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An Interview with Archbishop Prendergast

An Interview with Archbishop Prendergast

 As often as possible, we would like to feature the insights of well-known Catholics – whether clerics, lay-authors, or others – on the world of books.

prenderHeart-felt thanks to Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa for taking some time to answer our questions. His Grace is an accomplished New Testament scholar, having taught for many years at various theological schools before being made a bishop, and uses his gifts for the edification of his flock in Ottawa, as well as for the Universal Church, through his writing, his work with various ecclesiastical entities in Rome and with the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, and on his blog, the Journey of a Bishop. He has been a great source of advice and encouragement to this Review.

1.      Your Grace, what is your favorite biblical book? Why?

A tie: Jonah in the OT (because I need to be challenged when I think I know what God should do instead of having mercy) and Mark, my first love in gospel study (because it never fails to call me to eagerly tell people about Jesus).

2.      What is your favorite non-biblical book? Why?

He Leadeth Me (by Walter Ciszek). His first book (With God in Russia) was a heroic account of an adventurous Jesuit missionary; the second was a “behind-the-scenes” look at the much more dramatic spiritual issues that he struggled with and are just as, or more, endearing.

3.       Does this book influence you today? How?

 I don’t read He Leadeth Me every year but from time to time when I make my annual retreat; I sense I’ll be packing it the next time when I make my yearly retreat (i.e. in January 2014).

4.      If you were to spend time in jail or marooned on an island, what three books would you want to bring with you?

Ingrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter; Alberto Savorana’s Vita di Don Giussani; Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote—all of which  are bricks that only time in prison, for instance, would allow me the leisure of reading anytime before I retire.

5.       Should Catholics read more? Why?

The life of the mind is most important in nourishing our spiritual life, so I would say “yes”; of course, “more” would mean a different thing to each person.

6.       What book should Catholics read – surprise us.

I like good human interest novels that are windows into the spiritual (just like movies, paintings, etc): e.g. Christopher Nolan, Under the Eye of the Clock

 When I was in the Holy Land for a sabbatical (1994-95), I got interested in captivity literature:  Brian Keenan, An Evil Cradling; Terry Anderson, Den of Lions; Terry Waite, Taken on Trust; Lawrence M Jenco, OSM, Bound to Forgive.  They each show how the human spirit is able to overcome the most atrocious circumstances and, not without difficulty, keep hope alive. Each is in some sense truly spiritual.

7.       As a work of exegesis, to what author is your three-volume commentary on the Gospel readings, Living God’s Word (Novalis) most indebted?

I don’t think there is one exegetical work behind the commentary series but rather a person, Aloysius M Ambrozic, my mentor and thesis director and, later, the Cardinal Archbishop of Toronto, with whom I served my first 3 ½ years in the episcopacy. He showed me various approaches to Scriptural reading and exegesis and gave me the confidence to believe I could do it on my own.  Thus, I am able to read various commentaries and trust my own (spiritual) intuition as to the meaning of the text in the Church (which has always been the prime interest of my biblical reading, research, prayer).

8.       What book are you looking forward to reading next?

 For Advent I’m going to give an attentive reading to Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium (I guess I should get with the boss’s marching orders!?) and a little work of St Francis de Sales, of whom I have latterly become a fan, The Sign of the Cross—neither of which is too heavy for a very busy liturgical season!

      Thanks, Your Grace, for sharing your thoughts with us. You’ve given us several intriguing titles to look up.

      – ed.

The Alchemist

Written by Paulo Coelho, translated by Alan R. Clarke.

(HarperOne, 1993)

Reviewed by Amy MacInnis


I was excited to read this. It was recommended and given to me by a dear friend and I wanted to be able to tell her I liked it. At first glance there seemed to be no reason to dislike it. Millions have purchased the book, which has been translated into over fifty languages. Of particular appeal to the theologian in me, I discovered that the bestselling Brazilian author and his main character were Catholic, and that the story was a spiritual journey. I was eager to dive in, but the more I read, the more my disappointment grew.

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