Bruce Ingram spent 28 years teaching at Saint Mark’s High School, retiring after the 2018-19 academic year. Earlier in April, he was back on the Wilmington campus where he taught English and theology for a personal project that touches on both subjects.
Dating back to his days as a student at Northeast Catholic High School in Philadelphia, Ingram has had a devotion to and interest in St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower. He has written a book on the saint’s life, and on April 24, he signed copies of the book at Saint Mark’s.
The book — “Lisieux’s Poet Laureate: Gems from Saint Therese’s Correspondence” — will be available at the signing, which begins at noon. The paperback book is 240 pages long.
At North, one of his classes had an assignment to compare their school to one of the others in the immediate vicinity. A bunch of students at the all-boys school had sports-related reasons for choosing their comparison school. That wasn’t the case with Ingram.
“I wasn’t among the jocks, so to speak,” he said recently from his home in Vineland, N.J. “When they got to me, I said, Little Flower Catholic High School for Girls. Pandemonium broke loose, heckling, everything.”
Ingram said he chose the school because it was North’s sister school. He had a sister who went there. He also was involved with the theater in high school, and girls from Little Flower High School played the female roles in school plays.
“In my essay as a sophomore, I was talking about the charism of the school dedicated to St. Therese and the charism of North Catholic, which like Salesianum was run by the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales,” he said.
Several years later, when he was teaching at Msgr. Bonner High School in Drexel Hill, Pa., he worked with Augustinian priests. He entered the order and studied with them for four years. During his novitiate year in Wisconsin, he read St. Therese’s autobiography, “The Story of a Soul,” and he’s been “captivated by her spirituality” ever since.
As he advanced in his teaching career, he amassed a rather large library about the woman St. Pope Pius X called, “the greatest saint of modern times.” He has read essentially everything he could find about her and her family. He had always wanted to write a book about her, and during the early days of the covid pandemic, he started working on it.
Ingram knew that the sheer number of books about St. Therese is one of the most written about saints in history, and he needed a new angle to capture people’s attention. He used the literary technique of found poetry, taking two volumes of her general correspondence — more than 1,400 pages — and using various parts of them to create new work. Ingram said he would take a sentence or word from the saint’s correspondence and fuse it together with something else. One poem could have material from five or six different letters.
“That’s the unique piece about this. It’s never been done before in terms of all the books that have been written about her,” Ingram said.
His book has 14 chapters, each of which is dedicated to a particular correspondent, exploring “the nature and scope of the rapport Therese established with this individual,” according to an online description. Each chapter also includes a biographical sketch of the correspondent. Based on the letters they exchanged, Ingram created 51 found poems. Among the people in Therese’s life who are included in Ingram’s book are her father, her four sisters, her mother superior, the novice mistress, her confessor, and spiritual adviser. Her mother died when Therese was 4, so there are no letters between them.
The book includes an introduction and an organizational structure so readers can better understand how the book is set up.
“It was kind of always in the back of my mind, one of those projects where you say, ‘I’ll get to that.’ I was home constantly (during the pandemic), so I just started reading more and more,” he said.
St. Therese, he said, authored a number of poems and plays that were performed for her Carmelite sisters.
He added that “Lisieux’s Poet Laureate” would be a good, abridged way for someone to discover her spirituality if they are not already familiar with her. The chapters can be read in any order, Ingram said, and are good food for thought or meditation material.
St. Therese entered the Carmelites at 15 and died at age 24 from tuberculosis. Ingram said she had trouble gaining admittance because two of her older sisters were already there. She was able to gain permission from none other than Pope Leo XIII himself.
Over the past several months since the book’s release in October 2021, Ingram has heard from numerous former colleagues and students. One former student, Vikas Tandon of the Class of 1996, established a scholarship at Saint Mark’s in Ingram’s name a year and a half ago. Ingram will be donating any proceeds from the book to the scholarship fund. The W. Bruce Ingram Scholarship will be awarded annually “to a deserving rising senior” to help them complete their experience at the school, a spokeswoman said.