Transitions (1972-1973)

The 1972 Annual Meeting was held on April 23rd back at the Church of the Holy Trinity (the kitchen facilities were more convenient than those at St. Ignatius). Ewert Cousins was reelected President. Robert McGuire, S.J., a teacher at Regis High School, where he was involved with the school curriculum oriented toward an Omega training program, became a new Board members. The Nobel prize biologist from Australia, Sir John Eccles, who was sympathetic to Teilhard's views, gave the address on "Brain, Speech and Consciousness."

In May, Minna with her husband Capt. Paul Cassard, USN, ret., made a week's trip to England and her first visit to the British Association. In June there was another departure, though only for a sabbatical year, when Ewert Cousins left for the newly founded Ecumenical Institute for Advanced Theological Studies on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Pieter de Jong became Acting President.

But, the fact that 1972 was a pivotal year in the Association's development was due to Minna's illness which manifested itself soon after her return from London. For some time her self-discipline had hidden her ill health, but her courageous struggle with cancer ended with her death on October 27th. Her vivid presence would no longer animate the Association. Ewert Cousins, in the memorial he wrote for the December Newsletter, expressed the deep sense of loss felt by all who had known her and, for the Association, the hope that its future would be energized by her spirit, furthering the goals to which she had so generously devoted her energies.

Gertrud Mellon and Alice Knight plunged into the work of running the Association during the long summer months when Minna was in the hospital, helped enormously by the ever faithful Alice Leighton. They were elected Acting Secretary and Treasurer following Minna's death. Alice Leighton resigned at that time, but Winifred McCulloch, returning to the city in late December after about a year's absence, pitched in to help. Soon afterwards Fanny Brett de Bary, a friend of Thomas Berry, became a volunteer despite other heavy commitments, driving in from Rockland County one afternoon a week.

Change was in the air. It was felt that the Association faced a crisis, not caused by Minna's death but precipitated by it. Goals had to be redefined (should it be an elitist association or open to a large number of people), and sources of funds had to be discovered. To discuss these problems, Alice Knight organized a Conference of Board members and invited guests which was held at Wainwright House, Milton Point, Rye, New York, on December 15-17, 1972. Pieter de Jong, Jean Houston, Gertrud Mellon, Alice Knight, Thomas Berry, Robert McGuire, and Wayne Kraft were present from the Board, and Anne Brennan, Margaret Bach Lynch, Arthur Ceppos from the Advisory Board. Guests were Alfred Sunderwirth, John Ballard, and Phoebe Ballard from the Board of Wainwright House with Robert Knight, Oscar Lynch, Joseph Pearce, Lathrop Douglass, William Brennan, Jr., Judith Hollister, and Betty Reardon.

The stated purpose of the Conference was:

1) To explore new dimensions of expressing the thought of Teilhard through prayer, liturgy, communal attitudes, teaching, music, dance, art and other media;
2) To propose new directions and growth to the American Teilhard de Chardin Association.

The consensus from the first evening's session was that none of the present board members had enough time to devote to the Association, there was the perennial problem of lack of money, and there was indecision about the goal.

There was agreement that the Association should be Christ centered, and the general feeling was that though Teilhard's vision illuminates all areas of life - religion. science, philosophy - more attention should be given to individual human growth. Lecture and conference teams, dance, and the arts should be used, films and television programs and more aid to students were needed. Thus, this conference emphasized experiential growth of individuals and the Association's work was seen primarily as an outreach of Christian ministry.

Wainwright House presented a tentative offer to permit the Association to merge with them. It was agreed that this could take place only after the Association had established its identity and goals and had acquired a source of financial support. Margaret Bach Lynch volunteered to act as permanent coordinator of the Association at a minimum salary. It was also decided that the name of the Association should be changed to give an indication of its goals.

These problems were discussed at the 1973 Annual Meeting, again held at the Church of the Holy Trinity. (Astronaut and para-psychologist Edgar Mitchell was the speaker.) The still-absent Ewert Cousins was reelected President. Margaret Lynch was elected Editor of the Newsletter - she had already brought out an attractive enlarged issue enlivened with photographs and decorative details. A committee was nominated to propose a change of name and it was noted that the British Association had already changed theirs to The Teilhard Association for the Future of Man.

A pressing problem that faced the Association was the need to find a new home. The apartment building at 157 East 72nd Street had changed ownership; switchboard service had been discontinued, and a rent increase would come with renewal of the lease. The consensus was that a move to Wainwright House was not desirable; it was too far out of the city, it would mean a certain loss of identity, and the financial problems had not been solved. One tantalizingly attractive offer loomed as a possibility in New York City. In June of 1971 some parishioners of St. James' Episcopal Church on Madison Avenue, had purchased the large building adjoining it on the southeast corner of Madison Avenue and 72nd Street, both for protection and in order to house the church's community outreach programs. This was a five-story elevator structure, originally built in 1898 by Rhinelander Waldo, a Police Commissioner, for his bride. It was considered one of the finest examples of French Renaissance style in the city and later was to be designated a city landmark. There were some fine shops on the street level, Christie's of London (the Fine Arts auctioneers) was on the second, and the rooms on the third and fourth floors were to be completely made over as to accommodate non-profit organizations. As soon as purchase of the building had been made public, the Association made a formal request to become a tenant. The Rector, Dr. James Coburn, was a member of our Association and though our stated purpose did not fall squarely within the church's community programs we had hopes that his awareness of our work might be persuasive.

A year later, word came that our application had been accepted, and a large, beautifully proportioned room on the fourth floor was chosen. The rent was lower than for the 72nd Street quarters, the large former ballroom was available for our evening lectures, our library-office could easily accommodate discussion groups of up to 20, and a modern kitchen made it possible to hold luncheon or supper meetings of the Board. We felt blessed. The move was accomplished in September of 1973, not without the traumas that usually attend such perigrinations. Additional furniture required to fill the large room was made available from the storehouse of the Church and a little paint brought everything into harmony. A balcony muffled the sounds of Madison Avenue traffic and three long windows looked out to a large vista of open sky. The character of our new center was both serene and warm, and its welcoming attractiveness was felt by all who visited it. The address was 867 Madison Avenue, New York, New York 10021. It was even closer than our old center to all the buildings in which Teilhard had lived, worked, and worshipped in those last years of his life.

Winifred McCulloch took over the running of the Center. On the evening of November 5th an Open House was held, and some 150 guests from the Metropolitan area enjoyed a collation, some conversation, and welcoming remarks by Ewert Cousins.

We inaugurated the ballroom that November with a fall and winter seminar given by Thomas Berry on "Contemporary Spirituality," a course he had given at Fordham and Columbia Universities, reflecting on the spiritual situation of contemporary society and the manner in which the interior journey of man to his authentic self can be successfully carried out. The audience of some 60-70 persons could never have been accommodated in our old quarters.

The problems raised at the Wainwright House Conference had still not been answered, but one step had been taken - the American Teilhard Association would remain in New York City and there try to solve the questions still confronting us. What were our new goals to be? Should we change our name? How were we to finance our work?