For many years I have thought that the book that begs to be written is a book of Jesuit stories. Now, I’m not talking about a compendium of the holy lives of Jesuit saints and martyrs: for this see a fine book by Joseph Tylenda, S.J., entitled, not surprisingly, Jesuit Saints and Martyrs. And I’m not talking about Jesuit biographies like The First Jesuit, the life of St. Ignatius of Loyola by Mary Purcell, or autobiographies like With God in Russia, by Walter Ciszek, S.J. There are certainly plenty of those. I’m not even talking about learned histories of the Society of Jesus like the wonderful study, The First Jesuits, by John O’Malley, S.J. No, I’m talking about the stories Jesuits pass along to one another, funny stories, the kind of tales thatfor unknown reasonsseem to happen frequently to Jesuits and in Jesuit communities.
That some of these stories are assuredly apocryphal limits neither the frequency nor the obvious affection with which they are told. One wonders, for example, whether there ever really was a nervous young Jesuit who during his first Mass intoned, This is...the leg of lamb. (By the way, there is an entire subcategory of Jesuit Mass stories.)
On the other hand, there are many outlandish sagas of whose veracity you are assured by the tale’s teller: Hey, I lived with this guy in community! My favorite is of a forgetful Jesuit who, as I recall, drove a community car all the way from Boston to Chicago, where he was to preside at a wedding. The day after the wedding, he asked someone in the Chicago community where he had stayed to drive him to O’Hare Airport. He promptly purchased a ticket and flew back to Boston. Upon arriving, he was greeted by the rector of the Jesuit community who asked simply, Where’s the car? (Needless to say, there is another subcategory of Jesuit community car stories.)
In any event, the book of amusing Jesuit stories has long begged to be written. And now it has been done. But with a twist.
The twist is that the collection of Jesuit stories is contained in a terrific new book called The Secrets of Jesuit Soupmaking (Penguin Compass, 240p, $18), by Rick Curry, S.J.
Brother Curry is the founder and artistic director of the National Theater Workshop of the Handicapped, which trains persons with disabilities to become actors. Rick, who was born with one arm, is himself an actor and earned a Ph.D. in theater. He found the inspiration for his school after answering an audition call one day. Rick greeted the person taking applications for the auditions, who took one look at him and laughed. Is this a joke? she said. On such ugly insults are beautiful things built.
During his novitiate years Rick learned a bit about cooking from the Jesuit brothers in Wernersville, Pa., and plowed his expertise into his first book, The Secrets of Jesuit Breadmaking (1995). The proceeds from that book have helped his school build a new campus for its students in Belfast, Me.
In any event, his new book is a marvel. There are plenty of soup recipes of course, as well as many insightful discussions of the life of faith. (One could, I wager, learn as much about Ignatian spirituality from this cookbook as from other, more serious treatments.) Best of all, there is a smorgasbord of tales from Brother Curry’s life as a Jesuitby turns touching, inspiring, darkly comic and always affectionate. My favorite is of the Jesuit pack-rat (still another subcategory) who had a slight seizure in his room, which contained 15 electric fans. When the ambulance arrived, his brother Jesuits were so embarrassed by the state of his room that when a paramedic asked where he was, they said, In the storeroom!
But not all the stories are so Jesuit-centric, nor do you need to be a Jesuit to enjoy them. A much-loved woman religious, now advanced in years, who had taught Brother Curry, was asked about a student who had especially lovely penmanship. Whatever happened to him?
Oh, she replied, he’s in prison now for forgery.