Death Comes for the Archbishop

Friday is All Souls Day and for several years now my children and I have spent the afternoon at the cemetery.  One of my favorite people to visit on All Souls Day is Denver’s first bishop, Bishop Joseph Prospectus Machebeuf.

(You can read here about how we never made it to the cemetery and why this post was published late.)

By far one of the most enduring and best loved novels we’ve read was Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather.  If you are familiar with this classic American author you’re probably thinking, “Hmmm….I don’t think Willa was Catholic.”

And you would be correct.  Click here to see our exceptions to reading only Catholic women authors.

Yet we’ve read not one but two of her books! Bishop Jean Marie Latour, the central character of Cather’s novel was in real life Bishop Jean-Baptiste Lamy of the Diocese of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Bishop Lamy of Santa Fe

Another important character was Father Joseph Vaillant, who in real life Father Joseph Prospectus Machebeuf.   Here’s something I found out from Wikipedia–something I did not know either of the 2 or 3 times I read this book:  “The names given to the main proponents reflect their characters. Vaillant, valiant, is fearless in his promulgation of the faith, whereas Latour, the tower, is more intellectual and reserved than his comrade.”

First Bishop of Denver, Bishop Joseph Machebeuf

These 2 priests were close childhood friends and traveled together from France to the United States at a time when many areas of the country did not yet even have dioceses.

Bishop Machebeuf eventually became Denver’s first bishop– and a very unique bishop at that.  Upon learning about his life of adventure,  his heroic virtue, his unabated suffering, one forms a deep love for his memory and his soul.  In fact, writing about him in the Introduction of Death’s Deceiver:  The Life of Bishop Joseph P. Machebeuf, Lynn Bridgers says, “There is something magical about Machebeuf. Historian Thomas Feely once observed that almost everyone who comes in contact with him is somehow charmed ….”

Thomas Noel, author of Colorado Catholicism gives the Bishop’s account of how, when he arrived in 1860, he was ” ‘obliged to camp out on the 2 bare lots donated in Denver by the Express Co. and having no neighbors but squirrels [prairie dogs] and rattlesnakes….We walked around to see, not the city but the little village of Denver, made up of low frame stores, log cabins, tents and Indian wigwams on the banks of the Platte.’ “

He spent a heroic amount of time traveling to minister to his people and priests despite a once broken leg that had never set correctly.  He also diligently set about borrowing money to buy valuable tracts of land for the future buildings of the diocese and made many “begging” trips to raise money to pay off the debts.

Actually diligently might be an understatement.

Thomas Noel relates that “The priest was determined to establish the first mission of his Denver parish.  Upon arriving in Central City, Machebeuf reported:

‘The only place I could find to say Mass in was a kind of theatre and I had to put up the altar on the stage.  A pretty good number of Catholics and others attended.  At my second visit, Mass was said in a vacant billiard hall, and it required the work of two good men to clean the floor.’

Whereupon, tells Noel, “On Machebeuf’s third visit, he said mass in a dance hall and on the fourth in an empty storefront:

‘Tired of looking at every visit for a new place, I posted a safe man at the door and told him…to lock the door and bring me the key.’

With his Central City parishioners thus corralled, Machebeuf announced, ‘Now my good men, none of you will go out until you contribute or subscribe for a church.’ ”

Well, the money was collected, with the first gift of $50 in gold dust displayed on the altar!  The Central City parish was named St. Mary’s.

Now I would be surprised if you too are not “charmed!”  If you haven’t read Death Comes for the Archbishop or Death’s Deceiver: The Life of Joseph P. Machebeuf maybe you’ve been convinced to give one or both a try.


Colorado Inspires Author Melissa Wiley

I’m so excited for this new post!  A friend of mine has published 3 new books and she’s highly qualified to appear here even though we have never read her books (they are children’s books but that doesn’t disqualify them from OUR book club because we are totally open to reading children’s and teen’s books!).

She is:

A) a female
B) Catholic
C) an author

See?  She fits our mold perfectly!

That’s about the only mold into which this author and mother of 6 fits.   She works from her relaxed homeschooling home.  Her husband Scott Peterson is an author as well and they are now collaborating on an online comic called Thicklebit.

Melissa Wiley is the author of the Martha Years and the Charlotte Years Little House books.  Martha was Laura Ingalls Wilder’s great-grandmother and Charlotte was her daughter.  Melissa’s engaging and charming series’ allow us to become acquainted with the Scottish childhood and Boston adventures of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s mother’s family.

A few years ago, after 8 Martha and Charlotte stories Melissa moved on to some new writing territory. 

And wow, talk about new; earlier this month she presented a Ready to Read book titled Inch and Roly Make a Wish.

This week she released 2 additional stories:  Fox and Crow are NOT Friends, a Level 3 Step Into Reading story, and an adventurous tale of little Louisa Brody titled The Prairie Thief.

Ironically Melissa and I grew up in the same hometown, but that’s not how we met.  We both joined the same online forum and later had a wonderful get together with some other friends and their children as she traveled back through Colorado on her way to her new home in California.  I love this blog post of hers explaining her work at the Plains Conservation Center east of Aurora and how it inspired her latest tale.  We went on a field trip there once and it really is as detached from the city as she describes.

While Melissa explains that it will appeal to boys and girls alike, if you have a young girls’ book club, a Mother-daughter book club, or a school club you really should add The Prairie Thief to your list!

In the Beginning–There Was No Food

What is dinner without food?  In our early years we did not eat.  For one thing, we were all younger moms (and one single friend) with lots of kids and we met every couple of months for a few years in a library meeting room that closed at 8:45p.m.  Seriously, they
closed at 9p.m. but we were conditioned to believe that 15 minutes was needed to push in our chairs and turn out the lights and so we obeyed and complied.  As I recall, no food was allowed in the Denver Library.  So we met at a conference table without beverages or snacks to have a time of fellowship among friends and engage in a book discussion.

After a couple of years, the Catholic Easter feasting gene took hold and we booked Celeste’s condo clubhouse for an Easter potluck feast.   Celeste was (and still is) one of our single women members; dedicated to supporting families in the Church….but single (now she is a Consecrated Virgin Living in the World, consecrated in the Denver Archdiocese by Archbishop Charles Chaput–and that is another story we will revisit again)!

We enjoyed our first Easter potluck so much it became an annual tradition.   After a few years Celeste blessed the whole book club by hosting our “meetings” in her condo each month and a half or so.  And that is when we began eating, drinking and….eating!

We never have an official theme or designated potluck dish to bring.  We have between 5 and 8 women typically and almost without fail we have a varied spread of proteins, greens, nuts, finger foods, fermented grape beverages and chocolate.

Sometimes one or more of us have tried to coordinate our offering with the country of our current book be it Morrocan, Italian, Rwandan or Mexican, but it is never anything organized or mandated.  In June, we read The Seven Lies About Catholic History which does not cover any particular country or ethnic group. Dianne brought a delicious marinated chicken and Laurence prepared a picturesque Leek and Feta creation.

Also on June 20th the Summer Solstice is imminent, and Amy brought a very generous helping of Poached Salmon with Horseradish Sour Cream, taken from Kitchen of Light: The New Scandinavian Cooking.  Oh. My. (This is a recipe for that dish but not the recipe from the cookbook.) We do have a special attachment to the Norwegian affinity for the Solstice!  For one thing, our first 3 books, the trilogy that cemented our new bookclub friendship, was Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset. This masterpiece of literature, winner of the Noble Prize, is set in Norway in the 12th century.  As I said in one of my very first posts, we will be talking about these books again!

The solstice is an important day in Norway, second to Christmas.  It is already mostly light most of the day in summer in Norway.  The solstice of course is the longest day of the year. So Amy (who is Norwegian) thoughtfully marked our humble beginnings with Norwegian literature by making a yummy Norwegian dish.

Lofty Beginnings: We All Read the Book

 For our first gathering, we all met because we read the book; whereas in years to come we would begin reading (or saying we’d read) the book because we wanted to meet.

One of us, not me (and I’m not sure who), asked a few of her friends to read a really incredible book and then maybe get together to discuss it.  What we read that first month was the first book of the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy, The Bridal Wreath.  There will be more posts  about Kristin Lavransdatter that’s for sure.  So we picked the new (at the time) critically acclaimed Norwegian to English translation by Tiina Nunnally, read it and gathered to discuss.  What was certain among everyone was that the second book in the series had to be read, and then the third.  And then we discovered a movie had been made and that’s when we became the Book (and Movie) club.