Ellen B. Koneck

Ellen B. Koneck runs Special Projects at Commonweal and teaches in the Catholic Studies department at Sacred Heart University. You can follow her on Twitter.

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Father (Lt. Col.) Francis Patrick Duffy, D.S.C.

Memorial Day yesterday got me thinking (quite rightly) about those who serve in the American military, which got me thinking about those who serve those who serve in the armed forces—our military chaplains.

It's Raining in Minnesota

My parents got me The Very Best of Prince album when I was about eleven years old. I had just received my first Walkman and with this new technology in tow, I thought I should begin to take myself more seriously a music-listener. I made concerted efforts to have my taste in music, movies, and TV mirror that of my siblings—who were the obvious standards for coolness at the time—and noticed quickly that classic rock and synth funk made me more admirable in the eyes of my older brothers than Jock Jams ever could. I’m not sure peer pressure has ever produced nobler results. Prince was my first real musical love.

In the early 2000’s, pop as a genre—which, as a preteen, I was expected to like—primarily referred to folks like Britney Spears and 3LW and Backstreet Boys. But there was something qualitatively different about listening to Prince; even though it was dancey and fun, his music didn’t feel cheap or hollow like the music I heard on the radio. It felt timeless.

Eleven is probably a weird age to begin a musical infatuation with an artist known for his “predilection for lavishly kinky story-songs,” but I loved that he told stories, set scenes—even if I didn’t always understand the subtle meaning underneath the words. It was easy to imagine the people and places he painted lyrically—they were all in vivid detail: “She wore a raspberry beret / the kind you find at a second-hand store” and “walked in through the out door;” or “Dream if you can a courtyard / an ocean of violets in bloom”—even a kid can latch on to imagery like that.

I suppose my parents weren’t too concerned about the subtle (or sometimes not-so-subtle) suggestions in his music, since, in addition to loving Prince, I was also the kid who requested books about Moses for Christmas and practiced spelling big words in my free time. They knew they could trust me to remain obstinately innocent while still exposing me to one of the most amazing musicians my homeland has ever produced—and indeed, they were right. It took me about a decade to realize and understand the almost incessant sexual references in his lyrics (I really thought “Little Red Corvette” was about a little red corvette), but the slow revelation just made it seem that his music grew along with me.

100 Years of Thomas Merton

If it weren’t for his premature death in 1968, Thomas Merton would turn 100 years old this January 31. Fortunately for us, his legacy and wisdom continue to influence each new generation through the prolific corpus of spiritual writing he left.

I suspect Merton is one of the most well-known and beloved figures in recent American history. But for those of you who might be unfamiliar, he was an ivy-league nihilist turned Trappist monk, mystic, writer, poet, and activist, who spent his days at an abbey in Gethsemani, Kentucky.

Last Word: Splitting Up

Our first split wasn’t a conscious decision, given the lack of brain development or will power at that early stage in gestation, when a single fertilized egg divided into Emily and me.

I suppose our second real split came at about five and a half years. Twins at my elementary school had to decide before beginning kindergarten whether they always wanted to be in the same class or always in different classes. Though I don’t know precisely why we chose separate classes, I have a strong feeling it had something to do with collectively making the highest possible number of friends.

Cathleen Kaveny Named Libby Professor at Boston College

Long-time Commonweal contributor Cathleen Kaveny has joined the faculty at Boston College as the Darald and Juliet Libby Professor, a position that includes appointments in both the department of theology and the law school. Cathy is the first in BC's history to hold a joint appointment. Her colleagues at BC are understandably enthusiastic about working with Kaveny:

Throwback Thursday: Wars of Christmas Past

It’s a shame that the term “War on Christmas”—demeaning to both the gravity of war and the spirit of Christmas—is now associated with efforts to display overtly religious symbols in public places during the month of December. As Mollie’s recent column suggested, might the hawkishness with which Christmas Warriors are picking these fights hinder their cause? And moreover, isn’t this term a bit patronizing to those who have or are currently fighting in real wars?

Nelson Mandela

In 2000, our editors wrote: “Will Nelson Mandela ever stop astounding and humbling the world by the force of his moral vision and the transformative authority of his personal courage and conviction?” The question was in response to Mandela's efforts to end Brundi's civil war, but it expresses what has been said in so many of the tributes in the week since his death, in wonder over how much he was able to accomplish. Commonweal over the years chronicled Mandela's fight against apartheid, his imprisonment, and his release and subsequent election as president of South Africa.

In Memory of Gordon Zahn

Today marks the anniversary of the death of Gordon Zahn: pacifist, professor, author and longtime contributor to Commonweal. His practical and theological contributions to issues of conscience, war, peace, and social justice in the Catholic tradition remain relevant even years after his death.

Throwback Thursday: Happy Birthday, Commonweal!

This past Tuesday marked Commonweal's 89th birthday. We’re planning some bigger things to mark the big nine-oh in 2014, but for now we thought we’d celebrate at home (on the blog) with a few close friends (that’s you).