The Impossible Dream?

Kudos to Ryan M. Brown for his incisive review of Will Bunch’s eulogy to American higher education, After the Ivory Tower Falls (“Higher Ed Laid Low,” May 2023).

Isn’t it jarring how so recently, from post–World War II through the sixties, the United States largely insisted college education should be accessible, affordable, and an integral part of our national well-being? Then, inexorably, without the collective will to protect higher learning, the gentrification of academic achievement ensued, arguably leaving us bereft as a society.

Perhaps this was a mere function of market forces; the number crunchers turned learning from a highly venerated public good into a vehicle for gaining wealth—largely for themselves and various outside forces (e.g., business interests, defense firms, big pharma, etc.). All of this was shrouded in a thick dose of myth: chiefly, that college, while surely pricier, was still a robust, wholesome meritocracy rewarding the best and brightest students and protecting the American standard of living well into the future. But the myth avoided admitting, in Bunch’s language, that many were just “left out.”

R. Jay Allain
Orleans, Mass.


Not All Nuns

My heart breaks for the children of abuse at the hands of any teacher, in this case nuns (“No One Listened,” June 2023). Helene Stapinski reports on her personal experience of nuns “slapping children across the face, hitting us with big wooden paddles, and making us kneel as a group for extended periods.” Examples of similar abuse by public-school teachers and principals are reported as well. A principal of a public school in, of all places, Palo Alto whipped my own sister! However, Stapinski and so many others seem to extend their experiences to all nuns teaching in the “1940s, ’50s, ’60s, or even ’70s.” This type of stereotyping taints the lives of countless women who have dedicated their lives to the common good. I was removed from the aforementioned Palo Alto public school and put into the Catholic school and experienced the most loving, intelligent women—nuns. Again, I attended an all-girls Catholic high school and was guided by brilliant, caring, and dedicated nuns. It saddens me to lump all of these women into a sad stereotype.

Marcella Fox
Santa Rosa, Calif.


Has the Oasis Dried Up?

I found the article by Rita Ferrone (“Back to the Font,” April 2023) excellent. The “priesthood of the laity” hasn’t been mentioned since the fifties. Being baptized as “priest, prophet, and king” isn’t mentioned even in the rites. The placement of a proper font in Roman Catholic churches is too rarely understood as important, and Baptism itself loses significance along with the font. My parish hauls out a folding rack with a skimpy pan or bird bath set into it. Done with the Baptism? Fold it up again and it gets whisked away and out of sight. Font? Living water? Oasis on the way to the altar? That which we dip into and bless ourselves with—remembering our Baptism—as we make our way into the community? All dead. I mourn our collective ignorance of what the Spirit offered us at Vatican II. Has the oasis dried up?

Gertrud Mueller Nelson
San Diego, Calif.


Seeking Human Connection

Your editorial “Hit Pause” (June 2023) was a welcome contribution to the discussion of AI. I was with you all the way until I got to “we should always have the option of communicating with a real person instead.” It left me wondering how often you have tried to communicate with “a real person” while calling the so-called customer service number for any major corporation. I’ve lost track of how much time I’ve wasted over the years trying to do so. It would be depressing to count all those hours I will never get back.

Albert C. Pierce
Alexandria, Va.


Heaven Starts Here

Thank you, Bishop Stowe, for the beautifully constructed and expressed treatment of Pope Francis’s vision of a synodal church (“From Aggiornamento to Synodality,” June 2023). Thank you for recognizing the risk required by an ancient and sometimes too self-involved Church to assist us in avoiding an obliterative future. I have always felt that the purpose of this existence isn’t to get my individual soul to heaven, expedited by “doing” charity; rather, it is charity (accompaniment) of others in discerning and creating the way to the peaceable kingdom, the beloved community of all humans and creation. Heaven starts here, not after we die. If we miss it, we’ll miss it for all eternity.

Cathy Brown


Just Does Not Mean Good

Although another issue of Commonweal has now appeared, I wish still to register my disappointment with the Winright-Cavanaugh debate on the war in Ukraine (“Ukraine and the Ethics of War,” May 2023). Mr. Cavanaugh does not bring a sufficiently discriminating perspective to the debate by neglecting to distinguish between a good war and a just war. Many, myself included, would argue that there is no such a thing as a good war. It does not follow that there is no such thing as a just war. The question is whether there are instances where waging war does not prevent greater evil and harm. Second, Cavanaugh suggests that nonviolent protest and noncooperation could be “a strategy for making Ukraine ungovernable by the Russians.” The proven fact, however, is that Russia is interested only in authoritarian assertion of power. That is not governing in any meaningful sense of the word. Third, he cites Pope Francis as saying that the Soviet communist regime fell because of nonviolent protests. There were indeed protests, but the Soviet regime collapsed because Mikhail Gorbachev imagined there could be an alternative and freer form of Communist rule. No one should need reminding that Vladimir Putin detests what Gorbachev did and that it is one of the chief reasons he invaded the Ukraine.

J. M. Baker Jr.
Malvern, Penn.

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