A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church: Memoirs of a Catholic Archbishop


For many people, the name of Archbishop Rembert Weakland brings to mind only connotations of scandal — the titillating tale of a prominent priest disgraced. But that whiff of dishonor barely begins to tell the whole story. / In these pages Archbishop Weakland recounts his life from his childhood in rural Pennsylvania to his retirement from the archbishopric in 2002 at the age of 75, all in the context of the Church that he long served. Weakland takes readers with him to Rome, where he discovered the splendor of a...
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For many people, the name of Archbishop Rembert Weakland brings to mind only connotations of scandal — the titillating tale of a prominent priest disgraced. But that whiff of dishonor barely begins to tell the whole story. / In these pages Archbishop Weakland recounts his life from his childhood in rural Pennsylvania to his retirement from the archbishopric in 2002 at the age of 75, all in the context of the Church that he long served. Weakland takes readers with him to Rome, where he discovered the splendor of a whole new intellectual world, and then to New York for his extensive musical study at Julliard and Columbia University. From his early days in the priesthood to his struggles with pontiffs, Weakland details how he learned to become a leader and minister to his people and how his famously liberal beliefs affected his ministry. While he presents an honest account of the scandal he is so often recognized for, the complete picture beyond rumor and accusation may come as a surprise to many readers. / Throughout his memoir Weakland describes with poignant honesty his psychological, spiritual, and sexual growth. Candid and engaging, APilgrim in aPilgrim Church offers a fascinating inside look at both Pope PaulVI and Pope John PaulII even as it tells the story of a life fully lived.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

When Weakland resigned as Milwaukee archbishop in 2002 after revelations of a past homosexual relationship and a confidential payout, it was seen as another stunning episode in the unfolding clergy abuse scandal. It was especially painful to liberal Catholics who viewed Weakland as their champion. Weakland was publicly penitent, but other events that year-chief among them the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law in Boston-made Weakland's drama a footnote. With this frank and well-told memoir, that's no longer the case. A Benedictine monk, Weakland is up front about his homosexuality in a church that preferred to ignore gays, and about his failures in overseeing pedophile priests. But this is really the poignant journey of a soul, not a mea culpa about sex, with chapters on his hardscrabble boyhood and fascinating, and sometimes sobering, insights into the life of a bishop and the tensions between the American Catholic Church and the Vatican. At points the narrative has more than enough detail on the life of a globe-trotting abbot. But overall this is an invaluable historical record and a moving personal confession. (June)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802863829
  • Publisher: Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 6/1/2009
  • Pages: 450
  • Sales rank: 707,944
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Rembert G. Weakland, O.S.B., was elected Archabbot of St. Vincent Monastery, Latrobe, Pennsylvania, in 1963, and Abbot Primate of the International Benedictine Confederation in 1967, and he served as Archbishop of Milwaukee from 1977 to 2002. He is the author of many articles on medieval music and of frequently cited articles on religious subjects.
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Table of Contents


PROLOGUE: Broken and Re-glued Milwaukee, Wisconsin (May 2002)....................3
1. Inheriting Coal Dust in the Veins Patton, Pennsylvania (1927-1940)....................23
2. Thirsting for Knowledge St. Vincent, Latrobe, Pennsylvania (1940-1948)....................41
3. Absorbing New Worlds Rome (1948-1951)....................63
4. Experiencing a Second Novitiate New York-Milan (1952-1957)....................76
5. Transitioning from Old Church to New St. Vincent (1957-1963)....................91
6. Testing Challenges of Leadership St. Vincent (1963-1967)....................111
7. Adjusting to the Eternal City Rome (1967-1973)....................127
8. Traveling the World Over (1967-1973)....................160
9. Applying the Wisdom Learned (1973-1976)....................190
10. Ministering in the Last Years of Pope Paul VI Rome (1973-1977)....................210
11. Learning to Be an Archbishop Milwaukee (1977-1983)....................235
12. Drafting "Economic Justice for All" (1981-1986)....................273
13. Sorting Out Positions Milwaukee-Rome (1983-1988)....................293
14. Balancing Conflicting Models of Church Milwaukee (1989-1996)....................326
15. Struggling toward the Finish Line Milwaukee (1996-2002)....................369
EPILOGUE: Final Reflections....................417
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First Chapter

A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church

Memoirs of a Catholic Archbishop
By Rembert G. Weakland

William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

Copyright © 2009 Rembert G. Weakland
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8028-6382-9

Chapter One

Inheriting Coal Dust in the Veins

Patton, Pennsylvania (1927-1940)

Father Len dropped me off at my sister Barbara's condo in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, outside of Altoona. From there it would be easy to visit Patton, where I was born and grew up. Nestled in an Appalachian valley, the small town was founded in 1893 as a hub for the offices of the surrounding soft-coal mining companies. And it was a small town: the 1920 census reported 3,628 inhabitants. Yet, Patton boasted a hotel and movie-house - the only ones for many miles around - in addition to its twelve churches and twelve bars. The biggest church was St. Mary's on the hill, the parish that played a special role in my family's life: the Weaklands were all baptized there. I learned my first lesson in ecumenism at St. Mary's when each year the pastor would ask a few altar boys to take candles around to the other churches as a Christmas gift.

Most of our friends and neighbors were Protestant and no one ever said we Catholic kids could not associate with them, although we were not permitted to attend the summer revival meetings held in tents outside the town to hear the famous preachers and gawk at renowned faith-healers, like Katherine Cullman. Nor were we permitted to make fun of any of their religious manifestations, not even the Holy Rollers or the snake handlers. There was one well-liked Jewish family, but the town was essentially white and Christian. The only African-Americans we ever saw were the few young black men who came to suction out the outhouses of homes without indoor plumbing. We kids followed behind in amazement, staring at their black skin beaded with sweat and covered with white lime.

My father and grandfather owned the Palmer House Hotel at the town's main intersection. There my mother gave birth to me on April 2, 1927, and carried me up to St. Mary's Church herself-so she told me-on Sunday, April 10, to be baptized and given the name George Samuel after my maternal and paternal grandfathers. The name Rembert, by which most people know me, was given in 1946 when I pronounced my first vows as a Benedictine monk. I was child number four in a family of six children, preceded by two sisters and a brother, and followed by two more sisters. I was the last born in the hotel since soon after my birth we moved to a normal house. Apparently my mother did not feel that raising kids in a hotel was a good idea.

In 1929, a financial crisis closed the Patton Bank and marked the beginning of the Depression with its catastrophic effects on Patton and all the surrounding towns. That same year a disastrous fire almost totally destroyed the Palmer House Hotel, causing financial ruin for the family and forcing us to move to the Flats, a poorer part of town. The fire took its toll on my father by first killing his spirit. Mom said he spent much time with his friends in the few unheated rooms of the burnt-out hotel, drinking and lamenting. It was a bout with pneumonia that brought him down on April 3, 1932, the day before his thirty-fifth birthday and the day after my fifth, leaving a wife and six children, the oldest nine, the youngest six months.

That fifth birthday is one of my first clear memories. Like any kid, I looked forward to being the center of attention for a few hours that day. Instead, something seemed wrong: no one was around, no one seemed excited about my birthday, no signs of festivities were evident. My mother had deposited my younger sister and me in the home of strangers where, in the evening, she came to hold me a bit and lay me down to sleep. Next day we two were brought back to our own home in the Flats where everyone was upstairs in my parents' bedroom. Despondent and unhappy, I could hear the murmur of soft voices. We two kids were quietly ushered into the room.

Every detail of the events that followed, every aspect of the room, everyone's actions are still vivid in my mind. My father, Basil Francis Weakland, coughing deeply, lay dying, struggling to stay alive. Although the curtains were drawn and it was dark in the room, I remember how every piece of furniture was arranged, how the candles on the bedstand that kept sentinel by the crucifix flickered and cast odd-shaped shadows on the wall, how the priest had withdrawn to the side, how Dr. Cooper kept busy doing something that was not helping. Finally the coughing changed to the dread sound of a death rattle and my mother, sobbing, fell on the body of my dying father.

Later relatives criticized her for permitting the younger kids to witness this scene. Yet the memory of it has caused me no sleepless nights. Although not truly understanding the significance of it all, I was always glad to have been physically present at a moment that was to affect our futures so profoundly.

Although the church services left no traces in my memory, the interment at the cemetery did, perhaps because the burial ceremonies did frighten me. My father was given a military funeral, which was punctuated by deafening bursts of gunfire over the open grave followed by eerie echoes from a distant hill; a bugle near the coffin mournfully sounded Taps and, after an aching pause, the subdued echo came back. All this was so perplexing and strange that I hid behind my mother's skirt till it was finished and a military man came over and stiffly gave her the triangularly folded flag that had covered my father's casket.

* * *

How I wish I had known my father better! In May of 1917, at the age of twenty and after two years of college, he joined the Marines and was soon shipped to the Dominican Republic. His rise in rank was rapid; within three years he was a captain in charge of the city of La Vega and its surroundings. When my father came home on furlough in February 1922, he married my mother and took her back to the Dominican Republic. He resigned his commission in January 1923, and they both returned to the States for the birth of my sister Betty, their first child.

My recollections of my father are few but precious-being carried on his shoulders (as perilous as it seemed to me at that age since he was 6' 4 1/2"), being encouraged to jump and then caught in his strong arms, being taught by him how to pee standing up by the commode, being carried to the doctors in those same strong arms after tramping on a broken milk bottle that went through my foot.

On rainy days my mother would allow us to go to the attic and take out some things from my father's trunk. Photos from the Dominican Republic that showed him in full dress uniform standing guard over the tomb of Columbus were especially fascinating. Among the curiosities was a white envelope containing a picture of me as a smiling baby with a head of spit curls. My dad had made my mother cut them off, but she had saved them and they were still in that envelope. It often made me wonder if my amother had really wanted another girl.

Those who knew my father well always spoke highly of him. His two brothers, Edgar and Adrian, and his half-brother John (my godfather) all lived into their nineties and became images of what my father must have been like-gentle, bright, inquisitive, and talented. Once when I was in my late teens, I was introduced to Father Thomas Wolf, the ninety-year-old pastor of a parish a few miles from Patton. On hearing my name, he asked if I was Baz Weakland's son, and spoke in glowing terms of my dad, saying he had been my father's confessor for years. That my dad had his own confessor impressed me and indicated that he took religion seriously. His brothers often told me that Baz should have left the small town and gone on to more challenging work where his talents would have been fulfilled.

How often it has come to me that much of my life was spent seeking the father-figure that had been there so briefly, but I was grateful to have Weakland blood in my veins. My father was the epitome of the Weakland male figures going back to the original John Weakland, who in 1757 married Susan Cunningham in Hagerstown, Maryland, made his way to the mountain parts of Western Pennsylvania, and established a temporary homestead among the Indians. The family legend is that the Weaklands, devout and fervent Catholics, had sailed from England to the Maryland colony in 1641 as indentured servants, working for a Thomas Cornwallis for five years to pay off their indebtedness. The legends further claim that they were not originally English but Dutch and that the name had been anglicized, a fact that accounted for the many spellings of it that can be found in official documents.

John and Susan had three sons and a daughter who settled permanently in Western Pennsylvania and my direct line goes back to their oldest son John (1758-1854) and his wife Catherine Jackson (1769-1861). They were a sturdy pair, both living into their nineties. This John Weakland was a legendary figure in the history of Western Pennsylvania, his memory being especially commemorated in the history of the Catholic Church in that region. He farmed and hunted, traded with the Indians, and then sold his wares in Baltimore. Once a year a priest would come north and circuit ride through that area, saying Mass in the different homes and solemnizing the baptisms and weddings already performed by the patriarch of the Weakland family since they had not waited for the priest to come. We would say it was a lay domestic church. The patriarchs must have been reading the Bible regularly for the Sunday family prayer meeting because the boys were given names like Samuel, Aaron, Levi, Zephoniah. The historical descriptions of John Weakland fit my father perfectly - over six-feet tall, calm and peaceful, strong and fearless.

From the Weakland side of the family I inherited a frontier spirit of tenacity and forthrightness that was embedded in this fascinating older Catholic tradition. The Weaklands had come to America to practice their faith freely and had left the Maryland colony toward the end of the seventeenth century when that freedom was in danger; then they kept that faith alive in the mountains of Pennsylvania without the strength of the organized church they had known in Europe. Moreover, the men were as active in the faith as the women. Since the Weaklands had arrived in the New World before the Revolutionary War and had fought in it, they considered themselves fully American with no need to prove it, unlike Catholic immigrants of the nineteenth century. To be able to trace one's ancestors back to older Catholic roots was exciting for a youngster my age.

* * *

If you were to open the desk drawer in my study today, you would find a double-edged safety razor and next to it a small handsome golden pen-and-pencil set. When, in my early teens, my sisters teased me relentlessly about the peach-fuzz that was growing on my chin, Mom let me take my dad's razor out of the trunk, use it, and keep it. It lies in the desk drawer as a personal sacramental, a way of bringing my father to mind. The pen-and-pencil set was a gift to my mother from my father at their wedding. After her death in 1978, my sisters passed it on tome; it, too, serves as a personal sacramental, bringing a vision of my mother as a teacher since in every way she was the best teacher I ever knew, both in school and out of school.

My mother's family name was Kane, a family that emigrated to the United States from County Tyrone in Northern Ireland about 1849, during the potato famine. They ultimately settled in Patton at the end of that century. Mymother, Mary Delilah Eulalia, the oldest child of George Kane and Myrtena Buck, was born there in 1897. After graduating from high school, she went to Normal School to prepare to be a teacher. Until her marriage in 1922, she taught all grade levels in small rural schools around Patton, sometimes teaching all eight grades in one classroom with its potbellied stove in the middle. Although she gave up teaching to take care of the family, she never lost her intense love of learning. After my father's death, life was difficult. Pictures from that period show her looking very shy, almost ashamed of our poverty.

After my dad's death, we moved to an even poorer section of town, a dilapidated wooden structure with no furnace, just a potbellied stove in the living room and a coal stove in the kitchen, and no hot water heater. Though this was a double house, I have only vague recollections of the families who came and went. Only their side of the house, however, was excavated to form a hard clay-floored cellar to which both families had access. Since we had no refrigerator, we kept food there in the hot months. On Saturdays Mom would fire up the kitchen stove and heat bucket after bucket of hot water, dump it at intervals into the tin tub in the middle of the kitchen, and call each one of us in by seniority to take our baths. It was while soaking in that tin tub on Saturday afternoons that I heard my first operas broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. Before the opera began I would read the account of the plot, listen carefully to Milton Cross as he announced the names of the singers, and then just bathe in the beauty of it all.

Louvers in the ceiling allowed the stove heat to rise to the second floor, upstairs, but little warmth ever reached there. During the winter, Mom would place bricks in the stove's oven and, when hot, wrap them in flannel and place them in our beds. Then, we undressed behind the stove in the living room and, in our long underwear, make a wild dash for the beds upstairs. We made an even wilder dash in the morning to dress downstairs behind that stove. My older brother and I shared a room and bed and, being bigger, he always got the warm brick. That bed had no springs, just slats and ropes and a thin mattress. The winters were severe in Patton, with piles of snow and the thermometer often falling below zero. After we went to bed, Mom would crawl under the house to cut off the water supply and drain the pipes so they would not freeze and burst. This process was reversed in the morning. If the weather became even more severe - ten below zero was not uncommon-she slept on the couch in the living room to keep the fire stoked through the night. Until we boys were old enough to handle an axe, she chopped the wood for the two stoves and hauled the coal up from the basement.

Our house was situated less than fifty yards from the railroad tracks and so we lived with the constant rumbling of trains in the background. A small creek called Chest Creek, polluted by sulfur that seeped into it from abandoned coal mines, ran on the other side of the railroad tracks. Our house was rat infested and often Mom, when she crawled under the house, had to scare them away. Rat traps were everywhere, especially in the clay cellar; once a trapped rat was running around wild down there. Mom put on a raincoat, went down with a clothes-line pole, cornered and killed it. Years later, when she was old and seemed so fragile and petite, I had a hard time reconciling that image with what she had to put up with after my father's death.

The first serious decision she had to make was whether to place us in foster homes, as some urged her, or to try to make it on her own. I preserve a vivid image of her at the kitchen table talking to us about this decision, crying, pounding the table, and forcefully asserting that no one would ever break up the family and take us away from her. Instead, we went on relief.

At that time, the monthly relief check was thirty-eight dollars. Rent was eight plus coal and electricity cost, which left less than thirty dollars a month to take care of food and clothing for seven people. New clothes were a rarity; I wore hand-me-downs from my brother and later my uncles. A few years later, when I was already in St. Mary's grade school, those of us on relief also obtained clothing made by a project supported by the WPA (Works Progress Administration). We had to go to the fire hall and stand in line for hours with all the other kids on relief to be measured. My brother and I received new brown corduroy knickers. In school those of us on relief were now marked publicly, and, being exceptionally sensitive to the teasing of the other kids, I came to resent being poor.

We had our share of illnesses. I always had a sore throat and was susceptible to colds. Not a one of us played the "too-sick-to-go-to-school-or-church" card lightly with Mom since that meant staying inside all day, even if one felt cured by noon. We all had measles, mumps, and the usual kids' stuff, but thank God no polio or any of the serious diseases that some kids in town contracted. We had the usual ailments of poor kids, the itch, head lice (that meant having a shaved head for boys or having hair doused with kerosene for girls). Mom searched our beds assiduously for bedbugs, rampant she would say in the town movie house, and would roll the mattresses over every week as a preventative. I am amazed when I think back on those years that we survived as well as we did. Doc Cooper, who had assisted my father at his death, provided all our medical needs without ever charging a penny.

Life also had its joys, simple as they were. We had a radio, and that meant listening to the Lone Ranger, Jack Benny, George Burns and Gracie Allen, and being able to hear great music on the Firestone Hour and the Met broadcasts. We had no phone; in fact, I was in high school before I ever talked on a phone. We never had a car, and didn't miss one. I never owned a bicycle or even a baseball glove and at the time it didn't seem like such a big deal - lots of kids didn't have bikes.


Excerpted from A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church by Rembert G. Weakland Copyright © 2009 by Rembert G. Weakland. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 21, 2009


    If anyone wants to know about the Catholic Church over the last 50 years, this book is an ABSOLUTE MUST. Rembert Weakland is an outstanding writer, classicist, cleric, and human being. His critique as well as his expose of the inner workings of the Catholic Church is written with sensitivity, humility, and total honesty. The people of Milwaukee who had him as their Archbishop for 25 years indeed were fortunate to have a man of his singular inspiration and wholeness, the likes of which may not exist in the Church for decades if not centuries to come. The last three popes have slowly and consistently made sure that appointments to bishoprics are safe conservative appointments in a Church that has centralized its control and lost its ELAN. Weakland is truly a pilgrim in a pilgrim Church writing to all pilgrims in life who seek after truth.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 18, 2009

    Very Comforting and encouraging.

    I almost felt our paths had crossed, as I had gone to professional school in Milwaukee and had spent many hours at St. John's Cathedral just down the street, trying to put meaning into my life. Archbishop Weakland was yet to come to Milwaukee, but I was very familiar with the church and area. A few years later, I had reason to visit relatives in Pennsylvania on many occasions and had to travel through Latrobe when he must have been the arch abbott; again familiar with the area and county ( Cambria ) in Pennsylvania. I could feel his frustration with dealing with the hierarchy and politics of the church, but sticking with it. I also could feel the loneliness he felt and had to "pay for" with his reputation later on. Very comforting and encouraging book, great man. Would love to meet him.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 12, 2010

    Superb Reading for a Contemporary Catholic with an Appreciation for what has come before!

    Weakland's book is a formidable look at the Catholic Church both pre and post Vatican II. His insights on the Church from the perspective of his own life both as monk and Archbishop are compelling and provide a profound understanding of many of the issues which confront the Church today. His wisdom and savy read of the signs of the times makes this a must read for anyone wishing to understand the challenge of keeping the faith in an ever evolving world.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 29, 2009


    A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church captivated me as a reader. How the Archbishop was able to save and recall all of the names, dates and stories which he shares throughout his memoir is just amazing. The tales of his struggles with the hierarchy of the church showed me a side of the Archbishop's life that I was largely unaware of. After finishing the book I came away with a new respect for all that the Archbishop had accomplished. I appreciate his honesty in the book, talking in a straight-forward manner of the successes and struggles of his life. His writing style is so engaging that I was able to finish the whole book in less than two weeks. Don't be turned away by the size of the book--to have made it any shorter would have done an injustice to all that the Archbishop accomplished. I'm so glad that the book has been published during his lifetime. I hope that many will read the book and share with the Archbishop their favorite parts of what is a fascinating story.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 28, 2011

    I Also Recommend:

    A Pilgrim In Seek of Redemption

    This book by the retired Archbishop of Milwaukee, Rembert Weakland, O.S.B., is a genuinely good read for many reasons: it is a first hand historical account of the experience of a Catholic bishop, it describes the challenges of a religious order priest who became a diocesan bishop, it gives an 'insiders look' at the Vatican and the various personalities that are there, it reflects on the Catholic Church in the United States and it reflects on the clergy sexual abuse crisis. Two other reasons stand out in particular for this reader even more than those, however. First, Archbishop Weakland's experience is representative of the thinking of many Catholics who came "of age" immediately before, during and immediately after of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council (1962 - 1965). His hopes for the Church, his view on ecclesiology and his thinking on the role of the laity are indicative of many of the clergy and laity of his time. This book, therefore, is a valuable, first-hand account of how, what and why Catholics were thinking and feeling during the time between the mid-1960's and mid-1980's. The second reason why this book stands out is that Weakland does not hide the mistakes that he made along the way, especially in terms of the adult affair that he had that came to tarnish his image in 2002. This is important because, as Weakland says at the beginning of the book, in order for "the Church to be authentic [it] must be a community that heals [and] that there is no healing unless it is based on truth." And part of that healing involves forgiveness and conversion, two essentials of Catholicism. Besides these things, Weakland also reflects on various important individuals such as Popes Paul VI and John Paul II. His remarks on them, while honestly reflecting his experience, do not always reflect positively, especially on John Paul II - though he clearly respects Paul VI more. Surely John Paul II may have had his faults, but he was still Pope and merits a certain respect from a Catholic Archbishop. In this respect Weakland sometimes comes across as arrogant. If a person engages this book as a "progressive's" spokesperson on what is wrong with the Church and how it can be fixed or as "conservative's" lament on everything that is wrong with the Church, both reflected in the person of Archbishop Rembert Weakland, then that person would, in my opinion, be missing the point of the whole book. If, however, the book is read and appreciated as it is given to us, as a memoir, then the reader will genuinely gain something from engaging the book, if not only the honest attempt of a fallen-from-grace Catholic bishop to talk about his experience then perhaps something more about the theme of redemption.

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  • Posted January 17, 2011

    I truly enjoyed reading Archbishop Weakland's memoir

    The book is well written but a little tedious in the chapter about his visits with the variouw monasteries but he did give a caveat that is was for historians with an apology to other readers.
    I live in the Milwaukee area and was a member of the archdiocese when he served as our Archbishop. It was very illuminating to read about his history here and recalled many fond memories of his service to all of us. He is a great man.
    I have picked this book as my choice for our book club which meets tomorrow.

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    Posted March 25, 2010

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    Posted December 2, 2009

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    Posted November 17, 2009

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