Review from the Catholic Review Newspaper April
22, 2004 issue.
Prayers from and in
By Christopher Gaul
While the ragged and dispirited
American troops were quartered for the winter in extreme conditions at
Valley Forge in 1777, a pious Quaker by the name of Potts was walking
through a large grove near the army’s headquarters when he was
surprised by the sight of a man, his back toward him, kneeling in
earnest prayer. Potts stood still and watched as the man slowly got to
his feet and then turned to face the Quaker, who recognized him
immediately. It was Gen. George Washington.
When Potts got back to his home
he excitedly told his wife he was now convinced the Americans, even
though they had not fared well at Germantown, would go on to beat the
British because he had witnessed Washington in prayer.
The anecdote, intended to
establish the Christian character of Washington, is retold in the
introduction of a slender volume called “Prayers from American
History,” compiled and edited by Conrad Bladey, a parishioner of St.
Philip Neri in Linthicum (near his home), who was inspired to create
the unique work after attending a faculty retreat for Seton Keough
High School where earlier this year he had taught American history.
The retreat addressed the concept
of the school as a “community of prayer,” and whether it was, in fact,
a good idea to open each class with prayer.
Conrad, who now teaches Irish
studies at Harford Community College in the evenings, told me he was a
little surprised to discover how many teachers weren’t too keen on the
idea, noting as they did that prayers were already broadcast on the
school’s intercom system at the beginning and end of the school day.
Prayers before each class would
detract from the need to press on with the curriculum, they argued.
Conrad said he understood their concern because classroom work is
indeed demanding, but it got him to thinking. Surely, he thought,
there were prayers that were part of U.S. history, for example, which
would actually contribute to not detract from the curriculum.
He couldn’t find anything already
in print and so he spent hours at local university libraries and the
Library of Congress tracking down prayers from American history, and
the result is his booklet containing prayers from just about every
period of our history, from the time of the American Indians to 9/11.
And a fascinating collection it
is. In it you’ll find Mark Twain, wonderful entries from Washington’s
prayer journal, the prayer on “the day of fasting and prayer” ordered
by Abraham Lincoln; the prayers of Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy
Adams; prayers of soldiers in the Civil War, including those
distributed to Jewish Confederate soldiers; prayers of Joseph Smith,
founder of the Mormons; early African American prayers; the prayers of
poets like Whittier and Sandburg, and of evangelist, Billy Graham.
There is also a rather stern
reminder from The Baltimore Catechism (1891): “Prayer is necessary to
salvation, and without it no one having the use of reason can be
I don’t suppose Conrad brought
that up at the Seton Keough faculty retreat.
Conrad is selling his “Prayers
from American History” for $9, which he says is his cost, and one that
schoolteachers and other interested folk may easily afford.
The book is available from Hutman
Productions, P.O. 268, Linthicum, MD 21090 or via e-mail at