Francis W. Nielsen Witness of St. Ansgar's

ISBN 13: 9781586421007

Witness of St. Ansgar's

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9781586421007: Witness of St. Ansgar's
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The central characters in this stunning literary find are Mario – the “witness” of the title – and Franciscan friar Brother Benigno, the heart and soul of St. Ansgar’s, the working-class German Catholic “Dutchie” church on Manhattan’s West Side. Mario is an assistant to Brother Benigno, mornings, afternoons and weekends, through high school and up until he joins the army to fight in World War II. Those who enjoy re-creations of old New York by the likes of Pete Hamill and E. L. Doctorow will find much to enjoy in Nielsen’s rich portrait of the working-class neighborhood anchored by Stanley Street. But perhaps more compelling is the evocation of life inside a religious order; The Witness of St. Ansgar’s is as honest and deft, insightful and revealing, inspiring and cautionary as any ever written, a book that has the potential to become regarded as an enduring fixture of Catholic American literature.

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About the Author:

Francis W. Nielsen was born in lower Manhattan in 1920 and spent his youth in a working-class neighborhood very much like the one depicted in The Witness of St. Ansgar’s. In his adult life he worked at a number of occupations, including actor, farmer, head of production for CBS-TV in New York, counselor, and audio producer. However, his real vocation was that of writer. He created poetry, plays, short stories, and a number of novels, often writing early in the morning before leaving for his paying work, which he used to support his wife, Florence, and their three sons. In addition to The Witness of St. Ansgar’s, Mr. Nielsen published two previous works under a pseudonym in the 1970s. He died in 1990.

Review:

"The Witness of St. Ansgar's is a heart-warming gem. . . . Nielsen supplies a colorful grab bag of characters and plots involving rebellious daughters, authoritarian fathers, local gangsters, Tammany Hall henchmen, cops on the take, neighborhood lovelies . . . There's writing to savor . . . And Nielsen effectively conveys the temptations faced by those -- young men, in many instances -- who enter holy orders, not just from rich widows and lonely housewives, but from self-doubt, guilt complexes, pride, and, in one case, predatory homosexuality. . . . As Friar Benigno says: 'By jingo neddies, the church knows about people.' So does Francis Nielsen. The Witness of St. Ansgar's is definitely one for the shelves."
The Hamilton Spectator

''The Witness of St. Ansgar's is a strangely old-fashioned little book. . . . Set chiefly during the Depression, the stories are told from the point of view of a boy, Mario, who, at around the age of 6 or 7 becomes the assistant to the church's sacristan, an old Franciscan friar, Benigno. The old man is a rough saint whose greatest failing is his temper, though he has pretty well mastered it. He jealously watches over his little world, the church, performs his duties scrupulously, and is a fount of humble observation on the ways of men and women in this vale of tears."
The Boston Globe

"The life of a Manhattan Catholic parish throughout the 1930s and after is lovingly etched in this posthumously published semi-autobiographical novel. . . . A lovely book . . . Arguably, in fact, a minor classic. "
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Told from Mario's perspective, the stories are poignant and personal - a secret history. . . . They paint an affectionate, textured portrait of imperfect friars and troubled parishioners. Some of the vignettes are heartbreakingly beautiful. . . . Central to each story is the abiding friendship between Mario and Benigno, both of whom evolve into endearing characters by the end of the book."
Publishers Weekly

"When I finished this book I wanted to read it all over again. It's that kind of work. . . . The power of these stories lies in the tutorial brilliance of a simple friar who mentors a boy he comes to love as the son he can never have. We connect viscerally because Benigno is the kind of guide we ourselves would like to have. . . . By the time I turned the last page of the book, I felt that I had experienced my own minor miracle."

— Edward L. Beck in The Christian Century Magazine

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