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SVC professor talks Flannery O’Connor

By Irina Rusanova

Flannery O’Connor with geese (Source: Flannery film website)

In September 2020, the Saint Vincent Center for Catholic Thought and Culture made the award-winning documentary “Flannery” available to the SVC community free of charge for a limited amount of time. Dr. Jerome Foss, associate professor of politics and director of the Center for Catholic Thought and Culture, hosted the filmmakers at a panel held on Sept. 16 over Zoom.

Fr. Mark Bosco, vice president of mission and ministry at Georgetown University, and Dr. Elizabeth Coffman of the University of Loyola Chicago, the filmmakers behind “Flannery,” joined students and faculty for a discussion about O’Connor’s life as portrayed in the film.

“The panel was a lot of fun and those who attended seem to have really enjoyed learning more about O’Connor’s life and works,” Foss said.

Foss furthermore revealed that the Center for Catholic Thought and Culture has plans regarding Bishop Robert Barron’s “Pivotal Players” episode on Flannery O’Connor in October 2020. And the events do not end there.

“We will also have a panel on October 13 at 7:00 via Zoom with Saint Vincent Faculty, discussing O’Connor and the recent films about her,” Foss said. “Panelists will include Fr. Wulfstan Clough, Fr. Tom Hart, Professor Michelle Gil-Montero, Dr. Michael Krom, Dr. Sara Lindey, Dr. Chris McMahon, and Professor Dave Safin.”

The panel will be free to the public, with a Zoom link to come.

Foss’ interest O’Connor’s life stemmed from his investigation into book reviews the writer printed in a Georgia diocesan newspaper.

“When I discovered that she reviewed books by important political thinkers like Eric Voegelin, I decided to dig a little deeper,” he said. “I was given a grant by the American Political Science Association to go to Milledgeville, Georgia and peruse O’Connor’s personal library. I found she owned and had read several books on political philosophy.”

In 2019, Foss released a book titled “Flannery O’Connor and the Perils of Governing by Tenderness,” which focused on O’Connor’s eclectic and political philosophy-centered reading habits.

“My book shows how her knowledge of political philosophy informed her fiction. For example, there are several references to Plato’s allegory of the cave in ‘The Republic’ that show up in her short story ‘Revelation.’”

While researching content for the book, Foss made an intriguing find in an old biography of O’Connor by Jean Cash. O’Connor’s grandfather, Peter Cline, was, it turned out, a student at Saint Vincent College from 1860-64.

Foss explained that because of Cline’s Georgia background, attending a northern college is a substantial detail about the man’s life. After holding email correspondence with Guy Davis, the archivist of the Archabbey and College, Foss realized that, other than Cline, a whole group of Southerners also attended SVC at the time.

“I am hoping to do a bit more digging in the near future and to write an article on Peter Cline for the Flannery O’Connor Review,” Foss said.

Foss encouraged students and faculty to read O’Connor’s works. Among his recommendations are O’Connor’s short stories, her two novels, and a collection of letters found in “The Habit of Being.” He praised her writing as being among the best of the 20th century.

“Her stories seem dark and violent to many, but in reality they are full of hope,” he explained. “She was a reader of St. Thomas [Aquinas] and understood that grace builds upon nature. When people are nearly deaf and almost blind to the divine mystery of creation, grace has to break in violently.”

He quoted the final line of O’Connor’s best-known short story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find” to illustrate the depth of thought in the writer’s work.

“‘She would have been a good woman if it had been someone there to shoot her every minute of her life.’ The dark wisdom of that line tells you a lot about O’Connor’s vision and art.”

Foss’ book about O’Connor is available at the Saint Vincent Bookstore, on Amazon, and through inter-library loan at Latimer Library.


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