They met in her Harvard summer school class. She was the teacher, he was the student who stood out. Roman collar, razor sharp wit, head and shoulders above the rest of the class both physically and intellectually. She was surprised (disappointed?) he didn’t stop by her office hours. When he finally did they couldn’t stop talking…about Thomas Aquinas, emotion, the nature of being. Heady stuff. Life changing stuff. He had to leave the class early to give a retreat. They agreed to write and write they did.
At first about spiritual things, as she continued on her spiritual quest.
Her: “I just plod along the only road left open, not knowing whether I’m going forward or backward, nor at times whether I am on the right road at all.”
Him: “Do you know, my child, where you want to go? Could it be that you are going away from something and not toward something?”
He was out of his mind happy when she decided to convert.(“Te Deum Laudamus; Te Dominum confitemur!! …Welcome home!”)
Somewhere along the way they stopped calling each other Dr. Arnold and Father Gasson and instead wrote as Magda and Johnny.
Hot stuff, sometimes, for a priest and a good Catholic woman. Lots of endearments. Code for I love you (ily).
- “Dear heart:- May the Lord be sweet when He comes to you on Christmas morning. It would be nice if I could be there with Him to Help Him”
- “I’m still savoring your visit— I’ve not been as happy for I don’t know since when as when you were here. You’re wonderful andily.”
- “I’ll think about what I’d like for my birthday – besides yourself, I mean.”
- “Be good. Give me some news about you and believe me ily to be ily mostly your ily or most yoursly x Johnny”
They bore one another’s burdens. They talked about everything He urged her to write, exhorted her to be of good cheer, gave feedback on all her drafts, edited her publications. She tried to give him credit but he told her not to be a fool. The last thing she need was a Jesuit coauthor bogging down her scholarship. In an age in which male scientists regularly took advantage of and failed to credit female labor (including their own wives!) he was content to play a supportive role. His credo was “he that loses his life, shall find it.” And besides, he loved her.
40 years of friendship. Years of visits, and letters, and finally the relief of living in the same town. But then, too soon, the cancer that would end his life. She got special permission to care for him at her home. When he got too ill she visited him every day in hospice. Eventually he couldn’t remember why he was there and would beg her to take him home with her. He started to lose his hearing and shouting didn’t make for intimate conversation, so all that was left was “to sit quietly, speaking to him in the heart and from the heart.” When he died she was bereft.
She wrote: “Christmas was difficult for me, the first Christmas without him. I know that friendship does not end just because one friend has died. Where he is, there is no time or space, so there are no limits to love. It’s only we, still earthbound, who suffer from the impossibility to see, hear or touch those we have lost.”
Her: “Friendship, the love between two persons, is the best there is in life, it is an earthly image of God’s love for us and our love for Him.”
Him: “I could not distinguish the parts you wrote and my parts… /Dear, dear, you and me belong so much together!!/”