was born September 6, 1900, in Paris; his mother, Mary Hartridge Green, was from Savannah; his father, Edward Moon Green, from Virginia. His mother, a strict Calvinist, died in 1914, and Green entered the Catholic Church the next year. Between the years 1919 and 1922 Green attended the University of Virginia and became acquainted with his mother’s relatives in Georgia. He returned to Paris after college, living most of his life there, except during the Second World War, when he lived in Washington, D.C., Charlottesville, Virginia, and New York City.
I am sometimes asked why CRISIS has paid so much attention to Green. It is true, after all, that his books are no longer widely read in this country, even among those who pride themselves as connoisseurs of the Catholic renaissance in 20th century literature. Many who speak easily of Bernanos, Waugh, and Percy often have no acquaintance with Green’s later masterworks—Moira, The Other One, Each In His Own Darkness, The Transgressor, God’s Fool: The Life and Times of St. Francis of Assisi, or the Journals.
Some also point out that many of Green’s works contain a not-so-veiled struggle with his own homosexuality. His books, however, are not as much about sexual obsession as an obsession with finding out where all human appetites finally lead—God. More than any other novelist I know, Green successful transposed his sexual travails into stories of sin and redemption that are accessible to anyone with a developed taste for the novel. Many novelists depict the struggle between the spirit and flesh; most merely tantalize or titillate; some flounder in unresolved moral earnestness; but Green found the answer he sought for so long.
His answer came in his book on St. Francis, God’s Fool, published in France in 1983. After reviewing the English edition published in 1985, I wrote to this busy man, presumptuously suggesting that his book showed that he had found spiritual peace after so many years of painful searching. His handwritten note that arrived a few weeks later is still one of my most prized possessions: “Many thanks for your kind letter. I am happy to see that you understand me so well. All the time that I wrote the book I had the feeling that I was being helped. With all good wishes for Christmas and the New Year, Julien Green.”
With the passing of Julien Green we come to the very end of the Catholic revival so often celebrated in magazines and journals such as this one. His work is a testament to the artistry, intelligence, and prayer that can give witness to faith in our culture.