Happy Birthday to Ernest Shackleton

Shackleton's WayAntarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton was born on February 15, 1874 in Kilkea, County Kildare, Ireland.

On this anniversary of his birth, it is a good time to revisit my previously reviewed leadership and management guide, Shackleton’s Way, published in the July 2011 issue of Library Worklife e-journal:

Make Shackleton’s Way Your Way, Book review of Margot Morell and Stephanie Capparell’s Shackleton’s Way: Leadership Lessons From the Great Antarctic Explorer. N.Y.: Viking, 2001

Stay warm out there, and be kind to your colleagues and comrades.

Available for purchase at Amazon.


Hearts and Missives

heart“You love saints,” he said. “You celebrate every saint’s Feast Day there is.” (Not true.) “What do you have against St. Valentine?”

“St. Valentine visited people in prison,” I answered. “Do you want to go out to Graterford tonight?” Graterford Prison, west of Philadelphia.

“Do you?” he countered.

“No,” I admitted. I tried to explain. “I hate the way Christian charity has been co-opted by sexual Eros.”


Not much is known about the real St. Valentine. He was a priest. Or a bishop. There may be one saint or two. Or more. The legends are mixed, intermingled. Meaning strong or vigorous (from valens in Latin), the name was popular in earlier centuries.

This much is known: he was a martyr.

The story I had always heard, as indicated above, was that he visited people in prison. Other sources say he was himself imprisoned for his faith.

His connection to romantic love?

He married couples in secret when the Emperor outlawed marriage in an attempt to encourage military service. This led to his public profession of faith, imprisonment, and martyrdom. In jail (whether because he himself was imprisoned, or because he was visiting a prisoner), he prayed and healed the warden’s (or judge’s) daughter of blindness. Legends say he gave her a letter before his execution signed “your Valentine.”

Then again, Geoffrey Chaucer may have invented the holiday with his Parliament of Foules because wild birds start mating around mid-February: “For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day / Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.” (NewAdvent.org)

Of course, there was the pagan fertility festival Lupercalia on February 15 to contend and compete with.

Whatever the source of the holiday, reducing a festival to honor a man known for compassion and piety to a romantic celebration discomforts me.

No, I’m not going out to the prison tonight. But I am remembering these famous words by St. Paul: “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

May my love be a true deep compassion for everyone I meet.



Six quick fun facts about St. Valentine from the History Channel.

The Catholic Encyclopedia‘s account.

My original resource for Saint V (all those years ago) is a book called To Celebrate: Reshaping Holidays & Rites of Passage. This includes the prison tale, with a note that some congregations celebrate “Criminal Justice Sunday” on the Sunday closest to Feb. 14.

An Orthodox point of view.

Kildare Compassion

brigid cross wreath

This year’s St. Brigid crosses have already been made, blessed by the priest! and given away. I offer instead a photo of a wreath I made several years ago.

Here is a poem-prayer (a ‘charm’ in the best possible sense) I composed and recited while plaiting my reeds:

God bless the home where this [cross] is hung.

God bless the people who dwell within.

God bless the work which there is done.

God bless the pets which dwell therein.


I offer as well a poem in the honor of St. Brigid:

Kildare Compassion

Give your father’s sword

to a beggar.

Feed the guests’ bacon

to the emaciated hound.

Milk and milk and milk again

the cows for the hungry.

Lay down your cloak,

cover the Curragh,

and clothe my weakness.

Midwife to my soul,

Abbess of my heart,

May we ever drink ale together.


Blessed feast day to all my readers.