Los Gatos

The Catholic Thing readers know that Schall retired after the Fall Semester at Georgetown. In March, he moved to the Jesuit Center in Los Gatos, California. Before departing, saying good-bye to friends, a letter from the university provost informed him that he was now a “Professor Emeritus.” It is a rite of passage. One’s official status is “old age.” Cicero, in his essay, “On Old Age,” spoke about the “activities” of old age. The old themselves usually include their aches and pains. Most cultures associate old age with wisdom, though the expression “an old fool” is not unheard of.

On the first day of spring, I boarded an Alaska Airline plane to San Jose via Los Angeles. At LAX, I had to go from one terminal to another, something this airport makes most difficult to do. Fortunately, a fellow Jesuit, Kevin O’Brien, was on the same plane and helped me negotiate through the terminals.

When the plane to San Jose was ready to take off, the pilot told us that a small “problem” in the tail needed checking – only ten minutes. Two hours later, with a different plane and crew, we took off for San Jose, the nearest airport to Los Gatos. I stayed with a nephew who lives twenty miles from Los Gatos over the weekend. He delivered me to the new house on Monday morning.

I had lived in this house as a novice. In fact the room I am currently occupying is right across the hall from the one I had as a novice in 1948 – a visible Alpha and Omega. This house has about seventy men in it, many old classmates, now retired. Some are in the infirmary. The staff is most helpful. It took about a week to settle in, get used to a routine.

This property is about one hundred and eighty acres, on a hillside overlooking the lovely town of Los Gatos and the majestic Santa Clara Valley. Hiking trails wend back of us up the mountain. This is spring. Everything is green. Flowers are everywhere. Temperature is mild. The gardens around the house are very nice. The city of San Jose is clear in the distance, as is the Mt. Hamilton Range across the Valley. We are in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, which separate the San Francisco Bay from the Pacific Ocean at Santa Cruz.

     A Jesuit winemaker at Los Gatos back in the day

The Jesuits from the Turin Province founded this house back in the late 1800s. Naturally, they brought the vine and the olive with them. In my younger years, Novitiate of Los Gatos wines were quite well known. But the winery has long closed though its buildings are now operated by the “Testarossa” Winery.

On the pasture above the house are five jackasses. They are pets, though their forefathers once ploughed the vines on the hillsides above the house. A donkey is a domesticated jackass. A jack is a male ass. I will presume that TCT readers know what a mule and a hinny are, as well as how they are related to horses and donkeys. In any case, as I was walking down the hill the other day, the five jackasses in the pasture followed me to their feed lot, evidently thinking that I had an apple for them. Needless to say, this image of Schall being followed by five jackasses is open to considerable pious interpretation on the part of the brethren.

The main topic of conversation around here is the new pope. Fortunately, my copies of L’Ossevatore Romano have been arriving. I have been able to read what Pope Francis has been doing and saying. In one homily, he told priests that they should be out in the world – preaching, baptizing, consoling, and not sitting around like bureaucrats and psychoanalyzing themselves.

When the pope told his relatives and friends in Argentina not to come to his inaugural ceremonies, but to stay at home and give the money to the poor, I thought: “There went the Italian tourist industry!” I wondered just who the poor were who would receive this unspent money. How much would it actually help them without a productive economic system?

Of late, I have been thinking that we have turned almost every help-giving agency over to the state. Helping the poor now means, not helping them become capable of working for a living, but setting up another state care program. Most states are delighted to oblige. They more and more forbid any spontaneous or non-government help. The state wants the poor to justify its – the state’s – existence and expansion. I fear the term “social justice” usually means, in practice, something like this state control.

So Schall can find things to think about in Los Gatos. It is not Washington. But the shadow of Washington is here. Retired priests too can find something to do. Benedict, the pope (also now emeritus), set the example.

James V. Schall, S.J. (1928-2019), who served as a professor at Georgetown University for thirty-five years, was one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America. Among his many books are The Mind That Is Catholic, The Modern Age, Political Philosophy and Revelation: A Catholic Reading, Reasonable Pleasures, Docilitas: On Teaching and Being Taught, Catholicism and Intelligence, and, most recently, On Islam: A Chronological Record, 2002-2018.

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