Fortitude

DONALD DEMARCO

Fortitude is an engaging virtue. And when it shines from a stage, and comes directly from the heart, unrehearsed, it can prove overpowering. "No, don't go," the audience chanted. "Talk to us! Talk to us!"

Baroness Catherine de Hueck Doherty (1896-1985)
Madonna House Archives


Any writer or film director, these days, living in complete comfort and security, who produces a risqué work that causes a flutter of excitement among art critics is applauded for his "courage." It is never clear, however, what great good he is defending or what grave evil he is facing. This popular demotion of courage to mere sensationalism (or fortitude to fashion) illustrates our contemporary vulgarization of virtue. "Courage" is sometimes nothing more than irreverence, while sentimentality often passes for "compassion" and mere stubbornness masquerades as "integrity."

Fortitude is a virtue of heroic and even supernatural dimensions. It is the fourth of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and corresponds to the Fourth Beatitude, "Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice." Fortitude deals with lofty goods and formidable dangers.

St. Thomas Aquinas refers to fortitude as "a certain firmness of mind" which "is required both in doing good and in enduring evil, especially with regard to goods or evils that are difficult" (Summa Theologica. II-II, Q 139, a.1). He goes on to say that "man's mind is moved by the Holy Ghost in order that he may attain the end of each work begun, and avoid whatever perils may threaten." Fortitude is courage that transcends itself through supernatural assistance.

Baroness Catherine de Hueck Doherty, foundress of Madonna House in Combermere, Ontario, and lifelong friend of the poor and the marginalized, is a lady of true fortitude.

  

Taking the High Road

Many years ago, the Jesuits of Fordham University in Bronx, New York, tried assiduously to convince her that they could not accept black students. Over a three-year period, the persistent Baroness had presented the university with highly qualified and capable black candidates. Though these candidates had high school averages over 90 percent, were good athletes, and were certified by their parish priests as being daily communicants, Fordham routinely and resolutely refused to admit them.

Despite their long-standing disagreement, the Jesuits once invited her to lecture at their school. Faculty and students filled the hall. She walked onto the stage and spoke these words:

I came to talk to you, not to lecture. In 10 minutes, therefore, I am stepping off this platform. Ten minutes is no lecture, as far as I am concerned. The situation here is very tragic. You have a chapel in this building, and there is a Crucifix in the chapel. This same Cross shines all over New York. However, the words of the person who died on that Cross are ignored in these holy precincts.
She then named one of the young men she had presented to the university. "According to your teachers," she continued, "the administration has turned thumbs down on his admittance here. They have told me that you do not want undergraduate Negroes. That's why I am getting off this platform right now."

  

Silence, Please

Fortitude is an engaging virtue. And when it shines from a stage, and comes directly from the heart, unrehearsed, it can prove overpowering. "No, don't go," the audience chanted. "Talk to us! Talk to us!" The Baroness talked, and in her own humble estimation, delivered what she thought was the best lecture on interracial justice she ever gave. Once she finished her impromptu remarks, someone rose and challenged the school to change its admission policy. Unanimous cries of "Yes! Yes!" filled the room. "Thank you," said the Baroness de Hueck. "I am sure God is here tonight."

She had embarrassed and disturbed her Jesuit hosts. She was a force, in their opinion, that needed to be quelled. Some time later, Fordham's president and about 20 of his priestly colleagues spoke to her behind closed doors. "Baronness," one pleaded with her, "you realize, don't you, that many of our students are from the South. If we accept a Negro there will be a great hullabaloo among the parents and the students." "The time is not yet ripe," commented another priest.

The Baroness was equipped with fortitude, but she also made sure to bring with her a 25-cent Bible marked by ribbons at the appropriate texts. "I have never read anywhere in the Gospel where Christ says to wait 20 years before living the Gospel. The Good News is for now. He died for all men, to make all men his brothers and sisters, children of his Father." "But we will go broke," protested another.

"It's a question of what you're more interested in," the Baroness retorted, "God or mammon. God said you cannot have two masters."

Fortitude can be a lonely virtue. For nearly two hours, the Jesuits badgered her with objections. Truth, justice, love, faith, fortitude, and conscience make a formidable alliance, even though they may take up residence in a solitary heart. Status quo is a logjam. Fortitude is a progressive force. Though it may be misread as imprudent, it is in the final analysis, essential for the advance of human civilization.

  

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Donald DeMarco. "Fortitude." Lay Witness (November/December 2004).

This article is reprinted with permission from Lay Witness magazine. Lay Witness is a publication of Catholic United for the Faith, Inc., an international lay apostolate founded in 1968 to support, defend, and advance the efforts of the teaching Church.

THE AUTHOR

Donald DeMarco is Professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, CT and Professor Emeritus at St. Jerome's University in Waterloo Ontario. He has written hundreds of articles for various scholarly and popular journals, and is the author of twenty books, including The Heart of Virtue, The Many Faces of Virtue, Virtue's Alphabet: From Amiability to Zeal and Architects Of The Culture Of Death. Donald DeMarco is on the Advisory Board of The Catholic Educator's Resource Center.

Copyright © 2004 LayWitness


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