Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 1453, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Media Watch
‘Calvary’ tells the tale of a good and heroic priest

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Sept. 18, 2014 edition of the Inland Register)

Movie Reviews

I never thought I would see a film made in the remainder of my lifetime about a good and heroic priest.

Admittedly he is wounded, like all the rest of us, and has some issues. Brendon Gleeson plays the priest with extraordinary skill in the new Irish film Calvary.

The writer and director of Calvary is John Michael McDonagh. John is the less well-known brother of Martin McDonagh, who has had many a dark play on the London and Broadway stage.

Father James Lavelle seems a little over-qualified for a small village pastor on the beautiful west coast of Ireland. But he certainly cares about his diverse flock that has many who are cynical about a Catholic Church broken by the priest-sexual abuse scandal.

In an opening scene, Father James is in the confessional. He is told that he will be killed in a week by a man he knows but we don’t. The man explains graphically the horrendous abuse he received from a priest now deceased. He now plans to kill a good priest for revenge. Father James is to pay the price for bad priests and the sins of the Catholic Church. The potential killer exclaims: “I’m going to kill you because you are innocent.”

And so for a week, as tension increases, Father James goes about his pastoral work. One of his first requirements is to respond to his own adult daughter, Fiona (Kelly Reilly). She is from a marriage that took place before Father James entered the seminary after his wife died. Fiona has tried to commit suicide recently and appears on the scene with bandaged wrists. She has a number of issues with her Dad, including the fact that he became a priest and left her.

The film is filled with colorful and for the most part dark characters finely acted by Chris O’Dowd, Orla O’Rourke, Isaach de Bankole, M. Emmet Walsh, Aidan Gillen and Dylan Moran.

The writing is sometimes humorous and sometimes very dark, but always literate and powerful.

The scenes of the west coast of Ireland in County Sligo, filmed by the director of photography, Larry Smith, give the film a solid sense of place and stark beauty.

Calvary may be too dark for some, but for others it will be the film of the year. Brendan Gleeson gives us a priest who lives the Gospels to the fullest in a world where, with minor exception, the lights seem to have gone out.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates Calvary R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). There is strong language and some graphic violence. Catholic New Service rates the film L-Limited adult audience – films whose problematic content many adults may find troubling.


Many critics have called Richard Linklater’s new film Boyhood a masterpiece. In terms of following the action for 12 years of a young man and his fictional family, centering on the roles of ordinary life and filming it, year by year, in real time, the film is indeed unique.

The main character, Mason (Ellar Coltrane), is six as the film begins. He and his sister Samantha (the director’s daughter, Lorelei Linklater) are moving to a new home. Their mother, Olivia (Patricia Arquette), struggles with difficult financial issues. Their father, Mason, Sr. (Ethan Hawke), appears occasionally in his 1968 GTO. Mom and Dad are at odds, although both of them love their children.

As the years go by, we watch Mason grow up, and Olivia picks poor choices for two subsequent husbands. There are instances of verbal and physical abuse. But her career as a college teacher grows in success.

Through it all Mason grows into a freshman beginning college at a Texas school in the fall of his 18th year. He has turned out in a positive manner, even though he has undergone the wear and tear of a mixed-up family life. In this film it is fascinating to watch Mason grow up as all the other actors age. The acting and direction are excellent as we are imbued with the place that is Texas.

But at 166 minutes, the film is too long. There is a tendency to start looking at your watch long before the movie is over.

Is the film worth seeing? Definitely yes. It looks at American family life today with a fine-toothed comb. It is not exciting, but it is very interesting. The ordinary is made extraordinary by this 12-year study in film making of a contemporary family.

Boyhood is rated R (under 17 requires an accompanying parent or adult guardian) by the Motion Picture Association of America. There are scenes of domestic violence and harsh language. Catholic News Service rates the film L-Limited adult audiences – films whose problematic content many adults may find troubling.

Book Reviews

For older readers who were influenced by the writings of Father Henri J.M. Nouwen, the biography by Michael Ford may be a book to read.

Father Nouwen died in 1996 and Ford first published Wounded Prophet: A Portrait of Henri J.M. Nouwen in 1999. The 234-page book in large size paperback format has a list price of $19 and is published by Image Books of New York.

I had the good fortune of taking a class from Father Nouwen the last year he taught at Harvard Divinity School in the spring of 1985. It was a memorable experience, and yet you could see that no matter how many people streamed into the overflow classroom (I think it was over 200 people), Father Nouwen seemed easily hurt by the smallest criticism.

Well, Ford, by going over Father Nouwen’s life in a very readable style, explains the joys and pain of a spiritual writer who touched so many people in his lifetime.

We follow Henri from his Dutch upbringing in Holland in 1932 through his studies for priesthood. Then Father Nouwen studies at Menninger Foundation in Kansas and begins his teaching career at Notre Dame. Following more education in Holland, Father Nouwen becomes a professor of Pastoral Theology at Yale Divinity from 1971-81 with time at a Trappist Monastery in upstate New York. He then spends time as a possible missionary in South America.

After two years at Harvard Divinity he joins the L’Arche Daybreak community in Ontario, Canada, for 10 years as pastor. He dies in Holland on Sept. 21, 1996 on his way to film a television program on Rembrant’s painting “Prodigal Son” at The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.

All through his life, Father Nouwen wrote books on his experiences, whether from the psychological point of view of the wounded healer, or time with the Trappists, or with missionaries. His most famous book is The Return of the Prodigal Son: A story of Homecoming.

Father Nouwen was a wonderful teacher, but he never seemed to find happiness there as he continually sought new opportunities for his talents. Evidently he found the most happiness at L’Arche Daybreak.

Ford’s book goes into Father Nouwen’s personal life: He struggles with life, going back to his childhood and family, and we learn how he sought help for his feelings of anxiety, insecurity and loneliness. The issues of sexuality and mental breakdown are discussed respectfully.

Father Nouwen’s own father, late in life and after a time of conflict, said, “As a psychologist you know everything about authoritarian fathers. Try to be happy that you have one, but don’t try to change him.”

Father Nouwen had a particular liking for the paintings of Vincent van Gogh. Michael Ford ends his biography with a quote of the priest’s about the painter that applies to the priest himself: “This deeply wounded and immensely gifted Dutchman brought me in touch with my own brokenness and talents in ways nobody else could.”


If you are looking for an easy-to-read and entertaining mystery-adventure, then Charlie Lovett’s new novel The Bookman’s Tale is your book to read. The novel was published by Penguin Books in 2013 with a list price of $16 for the large-size paperback edition.

It is in the tradition of Geraldine Brook’s People of the Book, in that it involves a search for a book over the years. So we have back and forth chapters dealing with a folio of a text thought to be written by Shakespeare combined with a contemporary 1980s love story with a Masterpiece Mystery series of events in the 1990s.

Peter Byerly is an American bookseller who, after his idealistically portrayed wife dies in the American South in 1994, begins a search for rare editions of Shakespeare. Peter had become a rare book seller and he used the opportunity of searching for “Pandosto,” which was believed to be the basis for Shakespeare’s play A Winter’s Tale to come out of his depression.

It is an interesting search as we go back and forth from 1592 through the 1800s, to the mysterious events of the 1990s in England.

The Bookman’s Tale is a straightforward novel with no desire to emphasize literary style. I know mysteries are supposed to tie up all the loose ends at their conclusions, but how the family trees all amazingly come together at the end was really pushing the envelope of reality.

In the end, Charlie Lovett’s The Bookman’s Tale is an enjoyable mystery that teaches us a lot of history in the midst of mystery and romance.

Magazine Notes

There is an informative and fascinating nine-page article on Pope Francis’s efforts to reform the financial dealings of the Vatican in the Sept. 1 issue of Fortune magazine. The article, by Shawn Tully, is titled “Holy Reformer: How Pope Francis Plans to Restructure the Vatican’s Scandal-Plagued Finances and Generate More Money for The Church.”

The pope is described as an elite manager who’s reforming the Vatican’s troubled finances. The article is an impressive account of the pope’s journey to reform the Church’s financial side.

(Father Caswell is Inland Register archivist and a frequent contributor to this publication.)

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