MY BROTHER JOSEPH by Eugene Kennedy


The Spirit of a Cardinal and the Story of a Friendship
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 Kennedy (Psychology/Loyola Univ.) evokes the memory of his friend Cardinal Bernardin in a literary portrait that aspires to poetry and sometimes succeeds. Kennedy, who has written 40 books, including a lengthy 1989 biography of the late cardinal, is ideally suited to reflect on the career and inner person of Joseph Bernardin. The two were friends since they first met in 1967 as coworkers on a study of the American priesthood, sponsored by the then newly founded National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB). Bernardin's most intense public experiences--his central part in drafting the NCCB's pastoral letter on nuclear war, published in 1983 as The Challenge of Peace, his appointment as archbishop of Chicago, his response to the false charges against him of sexual abuse--are all remembered from the standpoint of the admiring and devoted friend. The sparer Kennedy's prose, the more Bernardin's spirit shows through it, as at the end of the book, where the simple grace of the words mirrors the cardinal's own graceful acceptance of death. But the excess metaphor in earlier sections makes a gaudy frame for the basic simplicity of goodness Kennedy wants to reveal in his friend. Goodness may, in any case, be more complex for Kennedy than he lets on. Along with Bernardin's gentleness, Kennedy insists repeatedly on the cardinal's manliness. That defensive posture puzzles until, in an offhand reference late in the book to another priest's attributes, gentleness is made out to be a feminine (motherly) quality. Kennedy expresses, but does not acknowledge, a tension that must be especially acute for priests, between sex roles defined by secular culture and codes of moral virtue preached by the Church. Bernardin's saintliness shines through in this memoir, but less brightly than it might have, had the paradoxes in priestliness only intimated here been more directly addressed. (12 illustrations)

Pub Date: Nov. 14th, 1997
ISBN: 0-312-17118-8
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1997


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