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Book asks: What's a parish? What's a priest?

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Any Chicago journalist will tell you Fr. Michael Pfleger is good copy. There's always a provocation or a threat looming somewhere around the inner-city blocks of his parish, St. Sabina, on 79th St. on Chicago's South Side. And Pastor Pfleger responds to such matters.

He's painted over billboards in a years-long campaign to rid the neighborhood of cigarette ads. He and his parishioners have confronted store owners who sold drug paraphernalia. He's taken on gun shops. He's used underage kids from the parish in a meticulously documented sting that demonstrated to police and Chicago's mayor that most of the liquor stores were selling to minors without even asking for ID.

He adopted a son, took in two foster sons, one of whom died violently.

Lost works return to stage

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She had six plays produced at Dublin, Ireland’s Abbey Theater in six years in the 1930s. When her seventh met with rejection, she began writing for radio, despite having been deaf since 19, the result of Ménière’s disease. In 1954 she was elected to the prestigious Irish Academy of Letters. The Irish Times called her one of the most significant Irish playwrights of the 20th century. Yet few people in Ireland today and even fewer in America know the name of Teresa Deevy.

The Mint Theater Company, an award-winning off-Broadway theater in New York City, plans to tackle that obscurity over the next two years with its Teresa Deevy Project, which will produce two of her plays as well as offer readings, recordings and publications.

“I found her because I asked the question, ‘Who were the woman writing plays in the first 50 years of the Abbey?’ ” said Jonathan Bank, the Mint’s artistic director. “I began with the perception that the history of theater in Ireland was a lot of men and then, oh, yeah, there was Lady Gregory.”

He found that other women’s plays had been produced, but only Deevy’s had been published, and then only a few.

From berry fields to a microbiology lab

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After five grueling years of study at the University of Texas in San Antonio, Holy Cross Br. Jesus Alonso will earn his doctorate in microbiology next summer. He plans to use that degree to investigate viruses and help develop vaccines for some of the world’s most lethal and persistent viruses, like those that cause AIDS, hepatitis, dengue fever and other diseases that ravage large areas of the planet. “Microbiology is a difficult area of study,” said Alonso, an articulate, soft-spoken man of 31, “because there’s so much to learn and new developments are happening all the time.”

Despite steep decline, brothers see hope for their vocationís future

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There are three things you need to know about today’s religious brothers.

First, their numbers are continuing to decline at an alarming rate. In 1978, I attended a meeting of the National Association of Religious Brothers in Dayton, Ohio, and wrote an article for NCR on the state of the brotherhood. Although the population of brothers by then had dropped by 33 percent since 1965, there was a sense of optimism at the meeting -- a feeling that the overall decline of religious vocations had just about bottomed out and the downward trend was about to be reversed. Said one enthusiastic attendee, “I believe we are entering the age of brotherhood.”

The euphoria was due in part to the prevailing spirit of Vatican II. In this new era of the layperson, the brothers were laymen. At a time when clericalism was under siege, the brothers were involved exclusively in nonclerical ministries. And as many vowed religious sisters and priests were trying to balance the signs of the times against the outmoded regulations of their orders, the brothers were relatively unconstrained by canonical rules.

Eyes open in the Amazon

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IQUITOS, PERU -- On a steamy Sunday afternoon, Br. Paul McAuley huddled in a thatched-roof shelter with a group of college students from remote indigenous communities. The promised government meal subsidy had not arrived, and the students were out of food. There had been no breakfast or lunch that day, and there was no money for dinner.

Young theologians hope to reduce polarization

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A group of young theologians teaching at Catholic colleges and universities gathered at Fordham University in New York City in August to discuss their work on behalf of the church. About 17 attended; all were under age 40 and none of them have tenure, the two requirements for membership in what was billed as the “Fordham Conversation Project.”

Windows into a complex community

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BERKELEY, CALIF. -- Oscar would use only his first name. He’s undocumented, from Mexico, and even though he’s lived in the United States for 17 years, his life is a state of constant insecurity. No papers. He’s got to be careful.

He has command of English and a lot of ambition but his prospects remain limited. Without papers he can’t continue his education, and he can’t get a good job.

Faith's survivor on the walk of atonement

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[Editor's Note: On Aug. 24, Sister of St. Louis Mary Campbell, Douglas Kmiec, U.S. ambassador to Malta, and Msgr. John Sheridan, the retired pastor of a Malibu parish, were involved in a one-car accident. Campbell was killed instantly. Kmiec and Sheridan were injured, Sheridan critically.]

Thank you to so many who regularly read these thoughtful pages for your prayers after my recent tragic car accident.

Duo's music brings contagious cheer

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For an hour the clients of Empowerment in Denver didn’t have to think about their parole officers, unpaid bills, drug tests, applications for housing, or GED studies. As long as they were singing with the Okee Dokee Brothers, they were free, happy, smiling. People who’d made poor choices or been scorned by polite society, they simply clapped and sang, unworried about past mistakes. While the music played, they could believe in the promise of “I’ll Fly Away”: “a land where joy shall never end.”

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August 1-14, 2014

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