Message from Fr. Ian Boyd, C.S.B.
Introduction to The Chesterton Review
Fortieth Anniversary Issue
Vol. XXXX, nos. 3 & 4, Spring/Summer 2014
This year The Chesterton Review celebrates the fortieth anniversary of its founding. 1974 was an appropriate year for the founding, for it was the centenary of Chesterton’s birth. A conference at Spode House, a Dominican retreat centre in the English midlands, was part of the centenary celebrations. Because I was spending a sabbatical leave at Oxford, I attended the conference; and, during a conversation with a group of conference participants, I suggested that a Chesterton journal was needed. It was important, I explained, that the journal should focus on Chesterton’s wisdom rather than his personality. I was of course true that his personality was a delightful one, but an undue emphasis on it might suggest a Chesterton cult. What the journal should emphasize instead was his role as a thinker and imaginative writer, an author who expressed his deepest insights, not only in books such as Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man, but even more importantly, in stories and verse and enigmatic sayings. Something another writer once said about him, provided an explanation of why a Chesterton journal was needed. In the early 30s, during one of Chesterton’s visits to America, Etienne Gilson, the French academician and medieval historian, met him in Toronto at St. Michael’s College. In the Basilian Fathers dining room there, Chesterton was of course the honoured guest, and Gilson never forgot the brilliance of his conversation. Years later, he wrote that everything he heard him say then was an intellectual revelation. He spoke, Gilson explained, not as someone who laboriously worked his way towards the truth, but as someone who had already intuitively it. For that reason, the French philosopher concluded, every bit and parcel of his writings must be treasured and studied. He was, Gilson said, “one of the deepest thinkers who ever lived.” It might therefore be said, that The Chesterton Review was founded in order to do what Gilson said should be done.
Something else was appropriate about the founding of the Review. Chesterton believed in small communities, and the community responsible for publishing the first issue of The Chesterton Review in the Fall of 1974 was small indeed. Sister Mary Loyola, a Professor of eighteenth-century English literature at St. Thomas More College in the University of Saskatchewan, was the key member of the group, so were Alma Steinke and Jane Morris. Without their help, the project would never had succeeded. There were other helpers. The Basilian Community at St. Thomas More College and the Central Basilian Government in Toronto were friends of the work since the very beginning. To cite only one example of their help, Father Jack Gallagher, a Basilian Superior General, contributed his family inheritance to an endowment which continues to support our work even to this day.
Looking back over these forty years, I am therefore impressed, not only by the smallness of the group that has kept our project afloat, but, most of all, by the generosity of their commitment. In Edmund Burke’s book of reflections on the French Revolution, there is a passage about the glory of small communities that might well be applied to them: “to be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affection. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love to our country and to mankind.” The loyalty of those belonging to our particular “little platoon” during the forty years of our existence is perhaps the think most worth celebrating on our anniversary.
A journal is only as good as the quality of the writing found in it. Sister Mary Loyola was the one who made sure that everything published in our early issues an exacting standard. Nothing was included in the Review that had not first crossed her desk and received her sharp and critical attention. She died many years ago, but she is remembered by those who worked with her with gratitude and affection. We remember also the contributions of our printers at the Marian Press in Battleford in those early days. The Oblate Fathers operated the Press; but a layman, Ewald Gossner, set the lead type by hand on an old-fashioned type-setting machine. The early issues of the Review were therefore hand-printed. Without the help of these people, our project would never have prospered.
The contribution of Father Daniel Callam, also a Basilian, deserves especial mention. He provided, and continues to provide, invaluable help both as our film critic and as our Copy Editor. Father Callam was the founder of the Canadian Catholic Review. He is a theologian who holds degrees from the University of Toronto and from Oxford University. He taught at St. Thomas More and now lives at St. Michael’s College.
The move of the Review from Canada to America occurred fifteen years ago. Father Robert Sheeran, the then President of Seton Hall University, invited us to come to the University. Professor Dermot Quinn teaches at the Seton Hall, and it was because of him that Monsignor Sheeran was eager to make the University a Chesterton centre. Dr. Quinn, a native of Derry in Northern Ireland, was educated at Trinity College Dublin and at Oxford University. An author of a number of books and numerous scholarly articles, he is of course the Associate Editor and a frequent contributor to the Review. Many of his writings deal with Chesterton’s Distributist social philosophy. Gloria Garafulich-Grabois is the other central member of our group. She is a native of Santiago, Chile and comes from a distinguished family who have their roots in Croatia. She joined our Chesterton project ten years ago. Among her many achievements, she is responsible for the recent launching of the French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish editions of the Review and for our conferences around the world.
The celebration of our anniversary recalls a small incident that occurred during the early days of our Institute. In order to benefit from a less expensive postal rate, I used to travel in a van from Saskatoon to the village of Portal in North Dakota, bringing copies of the Review to the border Post Office there. It was a journey of some three hundred miles. Late one dark November afternoon, I arrived at the village only to discover that the Post Office had already closed. There seemed to be no solution to this problem, until the Customs Official said that he would “phone Marian.” It turned out that Marian was in charge of the Post Office. The border official was sure that she would be happy to open the Post Office in order to help a stranger. But first the official wanted to know who the man was who gave his name to our journal. I told him that Chesterton was a writer who admired communities small enough so that people knew each other by name and problems could be solved by simply “phoning Marian.”
It was a small happening, but I have never forgotten it. The deepest truths, Chesterton once said, are told only in parables. It seems to me that the fortieth anniversary issue of The Chesterton Review is a good time in which to recall this small parable. To borrow another phrase from Chesterton, it was “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.” It might also be said that the forty-year history of our journal consists of a long series of such stories. In a sense they are the reason why our work matters and why it deserves to continue. Ad multos annos The Chesterton Review.