Catholic Writers Discuss Hope, Students Say Hope is ‘Essential’


Published: April 3, 2008

Diverse views were presented on the evening of March 11 at an event entitled “Take Heart: Catholic Writers on Hope,” sponsored by the Fordham Center on Religion and Culture. Four panelists shattered the notion of hope being thought of and employed consistently by everyone and instead gave Fordham students, faculty and the greater public a sense of different views on hope.

“I’m perhaps the most hopeless person you’ll ever meet.” This, ironically, was the introduction given by Nancy Mairs’, a poet, essayist, and memoirist, segue into the discussion.

Mairs said, “I relinquished hope in 1990 when my husband was diagnosed with melanoma. Hope seemed like a distraction. I was going to lose him anyway, and I wanted to be present in every moment not thinking about some future moment.” Mairs’s husband survived, but she still wound up adopting what she calls an attitude of hopelessness.

Mairs, along with three other Catholic writers, Carol Zelinksi, Dan Barry and Lawrence Joseph, sat on the panel. The night began with introductions, followed by a reflection about each panelist’s own experience with hope, and concluded with a panel discussion in which the writers addressed audience questions. The event took place in the Pope Auditorium and was attended by about 100 people, mostly older and members of the general public.

Students who attended the event thought that it was relevant, given the context of the times. “I think it was important since heck, look at where we are at now: a quagmire in Iraq, an economic recession, and tragedy seemingly happening every day, said Brent Nycz, FCLC ’09. “Hope is definitely essential.”

Siew Kwok, FCLC ’09, also felt that the panel was applicable. “I think that the seminar was great and should be held all the time, but especially during this time when our nation is going through so many problems and we are hoping for change and a better tomorrow.”

Isabel Spiegel, a student in Fordham’s College Over 60 program, said that the panelists were inspiring and that they offered a good mix of viewpoints.

Peter Steinfels, director of the Fordham Center on Religion and Culture, agreed, “I thought there was a good representation of views on hope.” He added, however that he “would like to have seen a bigger audience. We’ve had much better responses at past events.”

Barry, who overcame cancer, and Mairs, who suffers from clinical depression and multiple sclerosis, discussed hope in times of sickness and their illnesses in relationship to their profession as writers.

“It was great to see how some of the writers have been able to deal with their illnesses by having such a steadfast belief in hope,” Spiegel said.

Mairs cited her illness as an inspiration for her career as a writer. “In many ways, multiple sclerosis is intrinsic to the writer I’ve become.” She chose to focus on the hopelessness in her life claiming, “our job is to take care of who we are now and who we are with now.”

Barry, a New York Times columnist, doesn’t “recommend cancer as a tool of inspiration.” He discussed the “Our Father” prayer saying, “After my illness I was reacquainted with prayer. I tried to focus on the words.” He said, “The act of writing is an act of hope that what you’re writing down matters.”

The diversity of viewpoints that were presented reminded Nycz of hope’s manifold nature. “Hope comes in different forms. The hope that you have for a sports team winning is different than the hope of passing a test or getting out of something alive. The degrees of severity as well as necessity dictate the different forms of hope.”

Kwok said, “I think everyone knows examples of hope, but few can articulate what hope actually is. It is one of those virtues that you can only understand in retrospect.”