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Life Arts

Was the Indian Jesuit Anthony de Mello Murdered in the U.S. 25 Years Ago? (BOOK REVIEW)

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"A man in love does indeed go out to the world not in love but in euphoria. For him the world takes on an unreal, rosy hue, which it loses the moment the euphoria dies. His so-called love is generated not by his clear perception of reality but by the conviction, true or false, that he is loved by someone -- a conviction that is dangerously fragile, because it is founded on the unreliable, changeable people who he believes love him.. And who can at any moment pull the switch and turn off his euphoria." (Quoted from pages 114-115.)

Digression: Euphoria is a typical characteristic of a hypo-manic episode. For my present purposes, I will operationally define the euphoria of a hypo-manic episode as uncontained and unregulated euphoria. But I think that Tony is here referring to a somewhat more contained and regulated experience of euphoria. When a person experiences euphoria in a somewhat contained and regulated way, he or she feels animated. As a result, he or she is usually a high-energy person who feels ready to conquer the world, so to speak. End of digression.

Now, when a person who is at emotional dead-ends makes the Spiritual Exercise to attain God's love, he or she may emerge from doing this exercise feeling that God does indeed truly love him or her. As a result, the person who is at emotional dead-ends will go forth feeling loved by God and will as a result be filled with euphoria.

So a question arises: How many Jesuits who were at emotional dead-ends have emerged from their 30-day retreats feeling loved by God and as a result filled with euphoria? How many Jesuits, if any, have not been at emotional dead-ends?

In his perceptive essay "St. Ignatius' Prison-Cage and the Existentialist Situation" in the Jesuit-sponsored journal THEOLOGICAL STUDIES, volume 15, number 1 (March 1954): pages 34-51, the American Jesuit Walter J. Ong (1912-2003) examines and discusses St. Ignatius Loyola's cryptic and puzzling prison imagery. His prison imagery suggests that he himself felt imprisoned, despite all the fruits he had himself savored as he was doing the Spiritual Exercises. In effect, his prison imagery also suggests that he was himself at emotional dead-ends.

In THE WAY TO LOVE (pages 16, 25, 48, 50, 68), Tony works with prison imagery in different ways to characterize our human condition before we have advanced to the condition wherein we are free from our emotional dead-ends.

But if Tony himself had somehow managed to move beyond emotional dead-ends, which appears to have been the case, we may wonder exactly how this happened to him. Unfortunately, Bill deMello's otherwise fine biography of Tony does not shed much light on how this happened to Tony, if it did indeed happen to him, as I believe it did.

Your guess is as good as mine as to whether or not Jesuits will appreciate having the above quotation about Jesuits published in Bill deMello's book. Make no mistake about this quotation. Not many people besides Jesuits make 30-day retreats, even though it is possible for non-Jesuits to sign up for such 30-day retreats at Jesuit retreat centers in the United States.

Your guess is as good as mine as to just how effective Tony's experimental group-counseling retreats were in moving the participants toward overcoming their psychological limitations. But it is possible that a certain number of the participants emerged from the experimental retreats at emotional dead-ends, just as they had been when they signed up for the retreat. In this way, a certain number of participants may have been disillusioned about the possible effectiveness of the retreat. Moreover, given the nature of Tony's experimental group-counseling retreats, it also possible that occasionally a participant may have felt deeply humiliated in the retreat -- perhaps deeply humiliated enough to want revenge on Tony for what had happened.

In any event, Fr. Frank Stroud, S.J., Tony's fan and host in the Jesuit community at Fordham University in the Bronx found Tony dead on the floor of his room on the morning of June 1, 1987. Tony's body was curled up in a fetal position. His official death certificate lists the immediate cause of his death as "Atherosclerotic coronary artery disease with recent thrombosis of left circumflex branch." But how many people who are dying of a heart attack curl up on the floor in a fetal position?

Moreover, Tony had no known history of heart disease. Furthermore, within a year of his death, he had been examined by a physician in the United States, who also served as President Jimmy Carter's doctor, who had told Tony that he was quite healthy. But perhaps the doctor had missed something important in his examination, eh?

By coincidence, Tony's younger brother Bill de Mello had been visiting Manhattan at the time when Tony had arrived in New York City for his upcoming spirituality conference at Fordham University in the Bronx, which was scheduled to be televised via satellite to a number of Catholic campuses. Bill de Mello was able to visit with Tony in the Jesuit residence at Fordham on the evening of May 31, 1987. But as mentioned, Tony was found dead in his room the next morning by Fr. Stroud.

Bill de Mello recounts that after they had had dinner at the Jesuit residence Tony had complained of some kind of stomach trouble. If Tony had ingested some kind of poison at dinner, how did the real culprit behind his murder manage to poison him, when Bill and others who had dinner in the Jesuit residence that evening were not poisoned?

Tony's complaints after dinner about his stomach trouble had seemed to Bill to sound similar to his own recent trouble with an upset stomach and indigestion after he had arrived in New York City. Bill's colleagues at work in Manhattan had advised him to take Pepto-Bismol. It had worked for Bill, so he advised Tony to take Pepto-Bismol. But when Tony inquired about this at the Jesuit residence, he was told that there was no Pepto-Bismol there. As a result, Bill left the Jesuit residence and went in search of a pharmacy where he could buy some. He then returned to the Jesuit residence with some Pepto-Bismol. Tony then took some. It evidently provided him with a certain measure of relief at the time, because he was able to continue his visit with Bill. When Bill left Tony that evening, Tony was obviously alive.

It is not hard to imagine how disconcerted Bill felt the next day when Fr. Stroud called him at work in Manhattan to tell him that he (Fr. Stroud) had found Tony dead in his room that morning curled up on the floor in a fetal position.

Got that -- in a fetal position? Had somebody somehow killed Tony and then arranged his body on the floor in a fetal position, and then slipped out of Tony's room? Or did Fr. Stroud just make up this fantastic detail about Tony's corpse? But for what reason would the rector have made up this detail when Fr. Stroud told Bill about his brother's death? But if Fr. Stroud did not make up this fantastic detail, why would Tony himself have curled up in a fetal position on the floor as he was dying?

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www.d.umn.edu/~tfarrell

Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; Ph.D.in higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)
 
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Tony de Mello, the Jesuit spiritual writer and spe... by Thomas Farrell on Monday, Feb 18, 2013 at 6:41:34 PM
well, Pope John Paul said "meditation is evil"Matt... by Kent Welton on Tuesday, Feb 19, 2013 at 11:09:15 AM
Having been raised in a progressive but pious RC f... by paulvcassidy on Thursday, Feb 21, 2013 at 2:10:47 AM
Triangulation Plot: Expose a boy to his Mother's &... by paulvcassidy on Thursday, Feb 21, 2013 at 4:14:39 AM
Oedipus complex once removed with triangulation ca... by paulvcassidy on Thursday, Feb 21, 2013 at 7:07:18 AM
Having been raised in a progressive but pious RC f... by paulvcassidy on Thursday, Feb 21, 2013 at 2:11:47 AM