I need to tell you how my good only brother and
only sibling came to live, serve the Lord and die in this blessed
He was born in
1915 at Forest Hills, Long Island. I came a year later. In 1918, our
mother succumbed to the disastrous flu pandemic. Our dad, a recent
Fordham graduate from Winnipeg, was struggling to make a living writing
booklets and articles about proper English speech, something he himself
exemplified. Finding himself overwhelmed by the prospect of raising two
very small children on his own, he enlisted the help of his good mother
and his bachelor brother, Frank, living in Vancouver, British Columbia.
We went to live with them and found loving care. Our dad had given him
the name Scanlan at birth, though he must have had a saint’s name at
baptism. We called him “Sonny”. For a while, we lived in Calgary with
our Aunt Julia, oldest of our mother’s several sisters. She had settled
there because I had rickets and needed to live in an elevated city with
pure air. When I recovered from the rickets, it was decided I would
return to the states to live in Illinois with Aunt Julia while Sonny
went to live with our Aunt Margaret, our dad’s sister, and her family,
then residing in Calgary.
Sonny received a good foundation
extending into the secondary level, in good Canadian schools.
In the late 1920’s our Aunt Marie,
another of our mother’s sisters, left a French Dominican convent for two
purposes. First, to bring my brother and myself together. Second, to
teach and promote Gregorian Chant, the sung prayer of the Church. She
had an excellent musical education as a pianist and had studied
composition under the distinguished composer Vincent d’Indy at Schola
Cantorum in Paris, from whom she acquired her love and knowledge of the
plain chant. With only a small inheritance from both of our
grandfathers, she managed to get Sonny from Canada and into the new
boarding school, Portsmouth Priory School, founded by Reverend J. Hugh
Diman, member of the English Benedictines, at Portsmouth, Rhode Island.
On faith, Fr Diman agreed to take my brother on the basis of whatever
Aunt Marie could pay. She supplemented our meager funds by teaching
Gregorian wherever the opportunity arose, thus accomplishing goal #2.
Meanwhile I was living with maternal relatives and she managed to get me
into Portsmouth too, thus accomplishing goal #1.
At Confirmation Sonny was urged by Aunt
Marie to choose the name Pierre. It was the closest Saint’s name she
could think of that would honor our late mother, whose maiden family
name, like Aunt Marie’s, was Pierik (meaning in Dutch “Little Peter”.
In 1931, Aunt Marie, very much on faith,
decided she would take both of us abroad for a French classical
education, remembering how her own experience in France had broadened
her perspective. Having secured passports, the three of us sailed
for France and proceeded to Paris, where Aunt Marie knew a Parisian lady
who was a close and caring friend. Pierre and I were admitted to a
French collège operated by the Marianist order and located in the
picturesque town of Fribourg, Switzerland. Here, as planned by our
insightful Aunt, Pierre found the intellectual stimulus and challenge he
needed and met it head on. He had, from Portsmouth, a basic knowledge
of French and a first name which certainly helped him fit in.
In France the baccalaureate exam at the
time, (and possibly today) was taken in two sessions a year apart. In
1933, after 2 years and a few months of study Pierre went to Paris for
the first half. Aunt Marie’s generous friend arranged affordable
lodging removing that concern. For French composition, he submitted an
essay, written on the spot, which resulted in a score of 18 over 20
(which of course is 90%). In the French system, such a mark has been
considered fantastic. They simply do not believe in 90% and above in
subjects other than math where each question is either right or wrong –
and he was strong in math, too. He returned to school a hero.
When first enrolled at the school Pierre
and I were boarders. After several months, Aunt Marie was able to rent
suitable living quarters for us. Being quite perceptive, she introduced
us to the European political scene by reading to us each evening during
supper the English edition of MEIN KAMPF, WHOSE CRIMINAL AUTHOR
proceeded to become Chancellor of the Reich in January 1933.
During our time at Fribourg, a remarkable
Dominican, Fr. Augustus Skehan, taught at the renowned university
there. I don’t recollect how we had the good fortune to become
acquainted with him, perhaps it was because his students included a
number of American Marianist seminarians housed on our school’s
premises. Aunt Marie welcomed him warmly, she herself being a Third
Order. Pierre admired him and they became close friends. Fr.
Skehan began to perceive the possibility of a vocation, encouraged by
our aunt, of course. Soon Fr. Skehan arranged for Pierre to be received
as a novice upon our return to the States. Pierre completed his
baccalaureate in 1934. We went on to Rome for a Holy Year visit and
toured several other Italian cities, including Florence. Aunt Marie was
a constant admirer of Fra Angelico and his trademark blue color. On we
went to England, where Pierre and I and a good friend from our school
did a bicycle tour. Pierre corresponded in French with this worthwhile
friend for many years. During the summer before Pierre had toured
France by bicycle and reached Lourdes, where he became a “brancardier”,
a stretcher-bearer, and made another lifelong friendship with a fine
gentleman in French exports.
We sailed from London to the USA. After
a brief visit to say good-bye to Portsmouth, Pierre headed for the
novitiate in Kentucky.
I have to tell you that Pierre had
another vocation open to him. He was such a powerful ice hockey player
that he could almost surely have qualified for the NHL. Fortunately,
they did not pay in those days the fortunes they pay today. And then,
there was Fr. Skehan exercising his strong power of persuasion.
As I recollect it, Pierre was ordained in
1941, the same year the Army discovered me. Nearly all of his priestly
life was spent here. He spent a short time at St. Vincent Ferrer n New
York City. He visited Providence College but I don’t think he taught
there. He did indeed teach at one of the Pontifical Colleges in Rome,
but apparently it was not the Albertinum and was for a year or so at
Ohio Dominican College. In 1960, he published the hardback PRINCIPLES
OF EDUCATION. He wrote regular articles for the HOMILETIC & PASTORAL
REVIEW. Other material was prepared for the Dominican teaching nuns.
As he progressed, his thrust was to reconcile science and the Faith. He
also celebrated Mass in French as a frequent substitute for the pastor
of the French congregation in Washington. He declined to be transferred
to the Order’s retirement center here, but insisted to the end to
participate in the offices here and the other functions of this House,
but did give up teaching the seminarians. May he rest forever in peace!
By John Conway