Ellsberg, Robert 1955-
Ellsberg, Robert 1955-
Born December 13, 1955; married; children: three. Education: Harvard College, B.A.; Harvard Divinity School, Th.M. Religion: Catholic.
Catholic Worker, New York, NY, staff member, 1975-1980, including as managing editor, 1976-78; Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY, editor in chief, 1987—, publisher, 2006—.
Three Catholic Book Awards, for Blessed among All Women: Women Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time.
(With Penny Lernoux and Arthur Jones) Hearts on Fire: The Story of the Maryknoll Sisters, Orbis Books (Maryknoll, NY), 1993.
All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time, Crossroad Publishing (New York, NY), 1997.
(Selector and author of introduction) Charles de Foucauld, Charles De Foucauld: Writings, Orbis Books (Maryknoll, NY), 1999.
The Saints' Guide to Happiness: Everyday Wisdom from the Lives and Lore of the Saints, North Point Press (New York, NY), 2003.
Blessed among All Women: Women Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time, Crossroad Publishing (New York, NY), 2005.
(And author of introduction) Dorothy Day, By Little and by Little: The Selected Writings of Dorothy Day, Knopf (New York, NY), 1983, published as Dorothy Day, Selected Writings: By Little and by Little, Orbis Books (Maryknoll, NY), 1992, 2005.
(With Gregory Baum) The Logic of Solidarity: Commentaries on Pope John Paul II's Encyclical on Social Concern, Orbis Books (Maryknoll, NY), 1989.
Mahatma Gandhi, Gandhi on Christianity, Orbis Books (Maryknoll, NY), 1991.
Fritz Eichenberg, Works of Mercy, Orbis Books (Maryknoll, NY), 1992.
Carlo Carretto, Selected Writings, Orbis Books (Maryknoll, NY), 1994, abridged edition, 2007.
(With Thomas C. Cornell and Jim Forest) A Penny a Copy: Readings from the Catholic Worker, Orbis Books (Maryknoll, NY), 1995.
Thich Nhat Hanh: Essential Writings, introduction by Sister Annabel Laity, Orbis Books (Maryknoll, NY), 2001.
Flannery O'Connor, Flannery O'Connor: Spiritual Writings, introduction by Richard Giannone, Orbis Books (Maryknoll, NY), 2003.
Robert Ellsberg converted to Catholicism after meeting Dorothy Day. He had interrupted his college education to join Day's Catholic Worker newspaper. At first, this was just a journalism job for Ellsberg, but he was inspired by Day's Christian faith and sense of charity that had led her to expand the mission of the newspaper to one of social work as well. Day had originally intended only to run a newspaper, but she opened the paper's doors to allow those in need to receive food and shelter. This service eventually grew into a system of Catholic Worker houses across the country. Ellsberg, who also managed the newspaper for two years, knew Day for the last few years of her life and was moved by the joy and purpose she found in life. He later became editor in chief and publisher of Orbis Books and has written and edited inspirational Christian books for general audiences.
After editing some collections of Day's writings, as well as works by such figures as Mahatma Gandhi and Fritz Eichenberg, Ellsberg published Hearts on Fire: The Story of the Maryknoll Sisters. Orbis Books is the publishing arm of the Maryknoll Sisters, and Ellsberg wished to help complete a history of the sisters begun by Penny Lernoux, who had died of cancer before completing her book. With the assistance of Arthur Jones, he completed their complicated and somewhat controversial history. Founded in the 1920s, the Maryknoll Sisters first attempted missionary work in China but were expelled from that country as suspected spies for various reasons, including the fact that they accepted air transportation from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Later, they conducted missionary work in Central America, where they ironically were considered a Communist threat for their support of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. The Maryknolls also supported staunch anti-Communist Senator Joseph McCarthy. In 1980 several sisters were raped and murdered in El Salvador, and the Maryknolls were shocked when they received no support from the United States, which issued a statement that the Maryknolls were perhaps fair targets because of their political activism. The tragedy actually galvanized the Maryknolls and solidified their missionary purpose. A number of critics found Ellsberg's work of history somewhat flawed, while still being a worthwhile read. "Despite its defects Hearts is still an important book of its kind, especially since it's apt to be the only history of the Maryknolls to be written for a while," remarked Nation contributor Jeanne Schinto. Carole Collins, writing in the National Catholic Reporter, noted that it "reveals in dramatic and fascinating detail the richness of the spiritual and experiential soil from which the Maryknoll sisters' charism has sprung."
Just as Ellsberg drew inspiration from Day, he hopes that the examples of other people's lives can inspire his readers. For this reason, he has published several books about people who found joy and purpose in more than just material possessions. Ellsberg feels that a big problem in modern society is that people seek happiness in the wrong places. As he told Social Edge interviewer Gerry McCarthy while discussing All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time: "The kind of happiness I describe in the book involves our effort to move away from the surface of life (where we usually live) and where we try to find our happiness through distraction, breaking news, or excitement. It describes an effort to move into the cultivation of an inner life. In that light, the saints did many things. They didn't just sit quietly in their rooms. But they were rooted in a stillness that affected the quality of all their activities."
The saints in the title, however, do not include just officially recognized Christian saints, but also many noncanonized people, including social workers, writers, philosophers, music composers, and social reformers. Ellsberg "includes many who lived well beyond the Christian tradition," observed Michael Downey in America, appreciating how All Saints "challenges us to reconsider tightly held convictions about sanctity and what it takes to be holy." A National Catholic Reporter contributor called it a "wonderfully rich, inspiring book," while Harry J. Byrne similarly described the results as both "instructive and entertaining."
Using the same broad definition of "saint" for The Saints' Guide to Happiness: Everyday Wisdom from the Lives and Lore of the Saints, Ellsberg seeks to show how exemplary people—not to mean perfect people—led fulfilling lives. This is not to say that they were never unhappy or frustrated, but rather that they found purpose and a close personal bond with God. Writing on the PopMatters Web site, C.H. Doyle found the title of the book very "misleading," because Ellsberg includes such figures as author Leo Tolstoy and Zen Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh, among others who do not normally fit the mold of saint. "Ellsberg also overemphasizes his own holy heroes," according to Doyle, who noted that the author includes Dorothy Day. Nevertheless, the critic wrote that it "still offers beneficial assistance to those in the pursuit of happiness through relationship with Christ." Other reviewers were more responsive, with an American Catholic writer, Robert Morneau, declaring: "We are given in The Saints' Guide to Happiness more than some chicken soup for the soul. What we have here is an eight-course meal, one that is delicious, delightful and demanding." A Publishers Weekly contributor called it an "eloquent, seamlessly woven and delightfully readable book."
After publishing All Saints, Ellsberg received feedback that more women figures should be included in the book. The reason that less information is available on religiously inspirational women, he learned, was twofold. Rose Marie Berger reported in Sojourners Magazine: "First, he writes, ‘Many holy women in history tended to spend their lives in the relative seclusion of the cloister.’ Second, ‘the process of canonization, like the general exercise of authority in the church, has been entirely controlled by men.’" Ellsberg, therefore, wrote his award-winning Blessed among All Women: Women Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time. Containing entries on 140 women from various backgrounds and time periods, the work is arranged in chapters with titles from the Beatitudes, a list of declarations recorded in the New Testament gospel of Matthew and said to be part of the Sermon on the Mount, a noted Christian text. The result, asserted Berger, "should be on every Christian school shelf and church library, as well as used often in the liturgies and services where people gather to embody the Christian narrative." "The diversity of women represented here is extraordinary," reported Claire Schaeffer-Duffy in America, adding: "Although Ellsberg is yet another man narrating tales of women saints, his accounts are far from one-dimensional. The women he depicts are fully human, which makes them useful spiritual guides."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
America, February 11, 1984, T. Patrick Hill, review of Dorothy Day, Selected Writings: By Little and by Little, p. 95; November 1, 1997, Michael Downey, review of All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time, p. 29; February 28, 1998, Harry J. Byrne, review of All Saints, p. 25; May 26, 2003, Kathleen Feeley, "Unconscious Theologian," review of Flannery O'Connor: Spiritual Writings, p. 28; November 10, 2003, Lawrence S. Cunningham, "Halfway to Heaven," p. 34; December 19, 2005, "A Singular Hunger for God," p. 20.
Booklist, September 1, 1997, Jeff Ahrens, review of All Saints, p. 9; October 15, 2003, June Sawyers, review of The Saints' Guide to Happiness: Everyday Wisdom from the Lives and Lore of the Saints, p. 360.
Christian Century, July 18, 2001, Leo D. Lefebure, review of Thich Nhat Hanh: Essential Writings, p. 35.
Commonweal, February 12, 1993, Lawrence S. Cunningham, review of Dorothy Day, Selected Writings, p. 26; January 14, 1994, Lawrence S. Cunningham, review of Gandhi on Christianity, p. 42; February 25, 1994, Lawrence S. Cunningham, review of Works of Mercy; April 23, 1999, review of All Saints, p. 24; December 19, 2003, review of The Saints' Guide to Happiness, p. 17.
Cross Currents, summer, 1998, Sally Cunneen, review of All Saints, p. 275.
International Bulletin of Missionary Research, July, 1994, Virginia Unsworth, review of Hearts on Fire: The Story of the Maryknoll Sisters, p. 135.
Library Journal, January, 1994, Anna Donnelly, review of Hearts on Fire, p. 122; October 1, 1997, Bernadette McGrath, review of All Saints, p. 90; May 1, 2001, Graham Christian, review of Thich Nhat Hanh, p. 95; October 1, 2003, Mary Prokop, review of The Saints' Guide to Happiness, p. 81; October 15, 2005, Anna M. Donnelly, review of Blessed among All Women: Women Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time, p. 61.
Ms. Magazine, July, 1983, Dulcie Leimbach, review of By Little and by Little: The Selected Writings of Dorothy Day, p. 24.
Nation, May 9, 1994, Jeanne Schinto, review of Hearts on Fire, p. 637.
National Catholic Reporter, March 16, 1984, Robert Gilliam, review of By Little and by Little, p. 13; February 4, 1994, Carole Collins, review of Hearts on Fire, p. 25; June 3, 1994, William C. Graham, review of Selected Writings, Carlo Carretto, p. 15; November 7, 1997, review of All Saints, p. 27; January 28, 2000, review of All Saints, p. 3.
Publishers Weekly, April 8, 1983, review of By Little and by Little, p. 48; August 25, 1997, review of All Saints, p. 65; April 9, 2001, review of Thich Nhat Hanh, p. 71; September 15, 2003, review of The Saints' Guide to Happiness, p. 61.
Sojourners Magazine, November-December, 2003, Julie Polter, "A Companion to the Spiritual Life," review of Flannery O'Connor, p. 52; February, 2006, Rose Marie Berger, "Walking the Women's Road," review of Blessed among All Women, p. 42.
U.S. Catholic, October, 1983, review of By Little and by Little, p. 50.
American Catholic,http://www.americancatholic.org/ (June, 2004), Robert Morneau, review of The Saints' Guide to Happiness; (May, 2006), Barbara Sonnenberg, review of Blessed among All Women.
Crossroads Publishing Company Web site,http://www.cpcbooks.com/ (March 2, 2008), author biography.
PopMatters,http://www.popmatters.com/ (September 29, 2005), C.H. Doyle, review of The Saints' Guide to Happiness.
Social Edge,http://www.thesocialedge.com/ (November, 2003), Gerry McCarthy, "The Social Edge Interview: Author Robert Ellsberg."
Spirituality and Practice,http://www.spiritualityandpractice/ (March 2, 2008), Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, reviews of All Saints and Blessed among All Women.