Behind Bars With Brother Larry Backus, CSCThursday, February 23, 2012
|Brother Larry Backus, C.S.C.|
While at St. Joseph Hall I was able to interact with a few of these minds. Many of the brothers were close to my age (just a bit older) so I soon disconvered that some of my teachers (all brothers) when I was at St. Ed’s High School in the mid 50s had also been their teachers.
In my photograph of Brother Larry Backus, CSC you can discern a smile. When I first saw him he was serious and with his glasses he seemed unapproachable, learned and remote. I was completely wrong, of course. I soon found out that we had another brother in common. One who had rarely smiled, had seemed unapproachable (to me), was learned and worst of all was scary. His name was Brother Theodosius Flynn, CSC Brother Theodosius had taught me plane geometry. I don’t think he ever had one single discipline problem in the year I had him as a teacher. Just his look would freeze us to our desks.
It seems that a young novitiate, the soon to be Brother Larry had a meeting with Brother Theodosius to discuss his up and coming university curriculum. Larry Backus was interested in ancient languages but was perplexed that his entry to the university (St. Edward’s? I am not sure) had him as a physics major. He informed Brother Theodosius that there seemed to be some sort of mistake. Brother Theodosius looked at Larry Backus (with that look that still haunts me) and said, “What part of your vow of obedience do you not understand?” From there Larry Backus went into biology and there is no doubt in my mind that he excelled.
But Brother Larry Backus has held many jobs and the one that he told me that most interested me was his longstanding involvement as a counselor in maximum security institutions in the United States.
Perhaps it was that small, gentle smile on his face that convinced many of the convicted murderers that Brother Larry was to be trusted. Trusted he was and Brother Larry spent many hours behind bars with men who might have knifed him for anything but preferred to open up to him with their troubles.
In one trip to a prison in another country Brother Larry noticed that the inmates gave one man, sitting in a solitary chair a wide birth. He assumed that the man must have had some sort of body odor problem. He decided to check him out. As he approached the man, Brother Larry felt the hairs in his arms stiffen and the soon perceived a sense of total evil. It seemed that this man had found it a pleasure (he had been an enforcer of sorts in a Nazi camp) at executing whole families, one member at a time and beginning with the children. The modus operandi had been a single gun shot to the stomach. The man had never shown remorse and insisted that given the chance he would do it all over again.
|Brother Theodosius Flynn, CSC|
This sounded familiar to me. Back around 1957 in our religion class with Brother Edwin Reggio, CSC we had often posed questions to Brother Edwin in order to waste time. We liked to do this to take him away from the lesson of the day. Brother Edwin was easily distracted with our questions. In retrospect I am sure he knew well what we were up to and used the occasions to teach us well. I remember that one question we asked was if he believed that evil was irreversible. Brother Edwin had told us that all who were born had an innate human dignity due to the fact that God Himself had chosen them and us to be born. Thus no matter how good or bad those people had our respect due. We asked him, how about Hitler? Should we respect him?
His answer was quite shocking. It was yes. No matter how evil Hitler was there was somewhere inside him a soul that had an inherent goodness that merited our respect of his humanity in spite of his inhumanity.
And to finish it all off he told us, there is no way that we could be sure of Hitler's eventual spiritual destination, certainly not as sure as Dante Alighieri had been, that Judas had gone straight to hell.
Which makes me think that Brother Larry and I would both probably agree that if one of the thieves who was crucified with Christ was saved, chances are, that the one that rejected Him probably went to paradise, too.
I thought of just that when Brother Larry told me that he still gets letters from these inmates. Some are there for life others wait at death row. "What can I possibly tell them that will give them hope?" That Brother Larry cares is what keeps those letters coming.