Life’s a circus
Growing up in a fragmented family in a small Central Valley town during World War II, Nick Weber was propelled by two seemingly contradictory passions: to become a priest and to become a circus clown. How those two were reconciled is the tale told in a sensory and surprisingly meditative book, The Circus That Ran Away with a Jesuit Priest: Memoir of a Delible Character (Dog Ear Publishing).
Weber charts the unexpected journey of religious formation that led in the early 1970s to the creation of the comically named The Royal Lichtenstein Circus, an official ministry of the California Province of the Jesuit Order. For 22 years Weber and his tiny, rotating band of circus performers, some of them students from Santa Clara University where Weber harbored in off-seasons, crisscrossed the country bringing their unusual, performative ministry to schools and college campuses. “The real journey was ourselves,” Weber writes later in the book, after recounting the soul-expanding adventures and misadventures of the road and offering an insider’s view of the nitty-gritty details of circus life.
In its heyday, the circus attracted favorable national attention as a spiritual experiment growing out of Vatican II. Even Time magazine reported on the circus and “its low-key morality plays.” But, as Weber ruefully notes in the final chapters of this memoir, times changed, the Church changed, and he himself changed. Or, as the title states, the circus ran away with Weber, leading eventually to his decision to leave the Jesuits.