The First Two Years (1967-1968)
Almost immediately a difficulty arose. During the summer of 1967 Robert Francoeur was married, with the full permission of Rome. He resigned as President because of the vulnerability of the newly-fledged Association and because of the inevitable questions and criticisms, both in this country and in Europe, where understanding of the Dutch and American movements towards optional celibacy were at a minimum. In October Dr. Dansereau, though protesting that the office was rightfully Bob's, reluctantly took over as President under the persuasion of Ewert and of Bob himself. Dr. Dansereau brought to the office considerable scientific distinction in addition to his long interest in Teilhard. He was a plant geographer of wide renown, former head of the New York Botanical Gardens and now Distinguished Scholar at Cranbook Institute of Science. Michael Murray replaced him as Vice-President.
The Annual Conference of the French Association held in September at Vézelay, France, was attended that year by Michael Murray, who gave one of the addresses (the first American to be invited to do so) and also by an American student, Jerome Perlinski, who had received the first scholarship awarded by the French Association.
The Rev. Michael Murray had been a publisher of UNESCO art books in Paris when he read, by chance, some Teilhard manuscripts being circulated by worker priests. Instantly fired by this new vision, he returned to the United States and entered theological school. He was now an Episcopal minister working at Episcopal Church headquarters in New York City. Such was the effect of Teilhard to change lives. Michael was the author of The Thought of Teilhard de Chardin: an Introduction and had given a series of Teilhard lectures at Trinity Institute, an Episcopal graduate teaching center in the city, and also at the Church of the Holy Trinity. He and his French wife, Eliane, lived across the street from the Association's headquarters and were unstinting in the help they proffered.
That November a young Franciscan priest and research scholar, The Rev. Romano Almagno, O.F.M., offered his services as Librarian, a post for which, as a student of Teilhard and also a professional librarian, he was eminently qualified. His offer was gratefully accepted, and he was formally appointed Librarian at the next Board meeting. The library already contained 150 books, and plans were made to build the collection. It was agreed that it should include not only the published works of Teilhard in the French, English, and American editions but also books by writers who had influenced him Bergson, Blonde & Breuil, Valensin and copies of Teilhard's as yet unpublished essays. By April of I968 Fr. Almagno had completed A Basic Teilhard Bibliography for the Association, listing 80 items, and this was to be enlarged and updated in 1970, 1972 and 1974. A definitive Teilhard Bibliography of books and articles in English, French. German, Spanish, and Italian is kept up to date and only awaits funds for publication.
December brought a warm letter from The Rev. Anthony Dyson, editor of The Teilhard Review, published by the British Association. He offered to serve the American Association through the Review as much as possible and welcomed any liaison whereby articles and books from the States might be included. Two volumes of The Teilhard Review had already appeared, and plans were being made to transform it from a "house magazine" into more of a straightforward journal. Tentative plans for distribution of The Teilhard Review to all American members were set forth, and these were later carried out.
December also saw the first of a series of lectures given under the aegis of the new Association. A roster of brilliant scholars presented talks at the Universities of Fairleigh Dickinson, Fordham, Rockefeller, and Seton Hall, and at Marymount-Manhattan College. But, though the lectures were well attended, stipends and travel expenses exceeded income, eating into the Association's meager funds. This was a problem to be faced many times in the future.
Meanwhile, efforts were
being made to build up a membership. The Association made an
effort to operate simultaneously on two levels academic
and popular. It sought not only to encourage communication between
scholars, to answer questions of publishers, writers, and students
but also to promote a wider understanding of the complex and
subtle body of Teilhard's thought among those outside the academic
communities who came to his work unaided.
Such was the young man who wrote the following letter:
I am a 21-year-old medic, serving in the Armed Forces in Viet Nam. Just recently, in our hospital, I stumbled upon the book Building the Earth, by Fr. Teilhard de Chardin. I found it most astounding and such a spiritual uplifting venture that I felt the need to go out and announce to the whole world of the writing of this brilliant and humble Jesuit priest...
I wonder if you might aid me in becoming more aware of his writings. I found many of his works most taxing to follow, but at the same time provoking my enthusiasm. Therefore, I would sincerely appreciate any materials or any references to someone in Cleveland, Ohio area who might further introduce his works to me.
There was now a widespread awareness that Teilhard was a thinker who somehow was altering the general way of looking at things and bringing about a change in our vision of ourselves and the world. But there was confusion and uncertainty as to just what Teilhard was saying and how he was challenging the old ideas and what this meant to one's beliefs and general assumptions. Articles such as John Kobler's "The Priest Who Haunts the Catholic World," in the October 12, 1963 issue of The Saturday Evening Post, stimulated general interest and a desire to establish groups where these new ideas might be discussed.
There was little help to be found among the authorities, for they were still engaged in heated controversy. The Phenomenon of Man was hailed by some distinguished scientists and critics as the most important book of the century, while it was dismissed by others as simply mysticism or poetry. Julian Huxley's famous introduction to the book had forced the scientific-humanist community to notice it, but on the other hand it had been the victim of a widely publicized excoriating attack by the Nobel Prize winning biologist Sir Peter Medawar who saw no evidence of design in the evolutionary process.
From some quarters within the Church it was attacked as outright heresy. From others it was praised as a masterful vindication of the reality of spirit in the universe. In 1956 the Vatican pavilion at the Brussels World Exhibition displayed Teilhard's portrait as one of the great men of our time, but in June of 1962 the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office issued a Monitum concerning the "ambiguous and even grave errors in philosophical and theological matters which offend Catholic doctrine." For this reason it exhorted "all Ordinaries and the Superiors of religious institutes, rectors of seminaries and presidents of universities to defend the souls above all of young people, from dangers inherent in the works of Fr. Teilhard de Chardin and his followers." This was a new kind of censorship that did not forbid the reading of Teilhard's books but urged that they be read critically, keeping in mind that it was improper to adapt terms and concepts of evolutionary theory to theology and philosophy. What did all this mean?
The problem was how to reach the many potential members throughout the country without money to launch a large mailing campaign. Help came from the British Association. First, they passed on a valuable suggestion: they had arrangements with the British publisher of Teilhard's books to insert into every volume a postcard to be mailed to the Association by readers who wished information about its activities; in this way they had built up an extensive membership. Moreover, they turned over to the American Association all the postcards they had received from the United States. Minna made arrangements with Harper & Row (later with Harcourt Brace Jovanovich) for postcards to be inserted in all American Teilhard books beginning in 1969 with the publication of Science and Christ. A brochure setting forth our purpose and the benefits of membership was made up, and this was sent to all who responded and to all who wrote from other sources. Thus a nation-wide membership was built up.
To help keep the members in touch with ideas and events, Minna launched a Newsletter in March of 1968. She was to bring it out three times a year for the next five years. It was filled with information about people and events and also some excellent reviews, many by Minna herself, of Teilhard books as they were published in France, England, or the United States. This labor of love was typed by Minna, taken to the least expensive copy service in New York, and then collated, stapled, and mailed from the office.
The first Annual Meeting of the Association took place on April 27, 1968. It was Minna's happy thought that this should be not only a business meeting of the voting members but also a gala luncheon. Members and their friends might come to meet Officers and Directors and others interested in Teilhard over sherry and luncheon and to hear an address afterwards. The Harvard Club was the locale, and Michael Murray was asked to give the address, entitled "Teilhard and the Nature of the Soul," that he had delivered at the Vézelay Conference the preceding fall. A custom was established that there should be no head table but that the officers and directors be seated at the various tables throughout the dining room so that they might be accessible for questions and discussion. Sixty people attended, including Teilhard's old friends from his China years, Dr. and Mrs. George Barbour. They flew in from Cincinnati bringing the Malvina Hoffman bust of Teilhard in a burlap bag and some film of the Yangtse Valley where Teilhard had worked. The officers and committee members of 1967 were all reelected and it might be of interest to record here the members of the Advisory Board:
Ruth Nanda Anshen
Philosopher and Editor, New York.
Sr. Margaret Mary Bach Chairman, Philosophy Dept., Marymount College.
George B. Barbour Dean, Professor Emeritus, University of Cincinnati.
Simone Beaulieu Canadian Mission to the United Nations.
Thomas Berry Assoc. Prof. Asian Religions, Fordham University.
William Birmingham General Editor, Mentor-Omega Books, New York.
Donald Bloom Phenomenon of Man Project, Canoga Park, California.
J. V. Langmead Casserley Theologian, Seabury-Western Seminary, Evanston, Illinois.
The Rev. Pieter de Jong Professor of Theology, Drew University
J. Donceel, S.J. Professor of Philosophy. Fordham University.
Charles A. Goetz Phenomenon of Man Project, Canoga Park California.
Sr. Genevieve Gorman, F.C.S.P. Director, Gately-Ryan Institute, Portland, Oregon.
Jean Houston Director, Foundation for Mind Research, New York.
Robert O. Johann, S.J. Professor of Philosophy, Fordham University.
Horton A. Johnson, M.D. Brookhaven National Laboratory, Upton, New York.
W. H. Kenney, S.J. Professor of Philosophy, Bellarmine School of Theology, North Aurora, Illinois.
Mildred Mann Leader, Society of Pragmatic Mysticism, New York.
Kirtley F. Mather Professor of Geology, Emeritus, Harvard University.
Thomas Patrick Melady Administrator and author, New York.
Gertrud A. Mellon International Council, Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Richard D. Moore Professor of Biophysics, State University College, Plattsburgh, New York.
Hallam L. Movius, Jr. Professor of Anthropology, Harvard University.
F. S. C. Northrop Sterling Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and Law, Yale University.
Harry N. Olsen Phenomenon of Man Project, Canoga Park, California.
William G. Pollard Executive Director, Oak Ridge Associated Universities.
Robert D. Pollock Director of Humanistic Studies, Seton Hall University.
Joseph Sittler Professor of Theology, University of Chicago.
Alfred P. Stiernotte Professor of Philosophy, Quinnipiac College.
Frank R. Stong Phenomenon of Man Project Canoga Park, California.
Claire Taschdjian Professor of Biology, St. Joseph's College, New York City.
Edgar Taschdjian Professor of Physics, St. Joseph's College, New York City.
Alice Tully New York City.
Charles G. Wilber Chairman of Dept. of Zoology, Colorado State University.
Samuel G. Wylie Dean, General Theological Seminary, New York City.
Newly elected in 1968:
Romano S. Almagno, O.F.M. Professor, Immaculate Conception Seminary, Troy, New York; Librarian of the Teilhard Association.
Donald Hatch Andrews Baker Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus, The Johns Hopkins University. Sr. Bohdonna. O.S.B.M. Chairman, Mathematics-Science Division, Manor Junior College, Jenkintown, Pa.
Richard A. Givens Asst. U. S. Attorney, Southern District of New York.
Later that summer Winifred McCulloch, returning to New York after several years' absence, and having some time free from writing and editing, volunteered her Tuesday and Thursday afternoons to the Association. Besides sharing the addressing of envelopes (seemingly endless), answering letters and welcoming visitors, she undertook the cataloguing of Teilhard's essays by title and subject matter and, later, the organizing of the evening discussion groups.
In September the Association, jointly with The Center for Christian Ministry, Christ Church, Winnetka, Illinois, and the Seabury-Western Theological Seminary of Evanston, Illinois, sponsored a five-day conference on Teilhard de Chardin and the Future of Man which was held at Seabury-Western Seminary. Organized by Dr. J. V. Langmead Casserley, Professor of Theology, it was an ecumenical conference for clergy and lay people, having on its roster of speakers Dr. Casserley, Robert Francoeur, many distinguished speakers from the mid-west, and also Robert Speaight, biographer of Teilhard, who came from England. Roger Garaudy, the French Communist who was immersed in Christian-Communist dialogue, had also been invited but he was not able to attend because of visa trouble.
In December the Association presented a small but most enjoyable all-day Workshop at Marymount-Manhattan College and, though it was a cold, wet Saturday, and a Hong Kong flu epidemic was beginning to rage, the audience was large and enthusiastic.
Thus, by the end of 1968 the pattern of operation of the new Association (except for the evening seminars and discussion groups that were to begin the following year) was for the most part established.