Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Prophet of Cuernavaca: Ivan Illich and the Crisis of the West

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Prophet of Cuernavaca: Ivan Illich and the Crisis of the West

Article excerpt

The Prophet of Cuernavaca: Ivan Illich and the Crisis of the West. By Todd Hartch. (New York: Oxford University Press. 2015. Pp. xiv, 235. $29.95. ISBN 9780-19-020456-3.)

Todd Hartch, a professor at Eastern Kentucky University and the author of The Rebirth of Latin American Christianity (New York, 2014), has succeeded admirably in providing context for understanding and significant analysis, both historical and theological, of the priest and social critic Ivan Illich (1926-2002). This book is best understood not as a biography in the traditional sense but rather as a successful effort to trace the development of Illich's thought and work, especially focusing on his years in Puerto Rico (1956-60) and Mexico (beginning in 1961 and continuing for about ten years), and on his critique of modern society, especially its hegemonic educational and medical systems, as exemplified in his books, Despooling Society (New York, 1971) and Medical Nemesis (New York, 1976).

Mich, whose father was Croatian and mother a Sephardic Jew, was born in Vienna. He was widely recognized as a polyglot and an extremely talented and intelligent man. He studied science in Florence as well as philosophy and theology in Rome, and earned a doctorate in history in Salzburg. In Rome, he wrote on Romano Guardini and was significantly influenced by Jacques Maritain, with whom he read St. Thomas Aquinas. When he was ordained a priest in 1951, Monsignor Giovanni Battista Montini, surrogate (sostituto) for ordinär)' affairs in the Vatican Secretariat of State and the future Pope Paul VI, hoped that he would enter the Accademia dei Nobili Ecclesiastici in preparation for a career as a papal diplomat. Mich chose instead to attend Princeton University and write a second doctoral dissertation (habilitation), on Albertus Magnus, so he could secure a post as a professor. During his time in Princeton, he assisted the Archdiocese of New York in serving as a curate to Puerto Rican immigrants.

While working among these immigrants, he decided to abandon a traditional academic career and was named in 1956, under the auspices of Cardinal Francis J. Spellman, vice-rector of the Catholic University of Puerto Rico in Ponce. There he established a language school for New York priests and religious to expand the "Spanish apostolate" in New York. His method involved a deep cultural and sociological immersion by the student in addition to language studies. He judged many of the American priests and religious on the island to be ill-prepared and ill-suited for pastoral service there and, as a consequence, ineffective as agents of the Gospel and Church. …

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