The Witness of St. Ansgar’s
The witness of the title is Mario, a young altar boy at St. Ansgar’s German Catholic Church on Manhattan’s Lower West Side. This collection of vignettes about the church’s community unfolds through Mario’s eyes. He is taken under the wing of Brother Benigno, a Friar of the Order of St. Francis, which maintains St. Ansgar’s. Most of the action takes place during the Depression, and despite the travails of the time, this German-American congregation thrives through its faith, spirit, determination, and belief in miracles. Actually, it is this belief in miracles that Brother Benigno frets over the most. He grew up in the neighborhood, left to study, became a monk, and returned to St. Ansgar’s as Sacristan. No carnal lover was more devoted to a mistress than Benigno was to the care and maintenance of his church and its parishioners. He listened, and his universe spoke to him. As Mario grows older, he becomes Benigno’s assistant, eventually taking over more and more of his duties as the old man grows ever more feeble.
Francis Nielsen wrote this novel over a period of years. His creation and its posthumous publication by his family are works of love. A fitting tribute.