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Academics
November 14, 2011

Biographer Paul Elie Discusses Lives of Four American Catholics

The Life You Save May Be Your Own Focuses on Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Walker Percy, and Flannery O’Connor.

Editor and biographer Paul Elie, author of The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage spoke about the four American contemporary authors featured in his book; Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Walker Percy, and Flannery O’Connor; on November 14 at St. Francis College. (Watch the Paul Elie Lecture)

The talk was part of English Professor Ian Maloney’s course, The Holy Ghost School, which was designed around Elie’s book.

The four writers all shared a strong devotion to the Catholic faith. Elie talked about one idea that he finds is a common thread in their work, the pilgrimage. He said that a pilgrim sets out on the same path others have gone down, but sees and hears what others don’t, passing their stories on to others.

Elie said that working on this book was something of a personal pilgrimage and that it strengthened his belief as a Catholic.

Elie spoke in depth about the four authors in his book. Dorothy Day was a journalist who founded the Catholic Worker newspaper. He said that Day wasn’t afraid to take a stand against the church if their positions were against her ideals of feeding the hungry, sheltering the poor and working towards peace.

Thomas Merton wrote The Seven Storey Mountain, an autobiography about how he went from being a typical mainstream young man to becoming a Trappist monk at the age of 26.

Elie noted that Flannery O’Connor wasn’t recognized as a Catholic writer while she was alive because of the content and characters in her work. O’Connor, who died at 39, was raised Catholic in the south where the majority of people were Protestant. She was the youngest of the four writers and established a strong following with her readers by corresponding directly with them in expressive and open letters.

Walker Percy, son of a distinguished Southern family was orphaned at a young age and only converted to Catholicism after he was married and a father. His novel, The Moviegoer, was a groundbreaking novel and is considered to have created the genre of American contemporary American Fiction.

Paul Elie is a senior editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux. His writing has appeared in Commonweal, The New Republic and The New York Times Magazine.

By Richard Loutfi ‘10

St. Francis College, founded in 1859 by the Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn, is located in Brooklyn Heights, N.Y. Since its founding, the College has pursued its Franciscan mission to provide an affordable, high-quality education to students from New York City’s five boroughs and beyond.

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