Best known for his semi-autobiographical novels The Great Santini and The Lords of Discipline, American author Pat Conroy has also published a memoir (My Losing Season) and a number of personal essays. In "Confessions of an Ex-Catholic," he examines his contradictory attitudes toward the Catholic Church: "I love the Church. I hate the Church. I am through with the Church. But I am still as Catholic as the Pope." Here he uses several specific examples to demonstrate the pleasure he takes in the "baroque and euphonic language" of the faith in which he was raised.
from "Confessions of an Ex-Catholic"
by Pat Conroy
From a God-struck child I have matured into a God-haunted adult. I wish to be rid of him yet fear that I never will completely. Just as I always will be American and Southern, I will always be Catholic. I left the Church but she has not left me.
This seems to be the universal condition of ex-Catholics. We said our goodbyes but did not totally escape. For this reason, I am presenting my children with a gift. They will never see the inside of a Catholic school or a Catholic Church. Their nightmares will be free of nuns, priests, fire, and crucified gods. I am raising them as nothing at all. They are free to make their own peace with the universe.
Yet I do not regret my education. I think no writer could regret a childhood which included such a baroque and euphonic language. I loved words like sodality, litany, and imprimatur. I loved the lists of names in the Proper of the Saints with its twisting, Latinesque evocations: Andifax, Chrysogonous, Zaphyrinus, Ubaldus, Polycarp, and Hermanigild. The priest I dressed for 6:15 mass wore an amice, a cincture, a chasuble, and a stole while he performed the sacrifice of the mass during the asperges or on Rogation Days or Quinquagesima Sunday. I loved the poetry of the Church prayers even though I once got in trouble for telling a nun that the Douay-Rheims version of the Bible (the Catholic version) was not as well written as the King James Version.
I loved Georgian chants, the sight of nuns at prayer on Good Friday, the sanctus bells, the covered forms of saints during Lent, the drum roll of the confiteor with all the sadness and elegance of a dead language filling a church and entering my bloodstream at the ear, and the sunburst of gold when the priest raised the monstrous chalice at consecration. I loved the ceremony, the adherence to tradition, and the arsenal of metaphor. I have never recovered from the vividness of its imagery, from the daze of its language. But I have never had a single day when I wished to be Catholic again.
Selected Works by Pat Conroy
- The Water Is Wide, 1972
- The Great Santini, 1976
- The Lords of Discipline, 1980
- The Prince of Tides, 1986
- Beach Music, 1995
- My Losing Season, 2002
- South of Broad, 2009