Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Recently Mother Prioress handed me an article about St. Gianna Molla. It was about the movie made of her life- which I had just seen- so not much news there, but what did interest me was an article on the backside by Msgr. David Liptak (editor of the Catholic Transcript- Hartford, Ct.), about Flannery O'Connor titled  Our "Hillbilly" Thomist. Having this past year read The Abbess of Andalusia - Flannery O'Connor's Spiritual Journey by Lorraine V. Murray, (which made the best-seller list), I  found the article compelling. Flannery read St. Thomas every night for 20 minutes and referred to herself as a "hillbilly Thomist”.

Years ago our Mother Lucia, who has a PhD from Yale in Literature, gave us a fascinating course on Flannery and her writings. Since then I have been a great fan. Her writings are not for everyone, yet now her novels and short stories are seen as profoundly religious in their inspiration. As Msgr. Liptak writes in his article, T.S. Eliot was "horrified" by some of her writings. Msgr. thinks she may have answered him: "you have to push as hard as the age that pushes against you.

Cook- A Baptism (Flannery O'Connor)
Her Southern Gothic stories often relate of things uncomfortable and grotesque, although she insisted that her stories always had a very Catholic core. Beneath the ugly, violent and shocking events, the deepest meaning of Christian life emerges with themes of evil, suffering, grace, and redemption, while she examined questions of morality and ethics.

She wrote allegorical fiction about seemingly backward Southern characters, usually fundamentalist Protestants, who undergo transformations of character that to her thinking brought them closer to the Catholic mind. This transformation is often accomplished through pain, violence, and ludicrous behavior in the pursuit of the holy. However grotesque the setting, she tried to portray her characters as they might be touched by divine grace.

In spite of being handicapped by the debilitating disease of lupus from which she died at age thirty-nine, Flannery lived a fully abundant life giving us (in her many letters) wonderful spiritual insights on such topics as the Communion of Saints and grace in suffering.

At Andalusia (her family’s ancestral farm), she raised over 100 peafowl. Fascinated by birds of all kinds, she raised ducks, hens, geese, and any sort of exotic bird she could obtain, while incorporating images of peacocks into her books. She describes her peacocks in an essay entitled "The King of Birds." These magnificent creatures (which we know from first-hand experience to be at times noisy, dirty, and generally a pest), have become a metaphor for the author herself and for her work.

Christine Marie Larsen, artist
“To the melancholy this sound is melancholy and to the hysterical it is hysterical. To me it has always sounded like a cheer for an invisible parade.”

Her fame has spread since her death. Her Complete Stories won the 1972 U.S. National Book Award for Fiction and was named the "Best of the National Book Awards" by internet visitors in 2009.

Flannery O'Connor in her writings, most especially her letters, show us a spiritual, brilliant woman, living her life to the fullest in relation to Christ. We can easily call her  SAINT!

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