Title Reviewed:
A More Perfect Legacy: A Portrait of Brother Ephrem O'Dwyer, C.S.C., 1888–1978

Author Reviewed:
Philip Armstrong

Michael Grace


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 92, Issue 3, pp 280-282

Article Type:
Book Review

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A More Perfect Legacy: A Portrait of Brother Ephrem O'Dwyer, C.S.C., 1888-1978. By Brother Philip Armstrong. (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1995. Pp. xxii, 402. Illustrations, notes, index. $29.95.)

The legacy of Brother Ephrem O'Dwyer, CSC, lives on in A More Perfect Legacy by Brother Philip Armstrong, also a member of the Brothers of the Holy Cross. The author, former assistant general of the Congregation and provincial of the Midwest province, is a step ahead of any other member of the CSC community who would attempt to write this book. The biography is one of the several publications commemorating the sesquicentennial of the Congregation.

The methodology used by the author also serves as a guide to the records created by Brother Ephrem in directing the community's affairs from 1931 to 1956. Brother Philip relies heavily on the provincial correspondence and quotes extensively from these documents. Another facet of the author's research is his use of inter views oral and written, to flesh out the reader's understanding of Brother Ephrem.

Major superiors early on saw in Ephrem leadership qualities that went beyond his teaching skills, and they gave him community appointments to develop these attributes. It was the author's stated intention in A More Perfect Legacy to show through Brother Ephrem's official correspondence that he was the right person to serve the community as its leader during a very challenging period of its history.

After vows, Ephrem taught high school for eight years (1911–1919). Through a governmental error, he and three other CSC brothers were drafted into the United States army on July 23, 1918, and managed to get released from the military on September 7, 1918, just in time to re-enter the classroom. From 1918 until 1931 he served in the high schools as teacher, principal, and religious superior. In 1931 he was assigned to the University of Notre Dame du Lac as treasurer, and by 1933 he was serving on the provincial council. From 1933 he enhanced the community leadership skills that would lead the brothers through the canonical, legal, and economic channels which were necessary to become a separate province.

Following the general chapters of 1926 and 1932, there was a movement on the part of the clerics to separate the brothers from the community. Part of the planning of the generalate officials concerned the serious and sensitive issue of separating the clerics and teaching brothers into two separate provinces. The provincials, in turn, would report to the father general. This reviewer suggests that terms such as "lay religious" and "community steward" be defined in future publications to assist the reader.

For several years, then, prior to the General Chapter of 1945, Ephrem was engaged in preparing documentation for discussion on the various points needed for the General Chapter in regard to the separation of the clerics and brothers. As he was well known by the clerics and brothers and had a deep love for Holy Cross, he was ideal for this position. Time and again he reminded his correspondents that all should have a deep love for Holy Cross, which would result in a just separation of the properties and finances.

This reviewer was happily surprised that the apostolic delegate at that time, Archbishop (later Cardinal) Amleto Cicognani, took a personal interest in the creation of the two provinces. Father Edward Heston, CSC, a fine canonist, was also helpful to Brother Ephrem in drawing up the documents of separation in correct canonical style.

With the promulgation of the decrees, both provinces could move on with their respective apostolates. It was only natural that Ephrem be appointed the first brother provincial of the newly formed province. According to the author of this volume, very little correspondence exists with religious of other congregations on school issues. The provincial files covering Brother Ephrem's educational directives therefore merit further study.

Brother Philip Armstrong deserves great credit in presenting Brother Ephrem O'Dwyer to a wider audience without placing him on a pedestal. Finally, this book confirms Ephrem as the second founder of the Congregation of the Holy Cross.

BROTHER MICHAEL GRACE, SJ, serves as university archivist, Loyola University, Chicago. He served as a coeditor of Archival and Manuscript Repositories In Metropolitan Chicago and the Calumet Region of Northwest Indiana (1986).

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.