“Father Joe – The Man Who Saved My Soul” by Tony Hendra

An autobiography, without compulsive detail. We never learn, for example, when and how Hendra’s mother died. No filial sentiment is expressed – she is described as “slapping kids around”. What she wants in life is a refrigerator. Considering the austerity of life in post WWII Britain, it is an understandable goal.

To me, the surprising meat on this plate was Hendra’s discussions of humor. A young man whose passions were total and extreme, he switched (in one cataclysmic night!) from determination to save himself through Benedictine contemplation to trying to “save the world through humor”. His description of one night at the theatre watching Oxford University’s best and brightest satirize every British habit and foible is priceless.

The book is balanced between documentation of his relationship with Father Joe, who loved him unreservedly, his relationship to work (the creative world of film, theater, writing, etc.) and his disasterous failures at love and parenthood. One can’t help being concerned that the “happy family” ending may be sentimentalized, but the man is entitled to privacy.

Hendra’s description of celebrating Easter with the Benedictines is the best modern description of religious ecstasy that I have read. It expresses boundless belief and joy. “God was alive and so was I!”

A wonderful book! It wouldn’t have worked as fiction, but is precious as personal history. 

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