Part II: Renowned Spiritual Director Arrives
In 1942, the well-known and loved Jesuit, Father Leonard Feeney, became associated with the work of the Center. At forty-five, Father Feeney was already famous as a great poet and writer. Almost every English textbook used in the thriving parochial schools of the time contained his poems and stories. He brought to the Center the fruits of his scholarship, many years of study in the U.S. and abroad. As a master story-teller with a great sense of humor, he filled his listeners with joy. Most importantly were the spiritual riches he shared – real holiness, priestly zeal, deep devotion to Our Lady and an extraordinary gift as a spiritual director.
Father Feeney made a deep and lasting impression on all who frequented the Center. Here was the highly acclaimed author of numerous books and the dynamic speaker heard on NBC’s radio program, “Catholic Hour,” humbly going about his priestly work with young students. With Father’s spiritual direction, many boys and girls discerned the call to the priesthood and to religious life. At this time also, he began to receive a steadily growing number of converts into the Church. One of the Center’s most renowned members was a convert and godson of Catherine Clarke, Avery Cardinal Dulles, son of John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State under Eisenhower. Reminiscing about the “early days” he remarked, “Life at the Center had an indelible effect on all the associates. Before long 100 members of the Center had accepted vocations to the religious life…and at least 200 became converts to the Faith.”
While teaching at the Jesuit seminary in Weston, Father Feeney found time to visit Cambridge, at first several times a week, but eventually, because of so many appointments, every day. Whether counseling, lecturing, or simply holding conversation his love of Sacred Scripture and the depths of his theological insight were self-evident. His provincial superior, Father John McEleney, later to become Archbishop of Jamaica, once referred to him as, “the greatest theologian we have in the United States, by far.” Catherine Clarke and her associates, therefore, were most grateful when Father Feeney was officially assigned as spiritual director of Saint Benedict Center by his superiors and the Archdiocesan authorities.