Nouwen Archive Reveals Depth of His Interest in People
McCARTHY, Gerry, National Catholic Reporter
In two display cases just outside the the Henri J.M. Nouwen Archive and Research Collection, one can look at two chalices Nouwen used during his priesthood, the rosary he was carrying when he died and one of his pocketsize address books, which includes a breathtaking number of telephone and fax numbers.
It was this need for social connection that marked much of Nouwen's life, according to Sr. Sue Mosteller, literary executor for Nouwen, who was one of the most widely read spiritual writers of the late 20th century. "His telephone bills would keep the telephone company in business," she said. "He was telephoning at all hours of the day and night, all around the world."
Writers and researchers now have access to much of Nouwen's correspondence since the opening of the archive at the John M. Kelly Library at the University of St. Michael's College in Toronto. A large portion of the collection includes letters Nouwen wrote to individuals. "I think he did a lot of his pastoral work through his letters," said full-time archivist Gabrielle Earnshaw. "Often he would have correspondence with his readers over several years."
Earnshaw said every letter Nouwen received was answered in some fashion. There is correspondence with readers of his books, friends and letters he received from Jean Vanier, founder of the movement to establish L'Arche communities for developmentally disabled persons, author Maddeine L'Engle, and TV preacher Robert Schuller.
Officially opened last September, the collection also includes calendar files, audio-tapes, personal papers, videos, research material, memorabilia, original manuscripts and lecture notes from courses Nouwen gave at Yale, Harvard and Notre Dame.
The author of 40 books, hundreds of lectures and many articles, Nouwen was pastor of the L'Arche Daybreak community (located north of Toronto) from 1986 until his death in 1996 at age 64. Ordained a Roman Catholic priest in Holland in 1957, Nouwen spent much of his life in the United States and Canada.
Writers and researchers who have visited the Nouwen archives have been inspired by what they have found. "One could construct a model of community and church on Nouwen's spirituality," said Russell Pollitt of Capetown, South Africa. "There is enough material for that." Pollitt, who is studying for the priesthood, hopes to do a thesis on Nouwen.
American author Tim Jones has been doing research on Nouwen for a book to be called Turning My Mourning into Dancing. He looked at sermons Nouwen gave at L'Arche Daybreak, material from a series of classes Nouwen gave on the Psalms, and notes from lectures on the spiritual life Nouwen gave at Yale.
"It was a wonderful experience to be at the archives, where I was spending time with the published and academic side of his life," said Jones, "and then to spend the evenings at the Daybreak community where Henri ministered and was pastor. I felt both were significant in giving me a portrait or sense of the man."
Robert Ellsberg, editor-in-chief of Orbis Books in Maryknoll, N.Y., said Orbis plans to publish a reprint of a 1980 book titled Desert Wisdom by Yushi Nomura. It consists of Japanese-style drawings and notes from the lectures Nouwen gave at Yale on "Desert Spirituality." The reprinted edition will include a new conclusion based on some of Nouwen's unpublished writings found in the archive collection. …