Picture of Paul Hendrickson

Fellowship Title:

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Boy in cathedral

The Spiritual Grid: Searching for a Seminary

WASHINGTON, D.C.–Lying in his bed in the family farmhouse those first five or six months after he left, a man I’ll call Jerry used to think about how he would commit suicide, if it came to that. He would put a shotgun in his mouth and pull the trigger with a string looped to his toe. He laughed then, for he had remembered something: “I was so out of it when I first went there I used to sneak out to the toilets to put on my deodorant. I didn’t want anybody to see my underarms.” He is an atheist now, he said, and then corrected himself and said he was probably an agnostic: he can’t prove God doesn’t exist. Now and then, he said, he still gets in his black depressions. On the evening I sat with him, he was finishing law school at an ivy league university. He was editor of the law review and was then being courted by the best firms on Wall Street. “The whole Catholic thing is so far

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(l to r): 1st. Row: V. Yellen, R. Gallangher, R. D'Ascenso, J. Courtwright, T. Langlois, P. Power, W. Lebeschak, T. Michaels, G. Montherway, O. Langlie; 2nd Row: R. Donnellan, R. Rink, J. Striker, G. Mischler, J. Sullivan, D. Dunn, T. Penkert, A. Pineault, A. Zuppero, E. Eber, J. O'Donnell, J. Shaffer; 3rd Row: S. Flott, J. Hughes, J. Burger, D. Wiesen, M. Campbell, H Stryker, R. Brown, P. Evans, E. Pass, B. Bailey.


DULUTH, Minn.–Getting in. Grammar schools were the seminary farm team in the Fifties, and sisters were the unpaid scouts. In a way getting into a seminary after eighth grade was like riding a river-all you had to do was go with the current. Usually this stream emptied out inside brick fortresses in burgs far removed from the world, the flesh, and the devil. You got nudged onto the flow in various ways, some of them not terribly subtle. “Getting married is fine, but it’s a diamond in your cap to be a priest,” I remember a nun confiding one day in the cloak room. It made a certain sense. It was an elitist theology but I had no sense of that. This theology, that priesthood and sisterhood are first, marriage is second, and the lay state comes in a lagging, suspect third, had been promulgated more or less officially in the Church for generations: my nuns were merely passing it along. The ladder would not get restocked until after Vatican II, and then would come,

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The Bettmann Archive

Christ Figures

(SANTA FE, N.M.) – In the spring the rain ran in scarlet streams down from the hill where the pool was, rutting our ball courts and the rose gardens, staining the cinder-block foundation of our old wooden dormitory. We skipped crazily from building to building in those March and April monsoons. Sometimes it almost seemed as though we had moved outdoors. But we knew then home and summer weren’t far off. Seven times I went away to the seminary before I was done with it, or it with me. It is impossible to think back on any of it for very long without remembering the men who taught us. They were more than teachers; they were Christ figures in religious habits and mission crosses who dominated our lives. If we, in the years and decades since, have known a Diaspora, so in a sense have they. One is dead now. One went to South America and married a former nun. (“Maybe it is a dream too soon for its time,” he wrote in a letter

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103-year-old St. Fidelis Seminary closed this year, victim of dwindling enrollment and rising costs.

The Lord Talking

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) — Leavings. Fifteen years ago this summer, on a July afternoon, I shook hands with some people I knew well, helped heave a trunk into the back of a station wagon, rode twenty-five miles to a Central of Georgia railway depot, bought a ticket, and went home to Illinois. I was no longer Brother Garret, M.S.Ss.T., student for the missionary priesthood. I was Paul Hendrickson again. I had on that day an $80 starchy black mohair suit, a white shirt, black tie, black shoes, white cotton socks, and a burr haircut. I weighed maybe 135 pounds: most of that was Adam’s apple. As the train pulled off I waved to Father Damian, who had brought me in and now stood on the platform making comic faces. I wish he’d quit, I remember thinking. On the ride home I tried picking up a girl. She thought I was an undertaker. Paul Hendrickson shortly before leaving Holy Trinity Seminary, July 1965 For all I knew then, my leaving was an isolated act, in tune with

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Father Judge, Founder of the Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity

Voices: The Founding Father

(HOLY TRINITY, AL.) — In the shank of the new century, lean Tom Benson is eagle-beaked, impetuous, sprung from Niagra University. Spectacled, he wears black fedoras. Ascetic, he has a lecher’s grin. A smooth white knob hums in his left ear: He is deaf, or nearly so. He lost his hearing at three, from diphtheria. The fever scorched the nerve. Some days his world is like a great seamless bubble. Some nights he lies in bed dreaming up at the moon. Benson knows this: He won’t go down to Wall Street. He tells a priest at Niagra he is thinking of joining an order. He doesn’t want the Jesuits or Vincentians. He wants a group just starting out, one that will seize his talents. The priest tells him of a man named Judge working down South. This Judge is gathering associates in a spot called Holy Trinity, Alabama. Letters are exchanged. A meeting takes place on one of Judge’s trips north in a Victorian sitting room in a retreat house in Stirling, New Jersey. Benson

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