Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Traveling Man Is Priest on a Mission of History

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Traveling Man Is Priest on a Mission of History

Article excerpt

"Dumb luck" is how Fr. Leopold Glueckert explains how he got his cabin on "The Love Boat." No, he does not own a time-share in Princess Cruise Line nor stock in the company. Still, he has taken six cruises with Princess since 1993 -- four on the "Island Princess" and two on the "Royal Princess." Next Christmas he will board the original "love boat," the "Pacific Princess," in Rome and sail to Haifa, Israel, to spend Christmas Eve in Nazareth and Christmas Day in Bethlehem.

Not a bad itinerary for a Carmelite priest from landlocked Indiana who teaches European history at Loyola University in Chicago. But Glueckert didn't simply walk on board.

"I was in the right place at the right time," he conceded in relating how Los Angeles-based Princess Line operators had called Loyola-Marymount University in Los Angeles searching for a historian who could write a brief but lively history of the many ports visited by the love boat cruises. At the time Glueckert was teaching "Foundations of Western Civilization from 1500 to the Present Day" and a class on "Western Traditions" to Loyola-Marymount students.

When he agreed to the project, little did he know how eager the cruise passengers would be for knowledge of their destinations. This, Glueckert discovered, involves more than just talking about monuments and major events in a harbor's history. It includes a grounding in the culture, religion and ethnicity of the area. In numerous ports, religion has played a key role in the development of a whole region.

The initial assignment was to put the firm's top 25 ports into written shape within four months. Researching the European ports proved less daunting than those in North America and Asia, he recalled, because he had studied and taught in Rome and done his doctoral work at Loyola, Chicago, specializing in the history of France, Italy and Continental Europe of the past two centuries.

Having written biographies of 120 ports, Glueckert is now preparing manuscripts on St. Tropez on the French Riviera, Malaga on Spain's Costa de Sol, and La Coruna in the northwest Spain near Santiago de Compostela. Cruise directors use Glueckert's scripts, which are richly illustrated, to inform passengers about the history and inhabitants of the places where they are about to dock.

Although Glueckert always volunteers for chaplaincy duties when invited aboard, he frequently gets to deliver more than a homily. In December he cruised from Rome to Bombay and was invited to prepare two or three onboard lectures. By the time the liner set anchor in bombay , he had delivered not three but six talks, and several passengers had told him they had heard his presentation, then watched it four more times on video in their stateroom. He also had dialogues with Muslims, Jews and Christians on board.

Hundreds on passengers heard him lecture on the Knights of St. John in the Holy Land, on Rhodes and on Malta, on ancient Egypt, the Suez Canal, the Arabs and on "Troubles in the Former Turkish (Ottoman) Empire."

But the talk that drew most interest, the priest said, was his look at "One Holy Land -- Three Faiths: Where is the Common Ground?" Both Jewish and Muslim travelers "made extremely useful suggestions" for additions or improvements in the lecture. The cruise director offered him an on-deck table where he virtually held office hours during the voyage.

While a scan of Glueckert's lecture topics reveal much of the breadth and depth of the Carmelite's knowledge, it also upends the assumption that luxury cruises are simply floating casinos, bars, restaurants, pools and dance halls. "This kind of tourism is based 100 percent on the assumption that passengers want to do more than just go shopping and to the beach," Glueckart said. "If the cruise directors didn't appeal to people's minds, they wouldn't want me. The passengers see a verified need to learn about the cultures they're visiting. …

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