By Linda Bordoni
I met Sister Gertrude Feick when she was studying for a Doctorate in Sacred Theology at a Pontifical University here in Rome. She was always available to help out with radio-commentaries, to offer suggestions and to provide contacts. It was clear that she was on a quest to grow in her vocation with an open heart and an open mind.
This is something she confirmed to me just the other day when we chatted about her recently published book: “Cardinal Basil Hume. A Pilgrim’s Search for God”, published by Gracewing and available on Amazon.
It’s a volume, Sr. Gertrude explained, born from the seeds of her own spiritual, theological and academic hunger and from the desire to reach out to others in their journeys and quests for wisdom, holiness and God.
The time difference between Rome, where I am, and California, where Sr. Gertrude Feick is part of the community at the Cistercian Monastery of Our Lady of the Redwoods Abbey, is nine hours. But an early morning call posed no problem for Sr Gertrude as she goes about her life of prayer, study, meditation, and manual labor that are woven into the fabric of a community centered on Christ.
Answering my question regarding the genesis of the recently published book, she told me that after having finished her Licentiate studies, she was encouraged to complete a third cycle of theological studies which is a Doctorate in Sacred Theology, and this led her to choose a topic that would be “practical and useful for people, something that is accessible.”
That’s why she decided to focus on Benedictine monk, Cardinal Basil Hume, Archbishop of Westminster, pastor, preacher and resounding voice of Benedictine spirituality.
“Hume is a subject that was useful to me and helpful in my own spiritual growth and in my work as an academic, and also something I could use practically in my teaching,” she said.
Sr Gertrude said she started studying his little book called “Searching for God” which is a compilation of some of the conferences that he gave to his monks when he was Abbot at Ampleforth Abbey.
“What I was delighted with, is that it it felt like he was speaking to me and encouraging me to better live my Benedictine vocation; speaking to me about the Rule of St. Benedict in a way that was undiluted, and making the teachings of St. Benedict, from around the year 500, relevant to me and to my life and inspiring me to be better at my own vocation,” she said.
More and more, she said, she started to think of Basil Hume, and was encouraged by people she met during her time in Rome, including Father Paul Murray, who then turned out to be her thesis moderator at the Angelicum University, and a key figure in the publication of the book.
In particular, Sr Gertrude said, an article published by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks right after Hume’s death, describing Cardinal Hume as “one who turns strangers into friendsn” inspired her to deepen and pursue her research.
“Sacks said that was Basil Hume’s great gift, that he drew people to himself by his love of God and deep feeling for humanity and he said while you were with him, you were enlarged”, she said.
Sr Gertrude went on to talk about how she started her research at Ampleforth Abbey in October 2015, and her work then progressed from a Doctoral thesis and Dissertation into the book we have today, thanks to the encouragement of Fr Paul Murray and the support of the Abbess at Redwoods Abbey.
What makes this book special?
“The best way to think about it and describe what makes it special or unique is that it is a combination of two things: the cover and what you have inside the book,” said Sr. Gertrude describing the beautiful portrait of Cardinal Basil Hume which graces the cover of the book and commenting on how “it’s as if Basil Hume is looking at me”.
She pointed out that the way the cover is designed, it looks as though he wrote the book: “His portrait is there, and he is looking directly at me, the person who is going to open the book... And that gets you inside the book.”
Once inside the book, she explained, she has many quotations compiled in a way that it is as if he himself is speaking. The hundreds of end-notes, she added, don’t get in the way.
“I have quoted him from published and unpublished conferences, unpublished meditations on the ‘Last Words of Jesus’, also quotations from people whom I interviewed, people who knew him – family members, fellow monks, a few nuns from Stanbrook Abbey, bishops, all sorts of people who knew him that helped me reveal his character and teach me about what kind of man he was,” she said.
Sr Gertrude was really at pains to convey the fact that the book is really Basil Hume speaking, “it’s like here he is, writing today, 20 years after his death. It’s a way to honour him and keep his memory alive”.
A book for all
Sr Gertrude also insisted on the fact that she wanted it to be accessible to people: “he had something to say to everyone, not just monastics, or those who come from the tradition of religious life, but to married people, lay people, single people, people of faith, people of no faith”.
Noting that he was also close to people of other faiths, she said she has been really touched to hear the testimonies of so many people who say their lives have been impacted by the book, and have expressed gratitude for having been introduced to Cardinal Hume.
It speaks to people across the board, she said, it’s a book that doesn’t have to be read from front to back, but it can be dipped into, and picked up again and again:
“I think you will be surprised at what’s in there: Basil Hume will speak to you, wherever you are, whoever you are,” and as Fr Rod Strange writes in one of the blurbs on the back cover: “the book is powerful spiritual reading, especially for those who feel they are floundering.”
That is the kind of man Basil Hume was, she concluded: “He helped people wherever they were, [even] those who had lost hope or maybe their faith, he could help them. So I am really pleased that it has had the effect it has on people.”