A Kindly Providence
An Alaskan Missionary’s Story
By Rev. Louis L. Renner, S.J.
507 pages, $24.95
When I was a student at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, N.Y., one of my Jesuit English professors explained that “providential” means “by the kindness of God,” while “fortuitous” means “by chance.”
Jesuit Father Louis Renner has aptly titled his autobiography A Kindly Providence because he consistently saw the events that occurred in his life as the kindness of God at work.
Father Renner takes the reader step by step through the process of becoming a Jesuit, not only the education but also the spiritual formation. Along the way, we accompany his travels through Western Europe — its historic churches and mountaintop vistas.
“In Paray, home to 11,077 in 1968, I found myself in a rural area of France about an hour’s train ride northwest of Lyons,” he writes. “The neighboring town, Charolles, is known to the world for the Charolais cattle raised there and exported widely abroad.
“Paray itself is known to the world as the place where the revelations of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a Sister of the Visitation, took place. Only Lourdes surpasses it as a site of pilgrimage. The centerpiece of Paray is the medieval Romanesque Basilica of the Sacred Heart.
“The principal place of pilgrimage in Paray is the Visitation monastery, in which are the Shrine of the Revelations to Saint Margaret Mary, as well as her relics. I had a number of occasions to offer Mass in both the basilica and the monastery, as well as to offer numerous Masses, hear confessions, and give Benedictions in other monasteries, convents, and schools in Paray.”
Father Renner grew up on a farm in a family of German immigrants in North Dakota. As a teenager, he worked at various tasks in the Pacific boating industry. His experience would prepare him for work as a missionary.
As a Jesuit, he taught German for 15 years at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks and brought the sacraments to various mission churches throughout the vast territory.
Father Renner was equally at home in the classroom, in the offices of The Alaska Shepherd, a newsletter he published, in scary flights in small airplanes and in the mission churches across the state. An outdoors buff, Father Renner enjoyed fishing, exploring, hiking, kayaking, mountain climbing, photographing and wood splitting. In fact, the reader gets vicarious thrills reading about his hikes through the grizzly bear-infested countryside.
Father Renner spent his later years at Gonzaga University. Based on his in-depth knowledge of Alaska, along with a great deal of archival research, Father Renner authored the complete history of the Church in Alaska in a magnificent book titled Alaskana Catholica.
Undoubtedly, Father Renner will be remembered for the great contributions he has made to the development of the Church in Alaska. He has not only helped to make history in Alaska; he has now written about it.
Joseph Albino writes
from Syracuse, New York.