Mary, the First Catholic Priest by Elizabeth Jean Murrow



Reading Elizabeth Jean Murrow’s Mary, the First Catholic Priest: Confessions of a Catholic Woman (CreateSpace, 249 pp., $12.50, paper; $7.99, Kindle) is little bit like reluctantly sitting with your Aunt Agnes at a large family gathering, and then realizing she has led a fascinating life.

Murrow’s book is both autobiography and polemic. As a child growing up in Colorado, she and two of her brothers suffered terrible beatings by her father. Although Murrow exhibits no self-pity, the experience helped propel her into lifelong advocacy for the protection of children. That, coupled with her devout Catholicism, also made her push for the reform of the priesthood. She demands zero tolerance of pedophiles, and links that tolerance to the fact that the Catholic priesthood is an all-boys club.

If the priesthood included women, she argues, the abuse of children would have been rooted out long ago. Further, Murrow says, an all-male priesthood keeps the Catholic Church reactive, conservative, and overly protective of its perquisites.

Nonetheless, Murrow remained a devout Catholic—a “cafeteria Catholic,” as she puts it—and entered the novitiate of the Sisters of Mercy in 1961 after studying nursing at Mercy Hospital in Denver. While she found life in the convent rewarding, Murrow left in 1966—partly, she explains, due to Pope John XXIII’s call for the Catholic Church to be in the world, not apart from it.


Betty Murrow

She exchanged her nun’s habit for the uniform of the U.S. Navy. Murrow volunteered to serve in Vietnam, where she worked on the hospital ship, the U.S.S. Sanctuary, as it shuttled between Danang and the DMZ, caring for wounded American troops, as well as for Vietnamese people in need of medical attention.

After the war, she taught nursing at Clemson, and traveled a lot before finally settling in West Virginia.

Betty Murrow has led a remarkable life. But like the tale told by dear Aunt Agnes, her book needs some judicious editing. Sometimes her tangents are frustrating, and sometimes it’s clear Murrow is not addressing the reader, but her daughter or her family at large. The casual reader too often is left in the position of unwitting eavesdropper.

—Michael Keating

The Trion Syndrome by Tom Glenn



Tom Glenn spent thirteen years shuttling between the U. S. and Vietnam as an undercover NSA employee working on covert signals intelligence assignments before being rescued under fire when the North Vietnamese took Saigon in May of 1975.  We reviewed his book, Friendly Casualties, a Vietnam War novel-in-stories, on these pages last year.

The Trion Syndrome (Apprentice House, 306 pp., $15.99, paper) is dedicated to “all combatants who suffered damage to their souls while serving this country.” Glenn describes the book as “at once a domestic novel of marital infidelity, angsty teen-agers, and job strife, and a disturbing psychological study of long-held and barely repressed trauma.”  A close reading of the novel justifies that claim.

The protagonist, Dave Bell, shares many similarities with the author. He’s a Thomas Mann scholar who has returned from Vietnam, and is tormented by nightly dreams. He’s functioning, but damaged. He was changed in Vietnam, and not in a good way.

This novel is written in an experimental style, which involves switching from first person to third person when the author deems it necessary. The book is a beautifully written and edited literary novel.  Readers will do better with it, though, if they have read and understood the novels of Thomas Mann and have taken a few years of German. I’ve done those things and I still found the novel a struggle.


Tom Glenn

Here’s a brief quote illustrating the challenges in this novel: “He recognized Harry’s writing style—his use of ‘in order to’ and the past progressive and his tendency to string present participle clauses at the end of sentences.”

This sort of stuff can be fun for a Thomas Mann expert, but for normal mortals, not so much. The book does connect with the Vietnam War, to an illusive incident in Long Dinh, but most Vietnam veterans readers will find this book a difficult puzzle.

I recommend it only to die-hard Mann fans.

The author’s website is

—David Willson

Losing the Will to Live by Arnie Burzynski


Rising above depression, personal tragedy, and alcoholism is central to Arnie Burzynski in his book, Losing the Will to Live: Why?!! (Xlibris, 145 pp., $29.99, hardcover; $19.99, paper; $3.99, Kindle), but it is not directly related to his Vietnam War service.

Burzynski devotes the first chapter to his father’s service in the Korean War. In the next chapter he enumerates the ever-present  tragedies he lives with daily, making  his psychological treatment in a VA Hospital in Minnesota necessary after his hardship discharge from the Navy in 1975. He married  in 1977 but the  marriage failed.

In February 2006, Burzynski writes, “I went to see the doctor and I was diagnosed as depressed.” That summer he began drinking. “I remember at work, I was asking an older man, he was 74 at the time, ‘What happens when you lose the will to live?’ There was no answer.” This stayed with Burzynski “a long time,” and perhaps led to his trying to find the answer for himself.

In 2008 Burzynski started his treatment at the VA, and he started keeping a journal. He includes transcripts of his counseling sessions in this book. Burzynski records his lapses into drinking, attributing them to events such as his father’s death or partying with friends with drinking problems.

His journal describes his impending divorce and the difficulty he has had finding and keeping meaningful work. He keeps his Alcoholics Anonymous and VA appointments but has continuous trouble with friends taking advantage of his good nature. VA psychological testing discovered that he “carried around the burden of many family conflicts, suicidal attempts, and losses for many years, trying to maintain his emotional center and keep himself together.”

Burzynski occasionally begged people to end his life out of frustration but with the help of counseling from a VA priest, his veterans disability benefits being approved, and maintaining his sobriety, he rose above a troubled life, completing his valuable self-help project.

His artwork on the cover illustrates the climb from depression’s depths to regaining his will to live.

The author’s website is

—Curt Nelson