Tuesday, December 30, 2008


As usual, I received a “gracious plenty” of gifts this Christmas. My favorites were two treasures popular with me during my childhood – a facsimile of the original Raggedy Ann doll and an edition of Raggedy Ann and Andy stories given to me by my youngest daughter, Elizabeth.

Approximately 15 years ago, the series of Raggedy and Raggedy Andy books from my childhood was complete when I transported a boxful across country headed for California and the home of my grandchildren, only to have them stolen out of a locked van in Albuquerque, NM. I’ve avoided that city ever since, and the loss of those treasures remains an unpleasant memory. To assuage the memory of that loss, Elizabeth, the purported recipient of the books, gave me the doll and book on Christmas Day.

These children’s books were read aloud by my mother for years, beginning when I was three years old. Each Christmas I would receive a new adventure of the rag dolls from my aunts, or my grandmother, or my mother. Johnny Gruelle, the creator of Raggedy Ann, birthed the doll when he retrieved an old rag doll from his attic in 1915 and painted a face on it for his daughter Marcella. He then sent a hand-drawn illustration of the doll to the U.S. Patent office and three years later, P. F. Volland Company, published Raggedy Ann stories, a series about this doll (and, later, her counterpart, Raggedy Andy) who came to life in the nursery after Marcella went to bed each night. The stories were fanciful and featured a doll imbued with qualities of kindness, generosity, friendship, and love. Raggedy Ann bore the legend “I love you” painted on her chest, but the original doll contained a heart made of candy.

Raggedy Andy, on the other hand, was mischievous and adventuresome, downright impish at times, and I have to say, a bit more entertaining than his sister. The adventure stories of these two dolls are peopled with a Camel with Wrinkled Knees, Hookie the Goblin, Uncle Clem, The Snitzdoodle, Snoopwiggy, and other colorful characters who made our bedtime reading a time of fun and fantasy. My mother was probably more enchanted with the stories than any of us – as I wrote about her in “Their Adventurous Will: Profiles of Memorable Louisiana Women,” she flew in the heavens long before Mary Poppins opened her magical umbrella and levitated!

Johnny Gruelle also worked as a journalist and cartoonist, and his illustrations appeared in “McCall’s,” “The Ladies World,” and other notable publications, bringing him fame throughout the world. I’m among those whose childhood was graced by the rag doll stories during a time when we were easily enchanted by a doll with cheerful mien and a disposition toward kindness and love.

Here’s a poem I wrote about the enchanting dolls in “Grandma’s Good War,” published this year by Border Press:


On winter evenings when we came indoors
from playing games of “Tin Can” and rubber gun wars,
my mother would tell us to bathe and dress
in flannel pajamas for her nightly address,
the “read aloud” hour with Johnny Gruelle’s latest book,
a wartime luxury brought home from Claitor’s nook,
the adventures of two rag dolls, Raggedy Ann and Andy,
whose hearts were made of delicious red candy
with “I love you” inscribed upon them
and who spent each night creating nursery mayhem
when Marcella, their owner, settled them for the night,
and upon her departure would stand upright,
raid the pantry, smearing jam across their faces,
forgetting to wipe their mouths of all traces
and hearing Marcella approach, would scramble away,
leaving crumbs, spilled cream, and jam along the way.
Marcella would soap the dolls down until smiles became dim,
hang them out on a clothesline where they became grim
listening to her advice: “Never take anything without asking
what you can always have just for the asking.”
She’d set her own tea table with sugar cookies and lemonade,
take down the dolls and feed them, undismayed;
Always the morals with their deep impressions,
my mother reading stories as if they were lessons,\
platitudes for us to follow toward goals easily reached,
modeled by rag dolls practicing what Marcella preached.
The strongest lesson the cotton-headed dolls did impart:
“be unselfish, reflect sunny music in your heart,”
my mother’s voice resonating with a final chime:
“The heart’s music will make your lives sublime.”

Monday, December 29, 2008


During Christmas holidays, Morris Raphael, New Iberia writer and long-time friend, invited a few people over for a soiree, and I enjoyed my annual Christmas visit with him, his wife, Helen, and daughter Roseanne who had come in from Berkeley, California. Morris is now 91 and still writes a column for “The Daily Iberian,” an upbeat commentary that highlights people and events in Teche country. Through the years, he has been one of my most ardent supporters in this writing venture we share, and he always tells visitors about our mutual admiration society as we “scratch each other’s backs” about the books and newspaper articles we’ve written.

Morris has published thirteen books, ranging from Louisiana history to several mysteries based in Cajun country. One of his novels entitled “Mystic Bayou” is about Hitler being transported in a German sub to the swamps of south Louisiana and hidden there at the end of WWI. It has always been my favorite of his books, and I think it’s worthy of a movie version. His “Battle in the Bayou Country,” concerning a Civil War battle near Franklin, Louisiana, has been his biggest seller and is in its fifth printing.

Morris and Helen fell in love while they were stationed in Brazil – he served as a construction project engineer with Copebras and Helen as translator with the U.S. Information Agency, and they met in Santos, Brazil. Helen, a Californian, was on her second tour of duty; Morris, a native of Natchez, MS, was on his first assignment to build a carbon black plant near Cubatao, Brazil. His memoir about the Brazilian years is another of my favorites and encompasses the Raphael storybook romance on the beaches of Gonzaga in Santos and Copacabana in Rio. In 1985, 27 years after living in Brazil, the Raphaels visited old friends and former Copebras officials in Sao Paulo. As Morris is a Civil War enthusiast, he visited Vila Americana, located northwest of Sao Paulo, which is a place established by Confederate expatriates who left the USA because they didn’t want to live under Yankee rule. Morris found several graves of former St. Mary Parish Louisiana residents who had settled in Vila Americana and includes a chapter about this visit in “My Brazilian Years.”

Among the visitors at the Raphael Christmas party was Will Chapman, publisher of “The Daily Iberian,” who commented that he had given Morris carte blanche to write about anything he wished in his column because he had increased the readership of “The Daily Iberian” tremendously since he launched his column several years ago. I can understand Morris’s popularity because he recognizes the accomplishments of many Iberians in his stimulating column. Each time I publish a book, Morris gives me a “puff” in “The Daily Iberian, and it’s usually a glowing review. He has friends throughout the U.S., and many of his books are distributed abroad.

Morris is past president of the Attakapas Historical Association, the Iberia Cultural Resources Association, the New Iberia Kiwanis Club, and the Jeanerette Rotary Club. He served on the Council of the Shadows-on-the-Teche at New Iberia, and has served on the board of the St. Mary Chapter of Louisiana Landmarks. He has been a long-time member of the Louisiana Writers Guild, the Louisiana Historical Association, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. He was one-time city editor of the “Franklin Banner-Tribune,” and received the Jefferson Davis award from the United Daughters of the Confederacy in recognition of his historical works in 1979. In 1985 he was inducted into the Iberia Parish Second Wind Hall of Fame, and in 1991, he was honored with the Cajun Culture Award for his efforts to advance Cajun culture.

Helen is Morris’s best reader and supporter – she’s an omnivorous reader with an encyclopedic mind honed at Monmouth College in Illinois and at UCLA. In addition to her stint with the U.S. Information Agency, she once worked as an engineer at North American Aviation, as well as taught math at Mt. Carmel High School in New Iberia. A gourmet cook, Helen sets one of the best tables in New Iberia. I’ve never seen the Raphaels perform on the dance floor, but I’m told they’re really dazzling dancers, especially when the band strikes up a Latin American tune called “Quando, Quando, Quando!”

Recently, Morris fell and broke his arm while he was delivering his column to “The Daily Iberian,” and I understand he wrote a column at Christmas, despite his handicap, and had his daughter Roseanne email it – a “first” for him. He’s a role model in stamina and dedication to the writing craft, and I hope he finds time to publish a collection of Civil War stories, accompanied by his original drawings of battles in Teche country, during the New Year. Salud, Morris!!

Sunday, December 28, 2008


On Jan. 16, my grandson Martin Romero, age 29, will marry Kristin Tusa Walker, and I’ll deliver the wedding homily at a Roman Catholic Church in Baton Rouge. It’s the second largest church wedding to occur in the family, and it seems that the grandchildren in our family have become the first to celebrate getting married in a grand way. For years, Martin has vowed to be cautious about getting married because he said, “I don’t mean to hurt the feelings of anyone in the family, but I don’t want to continue the family tradition of divorce.” No hurt here…we’re just glad he waited long enough to be certain that he had found a compatible mate.

This morning as I was writing the homily for this forthcoming event, I kept thinking about C.S. Lewis, the great Christian apologist, who had to reverse a lot of his thinking when he met Joy Gresham and married her in his late 50’s, then enjoyed only three years of wedded bliss before she died of cancer. Lewis’s literary companions in a group called “The Inklings” were astonished that Lewis would finally marry…and to a divorced woman. C. S. Lewis held some strong views about divorce and, for years, had stood by the Anglican Church’s teachings that a divorced person could not be given a church marriage. However, when Lewis met Joy and married her in a civil ceremony, he soon wanted the Church’s sanction of the marriage. He was disappointed to find that the Church, with its strong laws against divorce (in the 1950’s) wouldn’t fulfill a higher law – the law of love! When the Bishop of Oxford refused to allow a religious celebration of the marriage to take place, C. S. Lewis felt that the Church had slammed the door in his face. Finally, Fr. Peter Bide, a friend of Lewis, who had the gift of healing, agreed to represent the Church and marry Lewis and Joy. Lewis, who had held fast to Church canons, told Bide that Joy’s first marriage had been to an already-divorced man and therefore, in the eyes of the Church, her first marriage wasn’t really legitimate. According to one of Lewis’s biographers, Bide later wrote that Joy desperately wanted to solemnize her marriage before God and to claim the grace of the sacrament before she died, so he married the two in a bedside religious ceremony.

The story doesn’t end happily since Joy Gresham died, but C. S. Lewis declared to the world that he didn’t know why he waited so long to get married as he enjoyed every aspect of the union for three happy years…to the extent that his strong grief following her death led to indifference about keeping up his health. Three years after Joy died, on the exact day Pres. John Kennedy was assassinated, C. S. Lewis died. I’m just romantic enough to think that C. S. Lewis’s marriage was indeed a marriage made in heaven. I agree with Gibran’s words defining a good marriage in “The Prophet,” in which he writes: “You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore. You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days. Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.”

I’m not relating this story about C. S. Lewis to cast a shadow on Martin’s forthcoming wedding, but perhaps to assure Martin that waiting until his match appeared and he had matured was a wonderful idea, and I pray he will avoid the “family tradition,” as he calls the several divorces that have occurred in our family. And to inject a little of the lightheartedness that characterizes Martin’s future bride, Kristin, how could a match between two chauvinistic LSU Tiger fans be anything except a marriage made in heaven?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


It’s the time of year for that which Thomas Aquinas called “separated substances” – angels, that is. These invisible bodies don’t seem to fit into our post-modern society, but annunciations occur all the time; we just refer to them as characters or events in our Unconscious. Angels appear to be demanding more attention than they have for centuries. Perhaps they’re responding to those of us who live in a complex industrial society and who search for symbols of hope, love, and peace. Or perhaps they’re simply responding to the 1918 prediction by Rudolf Steiner, founder of Anthroposophy (study of the wisdom of the human spirit) who declared that up until the year 2000, humankind would be assigned the job of becoming seriously aware of the angels. During this time he predicted angels would search for us, attempting to connect with us in a conscious way.

The word “angel” originated from a Greek translation of the Hebrew word Mal’akh which means the shadow side of God. Later, the word was interpreted as messenger. Angels are mentioned in recorded history as far back as 3000 years before the birth of Christ. They had their birth in the ancient cultures of Egypt, Babylon, and Persia, and continued to flourish in the Greek and Roman cultures. Angels have been defined as expressions of God by the Gnostics who were alive during Christ’s time. Representations of great winged creatures appeared in the Book of Genesis, and angels came to Abraham in the form of three men who sat under an oak tree and even ate a meal with Abraham. The Greeks also believed that angels and men could get together and bear children, but by the time the Jews were captured in Babylon, in 600 B.C., angels had moved up to higher forms. They quickly developed into part animal, part spirit creatures with large birdlike wings that moved with remarkable speed.

Today, they symbolize moments of insight and clarity. Always, the winged forms carry us into higher states of illumination. They represent a way for God to communicate with His creatures, make contact with human consciousness. Do angels live forever? A Greek theologian, Origen, believed that they not only live and die but are subject to evolutions over many lifetimes. Whether angels live forever or die as humans do, they seem to be eternal in the divine mythical sense – most people in all cultures and centuries want to believe they have guardian angels that keep them safe and uplifted, and that guide their souls toward contemplation of eternal issues. Plato once described an angel as a messenger moving between heaven and earth in a lightly rushing motion. Ancient Gnostics believed that an angel is the soul within, a spiritual counterpart, and an inseparable part of us. For Carl Jung, the psychologist, the angel emerged as intuitive cognition, our direct knowing of the part of our many selves that is awesome and spiritual. In the mystical writings of the Jewish Kabbalists, ten angels form fundamental channels of divine energy, bearing abstract names like beauty, power, grace, knowledge, and wisdom.

In the ever-popular “It’s A Wonderful Life,” the movie that plays and replays during the Christmas season, Zuzu says “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.” She was among 69% of the American population that expresses a belief in angels, according to former polls conducted by “Time” magazine. When I coordinated a women’s writing group at the Episcopal Church of Epiphany, in New Iberia, we wrote meditations about angels after reading Sophy Burnham’s bestseller, A BOOK OF ANGELS. A class member, Margaret Simon, wrote this sketch concerning a guardian angel during a 20-minute meditation period in a meeting of the writing group:

“An angel is God in the same sense that… a butterfly is God. An angel can come near to us and give us the comfort of God’s presence. I have always felt that Margaret Shields Liles is my guardian angel. She was my maternal grandmother. She died three months before I was born, and I was given her first name. Whenever I visited my grandfather’s house, I would sense her presence in a huge, life-size portrait of her which took up the entire space on one wall in his tiny living room. I was spooked by her portrait, but at the same time, I felt comforted. She holds a violin gently in her lap, and I can imagine her gently cradling me.

“Perhaps my guardian angel was with me when my first-born daughter, also named Margaret, suddely became ill. When Maggie was four months old, she was placed in intensive care because she had developed an unusually high heart rate. She was given medication to reduce the rate, but it didn’t work. The doctors in New Iberia decided that she should be sent by helicopter to Oschner’s Clinic in New Orleans to see a pediatric cardiologist. In the helicopter, the paramedics instructed me to lie on the stretcher with Maggie strapped to my chest. I could feel her heart racing next to mine. I remember the loudness of the helicopter’s motor and the smooth lift upward. As we flew through the night sky, I prayed furiously. An amazing feeling of calm swept over me, and I knew with certainty that everything would be all right.

“The doctor at Oschner’s found Maggie’s heart normal – just accelerated – which indicated an infection. After a few tests, it was revealed that Maggie had pneumonia in one lung. She went home in two days with a hoarse voice and a minor cough. I received calmness that disturbing night. I believe that God’s presence, in the form of an angel (probably Margaret Liles), gave me the comfort and calm I needed and also took care of Maggie.” – Margaret Simon –Excerpted from MEDITATIONS OF MY HEART by the Women’s Reflection Group, Church of Epiphany, New Iberia, LA.

Angels! They’re those spiritual guides who show us unconditional love and who often intervene in moments of crisis to protect us from fatality or to create a miracle that brings more love and joy into our lives. Angels! They’re forceful beings who move beyond conscious control. By entertaining these creatures of beauty and light, we can connect with a power that not only protects us from disaster but trains us in the art of happiness. They abolish worry, transform crises into humor, and create in us a feeling of sublime abundance that resonates throughout the universe.

May the angels bring you tidings of great joy this Christmas season!

Note: Painting by my brother, Paul.

Monday, December 22, 2008


This New Year I’ll begin the year by having another book for young people published– a sequel to MARTIN’S QUEST, a Young Adult novel about a 12-year old boy in French Louisiana. MARTIN’S QUEST was a finalist in the Heekin Foundation Contest for Children’s Fiction back in ’95. In the sequel, MARTIN FINDS HIS TOTEM, Martin acknowledges that he is a traiteur, a French word for healer, and that his ability to heal was handed down through his Grandmother Eulalie from his shaman ancestors of the Chitimacha tribe. Martin becomes attracted to voodoo when Tim, the son of African-American voodooiennes, wanders into the Romero’s yard where Martin and his family and best friend, Renee, are cleaning up after a major hurricane.

Tim has been abandoned at the hurricane evacuation center in New Iberia, Louisiana because his mother finds voodoo evidence that convinces her he conjured up the hurricane. Tim traces his ancestry to a long line of voodooiennes, and when the Romero family brings the abandoned boy into their home for care, Martin, to his family’s chagrin, develops an obsessive curiosity about voodoo practices.

During Hurricane Ada, Grandmother Eulalie is nearly killed when the roof is blown off her treating shed where she waits out the storm. Martin and his father rescue her, but she remains weak and ill from a heart condition. After Martin meets Tim, visions of voodoo rituals appear to him. Meanwhile, Tim is captured by his mother and voodooiennes and taken away to a voodoo ceremony. Martin, Renee, and Martin’s father find and rescue Tim and are chased by voodooiennes, evading the limousine driven by these practitioners by hiding in a cane field.

Martin suggests to Grandmother Eulalie that he might be able to heal her with voodoo. She becomes very angry with him and suggests that he return to his tribal reservation to be cleansed of his obsession by Mr. Verdun, a Chitimacha wise man. During ancient ceremonial rituals of herbal bathing, fasting, and chanting while he is isolated in a forest, Martin discovers his totem, a marsh hawk that will protect and strengthen him to defy voodoo spells.

Thinking that Martin is still in sympathy with voodoo, Papa John, Tim’s voodooienne father, returns to Martin’s home, demanding that Tim be returned to his family. However, after finding his totem, Martin has strength to banish voodoo ways, and Papa John is frightened away by the strength in Martin’s voice when he condemns voodoo practices.

This YA novel also reveals the healing treatments of traiteurs, practices that are common even today in southern French Louisiana and mistakenly thought to be of French origin. However, history shows that the Chitimacha Native Americans, as well as other ethnic groups, passed this tradition of healing to Cajun French people as their cultures gradually merged after the arrival of the Acadians in the 18th century.

The cover illustration of MARTIN FINDS HIS TOTEM was rendered by my brother, Paul Marquart, and the design by my grandson, Martin Romero, and my friend, Vickie Sullivan. Copies of this book can be ordered from Amazon.com by January 15, 2009.

Friday, December 19, 2008


I’ve wanted to write a Christmas message for several weeks, and in all the hecktivity preceding the season, I couldn’t seem to find the time to do so…until this morning, that is. This morning, I received a note from my Bishop, The Rt. Rev. Bruce MacPherson, telling me that the Episcopal Diocese of Western Louisiana was forwarding, through me, a check for over $5,000 to the Sisters of St. Mary, Sewanee, TN to use for their mission work in Haiti. He added, in characteristic wryness, “Who said these beads don’t work?” (Alluding to the Anglican rosary made by Sister Miriam at St. Mary’s Convent which I sent to him earlier this year).

The Haiti project has actually been in motion for eight years, as two of the Sisters of St. Mary have made annual missions to Haiti to provide medical assistance at an orphanage there. When Sr. Miriam and Sr. Julian, formerly of the Order of Sisters of Charity, joined the Community of St. Mary at the Convent in Sewanee, they brought the Haiti project with them. This year, the Sisters initiated a water purification project to aid sick and dying children at the orphanage in Haiti. This amazing system filters protozoa, helminthes, etc. from water by using sand filters to remove the parasites, then a chlorination system to eliminate bacterial and viral contaminants. A by-product of the purification process is sodium hydroxide, better known as lye, which can be used to make soap in a cottage industry or to sterilize sewage.

This year, Associates of St. Mary and many Louisiana friends, including Bishop MacPherson, donated money for the water purification system and to finance the flight and lodging of a technician to install this system in the Port au Prince orphanage. The two medical missioners and technician were joined by Sister Elizabeth of the St. Mary community and representatives of other denominations who were interested in this missionary work. I wrote about the success of this mission in a recent blog and referred Bishop MacPherson to the site so that he would have a full report about the Fall mission. This morning, Bishop MacPherson sent a note informing me that the Episcopal Diocese of Western Louisiana was sending the aforementioned generous check to help provide clean water for children in Haiti. When I read that note, I felt like the adage: “There are times when whatever be the attitude of the body, the soul is on its knees.”

When I pledged the first $500 toward the water purification system, and Vickie Sullivan directed the Sisters to a demonstration of the system at a Methodist Church in Monteagle, TN, we felt confident that this project was, as Evelyn Underhill once wrote, “a manifestation of the Will of God.” I’m certain that the good Sisters, through their lives of constant prayer , and with the aid of the Holy Spirit, often bring about miracles for the needy and disenfranchised in the world. When they constantly hold themselves in God’s presence in solitude and silence, they teach all of us how to return to the heart.

Christmas is upon us, and I’m grateful for many personal blessings, but this year, I’m particularly grateful for the hands extended from the Diocese of Western Louisiana to the Sisters at St. Mary…for the hands extended from the Sisters of St. Mary to the sick and dying children in Haiti…and for the link of spiritual community to spiritual community in the unifying action of Divine charity. God bless us one and all!
And Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


It was a trip down Memory Lane… a recent drive to Covington, or, rather Ramsey, to visit St. Joseph’s Abbey in the piney woods of southeast Louisiana. Actually, Ramsey was the site of my great-uncle and my grandfather’s lumber business, and my great-uncle’s home, now a bed and breakfast called Mill Bank Farms, is just a mile down the road from the Abbey. On the way to the Abbey, we crossed a bridge that spanned a muddy creek near the old Greenlaw home site, a bridge that is the major feature in a photograph hanging on my bedroom wall – well, not the major feature, perhaps – the major feature is that of my godmother (and second cousin) Dora, age 2, standing on the bridge rail “in the buff,” (except for stockinged feet) pointing a finger toward the tea-colored water.

The lumber business at Ramsey required building rails that ran from Ramsey to Franklinton – from my great Uncle’s side yard to my grandfather’s sawmill in Franklinton, and for awhile, the two brothers thrived on the proceeds from cutting and milling longleaf pine, cutting 75,000 ft. of lumber a day. When my great-uncle’s wife died, he took up the rails, sold the home, and moved to New Orleans where he cut a fine figure as a bon vivant, became a charter member of the famous Pickwick Club, got his name in the blue book of New Orleans society, and birthed a magazine about the transportation industry entitled “Louisiana Digest.” Great-Uncle Ed preceded the recreational vehicle industry back in the late 20’s and 30’s when he and my grandfather transferred their zeal for making money to the automobile industry -- Great Uncle Ed built something called “The Virgie-Dora,” (named after his third wife, Virginia, and my godmother Dora), a truck with a small “house” on its bed that the family used for camp-outs, a camper before campers came onto the transportation scene! According to my godmother, the transportation magazine consumed his fortune but when he died, he left a handsome home on West End Blvd and passed on the legacy of a love of literature which has been in the family since the Greenlaws came to this country.

Ramsey isn’t now, and wasn’t an incorporated town when my great-uncle began cutting down all the longleaf pine trees, and life in the woods around Covington was lonely. I have an old letter written by Uncle Ed’s wife, Alice Brittain, to her sister in Virginia that tells about a life of sewing, cooking, housekeeping, and her yearning for more cultural pursuits. Yesterday, I found Alice’s gold pin in my jewelry box that had inscribed on it: “BMFC piano graduate,” and I remembered that she was touted as a talented musician. I also have a photograph of her, my great- uncle, my grandfather, and great-grandmother playing billiards in a room of the old house at Ramsey –and it is Alice, the cultured young woman, who leans over the pool table, cue stick in hand, ready to play a two ball combination! However, sometimes in the evenings, Alice played the violin, Great-Uncle Ed, the cornet, and Dr. Oscar Greenlaw, another great-uncle, played bass violin. She also taught her oldest daughter, Ida, how to “keep time” on the piano and play the violin. I don’t know Alice’s exact age, but she died before the age of 30, succumbing to a disease once called “the grip,” lamenting that Ed, my great uncle, could never take time off from the lumber business to vacation with the family in New Orleans. I always feel great sadness when I read her letter because she seemed to have been so lost… and lonely for a more cultured life than that of a lumber baron’s wife isolated in the deep piney woods.

Visits to southeast Louisiana always evoke poignant memories. Many of them center on St. Joseph’s Abbey where my mother, when disturbed by family situations, sought consolation from the Benedictine monks who resided there. She also provided breakfast for at least three of the rotating priests who came out from the monastery to a Roman Catholic mission in Franklinton, ravenous following early morning Mass on Sundays. One of the priests ate six eggs at each breakfast sitting!! We were given fishing privileges in a pond that is still a part of the property at the Abbey, and my older brother, Paul, worked in the garden at the Abbey in the summers. At one point, he declared he would become a priest; however, he soon became more interested in adolescent parties at the old Village Inn, and the Anglican family fold remained intact. However, years later, two of my younger brothers converted to the Roman Catholic denomination because of the influence of the priests who came out to the Franklinton mission from that same Benedictine Abbey.

When I visited the Abbey a few weeks ago, I was somewhat dismayed to see and listen to a professional choir singing, rather than monks chanting the old Gregorian chants, and was amazed to see about 400 people gathered for Mass in the huge church. The wonderful paintings by Gregory DeWitt, hanging in the chapel and refectory, have gained national recognition, and the monastery has become a place where concerts, art shows, and theatre performances are held. The once silent monastery has burgeoned into a center of art and music that my Great-Aunt Alice, who pined for a more-enriched culture nearby, would have applauded.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


Last week, I attended a meeting of Fortnightly I. Literary Club, the oldest literary club in Iberia and Vermilion parishes. I was a member of this club during the late 70’s, then dropped out for awhile and rejoined several years ago because I missed the book reviews and camaraderie of club members. When I attend these gatherings twice monthly, I always learn something new about New Iberia – about its history, or culture, or just about the goings-on in town, particularly as these subjects are relayed to me by Dianne Landry, who keeps a finger on the pulse of our Queen City.

During this meeting last week at Nash’s Restaurant in Broussard, Louisiana, Dianne showed photographs and a bidding catalog concerning the sale of the statue of Hadrian who, until recently, stood on a pedestal beside the St. Peter Branch of IberiaBank, New Iberia, Louisiana. The Hadrian statue was one of our town monuments, and Dianne informed us that it was to be sold at Christie’s Auction House in Rockefeller Center, New York City. She said that the experts had put a price of $350,000 - $500,000 on the sculpture. A day after our Fortnightly meeting, the statue sold for $902,000, and IberiaBank will receive $750,000 as its share of the sale.

IberiaBank has owned the statue since 1961 when the bank purchased it from J. Wilson Raker of New Orleans, but its origin dates back to the Villa-Montalto-Negroni-Massimi, Rome and was bought by the Earl of Darnley of Cobham Hall, Kent England during the 18th century. It was sold at Sotheby’s in London, then to J. Wilson Raker of New Orleans. Hadrian finally found his way to New Iberia, with its ambience of Malagueno settlers, via IberiaBank.

For almost 20 years, Hadrian stood on a pedestal outside the St. Peter Branch of IberiaBank and suffered through bad weather and the effects of exhaust fumes, remaining vulnerable to defacement by potential vandals. In 1980, he found a new home in a domed glass enclosure and became one of the curiosities of New Iberia, a piece of antiquity encased in a glass box nestled beside a banking institution!

The Emperor Hadrian was born in Rome in 76 A.D., and his father, a Roman senator, was a native of the Roman settlement of Italica in Spain. Dianne Landry told us that possibly because of Hadrian’s father’s Spanish lineage and the fact that New Iberia was originally founded by the Spanish, the linkage inspired the board of IberiaBank to buy the statue.

Hadrian reigned as Emperor of the Roman Empire, 117-138, and his contributions include the Pantheon, the Temple of Venus, his own mausoleum, and other architectural treasures. He distinguished himself as a military strategist and during his reign, he attempted to solidify the Roman Empire’s borders. His legions constructed walls in Britain to defend Roman Britain from the Scottish Picts in the North and in Algeria. His military credits include quelling a Jewish revolt and creating a Panhellenic League. In an attempt to secure the loyalty of Greek aristocracy, Hadrian also completed the Temple of Zeus in Athens.

New Iberian Henry Dauterive was a board member of IberiaBank in 1961 when the sculpture was bought and was quoted in the Daily Iberian as saying that interest in “The Year of Hadrian” in Europe this year probably influenced the high bid on the statue at the auction in New York City. Some Iberians chided the bank for doing away with a valuable piece of art and lamented the loss of another notable landmark in New Iberia, Louisiana. It’s a “given” that when money is scant, art is one of the first things to go!

Monday, December 8, 2008


This fall before we ended our half-year sojourn in Sewanee, TN, I befriended Isabel Anders, an author who has achieved acclaim for her spiritual writings and who lives year-round at Sewanee. Isabel has 19 published books in her repertoire, and the latest, 40-DAY JOURNEY WITH MADELEINE L’ENGLE, was added to her list of titles this month. It’s a book that pays tribute to Isabel’s friend and mentor, Madeleine L’Engle, renowned novelist, poet, and speaker. I once met Madeleine L’Engle at an Episcopal Churchwomen’s conference at Camp Hardtner, Louisiana where she delivered a series of lectures about her journey with Christ. A few years after meeting her, I found a copy of her book, WALKING ON WATER, at Trinity Church, NYC, and read it. The book influenced me to persist in the writing process back in the 80’s when I was discouraged midway in my research and writing about 16 memorable Louisiana women.

Isabel’s 40-DAY JOURNEY provides the opportunity for Christians everywhere to be mentored by Madeleine L’Engle, she explains in the directions about how to use the book – and encourages readers “to begin living what you learn.” She has selected 40 inspiring excerpts from Madeleine L’Engle’s books and added to them questions to ponder regarding the excerpts, psalm-fragments, nudges for journal reflections, followed by prayers of hope and healing for readers.

Isabel promises readers that if they follow the instructions in 40-DAY JOURNEY, they’ll deepen the focus and intensity of experiences that result in spiritual transformation. Most of Isabel’s books center on this deepening of the spiritual life and reflect her own deep faith and daily spiritual practice. In preliminary pages of the book, Isabel gives direction for keeping a spiritual journal which she recognizes as a form of meditation; i.e., “a profound way of getting to know yourself – and God – more deeply…writing is generative: it enables you to have thoughts you wouldn’t otherwise have had….”

Also included in the preliminary pages of 40-DAY JOURNEY is a brief biography of Madeleine L’Engle, who died in 2007. Isabel talks of Madeleine’s engagement with the questions of life and death, and her exposition of themes about good and evil, science and faith, and man and nature. Readers will remember Madeleine L’Engle’s book, A WRINKLE IN TIME, which received the John Newbery Medal award for an outstanding young adult book – and which has sold eight million copies. Isabel adds a note that is heartening to writers: Madeleine L’Engle’s prize-winning book was rejected 26 times before being accepted by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. It’s now in its 69th printing!!!

I especially liked the excerpt from Madeleine L’Engle which Isabel chose for Day 24: “Through no virtue of our own we are made dead to the old and alive in the new. And for each one of us there is a special gift, the way in which we may best serve and please the Lord whose love is so overflowing. And gifts should never be thought of quantitatively. One of the holiest women I have ever known did little with her life in terms of worldly success; her gift was that of bringing laughter with her wherever she went, no matter how dark or grievous the occasion. Wherever she was, holy laughter was present to heal and redeem. In the Koran it is written, ‘He deserves Paradise who makes his companions laugh.’”

Isabel’s 40-DAY JOURNEY WITH MADELEINE L’ENGLE is a gift to those of us who are interested in spiritual growth and provides a series of “inspirations” to help us understand how the Holy Spirit is working within all of us. Brava, Isabel, and thank you for the Christmas gift you have packaged of the writings from the work of your friend and mentor, Madeleine L’Engle. You have achieved that which you write about your mentor in the preface to 40-DAY JOURNEY: “an illumination of the journey with Christ that more timid minds might bypass…”

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


Yesterday I “tuned in” to the site called “The Color Of A Lion’s Eye” and read the latest blog by my friend Jane Bonin. The blog was a lovely vignette about a Christmas that came too late in Niger, Africa. Jane, a former Peace Corps director in Malawi and Niger, Africa, is now retired in Washington, D.C. and is writing a book about her experiences in Africa. She has led a life filled with rich experiences, and has been active, worldwide, as a servant to the needy. In addition to her work with the Peace Corps, Jane spent many years promoting The Hunger Project (founded by Joan Holmes), a global non-profit, strategic organization committed to the sustainable end of world hunger. Members of the Project work in 13 countries to develop effective bottom-up strategies to end hunger and poverty. Back in the 80’s, Jane and I worked together in the Hunger Project, and we introduced the idea of ending hunger to Bayou Girl Scout Council where I was an executive with GSUSA at that time. When Jane moved to Washington, D.C., she remained committed to the work of the Project until she was appointed to a Peace Corps position and went to Africa.

The background information on Jane’s blog is modest, but she has a high profile as a Renaissance woman and has maintained this profile for the almost-40 years I’ve known her. I met her when she was a professor of English at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette, Louisiana, and we worked together on a graded reading list for Grades 7-12 for the Iberia Parish Schools published by the New Iberia Library where I was a PR director for five years. In our spare time, we edited the Epiphany church newsletter which we named “Epiphany Tidings.” At the time, Jane was heavily involved in writing her books about drama: PRIZE-WINNING AMERICAN DRAMA and MAJOR THEMES IN PRIZE-WINNING AMERICAN DRAMA. She was one of the founders of Eavesdrop Theatre, an experimental theatre in Lafayette, Louisiana and was director for “Open Space,” a showcase for student playwrights. Jane also wrote several plays herself, one of which was produced Off-Off Broadway in 1976. In 1982, her biography about the playwright Mario Fratti was published by Twayne. During her tenure as professor at ULL, Jane received the Distinguished Professor award, a deserved honor as she was well-beloved by her students.

Today, Jane indulges her lifelong interest in music (she was once a bass cellist) by taking voice lessons, singing in Episcopal church choirs, and tinkering with a piano she bought after returning from Africa. She also works out at a gym, takes French lessons, blogs, continues her writing on the book about Africa, and cooks, a la French style. On one visit to her apartment in Georgetown, we enjoyed a midnight concert in which she sang, a cappella, coached by her voice instructor who was present for dinner.

A thin, fit woman who loves elegance, Jane usually mesmerizes people gathered for parties with her wit and range of conversational topics. She often visits her daughter, Knowles, at Sewanee where we sojourn part of the year. She also has a son, “Little William,” who lives in North Carolina.

Log on to http://alionseye.blogspot.com and read Jane’s Christmas message. You’ll enjoy a rich reading experience!