Henri Nouwen: An Unforgettable Spiritual Presence

The STM Archives Fall Exhibit is now on display in the case opposite of Boisi Hall. We are pleased to honor the life of Henri Nouwen, prolific Catholic writer, lecturer and member of the Yale community. The exhibit will run until the beginning of December.

All items on show are from the personal collection of community member, Mary Carney. Below, she speaks about her long friendship with Henri and why she curated the exhibit as she did:

The author with Henri Nouwen

When the twentieth anniversary of Father Henri Nouwen’s death occurred on September 21st this year, I was unable to attend the memorial service held at his grave site at Daybreak of L’Arche in Richmond Hill, Toronto, Canada. I felt compelled to gather personal pictures and a collection of his books to be put on display for the STM community.

Fr. Nouwen had celebrated Mass at STM several times while he was on the faculty of Yale Divinity School. Many of the present-day members of the STM community remember him as an unforgettable spiritual presence—he encouraged us to join him in celebrating daily Mass in a very small chapel on the YDS campus. Several of us attended this Mass. If we arrived after Mass had begun, he would go out of his way to make us feel welcome, repeating his opening spiritual remarks on the text, plus personally helping the latecomers find a seat. He made us feel more than welcome, but definitely reluctant to re-experience such hospitality, and even more reluctant to miss worshiping together.

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The small chapel where Henri celebrated daily Mass at YDS, now known as Nouwen Chapel.

The pictures in the display depict his generosity of personal attention to his congregation, be it one or hundreds. Despite the seriousness of his books, he was a very animated speaker, often very funny, but then more often deeply present to those that turned to him. He defined what it is to be a captive audience, one-on-one with each of us.

Henri was ahead of the times in promoting care for caregivers. I was an assistant head nurse on an oncology unit at Yale New Haven Hospital and we all shared the responsibility of supporting each other and accepting support in return. I owe him a great debt of gratitude for his enlightened pastoral care. He joined me, Rev. Dobihal, Dr. Wessel, Shirley Blood, Florence Wald and the staff of Hunter 5 of YNHH, to initiate the planning process of Connecticut Hospice, the first inpatient hospice program in the United States.

It is my hope that through this exhibit you will experience Henri’s spiritual guidance and unforgettable spiritual presence. May it guide you in your everyday life, knowing that he would wish you to live the challenges of your life well.

~Mary Carney, Rn