Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Media Watch
In non-fiction: a year of seminary formation reveals joy, hope, tragedy; French film is ‘best in months’

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Oct. 2, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)

Book Reviews

This past August, I was a substitute priest at St. Gregory the Great Church, on West 90th between Columbus and Amsterdam in New York, where I met an author at daily Masses. His name was Jonathan Englert and he lived down the street near Central Park. We did go out to lunch one day after Mass.

Jonathan passed on to me a copy of his first book, titled The Collar: A Year Inside a Catholic Seminary. The book was published by Houghton Mifflin in 2006 and is available in large-size paperback for $14.95.

Jonathan follows several second-career students at Sacred Heart School of Theology near Milwaukee as they make their journey toward the priesthood. A couple of the men have children, or even grandchildren. They come from places such as Michigan, Wyoming, Colorado, and Texas. The author, with the help of the Priests of the Sacred Heart, gained incredible access to the lives of these seminarians and followed their stories.

I particularly was impressed by the words of wisdom given by the rector, Father James Brackin, as the students begin their time of study and formation. His words almost provide the outline for a retreat.

We get to know the five or so seminarians who we even follow sometimes back to their home dioceses and their previous lives. These guys have good days and bad. They have differing points of view, although the majority have a conservative view of church and life.

The section on a class on Biblical Studies, with teacher and students going back and forth, is like a mini-course for any reader in the give-and-take of trying to understand the words and meaning of Scripture.

There is tragedy and sorrow in the stories as the author follows each story wherever it leads him. For example, the rector tells the heart-wrenching story of a student who committed suicide in his room some years before.

There is hope and joy as some of the men reach the various stages of Holy Orders.

I noticed a couple of small mistakes. On page 147 it is stated that the Diocese of Pueblo, Colo., is 3,000 square miles in size. The Official Catholic Directory states the diocese is 48,155 thousand square miles. On page 251 Bishop Paul Zipfel is said to be the Bishop of North Dakota. According to the Catholic Directory he is listed as the Bishop of Bismarck, N.D.

The Collar is a well-written story of what life is like in a seminary today. It doesn’t have a critical or hidden agenda. Using the best of journalistic techniques it follows the stories of ordinary men who seek to serve others in the Catholic priesthood. It opens doors for us to see how wounded men seek to become wounded healers.


With lots of period detail, author Alan Furst takes us to Warsaw, Paris, and parts of Germany in his new thriller The Spies of Warsaw.

It is autumn in 1937 as we meet a heroic but human protagonist, Col. Jean Francois Mercier, the new military attaché at the French embassy in Warsaw.

And thus begins a series of spy-related stories that increase in intensity as the plot thickens.

A German engineer is in Warsaw for some business and a good time. He connects with a Polish mistress who calls herself a countess. She is part of an elaborate plan that is designed to coerce the engineer to pass information on the construction of German tanks to Mercier and the French government.

We follow through the seasons of Warsaw as Col. Mercier tries to help even his Russian enemies when their lives are endangered from the leaders of their own country. Of course there is a cost, which is information. Mercier tries to exhibit some form of right and wrong within his shady world, with the figure of Hitler brooding of all of the events.

Within the context of a spy novel there is a haunting love story. But the most excitement comes when Mercier sneaks into Nazi Germany for pictures of secret tank maneuvers. Another time he enters Germany to meet a possible anti-Nazi German spy in Berlin.

The author gives us a view of Mercier’s Catholic faith when he writes: “For Mercier it was the ceremony of the Mass that eased his soul: the sweetish smoke trailing from the censer, the ringing of the bell, the Latin incantations of the priest. In Warsaw he attended early Mass at a small church near the apartment once or twice a month, confessing to his vocational sins – duplicity, for example – in the oblique forms provided by Catholic protocol. He’d grown up an untroubled believer, but the war had put an end to that. What God could permit such misery and slaughter? But, in time, he had found consolation in a God beyond understanding and prayed for those he’d lost, for those he loved, and for an end to evil in the world.”

The Spies of Warsaw is published in hardcover by Random House, New York, at $25.

Movie Review

The new French thriller Tell No One may not make it to the theaters of Eastern Washington, but it sure should. It is the best movie I have seen in months. It is a Hitchcockian delight. Whatever happens, put Tell No One on your DVD list when it comes out in three or four months. If watched at home, turn off all phones and watch with full attention.

The film is based on a 2001 American mystery novel of the same name by Harlan Coben. The story has been transferred to France, particularly Paris. But it is definitely not the familiar tourist sites of Paris.

Young director Guillaume Garnet, who plays a small role in the film, gives us an innocent main character who is a pediatrician. Francois Cluzet perfectly plays the good man accused over and over again of brutally murdering his beautiful wife eight years before. Just recently, computer messages have begun appearing on his computer that suggest that somehow she is still alive.

Tell No One is filled with evil deeds in a world where wealth and power can buy a police-like investigative force for violence. But this movie turns things around when the gangster-types are sometimes the “good guys” trying to help a beloved pediatrician.

To say this plot demands your complete attention is to state the obvious. This roller-coaster ride is well worth it. Hitchcock would be proud.

Tell No One is not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America. The USCCB Office for Film and Broadcasting classification is L – limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling.

(Father Caswell is archivist and Ecumenical Relations Officer for the Diocese of Spokane, and a frequent contributor to this publication.)

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