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Rosemary Haughton: Witness to Hope.

It's about time someone wrote a book about Rosemary Haughton. Birth mother of ten, foster mother of four, lay theologian without academic affiliation or any but honorary degrees, author of fifty-eight books and more than two hundred articles, speaker over thirty-some years at numerous conferences and conventions, especially in the United States, and, in 1981 one of the founders of Wellspring House in Gloucester, Mass., she certainly deserves our attention. Now Elish Ryan, director of the Pastoral Institute and Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of the Incarnate word in San Antonio, has given us in Rosemary Haughton: Witness to Hope (Sheed and Ward, 1997), a good introduction to this extraordinary woman and her work.

Described on the cover as "the first biography that has focused on [Haughton's] life and work in theology and spirituality," the book gives a good deal more attention to the work than to the life. At the heart of that work is, in Haughton's own words, her insight and conviction "that all good theology is, and always has been a theology of experience, "not "a system invented by religious people, and then applied to existing human concerns ... but simply a reflection, in the light of faith, on what actually happens to people - to individual people and to groups and nations and cultures." That her theology and spirituality grew and grows directly out of her own experience is evidenced in the useful chronological bibliography that Ryan supplies. A sampling of the titles, from her first Six Saints for Parents in 1962, through Problems of Christian Marriage, Feminine Spirituality, Song in a Strange Land (about Wellspring House) to the 1997 Images for Change: The Transformation of Society (the subtitle echoes her groundbreaking The Transformation of Man), provides a virtual outline of Haughton's own life, and almost begs for the kind of book that would explore the relationship between the person, her experience, and her work.

Instead, in a single biographical chapter, we get some fascinating facts about Rosemary Luling Haughton's life. Born in Chelsea near London of English and American lineage, with Jewish blood on her novelist mother's side, she became a convert to Catholicism in her teens. At twenty-one she married Algernon Haughton - also half English, half American, and a convert - and spent a good part of the next twenty-five years with him and her growing family at the Benedictine Ampleforth College in Yorkshire, where Algy taught. Acting on a conviction about the importance of "community" - as a theological concept and as a lived reality - she, Algy, and some of their children (and grandchildren!), established in the seventies an intentional therapeutic and educational community in Scotland, named Lothlorien. In the eighties, with a small group of people from a parish in Peabody, Mass., she founded Wellspring House, originally as a shelter for battered women, and now as a multi-faceted center for education, economic development, rehabbed low-cost housing, a land trust, etc. Followers of Haughton (and her critics), who have questioned her leaving her husband and family to live and work in the United States these last seventeen years will find some explanation of that decision in this chapter.

Ryan, after a survey of current studies in spirituality, explores in summary fashion Haughton's theology, methodology, anthropology, key theological concepts, and approach to significant issues in Christian spirituality today. Begun as a doctoral dissertation, the book carries the flavor of that genre: multiple uses of "Haughton views," "Haughton believes," "in Haughton's opinion," etc. For those who already know her work, the book under review serves as a useful summing up. It's to be hoped that it will entice those who don't to go to the works themselves. My own short list would include On Trying to Be Human, The Transformation of Man, The Theology of Experience, The Catholic Thing. And I'm looking forward to reading Images for Change to see where experience has taken this now seventy-year-old theological pioneer.

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Author:Malone, Nancy
Publication:Cross Currents
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1998
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