- The Greater Glory: Thirty-Seven Years with the Jesuits
In 1971 I met Steve Casey in my early years as a Jesuit seminarian. His community in Montreal was hard on younger members of the order. They represented a threat to the established ways of religious life. Steve Casey was an exception to that harshness. He was kind and supportive and he always provided a compassionate ear to our troubles.
Looking back now I see that compassion rose also because he too was in trouble with his vocation. He was forty-five then.
Steve Casey was twenty-one when he entered the Jesuits in 1947. He left in 1984, age fifty-eight. His memoir, almost exclusively about his early life and time in the Jesuits, was written when he was eighty-one, and is dedicated to his wife, Emelia. The book is part of the Footprint Series, dedicated to the life story of extraordinary Canadians. These help define the larger historical narratives in which they are situated. In this case Steve Casey's memoir charts the progress of one man's life through the self-enclosed world of Catholic religious life from the 1950s to the 1980s, within the context of a rapidly changing world. Casey notes, [End Page 367]
[T]he old system that had lasted for 1500 years was changing - and to many, crumbling - and a new attitude, a new code of behaviour, a new culture, a new kind of faith, though not a new faith, were imperceptibly yet inexorably sweeping away the old and establishing themselves as the dominant world view in the Western world.
His story presents a family background of tranquil domestic order, far removed from Freudian turmoil, teenage angst, or the chaos of the second European war of 1939-44. The sheltered life he leads - despite an encounter with a diocesan priest who tries to kiss him - continues when he enters the Jesuits, and the story depicts his appropriation of the rituals of that cloistered life detached either from an internal spiritual growth or a healthy relationship with the world outside that closed myth.
Towards the end of his memoir Casey asks, 'Was there overall a kind of brainwashing that took place in the Jesuit order?' He answers, 'Not in the sense ascribed to fundamentalist Christian groups but it is quite true that the long immersion in the Jesuit way of life . . . created . . . a singular vision of life and its meaning.'
For Casey the corrosive aspects of that closed world resulted in a depression in 1983. He went to a treatment centre, and then we read, briefly, of a repressed childhood, a mother's disapproving glare and sharp tongue, and of a constant desire to please. To belong, 'for thirty-five years in the order [he] kept his emotions bottled up, hardly knowing what they were.' He left the Jesuits and 'began a completely new life' with marriage.
The movement in Casey's life is from a closed world - first family, and then religious life - through brokenness to an open myth with a newly discovered happiness in which he has 'no regrets over that life-altering decision taken over 20 years ago.' He has moved from one story, religious life, to another, marriage.
The memoir is interesting for its depiction of a vanished world of religious ritual, now making its appearance again in forms of neo-conservatism. It shows the attraction of such a world where security substitutes for a lived relationship with God; where systems replace mystery; where exclusivity distorts community; and where the conventions of identity rather than relationships define who a person is.
This memoir so compellingly depicts that closed world that in it we get almost no glimpse of the much larger life being lived outside this particular reading of the Jesuit myth. No Elvis, no Rolling Stones, no assassination of Kennedy, no Expo 67, no cultural revolution of the sixties, no cold war, no Vietnam. Casey's story shows not only an emotional life taken away, but also a social and a cultural...