“…finding every word addressed to our dear Saviour as really present and conversing with it, I became half crazy…”Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton
“If [the Eucharistic host] is a symbol, to hell with it.”Flannery O’Connor
Drawing upon her Catholic faith and time growing up in Savannah, Georgia, Flannery O’Connor drew upon the beauty, complexity, and baseness of the American South to become one of the 20th century’s pre-eminent writers of the Southern Gothic genre.
O’Connor was most famous for her short story collections, which combined elements of disfigurement and grotesqueness with imagery from her Catholic faith, nurtured in the Protestant South. Throughout her life, she was a member of the mid-century Catholic intellectual tradition, subscribing to Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker and having a reciprocal artistic admiration with the writer and Trappist monk, Thomas Merton. She considered the epitome of the modernist synthesis of Catholic theology and scientific discoveries to be found in the writings of Teilhard de Chardin, a French Jesuit priest and paleontologist, who synthesized the divinity of humanity with the modern discoveries in the field of human evolution. O’Connor began each day with the prayers for Prime (sunrise), or the First Hour of the canonical hours, followed by 7 AM Mass at Sacred Heart Parish in Cullman, Alabama.
In 1962, Marillac College in Normandy, Missouri, just outside of St. Louis city limits, was at its height. The College was an experiment of the Daughters of Charity in having a college for professed and novice members of women religious communities. Unlike other colleges, every student was also a sister. Like other colleges, it had clubs, activities, and, of relevance to the Provincial Archives, a literary journal, of which there are two known complete collections.
On Halloween 1961, Flannery O’Connor arrived to give a talk at the College. Her second novel, The Violent Bear It Away, had just been published, and she sat down to discuss it with Sister Paul Matushek, later known as Sister Cecile. Sister Paul’s write-up of the book and of the meeting made its way to a lengthy piece in the Winter 1962 edition of the Marillac Magazine. Sister had the joy of presenting her interpretation of a novel and the author confirming that the reader did, in fact, get it right!
Early the following year, O’Connor donated a manuscript page from her story “The Lame Shall Enter First” to the special collections at Marillac College.
Shortly after this event at Marillac College, the entire world witnessed the convening of the Vatican II conference, the most significant event in the Church in the last 500 years. The Daughters would exchange their recognizable cornette for a simpler blue habit. At the start of the conference, acolytes of O’Connor’s noted more annotated works by the modern Thomas Merton and the 5th-century scholar St. Jerome on her bookshelf. The author and the Daughters both continued their witness to their faith throughout the modernizing movements of the Roman Catholic Church in the 20th century.