So…I’m going to be taking a break from blogging for most of summer 2017. This blog will be undergoing a giant makeover, and it might turn into a completely different site, we shall see… But I thought an appropriate post for today would be one describing a little more fully my current writing project. Many people seem puzzled as to why I’m writing this biography and why now, and why I would veer away from my novels to do so.
For one thing, I just really need a break from fiction; after six novels, I was feeling a little burnt-out. But I need to write this biography; it simply has to be done. My choice of subject is a man who may seem obscure, but he shouldn’t be. Irenaeus Herscher OFM was a bit of pop-culture personality in his day, which would have been mid-twentieth-century America, the 1940s and 1950s in particular. His own story of immigrating from Europe as a boy and struggling to find his place in Camden, NJ, of all places, could be a book just on its own. And you could write another volume on his long career as an extremely competent and respected academic librarian. He’s most well known, I’m sure I mentioned before, for his constant and lifelong friendship with Thomas Merton, who called him the “happy little Franciscan.”
But there is much more to his story than that famous friendship. I don’t want to compare him to Forrest Gump, but like that character, Father Irenaeus seemed to have had a passing acquaintance with and connection to various famous and well-known people of the century, beginning with President Herbert Hoover, the boxer Jack Dempsey, Presidents Roosevelt and Kennedy, the poet Mark Van Doren, the popular historian Theodore Maynard, Cardinal Cushing of Boston, the writer Pierre Salinger and others. That old Jersey journalist and book-writer (“The Day Lincoln was Shot,” etc.) Jim Bishop suggested to Father that he write an autobiography, and Father did indeed attempt to do so, but didn’t get much beyond his seminary days. So I decided to take up the task that he couldn’t finish, and as my research continues, I never cease to be astonished at the marvelous anecdotes and gems I keep running across.
I don’t know how much more I want to reveal here. I want to save the choicest nuggets for the book. But here’s just one example: Perhaps your mothers or grandmothers clipped a prayer that appeared in thousands of daily newspapers across the US and Canada in the 1950s, as well as in many papers around the world: “The Bride’s Prayer.” Irenaeus did not write the prayer—it was written by an actual bride, who died tragically months after her wedding day. But he was the one who singlehandedly circulated it, following it up with a “Groom’s Prayer” a few years later. Though he tried to do this anonymously, a Chicago Tribune reporter tracked him down and wrote an article about it.
Perhaps his finest work was the research and the vast bibliography he created for his own Franciscan order, which perhaps makes him one of their greatest historians. He doesn’t really have much of a personal life, because he lived the Franciscan ideal, modestly and primarily to serve others, yet he managed to keep one foot out in the world, and another within the spiritual realm—which, I think, makes him particularly extraordinary.
The research—and there’s a lot of it out there, I feel I’m just scratching the surface—is fascinating. And yes, I knew the man and tell a little bit of when my life interweaves with his, but it’s mostly all about him. And I’m doing my damnedest to be objective. Don’t know yet who will publish this book, only that it won’t be me or Amazon. But it will be published one way or another, I can tell you that with some certainty. So check back with this site later this year—say, late August or so, in whatever incarnation the blog takes then–and find out what comes to pass over the summer.