You have to go south to get to her home.  You pass through Macon and head southeast about 35 miles into Baldwin County and the old capital city of Milledgeville.  Say “Milledgeville” to a native Georgian and most likely the first thing they’ll think of is “mental hospital.”  That’s true.  There’s also a large juvenile prison there.  Hundreds of troubled souls live near Milledgeville and she knew that well.  You’ll see some lovely old homes, garish new McMansions and everywhere, Confederate battle flags.  And there’s a farm nearby named Andalusia which was her longtime home.  She was Flannery O’Connor, writer, daughter, southerner, and devoted Catholic. 
Born Mary Flannery O’Connor in Savannah in 1925, she was educated at the Georgia State College for Women and the University of Iowa where she studied journalism.  Flannery deeply loved her family, her southern roots and her Catholic faith.  Her father died of lupus when she was 15, long before her writing would help her to know how very much her roots made her the woman she’d become.  Her short stories, essays and letters are a treasure of American literature.  In one of her many letters to her best friend she described what she found to the the universal truth of life:  that “the world has, for all its horror, been found by God to be worth dying for.”  It’s impossible to separate her Catholic faith from her writing.  She stated bluntly, “I write the way I do because I am a Catholic.”  But don’t think that O’Connor wrote about Catholics or Catholicism.  She lived, after all, in the Bible belt of south Georgia and she wrote out of that heavily protestant environment.  Her writing is filled with mostly backward and deeply-flawed southern “characters” that most native Georgians would immediately recognize because most small towns have their share. When she was asked about her writing style, she said,”Whenever I’m asked why southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one.”  Her fiction is funny and ironic and sometimes shockingly violent.  Her themes nearly always present a psychologically wounded character who undergoes a painful transformation which in turn reveals their true nature.  In many ways, her writing illuminates the Catholic notion of divine grace as a mysterious and ultimately unknowable transformation of the soul.
She loved the Catholic Church and was deeply devoted to the writing of St. Thomas Aquinas, calling herself a “hillbilly Thomist.”  Like St. Thomas, she had a great love for the Holy Eucharist.  Once at a New York dinner party, a fellow guest asked her what she thought of  the “symbol” of the Eucharist.  Flannery famously replied, “Well if it’s a symbol, to hell with it.”  Her faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist helped her to cope with the lupus which would eventually kill her at the age of 39.  Flannery never married and she lived her last decades with her mother at the family farm in Milledgeville.  There she raised peacocks and other exotic birds.  She wrote.  And she prayed and worshiped the Lord at her local parish church.  Like St. Thomas, she believed that the world is alive with the spirit of God and that often our journey to Him requires suffering.  Very Catholic.  We are all, in some way, mysteriously broken.  Far from being meaningless, our suffering can reveal to us the very grace we need to see the face of God.  Flannery O’Connor did her own share of suffering and her faith always remained strong.  She died in 1964 and is buried in Memory Hill Cemetery in Milledgeville. 
“I measure God by everything I am not.”  —Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964)

Starting Something New

I’ve been writing a weekly column for my local newspaper for around 5 years now.  People keep asking me why I don’t have a blog.  So, now I have one.