Tag Archives: Marillac College

Flannery O’Connor at Marillac College

“…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.

Article in the Marillac College Forum on the manuscript acquisition.  Pictured are Sr. Regina Mary Priller and Sr. Paul Matushek

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.


Filed under Flannery O'Connor, Marillac College

Marillac Magazine: The Journal of Sister Students

In the mid-20th century, on the eve of the major reforms of Vatican II, many communities of women religious in the United States began a new endeavor in their education ministries.  While these communities had experience operating grade schools, high schools, and colleges, the needs of the contemporary world opened the doors to a new type of educational institution – the Sisters’ colleges.

These schools were operated exclusively for women professed to a religious community – Sisters and nuns – providing opportunities for the conferral of advanced degrees in religious, theological, and secular subjects along with spiritual formation.  Just as the Doctors of the Church shad passed down their spiritual writings so many centuries before, these colleges developed a liberal arts curriculum in cooperation with the values and ethics of the Catholic church.

Dubbed by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as “The West Point for Nuns,” the Daughters of Charity founded Marillac College in St. Louis in 1955.  The college closed its doors in 1974 and today forms the core of the community college campus of the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

During its operation, the students from various Sisters’ communities experienced the sweeping changes of Vatican II on a religious front along with the social and political changes and unrest of the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s.  Some of the best documentation of these changes comes from Marillac Magazine, the literary magazine of the college.  In many ways, this collection of 15 volumes from 1959 to 1973 is like any other college literary journal:  an anthology of short fiction, essays, works of poetry, and book reviews. 

Cover of the final edition of Marillac Magazine

The authors themselves and their place in time makes these volumes particularly unique.  In the very first volume in 1959, a Daughter of Charity named Sister Marcellus Lowe wrote an essay examining Milton’s Paradise Lost within the wider context of Milton’s work, one which widely utilizes literary theory while re-thinking the common interpretation of the work.  Works such as this sit alongside short fiction about the simplicity of childhood or pen and ink landscape sketches.  There is also enthusiastic endorsement of J.R.R. Tolkien and The Hobbit!

Many of the short fiction works, non-fiction essays, and poetry deal with the topics of the day in both the church and secular worlds:  controversies over the purpose and place of modern art; political relations between the United States and Latin America; the war in Vietnam; protests and assassinations; social movements, Civil Rights, and the Great Society; the threat of nuclear annihilation; and the long specter of the Holocaust over the modern world.

These journals provide for scholars of the Vatican II era and the social upheavals of mid-20th century America among the Catholic community.  Others may simply find them a fascinating look at how Sisters and communities of women religious viewed the issues of the day during tumultuous years in Catholic and American history.  They show communities of sisters who, rather than using their vocations to escape from or deny the issues of the world, instead met the challenges and questions head-on with strong voices and life-affirming souls. 

Look forward to in-depth looks at some of these articles on this blog in the future!

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