Book Notes

Featured Book: The Place Called Skull

By Rev. William J. O'Malley, S.J., '53

Dog Ear Publishing

In his six decades as a Jesuit, Fr. O'Malley has been a theology teacher in high schools, colleges and universities from Australia to the Bronx, and many of his books and articles aim to outfox teenage skepticism. Last year's On Your Mark: Reading Scripture Without a Teacher (Liturgical Press), for example, is written for the lay reader, offering commentary on the Gospel of Mark in a step-by-step approach geared to engage readers in understanding the Gospel as the author originally intended.

But Fr. O'Malley's latest work takes readers to a much darker place. The Place Called Skull is his novel based on the true stories of the 2,700 Catholic priests held prisoner in the Nazis' Dachau concentration camp. Here, his friend, colleague and fellow Jesuit, Rev. Vincent A. Lapomarda, S.J., associate professor of history and coordinator of the College's Hiatt Holocaust Collection, shares his thoughts on The Place Called Skull.

The Place Called Skull is a novel about the 2,700 Catholic clerics who suffered at the Dachau concentration camp, where at least a thousand of them died as prisoners of the Nazis during the Holocaust or "Shoah."

What I find most valuable and engaging about this book is that it focuses on how intensely Catholic clergymen opposed the Nazis and their evil designs throughout Europe, and how they suffered to the point of risking their lives to protect their neighbors, Catholics and Jews. In the writings about that period of European history, one finds very little that focuses on their heroism during the Second World War. The numbers of those at Dachau alone are astounding, but there are records available of hundreds of clergymen in Germany alone who were seized, tortured, questioned and harassed by the Gestapo.

The Place Called Skull centers on the actual life of Karl Leisner (1915-1945), who is presented as Paul Reiser in the novel. Leisner was a seminarian who was ordained a deacon in 1939 by Clement von Galen, a bishop known as "The Lion of Münster," for his strong opposition to the Nazis. Leisner was imprisoned by the Nazis because of his support of the Catholic Youth Movement in Germany against the policies of the Third Reich. Consequently, the young cleric, who was afflicted with tuberculosis, ended up in Dachau on Dec. 14, 1941.

The rest of Leisner's life was a struggle to stay alive and be ordained a priest. Through the efforts of the Jesuit Otto Pies (1901-1960), a fellow prisoner among the clergymen from the 24 countries represented at Dachau, Leisner succeeded in doing so despite the hellish obstacles of life in the camp. He was ordained at Dachau on Dec. 17, 1944, by the French Bishop Gabriel Piguet, a fellow prisoner. The young priest was liberated from Dachau on May 4, 1945, and died the following August 12 of tuberculosis. He was beatified on June 23, 1996, by Pope John Paul II, and his feast day is celebrated on August 12.

Leisner's story is woven into this fascinating account of what life was like for a conscientious Catholic in Nazi Germany. The Place Called Skull takes its title from St. Luke 23: 33-34, which refers to Calvary but, in the novel, focuses on Dachau as a Calvary for the Catholic clerics who suffered and died there.

The genius of Fr. O'Malley-who has penned many books and directed dozens of plays and musicals-is revealed in his writing. He is a craftsman of language. Of course the descriptions of the Nazis' treatment of prisoners, just as the treatment of prisoners by any evil regime, is going to be disturbing to readers, but it is also enlightening in giving concrete examples based on the objective evidence that Fr. O'Malley has studied. When I did my research for my book, The Jesuits and the Third Reich, I was not free from being seriously affected by what I found in the inhumane treatment of these clerics. The Place Called Skull brings out the evil of the Nazis and the good of the dedicated clergy, which is ultimately uplifting for the reader.  ■

—By Rev. Vincent A. Lapomarda, S.J.


More Published Works by Faculty and Alumni

By Clare Dougherty '12

Legends and Lore of Sleepy Hollow and the Hudson Valley
By Jonathan M. Kruk '77
The History Press

Inspired by Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Kruk, a noted professional storyteller, tells tales about the other myths that lie hidden in the Hudson Valley region of New York, including the story of the White Lady of Raven Rock, the ghost of Major Andre and the headless Hessians.

Death of a Ventriloquist 
By Gibson Fay-LeBlanc '96    
University of North Texas Press

Winner of the 2011 Vassar Miller Prize in Poetry, this debut collection includes poems laced with love, humor and tragedy, as well as a series of ventriloqist-themed poems that explore speaking in another's voice. Click here to read one of Fay-LeBlanc's most popular poems, "How to Make Fatherhood Lyrical," in this issue's Web Exclusives.


Do Your Divorce Right 
By Andrew Horton and John David Kennedy '73  
Tower Publishing

Written by two Maine judges with extensive family court experience, this guide offers readable straight talk for lawyers and the general public alike on how to achieve the best possible outcome from one of the most significant life-changing experiences an individual can face. The authors cover the process of  working with an attorney and addressing emotional, financial and other aspects of the divorce process.


The Ultimate Baseball Road Trip
By Kevin O'Connell and Josh Pahigian '96  
Globe Pequot Press

This hefty read is the updated guide to every baseball fan's dream road trip: visiting America's 30 major-league ballparks. With elements of a travel log, atlas, history book and restaurant guide, The Ultimate Baseball Road Trip includes conversations between the authors that will have you laughing out loud, even as you are feeling a bit envious of the amazing trek they have documented here.


Portraits of One Hundred Catholic Women of Maine  
By Rev. Vincent A. Lapomarda, S.J., Associate Professor of History
The Edwin Mellen Press

Fr. Lapomarda has previously gathered the stories of Italians who helped shape Maine and now offers this volume spotlighting Catholic women who did the same. The book's first entry introduces the "patroness of the Jesuits," Antoinette du Pons-Ribérac, who made the 1611 arrival of the Jesuits in the Pine Tree State possible. More contemporary entries include Patricia Pora, leader of Maine's Hispanic ministry.


Encountering Christ in the Eucharist   
By Rev. Bruce T. Morrill, S.J., '81   
Paulist Press

In chapters including "Eucharistic Communion: Christ's Abiding Presence" and "Leadeship for Christ's Body: Liturgy and Ministry," Fr. Morrill offers an introduction to the paschal mystery with an ecumenical spirit that invites conversation-all with the hope his latest book will "serve in some small way the church's great work of celebrating the Eucharist."                                               


Journal Notes

"The meanings attached to 'race' across the globe are myriad, particularly as anti-Islamic discourse once again links race and religion. Yet scholars lack a common terminology to discuss this phenomenon. This article hopes to expand critical race theory and scholarship across national lines." - Assistant Professor of sociology and anthropology Melissa F. Weiner, from the article "Towards a Global Critical Race Theory," in the journal Sociology Compass, Volume 6, Issue 4, April 2012

For this article, Weiner examined recent race-related scholarship to create 10 indicators that will give international researchers a unified terminology so that they can accurately determine whether, and the extent to which, various groups are subject to racialization. "This paper calls for a global broadening of a critical comparative dialogue of racial practices," she explains. "Examining whether particular groups experience disadvantages in, for example, housing, health, education, employment, the criminal justice system, citizenship rights, stereotypes in the media and/or political discourse can help scholars determine whether racialization exists and suggest policies to alleviate racial inequality."