Fr. Henri Nouwen of happy memory
After Henri Nouwen's death, NCR, in its Oct. 4 issue, asked readers to submit stories, eulogies and other comments about the well-loved Nouwen. The reaction was so great that the extensive contributions published below represent only a sampling, drastically edited for space and other reasons. NCR is grateful to all who submitted their thoughts.
This outpouring of love and adulation for a departed Christian would have instantly created a saint in the early church. For nearly a thousand years, before formal canonization existed, holy lives were celebrated and sainthood conferred by the vox populi, the voice of the faithful.
Such spontaneous veneration, even without papal canonization, may still be showing us a compelling sign of the times.
I had the opportunity to speak briefly with Fr. Nouwen when he was staying at the Abbey of the Genesee in 1974. When I introduced myself as an academic librarian, he excitedly told me that one of his books was now in mass market paperback and maybe people could even buy it at an airport. I have read his book Genesee Diary many times and find it a very serious search for how he and we should think of our lifestyles in our relationship with God.
I first met Henri in 1978 when he was at Yale Divinity School. Several friends and I were just beginning the Convenant Peace Community in New Haven, Conn. Henri would often celebrate Eucharist with us on Friday mornings and then join us for breakfast. We discussed many things, including the importance of cultivating a strong spiritual life that could sustain our social activism.
Like Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day, he warned that without creating what he called a spiritual "basement" or foundation for our lives, it would be impossible to stay sustained over the long haul. This advice has proved crucial to me in my ministry of service and peacemaking.
He was spiritual guide and friend to many including the Catholic Worker movement. He was a great advocate for peace and justice and supported many, including myself, who have been imprisoned for plowshares and other peacemaking actions. In his foreword to The Risk of the Cross, which I coauthored, he conveyed the idea that the power of love was greater than the power of death. One of the greatest evangelizers of our time, Henri had an unwavering faith in Jesus that was contagious. He was one who truly loved and lived the Eucharist!
It is fitting that he died on the feast of the great apostle St. Matthew.
Every time I was with Henri, whether it was celebrating Eucharist, conducting the Stations of the Cross where the Trident is built at General Dynamics in Groton, Conn., sharing a meal or in the phone conversation I had with him shortly before his death, my faith in Jesus was rekindled. His welcoming heart, his selfless giving, his deep kindness, and his great generosity, conveyed a love that knew no bounds.
I will never forget how he loved to celebrate with friends. I once had the great privilege of Henri's celebrating Mass on my birthday and then taking time out of his busy schedule to stay and enjoy the party. Always confronting and sharing his own fears and anxieties from a context of faith, he helped many to confront their broken humanity and to embrace the healing, transforming power of the gospel.
Sarah Ann McMahan
Henri Nouwen's influence on my life began so long ago that I cannot remember the year. I was a new Catholic, trying to find a coherent manner to merge my contemplative prayer life with raising a large family and growing into what has now become a professional ministry in the church. I read The Wounded Healer, and I knew that I would have written those same words if only I had Nouwen's gift with words. He spoke directly to my needs and to my heart.
As the years passed, I continued to buy the books of this man, whose spiritual and intellectual life seemed, at the deepest level, so much like my own, even though our chosen paths were very different. After a nearly fatal car accident in 1989, I bought The Accident. I was incredulous at how this book articulated what I had recorded in my own journal. Nouwen's experience somehow gave affirmation to my own as I struggled to integrate pain and disability with what I had thought I knew about God.
Finally, in 1993 I experienced utter brokenness as I went through my second divorce. I felt devastated by the sense of homelessness, as I was forced to leave the family home in Colorado and everything I had previously known of my personal and ministerial identity. I felt as if I would never again belong -- to anyone or any place. Nouwen taught me that my home will always be that place within me where God has chosen to dwell. I knew this, of course, but somehow in the chaos of my life I couldn't seem to access this truth.
Nouwen's works have provided in a prophetic way the underpinnings for so many thousands of Catholics in a time in which our church is torn by the same conflicts and need for healing that we as individuals and as a society are experiencing.
Sr. Ann Notch, OSB
Having been an avid reader of Nouwen's books, I can say with conviction that his works have been inspirational and personally revealing. Reading and rereading his books, I have been blessed with new insights and rich spiritual values.
It was a strange coincidence that I was reading his latest publication Can You Drink the Cup? at the time of his death. His final statement in this work was particularly revealing.
Daily celebration of Eucharist had deepened his life over the years and made him more conscious that we live every day, our sorrows and joys, "in the integral part of the great mystery of Christ's death and resurrection."
What a rich spiritual life he has lived and what a wealth of spiritual thought he has provided for us.
Barbara L. Boril
Shortly before Fr. Henri Nouwen's death, I celebrated my 64th birthday, and received an excerpt from one of his books about why we should celebrate our birthdays. One week later, I heard Mr. Jonas announce Fr. Nouwen's death on National Public Radio. I was greatly saddened by the news of his death.
I have been revitalized in my spiritual life through reading his many books, but the one I cherish most is his 1992 book titled Life of the Beloved. His many insights into the heart of Jesus helped me to feel close to Jesus.
Fr. John Andrew Connell
Henri Nouwen epitomizes for me one who spent his life integrating the joys and sorrows, the highs and lows, the healthy and not so healthy aspects of his life.
Nouwen's book, Life of the Beloved, has been for me a wonderful gift that I name as "an amazing grace." In his search for the core reality of his life, he discovered his belovedness as a son of God. This recurring theme, found in all his recent writings, enabled Nouwen to see himself as God does and he has shared this insight so convincingly with his readers. His greatness arises from this gracious gift of God, his belovedness in God's eyes.
I thank God for the gift of Henri Nouwen among us. His life and the legacy of his many writings about our belovedness are sure signs of the light that comes to those who dare journey the road to fuller integration. I believe we will honor Nouwen best by living from our belovedness as daughters and sons of a living God.
Sr. Gertrude Brady NSCJ
Fr. Nouwen said one day that he had learned not to plan his day. "I used to say: Tomorrow I will visit X, phone Y and write to Z." But when the next day came A would phone him, B would visit him and C would write to him. He soon learned not to plan, but to answer God's calls as they came to him. This has helped me greatly to live God's call as it comes.
Joseph P. Ascherl
Henri Nouwen's manuscript Genesee Diary arrived in the editorial office of Doubleday Co. when I was employed in their book design department. Publication date was 1976. This book introduced us (my wife, Charlotte, and myself) to the Trappist Abbey of Genesee and Abbot John Eudes Bamberger. For five years, every May we spent a week there on retreat.
On one of those retreats we met Henri Nouwen, who was living at the abbey as a guest member of the community for seven months. It was the abbot who advised Henri to stay with his writing, obviously his true vocation. He has since written 30 books and inspired many readers. May he rest in peace and enjoy the company of Jesus.
Sr. M. Kathleen Stefani
My reflections go way back to 1964-'65 when Henri Nouwen was in the program for religion and psychiatry at Menniger's Clinic in Topeka. At that time I was teaching at Hayden High School, which was very near the Menniger Clinic. As part of his program at Menniger's, Fr. Nouwen was assigned to Hayden High School to do some counseling with the students. I think now how fortunate the students were to have Fr. Nouwen as a counselor.
At the time he was with us at Hayden we were "stewing" about the students' lack of conformity with the dress code -- wearing the wrong color socks, wearing a blouse or shirt other than the one accepted as the uniform, etc. Fr. Nouwen gave us the sound advice that it was better to keep the dress code and the uniform because students of that age had to rebel against something and the uniform was a rather minor thing to be rebelling against. He was a very down-to-earth, practical person and it was a real gift to associate with him at Hayden.
Jean M. Fecteau
To say that Henri Nouwen has had a profound influence on my life with its joys, struggles and searching would scarcely depict the myriad of memories I shall always cherish.
I was privileged to know Henri through his wonderful writing and as my teacher at Boston College just before his departure for Troily in France. His extraordinary gifts as one who could render the compassion and love of Jesus through sharing his own tireless search for God, delightful, humorous stories, Taize music, spontaneity, presence and genuine warmth and hospitality are ones which I shall always treasure. I can still picture with amazing clarity the concluding evening prayer held on a hillside at the Chestnut Hill campus on a July evening with Henri leading us in the beautiful Taize chant prayer, "Ubi Caritas" -- one of his particular favorites. Absolutely no one wanted to leave that moment. ...
Henri's joy and his disarming way of making Christ present to all in his company were all part of his amazing ministry to all who knew and loved him. Once, while visiting Daybreak with a few friends, I was blessed to share liturgy in the simple chapel where he invited us to break bread and the Word with him, and we were privileged to experience firsthand his wonderful and generous hospitality and love.
When Henri's own mentor and spiritual guide, Pere Thomas Philippe died, Henri said that in death Pere Thomas would become a gift all people. "Now he can send the spirit of Jesus to everyone."
Katharine O. Weaver
In the '60s, during the struggle of the blacks in the southern states for equality, Fr. Nouwen was at Menninger Foundation in Topeka, studying in the School of Pastoral Care. He was invited by our pastor at St. Matthew's Church to speak to any adults who cared to attend. His story was heart-rending.
He told of having watched the evening news, as did many of us, horrified at hoses turned full-force on marchers, dogs let loose to terrify and, probably most revolting of all, the hate on the faces of onlookers and the police paid to uphold the law. He said he went to bed depressed and could not sleep, but lay awake reviewing the scenes the television had played out. He thought: Why doesn't somebody do something to stop this?
Then, he said, it occurred to him that he was somebody. And, unlike many who might have liked to help, he could do something. He rose, dressed, and left, in his "little Vauxwagen" for Selma, Ala. Along the way, he picked up a hitchhiker who, he discovered, had had the same thoughts but no car. The two made their way to Selma, where they participated in the famous march that awakened a nation to the struggles of a people for simple civil rights.
Fr. John Raab, CMF
I met Fr. Henri Nouwen by surprise. I knew his face but I did not expect to see him in such an audience. It was when he was speaking in Berkeley in 1994. Some of his friends had brought him to hear a talk given by two berdaches at St. Augustine's Parish in Oakland. I never suspected that he had an interest in lesbian and gay people. It made me go back and find some of his early writings on the subject of homosexuality. I found them unusually understanding for the time.
Fr. Joseph Gallagher
A friend of mine who was about to be ordained a priest sent a gift to an artist friend who was also about to be ordained. The gift was a book by Henri Nouwen. The recipient took the book with him on a private retreat and was struck by one particular sentence in the book. He decided to walk in the woods and look for a stone on which to paint the sentence and send it as a return gift to his friend. As he walked about, slowly looking at the ground another retreatant passed by and asked his if he had lost something. He explained the situation to the passerby. Smiling, the stranger replied, "Well, I'm Henri Nouwen. Let's look together."
Cathleen L. Curry
The year was 1981. I was just beginning my work with Beginning Experience, the volunteer group that provides healing weekends for widowed, divorced and separated men and women. Although still on the road to recovery after the death of my husband, I was reaching out to help others who were beginning their journey. Nouwen's thin, little book, The Wounded Healer, lit up my path. In the following years he encouraged, cajoled, explained and walked with me as I tried to discern God's will, showing me how Jesus, my friend, brother and lover, was accompanying me along the way.
We'll miss you, Henri, those of us you have mentored. But your books are still on our shelves, ready to guide us back to the path when we stray. You truly were "a parent of the future."
Rose Marciano Lucey
Our family first met Henri in the gracious days when the church was in flower -- seems so long ago now. He was still at Harvard and came for a a visit with us. From the moment we met, he became for us both mentor and example. At the time we still owned the San Ysidro Shops in the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas. We invited Henri to meet with local people and talk to us about the renewal of the church -- which we longed for.
His first lecture was crowded with men and women of all ages and from then on he became a treasured visitor in the halls and churches of California. Harvard was not, for Henri, the place to meet the "ordinary" people of the church. He gave of himself graciously wherever he agreed to preach. There was no guile with Henri. What you saw and heard was his love of his chosen vocation and his openness to all the people who surrounded him.
As the years went by, Henri moved to L'Arche, though he continued his lectures. Often one of the men from L'Arche would accompany him on his journeys. His companion would always sit on the stage with Henri to be introduced to us all.
Henri was no stranger to the world in which we all live. Invited to tag along with some local people "to see the sights," he saw San Francisco areas little known to most visitors. He was interested in learning through books, but he wanted more to learn by being with people.
Sr. Connie Ostrander, OSB
My friendship with Henri began in 1983, when I was on the NCEA Board of Education and he came to give the opening address for the convention. We enjoyed wonderfully refreshing conversations and in June of 1984 he lived at my Benedictine monastery, St. Bede Priory, Eau Claire, Wis. while writing one of his books. During that time, he was actively discerning a leave from academia, from Harvard Divinity School. To his questioning, I remarked, "Henri, in my 20s I worked with handicapped persons and found the ministry most refreshing. What if you would work with handicapped people for a giving ministry and rest your mind for awhile?" He looked at me as if in mild shock. Shortly afterward Henri Nouwen met John Vanier and John's mother in France as well as the community of L'Arche. John Vanier invited Henri to minister with the community of Daybreak, Canada, and thus began his ministry of love for the past 11 years -- years of breaking thousands of loaves of love!
Praying with Henri is my most sacred personal memory of him. We discovered we each had similar prayer rooms with a primary decor of brown carpet, a piece of driftwood and the Trinity icon. Each evening, after my work at the monastery and his writing, we would come together at 7 for conversation, followed by prayer in my prayer room. Etched in my memory is one of the evenings when we were praying prostrate on the floor. I heard the intensity in his voice as he begged God to protect the people he knew in South America. I opened my eyes and saw his massive hands tensed with the depth of his words, dug deeply into the carpet. In that one motion, I knew more than ever before how great was his love for the suffering and poor of the world. I also knew I had another permeating image of prayer.
I am currently a missionary in Mandeville, Jamaica, West Indies, working with and for the poor and for the newly established Mandeville vicariate. I recall Henri encouraging the inclusion of chapels in Catholic workspaces, saying, "Whenever and wherever you can, suggest that chapels be built."
As is widely known, Henri loved children and the poor. In them, he experienced the face of Jesus. I recall his fondness for my niece, Tessie, when she was five years old. I believe she is the only one who can boast that she rode with Henri in bumper cars. She begged him to go with her when we stopped at the Wisconsin Dells. Perhaps the pictures of them in the bumper cars are rare pictures of Henri playing. His delight was childlike as he explained that he had never been at an amusement park. Tessie called him, "Uncle Fr. Henri Nouwen." She is now 17, but remembers well Henri's gift to her for her first communion 10 years ago. He sent her a cross from Guatemala and a letter about the importance of her first Holy Communion. In it Henri wrote, "Tessie, remember this always. Stay close to Jesus. If you stay always close to the poor, you will be close to Jesus."
I was a college seminarian at St. Thomas in Denver at the time, and struggling quite personally, as probably many seminarians do about whether to petition my bishop for candidacy and continue my studies in theology. Early in 1976 I celebrated my 21st birthday. My mom had made it up from southern Arizona to celebrate it with me and we attended the spring semester guest lecture delivered by Henri Nouwen. Having read several of his books on ministry, I was looking forward to hearing him. But I remember my mother, not knowing what to expect, was also deeply touched at his delivery and, in spite of the large crowd, the personalism that pervaded his talk.
At a reception after the talk, I remember asking Nouwen how one was to know if one was truly being called to the priesthood. He answered with such directness and sincerity, whenever I read a book of his to this day, I recall his gentle gaze and delightful accent: He reminded me that there should be no doubt that we are all called by God to serve. We need not and must not doubt that. It is a harder thing, at times to discern where we are called to, he said. "But even in that, we mustn't forget," I remember him as saying, "that God is with us precisely where we are even as we are on the way."
Sr. Margaret Treacy RSHM
Henri Nouwen's passion for living life to the full and for creating community wherever he went, has left a lasting impression on me. I had the honor of being in his presence many times over the past 20 years and I always came away filled with joy and hope. He was the kind of man who made Jesus come alive in the here and now. What greater gift could he give us? Thank you, Henri.
Joseph J. Clauss
I am a 67-year-old man who left the priesthood over 25 years ago. All I have to offer in tribute to the memory of Henri Nouwen are the tears that welled up in my eyes when I heard of his death. I was a contemporary of Henri Nouwen who taught me how to stay in touch with Jesus through many turbulent years. He is now with his Beloved. I hope to join him there someday.
Quite honestly, when I became a Catholic I didn't know why. I knew that somewhere in the midst of what we discussed each week was a genuine Catholic spirituality and God was calling me to that. What that spirituality was, however, eluded me -- until I discovered the work of Henri Nouwen. First, it was through a small booklet of Lenten meditations. I remember exclaiming, "So this is what Lent is all about!"
My exclamations have continued as I have discovered his other work through the years. Fr. Nouwen has given me words to express feelings and needs about healing, forgiveness, intimacy, brokenness and what it means to be the body of Christ. Of late, I have been able to say, "So this is what it means to be catholic" (lower-case c intentional).
At his death, I mourn the loss of a friend. But now his gentle spirit embraces me and the world with endless opportunities to love and heal and forgive, a very comforting thought.
Fr. Carl J. Moell, SJ
When Henri Nouwen published his book Heart Speaks to Heart: Three Prayers to Jesus, written at the gentle but persistent prodding of Madam Pauline Vanier, I bought a copy and read it. I was so moved by it that I wrote him a short letter to thank him for having written it. I had never met him and I did not expect a reply. To my surprise I received a personal letter from him thanking me for taking the time to write him and sending me a copy of his latest book (at that time), Beyond the Mirror: reflections on death and life.
Deacon Al Girodo
In 1984 I listened to Henri's audio tape on his trip to Nicaragua. I'll never forget his way of speaking that was singularly Nouwen. He was speaking to women in Northern Nicaragua who were telling their stories about the contras who had come into their homes and murdered their sons and husbands. In all their pain and loss they were able to talk about forgiveness. I remember Henri saying their words on the tape, "Well, we must forgive them. Yes we forgive them".
Shortly after I heard the tape, I bought his book Gracias. It was about that trip. I took the book with me and used it as a journal during my own visit to Nicaragua in June 1984. Just as Henri helped me to live, I look forward to him helping me how to die. Gracias, Henri.
Frank X. Tuoti
I met Henri Nouwen only once, during the mid-'70s when he was at Yale Divinity School. I had just started teaching the thought and spirituality of Thomas Merton (I was a Trappist at Gethsemani during the '50s) and wrote to Nouwen about my undertaking. I had heard that he was "teaching Merton" at Yale. He invited me to visit him, which I did since I lived not too far away in Connecticut.
After our talk, he excused himself and brought back a box of file folders. He had photocopied all of his notes and materials on Merton for me, including about 20 folders of copies of Merton's typewritten letters, essays and articles, most of which were unpublished at the time, and a few remain so. In addition to such thoughtfulness, he personally indexed the subject matter at the top of each file folder for my convenience. All this out of the spontaneous goodness of his heart.
He recounted his first and only meeting with Merton at Gethsemani. Merton came down from his hermitage to greet him at the monastery, and then invited Nouwen to get together with him at the hermitage later that day. As they were parting, Nouwen said, Merton turned and called back to him: "Bring a six-pack with you." May God enfold them both.
Tuoti is director of the Tucson Thomas Merton Society.
Fr. Richard M. Nahman
As Henri Nouwen said to me one day, for the developmentally disabled with whom he lived, his academic and literary accomplishments meant absolutely nothing. It was only one's genuineness -- being "real"--that mattered.
Nancy S. Coyle
When National Public Radio broadcast the news of Henri Nouwen's death, I was in disbelief. For a few days I was unable to find an obituary so I remained in denial. How I wanted it to be false! How I wanted to know that this inspirational contemporary in my life continued with my same internal struggles. For me he was one of the very few who not only "talked the talk but walked the walk" of the suffering where the the Divine awaits us. Henri's writings spoke to me deeply. From him I learned, "When we speak most personally, we speak most universally."
Through our Notre Dame University daughter, my husband and I in the company of friends traveled to South Bend to hear him speak for the first time. With members of the L'Arche community on stage with him, I felt drawn to this individual who for so many years had been my spiritual mentor. It was with embarrassment that I asked him to sign my well-worn copy of Reaching Out -- coffee stains and all -- that had become my bedside bible. His response was one of warmth and pleasure. I was made to feel that we were, indeed, old friends.
Joseph H. Maguire
I first met him one summer in the mid-1960s at the University of Notre Dame where I was teaching and he was visiting. I knew at once that this was no ordinary man. Soon I was reading his articles with titles such as From Magic to Faith (which to this day is my favorite brief commentary on religious development and maturation). Soon I began reading about him and buying his books.
Two of his earlier books, The Wounded Healer (on ministry) and Reaching Out (with a wonderful treatment of hospitality and teaching) have been mainstays of much of my work as an educator for more than 20 years. I have given away perhaps a thousand copies of his various books to students, colleagues, friends and clergy. Nouwen spoke and wrote always with a great clarity of style and thought. I used his books in courses I taught and in dealing with friends and students in moments of spiritual need.
Henri Nouwen's pen has been stilled but because he was once here, "all the ground between us is holy ground." I thank you, Henri, and I thank God for you.
Kim B. Mallet
In 1991 I was hired to teach religion at a Catholic high school in Oakland, Calif. Fr. Nouwen gave a talk at a local parish and afterward I mixed in the crowd around him. I greatly understood being "taken," "blessed," had no doubts about having been "broken" but I was soon to be "shared" at this new job. Did he have any advice? Fr. Nouwen looked thoughtful for a moment and said to me: "You have to love them."
David Martin and
Henri has been a personal friend of ours for over eight years. Since we live in Toronto and the L'Arche Daybreak community is nearby, Henri would often call and come to dinner at our home. When we look around our home, we see many art images by Van Gogh, Rembrandt and others that Henri gave us. All of these pictures held great significance for him and us, may depicting human embraces that reflect the love of God for us.
At our simple meals, Henri would always share his heart with us. He was often lonely or anxious, excited or playful, frustrated or sad. He was very human and he was not afraid to share his experiences with us, no matter how personal or serious. In return, Henri always listened attentively to the concerns of our hearts. He was genuinely concerned with our well-being. He constantly affirmed our work in the AIDS-affected community of Toronto. We have lost many friends to AIDS and cancer. Henri helped us to see death in a new way that bears fruitfulness and new ways of experiencing those who have died. We have cried with him and rejoiced with him. He is truly one of our dearest friends.
Some years ago, when I was making a mid-life career decision, I came upon Henri Nouwen's The Wounded Healer. His concept that we become effective healers by very reason of our own woundedness was a new idea to me. It made sense. It enabled me to trust my ability to become an effective healer. Encouraged by Nouwen's words, I became a professional pastoral psychotherapist, a calling I've found to be very rewarding.
Camilla C. Shumaker
I always wanted to meet Fr. Nouwen. I feel sad that he has left us. I know his death is connected to the resurrection of Jesus Christ and that one of the paradoxes of death is that in Fr. Nouwen's dying, we will experience new life.
Fr. Arthur F. Wright
As a priest of 29 years, I know that God can and does work marvelous changes in our lives at any stage. His writings were a great source of spiritual encouragement and joy to me as a priest challenged to see my life and ministry in new ways. I will miss his writings and I will miss him. May he be with the Lord he so faithfully sought.
Fr. Tom McNally, CSC
Henri's time at Notre Dame University in the 1960s was relatively brief but he made a world of difference for many of us -- especially a group of Holy Cross priests like myself who were experiencing shell-shock after the heady days of Vatican II. He conducted a semester-long course for us in ministry that put things in perspective for all of us and opened up new vistas for most. What a gracious and good man, insightful and immensely enthusiastic! During his stint at Notre Dame, the Catholic Charismatic Movement was big news on campus. I suggested to friends at NCR that they cover this story and make sure they interviewed a young priest psychologist named Henri Nouwen. NCR did so and, I believe, Henri's "take" on this issue -- balanced and insightful as always -- was his introduction to NCR readers.
Paul J. Garavente
I had a class with Fr. Nouwen at Harvard Divinity School while I was a Harvard senior in 1985. As mentioned in your article, many of his classes were standing room only, and this one was no exception. We started each class with five minutes of silent prayer. What a departure from the norm! As you know, Harvard isn't exactly the most religious institution around, but Fr. Nouwen allowed us to get comfortable with silence.
Daniel J. Maloney
I heard the news of Henri Nouwen's death just as I had started reading his most recent book, Can You Drink This Cup? (Ave Maria Press, 1996). His death struck me deeply, as if I myself had lost a member of my own family. He was too young! He had so much left to teach! In the intensity of my reaction to his death, I realized how profoundly this man had influenced my life for over 20 years.
In his final book on "the Cup" -- essentially the cup of life -- Henri wrote of our being called to live our lives through the message of Jesus' cup written about in Luke's Gospel as "the cup of a New Covenant." Using the ideas of "holding," "lifting," and "drinking," Henri explored the complexities of life, the joys and the inevitable sorrows and the necessity of our "drinking the cup -- even to its very dregs" -- as the path to salvation. There is a certain prescience in Nouwen's last book, perhaps of his own impending death, for it looks at life not just in part but in a totality -- the manner in which we should live, from beginning to end, and the means toward our ultimate fulfillment in salvation upon our deaths.
Fr. Pat Fitzpatrick CSSP
At Yale in the fall of 1979 Henri introduced me to his fellow countryman Vincent van Gogh. He led a group of us on a guided walk through Vincent's life -- as artist, but above all as letter writer. Unknown to me then, Henri was taking us through his own personal journey.
Was it Vincent's restlessness that drew Henri to him? "There is something inside me, what can it be? I want to reach so far that people will say of my work: he feels deeply, he feels tenderly," van Gogh wrote. Henri's own reach was as expansive as Vincent's.
At Yale we spent much time on Vincent's Potato Eaters. In this end-of-day meal shared by three generations, five people are seated around a kitchen table, the potatoes are steaming, the coffee is being poured. Seven gnarled, knuckled hands reach for food or drink under the yellow light of an oil lamp. Soil, potatoes and people blend in the muddy colors of these hungry diners. Here Henri found something totally ordinary yet ruggedly grand. Is that what eventually attracted him to Daybreak?
Was he, in fact, en route to L'Arche all his life? "If I am to capture their soul," wrote Vincent, "I must live in their cottages and be in their fields day after day." Both Dutchmen had difficulty settling down. "To continue, to continue is what is needed," wrote the artist. It seems only fitting that an end-of-the-century spiritual writer should die en route -- personally fitting that he should die on my birthday.
Henri's recent works sit on my desk now, waiting for the time when I can read them with less sadness for my (our) loss and more joy in the knowledge that this wonderful friend can still be a mentor and guide. I thank God for the gift he is to us and I rejoice in his happiness.
Fr. Anthony P. Palazzolo
I am 64 years of age. I have been an ordained Roman Catholic priest for approximately 2 1/2 years, and Henri Nouwen, albeit unknowingly, played a significant part in this miracle.
I was the single parent of three children whom I raised through high school and college, and a successful business executive of 30 years. However, I was experiencing a spiritual void. Dr. Kenneth Carder (now Bishop Carder), a Methodist minister and friend, suggested I read "one of your boys," as he put it: The Wounded Healer. This was followed by Reaching Out, Compassion, Seeds of Hope, Gracias, Genessee Diary, etc., almost all of Henri's books. These inspirational and provocative works encouraged me to answer a call to the priesthood after completing a M.S. in counseling psychology in December 1989.
Three years later I wrote Nouwen and sent him an invitation to and explanation about my ordination and his indispensable part. A few weeks later, I received a warm and affectionate letter and a gift of his newest book, The Return of the Prodigal Son. Henri Nouwen continues to contribute hope and courage and confidence to my ministry along with a renewed dedication to our Heavenly Father who endowed Henri Nouwen with such remarkable gifts.
National Catholic Reporter, November 15, 1996