A Pilgrimmage On The Page

Angelo Alaimo O’Donnell leads her students through the work of four American Catholic writers:

One of the joys of teaching is sharing powerful, life-changing books with my students. Each spring semester, I ritually invite the men and women in my American Catholic Studies Seminar to accompany me on this literary pilgrimage. From January to April, we read Seven Storey Mountain, The Long Loneliness, Wise Blood and Love in the Ruins. Together we trace the steps of young Merton as he becomes an accidental pilgrim in Rome, haunting her churches and devouring her art; we sit with Day in the dark of prison and walk beside her through the gritty streets of the Lower East Side; we follow O’Connor from rural Georgia to the literary metropolis of New York, and follow her back to Georgia when illness condemns her to a life of exile; we accompany Percy as he discovers his vocation to be not doctor of the body but physician of the soul, trading his Columbia M.D. for the considerably less prestigious role of Catholic novelist.  We conclude the course by reading Paul Elie’s literary biography of the Fabulous Four, The Life You Save May Be Your Own, the narrative of “a journey in which art, life, and religious faith converge.”

The students learn from Elie that the lives of these four contemporaries were interwoven yet never physically intersected. Instead, their moments of connection occurred through acts of imagination. They were all engaged in the same project—the pursuit of meaning in a chaotic and fallen world, and the search for God in a world that denies his existence. Each carried out this search by means of the word, writing the stories of their own lives, both directly, in the form of essays and memoirs, and indirectly, in the form of fiction and poetry.