Growth and Change (1969-1970)
Perhaps we should point up here what is implicit in the description of the first two years of The American Teilhard de Chardin Association, Inc. Many brilliant academic and theological minds were contributing to the spread of Teilhard's vision, but it was Minna Cassard's energy, warmth, humor, and sense of style that gave shape to the Association and unified it.
She gave a lot of time to endless details. Great care went into choosing stationery of good design, providing stemmed glasses rather than plastic ones for the sherry to be offered to visitors, arranging to have the new brochure designed by the Graphics Department of the Museum of Modern Art, furnishing the office with a handsome Parsons table in black marble formica made by a member's husband, and handsome black and chrome stacking chairs purchased at a discount, answering all letters promptly, and planning every detail of the Annual Meetings. Needless to say, it was all accomplished on the proverbial shoestring. Underneath the efficiency there was a great religious dedication and if, at times, Minna could seem bored or disappointed with the talks and discussions, and a rather severe critic of any book that did not come up to the standard of Teilhard's own work, it was because she herself had delved deeply into the Christological meaning of his insights and had little or no interest in the wide-ranging probings of the modern intellect. If some scholars felt slighted, it was also true that without Minna the center would not have held. Actually, both strands were necessary to make an effective Association.
All too soon the still-young association had to suffer departures of some of its most active directors. Dr. Dansereau in July of 1968 was appointed Professor of Ecology in the faculty of Environmental Design at the University of Montreal, and he resigned as President. At the Second Annual Meeting, held at Essex House in New York on April 26, 1969, Dr. Theodosius Dobzhansky, the world famous geneticist of Rockefeller University, replaced him. The annual speaker that year was Fr. George Maloney, S.J., whose topic was "The Cosmic Christ from St. Paul to Teilhard." Later that year Michael Murray moved to Cuernavaca, Mexico, to work with Ivan Illich and to become rector of the Episcopal Church there. Beatrice-Bruteau went to North Carolina to continue her writing (she had a contract to do her book on Teilhard and the Hindu Traditions) and to set up her Philosophers' Exchange. The Rev. Pieter de Jong replaced her as Second Vice-President. Another departure was that of Advisory Board member, Dr. Melady,who went to Africa as American Ambassador to Burundi.
If there were departures there were also arrivals. Bernard Towers, M.D., Chairman of the Executive Committee of the British Association, and one of the editors of The Teilhard Study Library, returning to England after a period of research work at the University of California, stopped off in New York to give a public lecture in March of 1969. This was another link with the Association across the Atlantic (Dr. Dobzhansky had already been elected a Vice-President of their Association) and with Bernard Towers personally, for he was to come onto our Advisory Board a few years later when he moved permanently to California. His talk made evident to all how he had successfully defended Teilhard against Sir Peter Medawar's attack in the famous B.B.C. debate which had taken place a few years earlier.
Two new members came to the Board that year: Gertrud Mellon (a Trustee of the Museum of Primitive Art and member of the International Council of the Museum of Modern Art) who had become interested in Teilhard while studying with Ewert Cousins at Fordham (indeed, she returned to the Catholic Church as a result of reading Teilhard), and Lauren Surget (of the Technical Staff of Bell Telephone Laboratories). Bob Francoeur was Chairman of the Executive Committee, and Anna Francoeur was Treasurer. Some new names appeared on the Advisory Board of persons who would later become officers and Board Members: Alice Knight and R. Wayne Kraft, whose book The Relevance of Teilhard had been published in 1968.
In November the Association presented a two-day conference on Process Thought: From Cosmogenesis to Christogenesis at Drew University Theological School in Madison, New Jersey, with Pieter de Jong, Clarence Decker, Robert Francoeur, and Ewert Cousins among the speakers.
That fall was to see, also, the first of the series of evening discussions and seminars that the Association would henceforth offer at its headquarters. Though it is not possible to record here all the evening programs that were given throughout the years, some of them will be listed so as to indicate the range of subjects and the approach to Teilhard. This first program consisted of the following: "Exploring Teilhard," led by Sr. Anne Martin, "Applying Teilhard's Insights to Contemporary Challenges," led by Larry Surget, and "Church, Eucharist, Grace, Sin in the Thought of Teilhard," led by Fr. Almagno. The Association at that time owned only fifteen fragile, old folding chairs, and we were pleased that they were all taken and that none collapsed.
A project dear to Minna's heart was teaching Teilhard's ideas to young people. Alice Knight, who had been giving a course on Teilhard to a group of ninth-grade students in the Sunday School of Christ Church, Greenwich, Connecticut, and also an adult class in the parish, convened a group of interested members. Dora Chaplin, Professor of Christian Education at The General Theological Seminary in New York, Sister Élise, C.H.S., of St. Hilda's and St. Hugh's School in New York; Bradford Hastings, Rector of Christ Church in Greenwich, Connecticut; Sister Anne Martin, who was now studying for a doctorate at Union Theological but had formerly taught Teilhard to children in a depressed area of Detroit; Sister Mary Thérèse McVicar,Instructor in Education at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, New York. These and others compiled a set of Teaching Outlines which the Association offered for sale for one dollar. Sales were good, and it was felt that another and important facet had been added to the Association's program.
The great problem of the Annual Meetings was to find a place that would not be so ruinously expensive that we would have to charge too much for the luncheon tickets and thus defeat our purpose. Minna found a solution that served for a number of years, the Parish House of the Church of the Holy Trinity on East 88th Street in New York. It had a spacious library, a suite of bare but sunny Sunday school rooms, and a large auditorium. It also had an excellent cook and adequate kitchen facilities. A Hospitality Committee arranged the 1970 luncheon, setting up the tables the day before, arranging for buying of the food, filling the wine glasses, arranging flowers. It was a lot of work but worth all the effort. Ninety people came from as far afield as Chicago, Boston, Baltimore, and Schenectady; old friends were greeted and new ones made. Renée-Marie Parry, Honorary Secretary of the British Association, was guest of honor. Dr. Dobzhansky consented to serve another term as President, Ewert Cousins joined Pieter de Jong as Vice-President, and the Secretary and Treasurer were reelected. Romano Almagno and Alice Knight became Directors, and Donald Gray, a future officer, was among those elected to the Advisory Board. About 150 persons were in the afternoon audience to hear the talks given by Mrs. Parry on "Teilhard and the Contemporary World Scene" and by Dr. Dobzhansky on "Evolution and Man's Conception of Himself."
That fall Donald Gray gave a seminar on The Phenomenon of Man (a wonderfully clear exposition of that difficult book) and Larry Surget brought his technical knowledge of remote sensing devices to his popular discussions of "Building Mankind" and "Human Energy." In Connecticut Professor Alfred Stiernotte conducted a scholarly workshop at Quinmpiac College on "The Thought and Mysticism of Teilhard de Chardin," an inquiry into Process Philosophy, Teilhard's Christology, and the Mysticism of Process.
About this time Minna made a study of the geographical distribution of the members and reported as follows: *Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, *Iowa, *Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, *Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, *Nevada, *New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, *North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, *Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, *Vermont, Virginia, *Washington, *West Virginia, Wisconsin, Canada, *Burundi, France, *Italy, *Korea, *Mexico, *Peru, and *Yugoslavia. Ages spanned from that of a 17-year-old student to a New York lady of 92. (The asterisks signify only one member.)
In October 1970 Minna wrote of a problem that has always been at the core of the Association's existence:
I am gravely concerned about the Teilhard Association. Money is tight all over the country as you know and our membership renewals are not coming in too well. We are getting a few new members but just about enough to make up for losses, if that... . We need money for rent, postage, printing, everything... . The wear and tear on me is really too much. It has gone on for four years now and is very debilitating.
Later that year Jean Houston and Alexander Wolsky came onto the Board. But there were still more departures: Fr. Romano Almagno was transferred to a Franciscan study center in Italy, for six years, as librarian at the Collegio International S. Bonaventura. Happily for the Association he not only continued to compile his scholarly bibliography on Teilhard (as yet unpublished for lack of funds) but he returned each summer to teach a course on bibliography at the University of Pittsburgh and stopped off in New York long enough to give a series of weekly lectures during the month of June. Some friends and admirers were always on hand to listen.
Late in the fall Larry Surget and his new wife set off on a pilgrimage to India. And then, early in 1971, Dr. Dobzhansky himself retired from Rockefeller University and moved out to the University of California at Davis.
But, if the Association seemed to be at a low ebb it was not for long, for 1971 was to see a resurgence of energy and interest, culminating in the very successful conference held in New York City on "Hope and the Future of Man."