The Literature of Spiritual Values and Catholic Fiction


Nancy Hynes, O.S.B.

Prophet and pioneer—Sister Mariella Gable, O.S.B., was both. “Some made her a pariah, but if she was by anyone ‘s measure a pariah, it was as a consequence of her work as pioneer and prophet,” said Sister Kristin Malloy, O.S.B., her student and friend.1

Pariah. In 1958, after thirty-seven years of teaching and chairing the English department, this Benedictine nun was ousted from the College of St. Benedict, a small liberal arts college in St. Joseph, Minnesota, by Bishop Bartholome of St. Cloud. The issue was J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye on a reading list in a contemporary American literature course taught by Sister Kristin Malloy, O.S.B. Father Jerome Doherty, O.S.B., objected to the book because of its “obscene language” and brought it to the attention of the bishop. Both Malloy, the teacher, and Gable, the chair of the English department, were held accountable. Gable spent four years in what she called “assassination and exile,” teaching in colleges outside Minnesota.2 This dramatic and telling incident, unreported in newspapers and rarely discussed within Gable’s own religious community, marks both the nadir and the zenith of her remarkable career as teacher, editor, and definer of Catholic fiction from the 1940s to the 1960s. It is the nadir because she was silenced for four years. It is the zenith because she refused to compromise her principles and carried on her work elsewhere.

Prophet. As early as 1942 Gable published an anthology containing a short story on abortion and several stories on race relations—two of the most controversial issues of twentieth-century America. She also searched for stories on labor relations, apologizing for having only one story on that timely topic for her collection, Many-Colored Fleece (1950). She urged seminaries to offer literature courses as a way to seek truth and define values. One reviewer of her pamphlet, This is Catholic Fiction (1948), praised it as a book “rich in ideas and expression,” but cautioned against literature courses in seminaries.3 In 1993, however, Richard Sipe, consultant to the Interfaith Sexual Trauma Institute located at St. John’s Abbey, urged seminaries to adopt literature courses to deal with issues of sexuality.4 Finally, she tirelessly promoted the cause of two then little known authors—J.F. Powers and Flannery O’Connor.

Pioneer. A brilliant and meticulous scholar, she helped to shape artistic standards for Catholic fiction in Catholic secondary schools and colleges across the country. The three anthologies she edited were also daring and exposed her to criticism.

Gable’s major essays on fiction are collected for the first time in this book, essays that insist that Catholic fiction rise above the usual didactic and sweetly pious fiction of rosary beads and crucifixes. Today magazine, a weekly Catholic publication for Catholic students of the 1940s and 1950s, noted that Gable’s first collection of short stories, Great Modern Catholic Short Stories, gave an “electric shock to those Catholic readers who were raised on the sentimental pap which had passed for Catholic fiction for so many years. Sister Mariella gave literary-minded Catholics a chance to lift their heads.”5 Gable urged writers to avoid the pious and hortatory and to strive instead for the “new realism” defined by Chekhov. Gable added that Chekhov defends his “ordinary” stories by pointing out that real persons rarely go to the North Pole and fall off icebergs; most go to offices, quarrel with their wives, and eat cabbage soup. The “new realism,” she said, portrays the lives of “the sister, the priest, the brother, and the monk as normal, intelligent persons doing normal, intelligent work” and “they teach rapid addition to children in parochial schools, drink the proverbially bad coffee brewed in monastery kitchens, and are occasionally jealous of each other.”6

Gable broadened her selection of short stories in her next two volumes, including authors from Russia, Ireland, Great Britain, Australia, and America. Furthermore, she did not limit the subject matter to clerical life, but sought to represent Catholic life in general and to raise the standards of Catholic fiction. In his history of the Catholic Literary Revival and American Catholicism from 1920-1960, Arnold Sparr credits Riley Hughes and Mariella Gable as leaders in the “search for the American Catholic novel.”7 Writing in the London Tablet in 1989, John Harriott also pays tribute “forty years overdue” to Gable’s contribution. Prompted by a friend’s discussion and his memories of Gable’s collections, he revisited them to see if they were as good as he had remembered. He found them “superb.” According to Harriott, her legacy is not only her selection of well-written and memorable stories but also “her shrewd observation that bad art makes for bad religion and that the non-believing artist may often strike a note of truth beyond the incompetent religious artist.”8

Several contemporary Catholic writers have commented on Gable’s influence, judgment, and critical insight. Irish fiction writer Bryan MacMahon told Kristin Malloy: “Sister Mariella Gable and  her religious community can never know what that woman did for all Irish writers.”9 He referred to the many Irish writers she anthologized and thus made them known to the United States and Great Britain. Among them are Frank O’Connor, Sean O’Faolain, Mary Lavin, Michael McLaverty, and Bryan MacMahon himself. Describing Gable’s introduction to Many Colored Fleece (1950), MacMahon says: “. . .it was one of the finest—let’s say, expositions—of the short story I have ever read.”10 Flannery O’Connor paid high praise to Gable’s article, “Ecumenic Core in the Fiction of Flannery O’Connor”: “I do very much appreciate what you’ve put into the essay and I shall learn from it myself. And save my breath by referring other people to it.”11 Arnold Sparr also notes that Gable “did more than any other Catholic critic to bring [J.F.] Powers to the attention of the Catholic American reading public.”12 Powers comments that while Gable is a critic who raised the standard for Catholic fiction, “I’d have to say that she expected too much. If she were here, she’d probably say, ‘No, Jim, I didn’t expect too much. I expected more than we have had.’ That’s true.”13

Yet she was well known and influential, and her writings are a record of over forty years of persistent and passionate teaching, writing, editing, which helped shape high standards for Catholic fiction here and abroad. Mary Margaret Gable was born in 1898 in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin, to Joseph Gable and Mary Marzolf Gable, and within two years moved to Marine-on-St. Croix where Joseph operated a flour and feed mill. A close friendship with her younger brother, John, and their mutual love of the natural beauty around them marked her early childhood and teenage years. Together they waded in icy rivers, built dams, and enjoyed winter sports. They explored the countryside, enjoying the “dogtooth violets on the Wisconsin cliffs, a luna moth pursued a whole summer afternoon along the riverbanks, partridge berries under pine needles, a new cave under tumbled rocks.”14 Gable’s lifelong love of nature is captured in her book of poetry, Blind Man’s Stick (1938), especially in “The Spy” where she celebrates stars and “a filigree of apple boughs/Against a satin sky” as signs of supernatural mystery. 15 She did not read many books in these early years, but she brought extraordinary emotion to those she read. Her fear that Tom Sawyer would be lost in the cave was so great that by her own account, she “could not breathe without pain” and was forced to read the book in short sections.16

When at age fifteen she entered St. Benedict’s Academy, St. Joseph, Minnesota, a new world opened to her. She responded wholeheartedly to daily Mass, the warmth of the Benedictine nuns, and the friendships of girls her own age. A month after her graduation from the academy in her seventeenth year, she entered the novitiate of St. Benedict’s Convent and received the name, Sister Mariella, O.S.B. (Order of St. Benedict). Her autobiographical sketch devotes a terse line to this novitiate year: “To one so young, so high-spirited, and so accustomed to the free run of woods, hills, and streams, the discipline of the novitiate was difficult.”17

As a young nun, she helped open St. Mary’s High School, Bismarck, North Dakota, in 1918, teaching all subjects on the first two levels, including Latin, English, algebra, geometry, history, typing, and shorthand. She also taught a year at Melrose, Minnesota, and then at St. Benedict’s Academy, St. Joseph, Minnesota. Meanwhile she attended the College of St. Benedict until she earned her B.A. in English in 1925.18 Despite this full schedule, she wrote poetry which was published in America, The Commonweal, and Spirit. Francis X. Talbot, S.J., literary editor for America, wrote to her: “I feel that I have discovered you as a real, authentic poet.”19 Later the poems were collected in Blind Man’s Stick (1938), and twelve of Gable’s poems also appeared in Our Lady’s Choir, a collection of poetry by religious sisters.20

Studying for her Master’s degree at the University of Minnesota (1925-29) was exciting and challenging since she took summer courses and some correspondence courses while she taught at the College of St. Benedict. Her M.A. thesis was “A Study of the Influence of Rossetti’s Paintings and Art on his Poetry.” Later she confessed misgivings that perhaps she should not have minored in creative writing because she spent all that time expressing herself instead of putting information into her head.21 Yet surely from that subject she learned the craft of writing, its form and rhythm. Her feel for language carried over to her students who won Atlantic Monthly prizes in the 1940s.

Her year at Columbia University from 1931 to 1932 introduced her to European literature and sharpened her technical and historical insights into the English language. She delighted in having the New York Times delivered to her door every morning for one cent a day, a cost which she and another Sister shared. She was also reading Cather’s Shadows on the Rock and Hilaire Belloc, and she enjoyed long walks along the Hudson. At Columbia she had her first glimmer of a dissertation topic—the Oxford movement and the Catholic literary revival. The literature from this movement later became the yardstick with which she judged her selection of short stories.22 She also began her love affair with Dante, the benefits of which countless students received later in her courses.

She transferred to Cornell to study with Dante scholar, Dr. Lane Cooper. His demands on her time were discouraging, and more than once, she considered dropping his Dante class because of the time it took away from her dissertation, a rhetorical analysis of Cardinal Newman’s Anglican sermons.23 Nonetheless, by spring, 1934, she had completed all requirements for her Ph.D. She returned to the College of St. Benedict to chair the English department until 1958. She taught courses in Dante, Shakespeare, Chaucer, and creative writing, advised the student publication, The Quarterly, edited three anthologies destined to shape and define Catholic fiction, reviewed many books for Catholic periodicals and newspapers, and published articles on Catholic writers. She was a charter member of Delta Epsilon Sigma, a Catholic intellectual society. In 1937 she wrote a pageant, So Let Your Light Shine, celebrating Benedictine history and initiating the first-year students into the academic community of the college. An outdoor ceremony which celebrated fourteen centuries of Benedictine culture in dance, song, and choral reading, it was performed every year until the mid-1960s.24

She did not accomplish these things without a price, however. Weighing just ninety-eight pounds when she went to Bismarck, North Dakota in 1918, she suffered all her life from bouts of fever and stomach pain on her left side, much later diagnosed as diverticulitis. She also suffered from exhaustion, nerves, and depression, especially in the 1940s and 1950s, a decade marked with Gable’s butting heads with bishops and at the same time forging new standards in Catholic fiction.

Her relationships with two bishops of St. Cloud—Joseph Busch (1915-1953) and Peter Bartholome (1953-1968)—were rocky, though Busch appears to have been more understanding than Bartholome. Both questioned her literary judgment and delayed crucial decisions concerning her books. Three major incidents mark Gable’s relationship with these bishops between 1941 and 1958: Busch’s public silence about Father E.B. Scallan’s attack on Great Modern Catholic Short Stories (1943); Bartholome’s censorship of the second anthology, Our Father’s House (1943-44); and Bartholome’s ousting of Gable over Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1958).

Gable’s first encounter in 1941 with Bishop Busch and Mother Rosamond Pratschner, O.S.B., prioress of St. Benedict’s Convent, was amicable. After approving her plan and selection of stories for her first anthology, Bishop Busch called in his assistant, Father Michael Kremer, to witness his giving permission to publish the book. 25 Trouble came from a censorious priest, Father E.B. Scallan whose pamphlet, A Competent Censorship or Else Chaos (1943), pronounced: “Great Modern Catholic Short Stories is not a Catholic book.” Sent to 116 bishops in the United States, his pamphlet attacked Gable’s criticism of sentimental pap in Catholic newspapers and magazines. Since these publications were often edited by Catholic priests and approved by Catholic bishops, Gable was in effect putting the Catholic press on trial. Furthermore, Scallan added, this woman is dangerous: “Believe it, if the accusations made by Sister Mariella, O.S.B., in her book Great Modern Catholic Short Stories were made by a most violent anti-Catholic, it would be cause for alarm. That they were made by a Catholic nun and that Catholics were found who would assist and abet her in publishing the unjust slanders is a matter of far greater import.”26

Because her book had been chosen as Catholic Book of the Month by Sheed and Ward, Scallan warned that many readers would be misled. He also attacked Ernest Hemingway, one of Gable’s selected writers, as a threat to Catholic faith and American democracy. None of Hemingway’s stories could be Catholic, Scallan insisted, because he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls, a book in which “the hero glorifies the cause of Godless Communism.” Finally, Scallan criticized Gable’s statement that Hemingway’s “The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio” is morally indifferent: “No story that speaks of nuns in a frivolous manner concerned more about batty baseball games than the reconciliation of a dying Catholic with his Creator in Sacramental Confession, we repeat, no such story is an indifferent story.”27 Later Frank Sheed, Gable’s publisher, described Scallan as a renegade priest who defied ecclesiastical authority, left his own diocese, and was living in New Orleans without permission to offer Mass.28

Most people scoffed at Scallan’s attack, but his criticism caused Gable “many sleepless nights.”29 The situation was later complicated by Bishop Busch’s remark to several priests that he “had not seen the manuscript,” giving a false impression that Gable had not received his permission to publish the book. In fact, she and Mother Rosamond had secured permission from him in 1941. Nonetheless, the damage was done. Bishop Busch’s silence in response to Gable’s request that he clarify the situation allowed the story to spread among St. Cloud priests, to Gable’s own sisters in her religious community, and to Gable’s friends at the College of St. Thomas. She found herself forced to explain her innocence even to her trusted friends.30

Some of the trouble stemmed from Sheed’s choice for the title of the book, Great Modern Catholic Short Stories, against which Gable had argued vehemently because it was misleading. Had the title been different, it might not have come to Scallan’s attention. Gable had written to Frank Sheed in a final attempt to change his mind:

               Can’t we compromise? Three Measures of Meal is an intelligent title. The stories are 
               intelligent. There aren’t many intelligent readers. I haven’t faith in trying to catch 
               the hoi polloi by a flashy cover-jacket. You can’t possibly use Great Modern Catholic 
               Short Stories because the book isn’t that. It is just one small section of the whole.31

Later she wrote to Bishop Busch: “By my own definition the stories in my first book are not Catholic. By my own protest to Sheed you can see that I never regarded them as such.”32 Her first choice of a title was They Are People, which emphasized her call for Chekovian realism in portraying nuns, priests, and monks as human beings. When the second edition came out in 1944, she finally got her wish.

Privately, Bishop Busch observed to Gable that “the Scallan attack called forth nothing but sympathy” for Gable,33and six months later he apologized for any hurt he might have caused by his silence regarding the false impression that Gable published her anthology without his permission.34 Yet he expressed strong reservations about some stories in the anthology as “caricatures which gave the wrong impression about normal priests, monks, and nuns,” and wondered if Gable could not have chosen more stories with happy endings.35 A postscript on one of her letters to Busch gives the flavor of their sometimes heated, always civil, debates. She writes in response to his praise of the film, The Song of Bernadette:

               You like The Song of Bernadette. But if that were fiction you would cry out against 
               the ridiculous slobbering father, the girl clawing the earth in the cave, the mean and 
               critical clergy, the abuse given the girl. Truth has a way of not being as nice as the 
               insipid pink and white fiction we used to call Catholic. Edification at the expense of 
               truth is a terribly doubtful good.36

Certainly, this is a strong statement in defense of her goal: to fight shoddy sentimentalism in literature and to challenge Catholic writers to neither glorify nor vilify Catholic life. In the same letter quoted above, she asked Bishop Busch for permission to pursue her second book, Our Father’s House, which would include a full discussion of Catholic fiction:

               Some of the stories for the new collection are Catholic. Many are not. You can very 
               well ask why I want to edit them, this being true. I want to edit them because the 
               general literary level of Catholic fiction is deplorably low. Great Catholic things have 
               not as yet been written. There is not a single Catholic magazine (except The 
               Commonweal which seldom publishes a story) that prints stories of quality. But fiction 
               is a tremendous power in molding lives. If we could get Catholics to write truly Catholic 
               fiction well, we could set the world on fire.31

She reaffirmed her promise to revise as he directed and asked that their correspondence be kept confidential and that she be able to work with him and not Busch’s coadjutor, Bishop Bartholome, who already judged her anticlerical because of her insistence on realism.38

Nonetheless, by fall, 1943, Bishop Bartholome was the one from whom Gable was to get the imprimatur for the plan of her second book, and this proved difficult. After a stormy interview, she wrote a list of Bishop Bartholome’s objections to her plan for her second book, Our Father’s House. What follows is the author’s summary of that list: literature should be about the average person, and these stories do not deal with the average person; confession should not be written about because it is confidential [on Frank O’Connor’s classic “First Confession”]; “Polack” in one of the stories would infuriate his Polish priests; people do not expect Sisters to know anything about sex, so to include a story about birth control is unbecoming for a Sister; in fact, stories collected by laypersons might be fine and good, but the same stories might be inappropriate for Sisters to publish; a story should not be judged by what it is, but by whether it has been written by a good person. This summary illustrates Bartholome’s inadequate standards for judging literature and his bias against women, especially Sisters, as authorities; yet despite his objections, he then conceded that all but three stories were acceptable for the new book.39 This troublesome interview between Gable and Bartholome began seventeen months of delays before Gable received permission for her new volume.

By May, 1944, she had revised the manuscript. Wanting to insure that she was on the right course, she asked for suggestions from Father Vincent J. Flynn, who had published her essay on Catholic fiction in his college text, Prose Readings (1943). Flynn had also asked two other priests—Father John Louis Bonn and classics professor, Father Fred Bieter—to review the manuscript. Upon receiving Mother Rosamond Pratschner’s enthusiastic support for the new book, Gable sent the revised manuscript plus Flynn’s report to Bishop Bartholome. Perhaps irked over Gable’s asking for outside advice, Bartholome sent her a curt letter insisting on yet another evaluator of his choosing: Father Basil Stegmann, O.S.B., the Diocesan Censor at St. John’s Abbey. The bishop’s crushing postscript implied that Gable was telling him what to do: “I am also requesting you to allow the Bishop full liberty in the manner in which he is to deal with Sisters and the people of the Diocese.” 40

In her letter of response to Bishop Bartholome, Gable said she wept bitterly over his displeasure and continued: “I am incomparably more concerned to render willing and whole-hearted obedience to my superiors, particularly to my bishop, than to get any book whatsoever into print.”41 She took the manuscript to Stegmann and by February 13, 1945, she rejoiced to Flynn: “After seventeen months of grief not a syllable to be changed.”42 Bonn’s evaluation of Gable’s book, which Gable sent to the Bishop, provides some perspective on the bishop’s delay and disapproval. In his sermons to the Benedictine nuns, Bishop Bartholome often warned them against intellectual pride. 43 He may have felt that Bonn’s praise of Gable’s “common sense” and sound educational approach would go to her head. Then, again, the bishop may have felt threatened by this intelligent woman. Bonn wrote to Flynn:

               I like Sister Mariella’s approach which is full of definite common sense, and I think 
               that such a book would go far, educationally, toward battering down the accusation, 
               which is too often well founded, that our nuns do not teach literature in relation to life, 
               but only as a kind of religious propaganda—in other words that they do not teach 
               contemporary letters at all. Therefore, I think this book is important, and particularly 
               important that it is written by a nun.Self-appointed moralists will attack it, and the 
               counterattacks upon them will help to break down the Jansenism so destructive of our 
               Catholic life. This is a brave, good book.44

This positive evaluation plus the recommendations of Flynn and Bieter may have convinced Bishop Bartholome that Gable’s book was worthy; yet he delayed the manuscript further to get it approved by another reader designated by himself, a move which clearly demonstrated his authority. In fact, Bartholome delayed so long that Frank Sheed, eager to publish the book, suggested to Gable that he get the imprimatur from Archbishop Spellman. Gable agreed, a move which angered Bartholome and which returned to haunt her in 1958.45

In the decade between 1941 and 1951, Gable’s vitality and productivity were remarkable. In addition to living a disciplined religious community life, she chaired the English department, taught college courses each semester, and published four books and twenty four articles, some of which were reviews of books. Her writing students consistently placed in The Atlantic Monthly writing contest, two of them winning the top prizes in 1942 and 1944.46 The 1942 prize sent her student, Bernadette Loosbroek, and Gable, to the Breadloaf School of Writing in Vermont that summer. During this decade she read voraciously, keeping up on the new writers, and hailing a young, then unknown American, J.F. Powers, in her article, “Catholic Fiction Arrives in America”47

Her introduction to Our Father’s House, a landmark article in that it developed her literary bull’s-eye theory, received wide circulation through The Catholic Digest in February, 1946. It defined Catholic fiction, citing Bernanos and Tolstoy as models and arguing against Catholic “pulps” which turned out miracles, three for a cent. In 1948 she gave a prophetic speech, “This is the New Pentecost,” at St. Joseph’s College, Hartford, Connecticut, which was reprinted in The Catholic Messenger and The Catholic Digest.48 The speech was stunning in its foresight and acumen. In it she hailed six signs of a spiritual awakening in the United States: the liturgical movement, education of lay people in theology, renewed interest in spiritual reading, the Catholic literary revival, rediscovery of contemplation, and Catholic Action.49 All of these have developed and some are still developing, especially the growing number of educated laity in theology and the modern interest in meditation and contemplation. As a tribute to her work, she was honored by “Toast of the Month” in The Marianist magazine and was lauded as poet, anthologist, critic, and “a real pioneer in the rich forest of Catholic fiction.”50

Gable demonstrated her breadth of vision in her choice of a wide variety of writers. Great Modern Catholic Short Stories included well known writers such as Katherine Mansfield, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Our Father’s House included writers from Great Britain, Scandinavia, Russia, and America, including Leo Tolstoy, Stephen V. Benet, J.F. Powers, and Abigail Quigley (later to become McCarthy and author of Private Faces, Public Places). Long before the women’s movement in the sixties, Gable included women writers in her anthologies—Antonia White, Elizabeth Madox Roberts, and Betty Wahl [Powers], for example. Of the seventy-eight stories represented in her three anthologies, one-third are written by women.

Gable’s anthologies were widely and favorably reviewed in the religious and secular press. When her first anthology, Great Modern Catholic Short Stories, came out in 1942, Francis X. Connelly, S.J., chair of Fordham University English department, described her introduction as “provocative” and “peppery,” explosive enough “to blow up many a peaceful parish circle.”51 John Erskine of the Chicago Sun praised her “breadth of vision which is none too common in secular editors, and which is extraordinary in one devoted to the life with which these stories deal.”52 The New York Times called the book “significant of the new Catholicism which makes no pretence to be perfect but claims to be actual in its human relations.”53 Only seven of the twenty-four reviewers made negative comments and those were minor: two noted what Gable herself had insisted—that the first title of the book was a misnomer—and three disagreed with Gable’s “literary bracketings.” Our Father’s House (1945), stories by Catholic and non-Catholic writers from Russia, Ireland, Great Britain, America, and Scandinavia, was the most favorably received and sold the most copies. 54 Thirty-five reviewers selected vastly different stories as the best, illustrating Gable’s broad, varied, and discriminating taste, and they frequently recommended the book as required reading for Catholic students in both secondary schools and colleges. Nearly all reviewers commended the discriminating choice of stories, “varied enough to appeal to many tastes”55 and “alive with human meaning, with the radiance of the divine often showing through.”56

Gable’s next publication did not receive wide reviewing. This is Catholic Fiction (1948), a collection of five previously published essays on Catholic fiction, was published in response to teachers’ requests for use in the classroom. Generally, the eight reviewers supported Gable’s attempt to define Catholic fiction and applauded her incisive mind. Some, however, quarreled with what they considered her restrictive definition—at this early point, she still defined Catholic fiction with a capital “C,” yet she also said it was a “re-ordering of love”; others wondered if Catholic fiction could ever be defined.

Her last book, Many-Colored Fleece (1950), had almost as many reviews as Our Father’s House, but it did not get as much international attention. Twenty-three of the thirty reviews praised Gable as anthologist, teacher, and critic, affirming John Cogley’s view that she had “probably done more than anyone else to show people what decent Catholic fiction looks like and to hint at what it might be.”57 Gable’s strong influence is demonstrated by the fact that five of these reviews are retrospectives, summarizing her other works and placing this book in the context of her overall achievement in defining Catholic fiction. 58 Another sign of her influence is that Thomas More Bookshop, a new and influential Catholic bookstore in Chicago, chose just two people to speak at its tenth-year anniversary in 1949: J.F. Powers and Mariella Gable.

Considering her many duties of chairing the English department, teaching college classes, publishing books, and living religious community life, it is not surprising that Gable’s health often gave out. As early as 1935, references to her hospitalizations appear in her letters. When she was at Breadloaf in 1942, she was hospitalized with a mysterious fever and stomach pain. Later that year she was hospitalized for pleurisy, dysentery, and a broken rib; the end of the year found her “sedated” at St. Cloud Hospital. She was absent most of the school year (1942-43), suffering a nervous breakdown. In summer, 1944, she was under a doctor’s care for “nervous trouble” and she begged Bishop Busch not to add to it.59 Kristin Malloy sums up Gable’s life as a constant battle between her poor health and her passion for work: “She was always frail and often flat on her back.” 60

Her zest for learning and understanding never faltered, however. In 1944 when she was at St. Joseph’s Hospital, St. Paul, Minnesota, she had to wait all day for tests. She sneaked into the nearby public library and found a wonderful New Yorker story [Brendan Gill’s “The Knife”] for her book [Many-Colored Fleece].61 Five months later she wrote: “If I never exhaust myself, I need never get these attacks. . . The doctor says to keep my sugar up and stay within my limitations.”62 However, in June, 1950, she was at St. Benedict’s Hospital, Ogden, Utah, staffed by Minnesota Benedictines. Suffering from depression and insomnia, she was under the care of Dr. O’Gorman. She underwent a series of shock treatments, first by insulin, later electric, and when they did not work, a lobotomy was performed. 63 No one can know fully the extent of her suffering, but for three months she was kept in isolation, locked in her room, and was not told that her third book, Many-Colored Fleece, had been published. True, the English department at the College of St. Benedict sent her a congratulatory telegram, but no one at Ogden mentioned that her third book had been published. Her plight was similar to that of the narrator in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Isolated, lonely, longing for the intellectual stimulation of a Jacques Maritain who had just been a speaker at the College of St. Benedict, she must have found her isolation unbearably painful.64 She returned to Minnesota in April, 1951, and resumed teaching in the fall at the College of St. Benedict. She also chaired the English department, advised the student Quarterly, and lectured on Catholic fiction in summer sessions across the country. In 1957 she edited Harvest, a pictorial history of St. Benedict’s Convent which celebrated her Benedictine religious community’s centennial year in the United States.

A significant event affecting convent-diocesan relationships had been brewing since 1939 when Pope Pius XI requested that all Benedictine houses belong to a congregation and be approved by the Holy See. The reasons for a union were to strengthen religious houses following the same rule and to share in one another’s good works. When Bishop Busch denied Mother Rosamond’s requests to start this process in 1939 and again in 1941, she appealed to Abbot Primate Fidelis von Stotzingen, the official Benedictine connection to the Holy See. In 1942 he succeeded in petitioning Rome to establish the Congregation of St. Benedict. By 1956 St. Benedict’s Convent, having undergone a nine-year probation period, became a pontifical institute, which meant that the local bishop, now Bishop Bartholome, no longer had jurisdiction over matters relating to the convent.65

However, a new convent and college chaplain, Jerome Doherty, O.S.B., influenced this delicate political situation between the bishop and the convent. An Australian priest living at St. John’s Abbey, he was told by Bishop Bartholome to “watch out for Sister Mariella Gable because she is famous for being anticlerical and for furthering pornographic literature.” 66 Bartholome got the ammunition he wanted when Doherty objected to the “filthy and obscene” language in Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, a book on the college’s suggested reading list for contemporary American literature. Doherty called a meeting in March, 1958, with college officials and Mother Richarda Peters, O.S.B., then prioress of St. Benedict’s Convent, and the two nuns—Kristin Malloy, teacher of American literature and Mariella Gable, chair of the English department. Not reading the whole novel, Doherty paged through it, counting the number of times God’s name was taken in vain. At the meeting he read only those “blasphemous” parts to the group and insisted that the two nuns should be barred from receiving the sacraments until two conditions were met: they must make a public apology to the college students and the religious community, and they must gather all copies of the offending book and turn them in at that assembly.

Such extreme public measures were not taken, but the priest had given Bishop Bartholome the evidence he sought, and the bishop insisted that the two nuns leave the College of St. Benedict. The bishop had not checked the facts. Neither nun had taught the book; as everyone now knows, the book itself is a sensitive portrayal of a confused and idealistic teenager; moreover, censorship does not belong in an academic institution.67 Perhaps Bartholome still chafed from his disagreement with Gable concerning Our Father’s House and seized this opportunity to humiliate her. Perhaps he was also piqued because St. Benedict’s Convent had recently become a papal institute and, therefore, was not under his jurisdiction. The truth is that it was common knowledge that he had little love for Benedictines. He was convinced that “the world was creeping onto the campus at St. Benedict’s,” and he was going to clean it up.68 He insisted that Gable leave the diocese. A year later he wrote to Gable: “I again want to assure you that there are no personalities involved, that the action was thoroughly objective on the evidence presented [by Jerome Doherty], and that I felt duty-bound to act not against you but against your work.” 69

Heartsick at what had happened, Gable wrote three months later to Mother Richarda from Loretto College, Colorado, where she was teaching a summer course in Catholic fiction. It reveals both her pain and her courage.

The trouble with the Bishop is so serious I must humbly appeal to you to permit me to move to another priory outside the jurisdiction of Bishop Bartholome. . . . I know my teaching days are over [at St. Benedict’s]. . . . I cannot tell you how much this decision has cost me. I love St. Benedict’s, I love teaching, I love all that I must leave. God knows why He has permitted this most heavy cross to fall on me. I pray for only one thing and that is that I shall be able to know what God’s will is in carrying it and that God will give me the strength to carry out that will.70

Mother Richarda did not transfer her to another priory, nor did she forbid her to teach, but she sent her to Mt. Angel College, Salem, Oregon. Before returning to the College of St. Benedict, Gable spent a year at Mt. Angel and three years at Marillac College, the national sister formation college, Normandy, Missouri. Kristin Malloy was sent to St. Cloud Cathedral High School and later Pierz Memorial High School, both in Minnesota, returning to the College ten years later.

Today it is difficult to believe that this event could ever have happened, that Gable could have been ousted without trial, without recourse, without substantial evidence. However, convent discipline as perceived and taught in the 1950s often encouraged obedience to those in authority, especially the prioress and the bishop who take the place of Christ. In 1959 Gable wrote to Bishop Bartholome, whose authority as her bishop meant Christ’s authority: “. . .the purpose of this letter is to beg your pardon for all that I have done amiss. I am so grief-stricken because you are the voice of Christ for us here in your diocese. . .. Exile is a cruel punishment. . .. If you wish to let your recommendation to the council stand [that she teach out-of-state] so that this punishment shall stand the rest of my life, so be it.” 71

Also painful was the silence after the March, 1958, incident. No one discussed it, and when Gable went to teach a summer course in Catholic fiction at Loretto College, Colorado, she still did not know what would happen. Father Harold C. Gardiner, S.J., Jesuit author and critic and one of her guest lecturers that summer, urged protest, but she did not feel she could. She did talk with him about her banishment, however, and took great comfort in his support. 72 Gardiner responded to Gable’s plight in an editorial in America, defending the study of literature as a way to clarify values.73 The same issue of America published an article by Michael Boyle, S.J., “Teaching ‘Dirty Books’ in College.” Boyle discussed Graham Greene, James Joyce, J.F. Powers, and J.D. Salinger as genuine artists and their novels as portraying truth—the genuine goal of a liberal arts education.74 Neither writer mentions Gable directly, but Gardiner makes clear in a letter to Gable that her situation spurred the articles:

               . . .keep your eyes open for our issue of December 13, which will contain an article 
               by Father Boyle of Regis College in Denver, which tackles head-on the problem which 
               caused you such difficulty. I will say that I am in great admiration of the spirit in 
               which you took a very mortifying and disappointing experience. We will keep up the 
               good fight, and I am sure the atmosphere in our colleges will change, where such a 
               change is vitally necessary.75

During this exile her letters to friends give insight into her sense of humor, irony, and pain. Early in 1958 she wrote to her former student and friend, Sister Thomas Egan, O.S.B.,: “I have been expelled from the college. After thirty-seven years of faithful service to the department of English this is a very hard thing to bear in my sixtieth year of age. One strikes deep roots.” And her postscript adds: “Kristin is expelled, too. Only the Puritans remain.”76 In 1959 her wry humor shows when she writes: “Wouldn’t life be grand if there were no Puritans and all Jesuits?”77 Later that year Gable attended the dedication of Thomas Aquinas Hall at St. John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota. She wrote again to Egan: “Bishop Bartholome kept eying modem crucifixes a hundred times more violent than Sister Thomas Carey’s lovely ones. Could be the monks will hear more about them. But it isn’t as easy to shove men around as women.”78 Her letter to Sister Remberta Westkaemper, O.S.B., sums up her feeling of injustice:

               The gravest injustices are: That after thirty-seven years of faithful service I was 
               given no warning of a new policy. That I was never warned by any superior. That 
               the best Catholic colleges in the country (St. Teresa’s, Rosary etc.) were doing what we 
               were doing and that I felt safe in accepting the standards that prevailed. Even the 
               Bishop admitted to Mother that he knew the standards at St. Benedict’s were the 
               prevailing standards. That he holds it against me for getting an imprimatur through 
               my publisher—which is one of the three ways permitted by Canon Law. 79

Finally, a letter from a former student, Mary Thomes [Locke] expresses her distress over Gable’s situation and pays tribute to the College of St. Benedict and Gable:

               Having contact with the warm, Christian humanism which was so evidently your 
               philosophy made it possible for my Catholicism to grow up along with the rest of 
               my mind. … And this humanistic point of view, this deep respect for the integrity 
               of the human personality always has seemed to be characteristic of St. Ben’s. For 
               me, and for many, many others who knew you well, as I did, you were the 
               touchstone of expression of this philosophy.80

What did the College of St. Benedict lose as a result of this incident? Two superb English teachers, Kristin Malloy and Mariella Gable. Malloy’s scholarly and professional life in the college was interrupted for ten years. Gable was prevented, for the time being, from coordinating the Tri-College program with St. Benedict’s, St. John’s, and St. Cloud State College [now University]. The paper on Christian satire she was scheduled to give at the American Benedictine Academy (ABA) was turned down. Father Roland Behrendt, O.S.B., Chair of Languages and Literature of the ABA, wrote to her: “Mother Richarda and I agreed that it is advisable to conduct next year’s meeting without your paper.”81 But her productivity was not halted during her four-year exile. Despite recurring stomach pains, despite ill health, despite profound depression at being treated unfairly, she taught classes in Catholic fiction, gave lectures at Marylhurst College, Marylhurst, Oregon, and elsewhere, wrote her definitive article on the Catholic novel, polished her paper on Christian satire, wrote a pageant for Marillac College, and started Delta Epsilon Sigma at Marillac. She also travelled to Europe with her dear friend, Sister Remberta Westkaemper, and studied at Oxford University, England, during the summer of 1961 at the Institute of International Education. Finally, she began significant work on Flannery O’Connor and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin which later influenced all who attended her retreats for adults, college and high school students.

 A new prioress, Mother Henrita Osendorf, O.S.B., and new coadjutor bishop, George Speltz, helped to ease Gable’s situation, and she returned to St. Benedict’s in 1962. What had haunted her in 1958 was her fear that she may have been a shade “too liberal” in the English department. 82 Gardiner had eased her mind about that. Furthermore, her participation in the 1962 Twentieth Symposium in Literature at the College of St. Thomas (St. Thomas University) in St. Paul, Minnesota, restored her confidence that she was on track. Herbert Slusser, the organizer of the symposium, captured her contributions and her magnetic personality when he wrote a year later:

               I thank God that there are people like you—or, rather, that there is you—in the world,
               generous, spontaneous, fully articulate, whose every act and gesture, verbal and 
               physical, bespeaks wholesomeness and intelligence. . . . I have always loved your ardor
               . . . . But it is much more attractive, even now. You have it in such beautiful control; 
               and you direct it like an arrow from a bow. Your moderator’s introduction and comments 
               were instances in point, but one gets the best of your mind and heart when in informal 
               situations you see so sharply and respond so honestly, so—I can only call it—lovingly. 83

Slusser has aptly expressed Gable’s ability to speak honestly, directing her remarks “like an arrow from a bow,” her own metaphor for the bull’s eye of Catholic fiction.

Recognition and acceptance abroad did not mean acceptance at home, however. The new prioress, Mother Henrita Osendorf, O.S.B., rejected Gable’s suggestion that an open panel discussion on literature, similar to the one at St. Thomas, be held at St. Benedict’s. Osendorf gently discouraged her from “over eagerness to defend your stand” and urged her to “come home willing to let others champion the cause of certain kinds of literature. Rather than bring up the old problem, it is better to let the matter rest in silence; can you agree with me on this?”84 Written in the margins of this letter are Gable’s responses: “Rubbish” and “Nuts.” Yet to the question, “Can you agree with me on this?” she writes: “Of course,” and to Osendorf’s plea that she not “bear a grudge,” she writes: “Not the least [grudge].” To Gable’s credit, she kept her word.

Upon her return she had the satisfaction of chairing the Literature section of the American Benedictine Academy (ABA) from 1965 to 1968, delivering her paper on Christian satire at the ABA, and chairing the committee for the Tri-College Program at the invitation of CSB academic dean, Sister Firmin Escher, O.S.B.

She set to work, teaching Chaucer, Dante, and contemporary fiction in the college, studying Flannery O’Connor and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and publishing her articles on them. An expert on O’Connor by O’Connor’s own admission, she published a key article, “Ecumenic Core in Flannery O’Connor’s Fiction,” and a tribute to O’Connor on the occasion of her death.85 Dr. Nathan A. Scott, a noted professor of theology and literature at the University of Chicago, wrote to thank her for her “fine essay” on Flannery O’Connor which would help him prepare his own paper for a symposium.86 Gable also accepted speaking engagements.

She wrote to Sister Thomas Egan that she represented St. Benedict’s at a panel on liberal education at St. John’s University: ” I was able to underline with vigor the idea that protection is no part of education. I got terrific response. It was so good I felt as if I had drunk champaign” [sic].87 In response to Egan’s news reports on Gable’s lectures on Teilhard de Chardin in Crookston, Minnesota, Gable wrote: “I marvel that you could produce such a long news report of ‘The New Optimism’ without ever mentioning evolution. The fearful looking for trouble cannot find a syllable to blame. You are wonderful. Prudent. Wise.”88 At this same time Gable had the satisfaction of presenting three sessions on Teilhard’ s “New Optimism” to students at Cathedral High School, the diocesan school of Bishop Bartholome. In another letter to Egan, Gable refers to praise of Teilhard by the coadjutor, Bishop Speltz.”Could be I can soon crawl out from under a cloud.”89

Crawl out from under a cloud she did. She was visiting professor on Newman and Dante and Catholic fiction at Marygrove College, Detroit, Michigan, in 1967 and St. Martin’s College, Olympia, Washington, in 1969. Building on her ten years of personal study of Teilhard with special courses at Fordham University in 1964,and the University of San Francisco in 1972, she inspired those who heard her. Reflecting her interest in ecumenism, she gave eight session retreats on Teilhard to a variety of ecumenical groups in Minneapolis and St. Paul in 1972-73. The Central Minnesota Counsellor Newsletter named Gable “counsellor of the month” because she taught Teilhard at the Minnesota State Reformatory, St. Cloud, with Dr. Gelbmann, clinical psychologist, at the reformatory. 90 Her manuscript for a book describing this prison program, “Reshape,” is in the St. Benedict’s Convent Archives. During this time she continued reviewing books, the last three revealing her current and future interests: Robert Giroux’s Flannery O’Connor, The Complete Stories; Ivan Illich’s De-Schooling Society; and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s The Heart of the Matter.91 Two other creative artists she studied and taught were Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Buckminster Fuller.

In 1971 she was presented with the President’s Medal by the College of St. Benedict for her pioneering scholarship and excellence in teaching. Retiring as Professor Emerita in 1973, she was still teaching her beloved Dante course to St. Benedict’s alumnae in 1978. Gable celebrated her Diamond Jubilee, sixty years of professed religious life, in 1977, and she died at St. Scholastica Convent, St. Cloud, Minnesota, in 1985.

Gable’s former student and friend, Sister Bemetta Quinn, O. S.F., wrote a sonnet in tribute to her in 1946, unconsciously predicting Gable’s future trials. This poem expresses her dynamism and dedication, her courage and clear-sightedness.

Who Dare Take Christ at His Word

(For Sister Mariella Gable, O.S.B.)

Because you are unafraid and no half-giver
Because you are drunk with the liquid light of prayer,
You can pour love out of your heart like a flaming river;
You can stand head high and in loneliness who dare
Take Christ at His word, though it means the steepest mountain
Though it means renouncing life and death to lead
The uninspired and the weak to His secret fountain
Where flourishes even the bruised and broken reed.

“For they shall possess the land”: thus humility
Was given as legacy all of Paradise.
O this is the meaning we cannot miss who see
A silver courage gleam out of gray-blue eyes,
Who listen to tidings flower upon the air
As fearless as those of a saint in camel’s hair.92


Gable’s essays are organized chronologically in this book, from “Catholic Life and Catholic Fiction” (1940) to the review of Flannery O’Connor’s Complete Stories (1972). Part One comprises five general essays in which Gable defines and re-defines Catholic fiction. Part Two contains eight essays on twenty-one authors, ranging from Francois Mauriac and Georges Bemanos to John Updike, Flannery O’Connor, and Muriel Spark. These essays make concrete—Gable’s favorite word—her general definition of Catholic fiction. Humanities teachers and readers will find Gable’s list of seventy-one authors and 306 titles in “The Novel” especially valuable. Her insights into individual authors are keen, her analysis of what the Catholic historical novel should be is sharp, and some of her wry comments are downright delightful. Although the essay on philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and poet Dante Alighieri focuses more on philosophy than on literature, it is appropriate because Chardin’s optimism permeated the last thirty years of Gable’s life, and Dante’s “In His Will is our peace” informed her whole adult life. The Appendix includes primary material about two well-recognized Catholic writers: J.F. Powers and Flannery O’Connor. Finally, a note on language is in order. Gable’s use of “man” and masculine pronouns, as if they included both men and women was the accepted terminology of the 1940s and 1950s. If she were alive and writing today, she would be using current and inclusive language. In that spirit I have changed the few references in her essays from “man” and “mankind” to “humanity” or “human being.”

Gable unflaggingly challenged, defined, and redefined the idea of Catholic fiction. Her first essay, “Catholic Life and Catholic Fiction,” celebrates Mauriac’s Viper’s Tangle, Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter, Bemanos’ Star of Satan, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and Leon Bloy’s The Woman Who Was Poor as models of Catholic fiction.93 Next she argues for Chekhovian realism in portraying monastery and convent life (Great Modern Catholic Short Stories).94 In a seminal essay in Our Father’s House, she creates the literary “bull’s eye,” arguing for Catholic fiction with a capital “C.” The fiction at the center of the bull’s eye portrays saints, the “little people” who struggle daily to make appropriate choices between values. Next to the center are concentric circles of fiction dealing with various Church teachings on the race problem or birth control, for example. Finally, there is peripheral fiction, strong in local color, but not Catholic fiction. She bases her literary bull’s-eye theory on Dietrich von Hildebrand’s Liturgy and Personality and its definition of the classic personality which regards human love and friendship as the highest gifts in the world. Therefore, the “reeducation of love” is the main life work of human beings. They struggle to give appropriate responses to values.”[They] never mistake a door for a house. And the house is our Father’s [God’s].” Hence, the title, Our Father’s House.95 Picking up on this theme in Many-Colored Fleece (1950), she reaffirms this reordering of love, calling it three-dimensional “literature of spiritual affirmation”: the individual in relationship with others and with God. In this same essay she points out the importance of the anthologist as “salvager and critic,” reclaiming literature that might otherwise be lost and setting standards for true art.96

Her groundbreaking article on the Catholic novel in 1962 outlines her broadest definition of Catholic fiction: art which portrays the “spiritual and moral mystery of the human condition.”97 She arrives at this conclusion by arguing for two contradictory definitions and then rejecting them for a third. First, she argues that, strictly speaking, Catholic fiction doesn’t exist. Fiction is a story which gives pleasure, and human beings’ highest pleasure “comes from knowing—specifically, from knowing through vision—something of the mystery of life.” 98 By its very definition, fiction portrays the whole of human experience religious experience being the highest of these whether it is Buddhist, Mohammedan, Mormon, Jansenist, Jewish, Protestant, Catholic, or others. Therefore, because fiction portrays all of human experience, Catholic fiction is simply fiction; there’s no such thing as Catholic fiction.

This conclusion leads to her second definition: all the great fiction in the world is Catholic fiction. She argues that subconsciously, writers have two views of the world: either the world is material and nothing more, or it is a “sense-observed world” in which human beings subconsciously realize that they are creatures of God. If writers subscribe to this second view, they are Catholic; if they subscribe to the first view, they are materialistic or secular. She quotes a non-Catholic critic, Arthur Machen, to support her own assertion that if artists are not sensitive to spiritual realities, what they write will not be literature. Hence, since secular fiction does not always deal with spiritual realities, it is circumscribed; and Catholic fiction, since it does deal with spiritual realities, is all-inclusive.

Rejecting these two contradictory definitions, she comes to a third: Catholic fiction communicates artistically through Catholic symbols the spiritual and moral mystery of the human condition. However, she insists that Catholic local color alone does not make a Catholic novel. Essential in her definition is not the subject matter, nor the special symbolism of artists, but the “depth and insight of their spiritual vision.”99 This spiritual vision involves the “reordering of love” on a three-dimensional plane —the   individual, others, and God. Clearly, defining the Catholic novel as the artistic communication of the “spiritual and moral mystery of the human condition” is a broader definition than her previous ones.

A resurgence of interest in Catholic fiction is evident in the publications of the last eight years: a bibliography by Albert Menendez and a biographical dictionary by Daniel Tynan; five books of criticism by Malcolm Scott, Thomas Woodman, Anita Gandolfo, Arnold Sparr, Paul Giles, a chapter by Mary Gerhart, and articles by John Desmond and Andrew Greeley.100 Commonweal is running a series of articles on individual Catholic writers in 1995-96. (For example, see Joseph Hynes’ article on Jon Hassler, 3 November 1995). Anita Gandolfo’s Testing the Faith (1992) argues that the Catholic novel need not promote Catholic dogma or be written by Catholic authors but it is “informed by a concern for the experience of being Catholic in the United States.”101 She identifies “patterns of vision” in novels from “Days of Innocence” (1900-50) to the “New Catholic Novel after Vatican II,” the latter emphasizing “personal experience and knowledge rather than the acceptance of the authoritative and absolute.” What is interesting is that Gandolfo describes the Catholic novel of pre-Vatican II as a “contradiction in terms” from a literary standpoint since it limits art to didacticism, and the result is what Flannery O’Connor calls “pious trash.”102 This “pious trash” was what Gable fought hardest against, and her anthologies demonstrated what she hoped was a union of art and values.

Mary Gerhart’s chapter on “Whatever Happened to the Catholic Novel?” also discusses the Catholic novel before and after Vatican II, and suggests at the end that Catholic novels today are not locked into immutable Catholic doctrine, but their mainspring for action is located in foundational principles: “Sacramental vision and a conception of human beings as themselves sacred before God.”103 This last description is close to Gable’s “spiritual and moral mystery of the human condition”104 and what both Flannery O’Connor and Gable call the incarnational view of the universe.

What is amazing is that forty years ago, Gable’s vision of the Catholic novel foreshadowed the present discussions mentioned here. Before the radical changes in the Church following Vatican II and before the ecumenical movement developed, she pioneered a broad definition of Catholic fiction, one which saw Catholic local color as peripheral and which cited as essential the moral and spiritual struggle of human beings. She wrote in 1962: “In the wake of the promising ecumenical movement alive in the world, one wonders sometimes if one ought not be talking of Christian fiction rather than of Catholic fiction.”105 Today she would suggest an even broader category: the literature of spiritual values. Her willingness to pay the price of her vision is clearly evident in her life of scholarship and teaching.


1. Kristin Malloy, O.S.B., interview by the author, St. Benedict’s Convent, St. Joseph, Minnesota, 7 July 1995.

2. Mariella Gable, O.S.B. to Thomas Egan, O.S.B., 15 May 1964, Gable Collection, St. Benedict’s Convent Archives, St. Joseph, Minnesota. Unless otherwise indicated, the following abbreviation is: GC (Gable Collection in the St. Benedict’s Convent Archives).

3. H.R., review of This is Catholic Fiction, by Mariella Gable, Friar’s Bookshelf (September 1949): 247.

4. Richard Sipe and Arleen Hynes, O.S.B., taught this pioneering course to seminarians at St. John’s Seminary, Collegeville, Minnesota, in January, 1995.

5. Ruth Casey, review of They Are People and Our Father’s House, ed. Mariella Gable, Today, May 1946, 8-9.

6. Mariella Gable, “Introduction” to Great Modern Catholic Short Stories, (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1942). Reprinted in The Literature of Spiritual Values, 11.

7. Arnold Sparr, To Promote, Defend, and Redeem (New York: Greenwood, 1990), 145.

8. John X. Harriott, “The Nun’s Tales,” The Tablet, 12 August 1989, 1.

9. Bryan MacMahon, quoted by Kristin Malloy in her interview notes, Tralee, County Kerry, Ireland, May 1983.

10. Quoted by Kristin Malloy in funeral eulogy for Mariella Gable, 24 March 1985, GC.

11. Flannery O’Connor to Mariella Gable, 5 July 1964, The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor, ed. Sally Fitzgerald (New York: Vintage, 1980), 591.

12. Sparr, To Promote, 160.

13. J.F. Powers, interview by the author, 29 June 1994, Collegeville, Minnesota, tape recording.

14. Mariella Gable, autobiographical essay, 1940, GC, 1.

15. Mariella Gable, “The Spy,” Blind Man’s Stick (Boston: Bruce Humphries, 1938), 12.

16. Mariella Gable, autobiographical essay, 2.

17. Ibid., 3.

18. Mariella Gable to Andriette Rohrenbach, O.S.B., 18 September 1975, GC.

19. Francis X. Talbot, S.J., to Mariella Gable, 22 March 1927, GC.

20. Both books were published in 1938 by Bruce Humphries, Boston. Brandon Press, Boston, reprinted Blind Man’s Stick in 1966 without Gable’s permission, much to her distress since she was unaware that the copyright had expired. A song was written for her poem, “To a Carrara Madonna,” by Charles Repper (Trinity Court, Boston: Brashear Music Co., 1936).”The Sheep Herd” is also popular. Scholastic Magazine reprinted it in Literary Cavalcade (December 1949). The poem inspired a play by Gretchen Green which was performed as a Christmas service in Riverside Church, New York, in 1965. It was reprinted in McCall’s (December 1976) and A Christmas Feast, ed. James Charlton and Barbara Gilson, (New York: Doubleday, 1976). Gable donated the money from this poem to the Mary Gable scholarship at the College of St. Benedict (Letter from Gable to Beverly Miller, College of St. Benedict college president, 12 April 1977, GC).

21. Mariella Gable to Marcine Schirber, O.S.B., February 1932, GC.

22. Mariella Gable to Marcine Schirber, May 1931, GC. Oxford movement is the name given to a movement begun at Oxford University in 1833 by certain Anglican clergymen to bring Catholic doctrine and ritual into the Anglican Church in opposition to the liberal movement in religion (Webster’s New World Dictionary). Later with Cardinal John Henry Newman’s conversion from Anglicanism to Catholicism in 1845, there developed the English Catholic literary revival, touting such writers as G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, Agnes Repplier, Coventry Patmore, and, later, Gerard Manley Hopkins. In the United States an organized movement of the Catholic literary revival began with a series of articles on Newman in 1933 by The Queen’s Work edited by Daniel A. Lord (Sparr, To Promote, 31). Finally Gable credits the translations of Mauriac, Bernanos, et al. with Sparking the Catholic literary revival in the United States.(The Literature of Spiritual Values, 5-6).

23. Mariella Gable to Marcine Schirber, Fall, 1933, GC.

24. In 1980 St. Joseph Convent, Tulsa, Oklahoma, requested a copy of this pageant to celebrate the Benedictine sesquimillenium.

25. Mariella Gable to Bishop Busch, 4 November 1944, GC. In this letter Gable reminds the bishop of their agreement in 1941.

26. E.B. Scallan, A Competent Censorship or Else Chaos (New Orleans: Catholic Herald Press, 1943), 5-6.

27. Ibid., 12.

28. Frank Sheed to Mariella Gable, 12 May 1943, GC.

29. Mariella Gable to Bishop Busch, 12 May 1943, GC.

30. Mariella Gable to Bishop Busch, 4 November 1944, GC.

31. Mariella Gable to Frank Sheed, 25 July 1942, GC.

32. Mariella Gable to Bishop Busch, 12 May 1943, GC.

33. Bishop Busch to Mariella Gable, [undated, but context indicates sometime between 12 & 21 May 1943J, GC.

34. Bishop Busch to Mariella Gable, 8 November 1944, GC.

35. Bishop Busch to Mariella Gable, [between 12 & 21 May 1943J, GC.

36. Mariella Gable to Bishop Busch, 12 May 1943, GC.

37. Ibid.

38. Vincent A. Yzermans’ laconic comment is accurate in Journeys, (Waite Park, Minnesota: Park Press, 1994): “His [Bishop Bartholome’sJ relationships with the Sisters of St. Benedict often left much to be desired,”

147. Gable begged Bishop Busch again and again not to tell Bartholome about her negotiations with Busch.

39. Mariella Gable memorandum, Fall, 1943, GC.

40. Bishop Bartholome to Mariella Gable, 26 May 1944, GC.

41. Mariella Gable to Bishop Bartholome, 29 May 1944, GC.

42. Mariella Gable to Vincent Flynn, 13 February 1945, GC.

43. As a college student and later as a young nun, the author sat through similar exhortations from Bishop Bartholome.

44. John Louis Bonn to Vincent Flynn, 27 April 1944, GC.

45. Bartholome’s pique is puzzling, especially since none of Gable’s books had imprimaturs from bishops in the St. Cloud Diocese. Blind Man’s Stick, Great Modern Catholic Short Stories and This is Catholic Fiction do not have an imprimatur. Archbishop Spellman granted the imprimatur for Our Father’s House, and Cardinal Cushing gave the imprimatur for Many- Colored Fleece.

46. The Atlantic Monthly first prizes were for short story, “The Hanky and the Sins” by Bernadette Loosbroek (1942) and essay, “These Gentle Communists,” by Mary Thomes (1944). Other honorable mentions: top twenty essays, “Emily Post to the Contrary Notwithstanding” by Betty Wahl and “That One Talent” by Genevieve Powers (1942); third honorable mention, short story, “Novice in the Cellar,” and story of merit, “They Also Serve,” both by Elizabeth Zwilling (1944); honorable mention, essay, “Dante Loves Beatrice,” by Betty Wahl and top twenty essays, “My Father and Eric Gill,” by Mary Martin (1945).

47. Mariella Gable, “Catholic Fiction Comes to America,” Today, 30 April 1947,12. The other connection between Powers and Gable is that she introduced him to her prize writing student, Betty Wahl, who later married him. Wahl published several stories in The New Yorker, McCall’s, and others, and a novel, Rafferty.

48. Mariella Gable, “This is the New Pentecost,” The Catholic Messenger, 29 July 1948; The Catholic Digest (October 1948).

49. Sparr, To Promote, 136. Catholic Action is a term popular in the 1930s and 40s; it stressed the responsibility of Catholic intellectuals to think, reflect, and act in making their influence felt in a secular world.

50. Kristin Malloy, “Toast of the Month,” The Marianist (October1950).

51. Francis X. Connelly, S.J., review of Great Modern Catholic Short Stories, ed. by Mariella Gable, Catholic Book Club Newsletter (December 1942); Catholic Mirror (December 1942).

52. John Erskine, review of Great Modern Catholic Short. Stories, ed. by Mariella Gable, Chicago Sun, vol. I, no. 5, (1942).

53. The New York Times, 22 November 1942.

54. St. Benedict’s archival records show the following sales: Our Father’s House, 14,383 (six editions); Great Modern Catholic Short Stories [later re-titled They Are People], 8,631 (four editions); This is Catholic Fiction, 4,275; Many-Colored Fleece, 7,019. A Flemish translation of They Are People exists, and 2,000 copies of Our Father’s House were distributed in Australia.

55. E.V.R. Wyatt, review of Our Father’s House, ed. by Mariella Gable, The Commonweal, 23 November 1945, 146.

56. John S. Kennedy, review of our Father’s House, ed. by Mariella Gable, The New York Times, 13 January 1946.

57. John Cogley, review of Many-Colored Fleece, ed. by Mariella Gable, The Commonweal, 22 December 1950.

58. Retrospectives in addition to John Cogley’s are by Riley Hughes, Renascence (Spring 1950); Sister Frances Borgia, Insight (January 1951); Kristin Malloy, St. Benedict’s Quarterly (Spring 1951); “Toast of the Month,” The Marianist (October 1950). Riley Hughes commends all three of Gable’s anthologies as showing sharp perception in purpose: that is, of calling on lay writers to come to terms with the wellsprings of holiness in the family and its conflict with secular values. John S. Kennedy says that Gable is “among the most discerning and exacting of our Catholic critics. Discerning, she really recognizes meaning and merit; exacting, she sets a high standard for substance and form in fiction,” Los Angeles Tidings, 22 December 1950.

59. Mariella Gable to Bishop Busch, 8 November 1944, GC.

60. Kristin Malloy, interview by the author, St. Benedict’s Convent, 7 July 1995.

61. Mariella Gable to Remberta Westkaemper, O.S.B., 3 March 1944, GC.

62. Mariella Gable to Remberta Westkaemper, August 1944, GC.

63. Mariella Gable to Remberta Westkaemper, 26 June 1950, GC, describes the insulin and shock treatments; Gable to Westkaemper, 20 March 1951 GC, shows in clearly legible script: “[The doctor] wanted me up on third floor (surgery) for a neurological examination. Since such an exam is part of the procedure for dismissal, I said O.K. But promptly on Friday morning, Mar. 16, he took me to the operating room and performed an intraorbital lobotomy on me. That is, by lifting up the eyelid and severing certain nerves, he says he has my tenseness under control. He did not tell me until yesterday morning, Mar. 19!”

64. Mariella Gable to Remberta Westkaemper, 12 November 1950, GC. Gable says: “Solitary confinement constitutes the most terrible suffering in the world. I am a sane person now, completely myself, but a few more days of solitary confinement and I will be a stark, raving maniac.” Regarding the electric shock treatment, she says: “[Dr. O’Gorman] said that the electric shock treatments sent me ‘high as a kite.’ In other words, the treatments made me crazy. I was terribly afraid of them. I do not think it is right to make any human being take any treatment of which she is so afraid.” And of her sanity: “When Dr. O’G was in here today I asked him, just for the record, whether I am sane or insane now. He said ‘You are sane, sane as you will ever be.’ Then he went on shrewdly to outline some of my emotional problems. Some of what he said was right, & helpful. But am I not, being sane, a free agent with the right to refuse electric shock and solitary confinement? These methods will not help me. Of that I am sure.” Finally, she describes the day her book came out when no one bothered to acknowledge it as “the most miserable day of my life.” Another letter from Gable to Westkaemper, 19 November 1950, notes that when she mentioned that Jacques Maritain was to speak for Delta Epsilon Sigma at the College of St. Benedict, a Sister asked, “Who’s Maritain?”

65. Grace McDonald, O.S.B., With Lamps Burning (St. Joseph, Minnesota: St. Benedict’s Priory Press, 1957), 219-23.

66. Kristin Malloy, interview by the author, 7 July 1995, St. Benedict’s Convent.

67. Kristin Malloy, summary of meeting, March 1958, GC.

68. Kristin Malloy, interview by the author, 7 July 1995. Doherty often quoted Bartholome to Malloy during his frequent interviews with her after that March session in which Doherty condemned Catcher in the Rye.

69. Bishop Bartholome to Mariella Gable, 15 July 1959, GC. Between March and August, 1958, Mother Richarda tried to ease the situation by trying to replace Jerome Doherty, but she was unsuccessful; Kristin Malloy, interview by the author, 7 July 1995.

70. Mariella Gable to Richarda Peters, O.S.B., 29 June 1958, GC.

71. Mariella Gable to Bishop Bartholome, 6 July 1959, GC.

72. Mariella Gable to Remberta Westkaemper, 26 July 1958, GC. Gable writes: “. . .I cannot wait a whole week to tell you about my talk with Father Gardiner. I felt as if I had been born again. One of the worst things I have ever suffered was the thing communicated to me by Father Jerome (Doherty] last Palm Sunday and which has never left me one single moment since—the question in my own mind as to whether or not I might have been a shade too liberal in our English department. One cannot take so much beating without a great deal of soul searching. I knew that before ‘God I was not accountable, because when one acts in good faith one’s conscience is clear. But there would be the whole question of standards to be considered now with renewed diligence. Father Gardiner put my mind at rest. I cannot tell you what a relief it was.”

73. Harold C. Gardiner, S.J., “The ‘Dangers’ of Literature,” America, 13 December 1958.

74. Michael Boyle, S.J., “Teaching ‘Dirty Books’ in College,” America, 13 December 1958.

75. Harold Gardiner to Mariella Gable, 25 November 1958, GC.

76. Mariella Gable to Thomas Egan, 14 August 1958, GC.

77. Mariella Gable to Thomas Egan, 10 January 1959, GC.

78. Mariella Gable to Thomas Egan, 12 August 1959, GC. Sister Thomas Carey’s art, particularly her crucifixes, were banned as “too modem” by Bishop Bartholome.

79. Mariella Gable to Remberta Westkaemper, 4 November 1959, GC.

80. Mary Thomes [Locke] to Mariella Gable, 23 December 1958, GC.

81. Roland Behrendt to Mariella Gable, 27 October 1958, GC.

82. Mariella Gable to Remberta Westkaemper, 26 July 1958, GC.

83. Herbert Slusser to Mariella Gable, 20 April 1963, GC.

84. Henrita Osendorf, O.S.B., to Mariella Gable, 10 March 1962, GC.

85. Mariella Gable, “Ecumenic Core in Flannery O’Connor’s Fiction, American Benedictine Review (June 1964); “Flannery O’Connor,” Esprit (Scranton, PA, Winter 1964): 25-27.

86. Nathan Scott to Mariella Gable, 1 May 1965, GC.

87. Mariella Gable to Thomas Egan, 16 December 1963, GC.

88. Mariella Gable to Thomas Egan, 1 March 1966, GC

89. Mariella Gable to Thomas Egan, undated letter, GC. This was probably the late sixties. Bishop  Bartholome retired in 1968, and Bishop Speltz took charge. Gable spoke at Cathedral High School at the invitation of Father James Rausch and Katherine [then Aquin] Kraft, O.S.B.

90. The preface to the manuscript states that the prison program was designed to “assist men who were dependent on drugs to overcome their need for chemical support.” Gable lectured on Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s The Phenomenon of Man and showed five filmstrips in connection with the book; The Central Minnesota Counsellor Newsletter (May 1972).

91. Mariella Gable, review of Flannery O’Connor, the Complete Stories, ed. by Robert Giroux, Sisters Today, (April 1972); review of De-schooling Society by Ivan Illich, Benedictines, (Spring-Summer 1974); review of The Heart of the Matter by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Spirituality Today (March 1980).

92. Bernetta Quinn, O.S.F., (1946), GC.

93. Mariella Gable, “Catholic Life and Catholic Fiction,” The Literature of Spiritual Values, 1-9.

94. Mariella Gable, Introduction to Great Modern Catholic Short Stories, The Literature of Spiritual Values, 11.

95. Mariella Gable, “Personality and Catholic Fiction” [introduction to Our Father’s House], The Literature of Spiritual Values, 18-21.

96. Mariella Gable, introduction to Many-Colored Fleece, The Literature of Spiritual Values, 29-30.

97. Mariella Gable, “The Novel,” The Literature of Spiritual Values, 56.

98. Ibid., 53.

99. Ibid., 56.

100. The definitions of Catholic fiction or Catholic writers run fromnarrow (Menendez) to unhelpful (Tynan). Albert J. Menendez, The Catholic Novel: An Annotated Bibliography (New York: Garland, 1988). Though Albert Menendez does not say that one must be Catholic to write Catholic fiction, he does insist that the Catholic novel reflect the “values, culture, and conflicts of the Roman Catholic faith and its community,” thus excluding novels obviously Catholic in spirit, such as Rumer Godden and Flannery O’Connor (xvi).

Daniel Tynan, ed., Biographical Dictionary of Contemporary Catholic American Writing (New York: Greenwood, 1989). Tynan includes all baptized Catholics because, whether or not they have accepted Catholicism as the major influence in their lives, they are likely to share “a concern for the impact of a Catholic vision of the world upon them” (xii).

More inclusive definitions come from Thomas Woodman, Peter Giles, and John Desmond. Thomas  Woodman, Faithful Fictions (Milton Keynes,  PA: Open University Press, 1991), says Catholic fiction “deals with specifically Catholic themes or subject matter”. . .”from a distinctly Catholic perspective and with a sufficient degree of inwardness” (ix). Peter Giles, American Catholic Arts and Fictions (Cambridge: Cambridge U Press, 1992), is not interested in deeming the Catholic novel, but instead examines the “continuing significance of religion, and specifically Roman Catholicism as an ideological force, within modern American literature, film, and photography” (1). Andrew Greeley explains “The Catholic Novels of Jon Hassler,” America, 17 November 1990, 366-67, 382. John Desmond, “Catholicism in Contemporary American Fiction,” America, 14 May 1994, 7-11, cites Flannery O’Connor’s assertion that Catholic fiction is concerned with three central truths—the fall of humanity, redemption, and judgment. He mentions ten major current writers of Catholic fiction and discusses briefly five more: Jon Hassler, Louise Erdrich, Andre Dubus, Richard Bausch, and Tobias Wolff. An interview with Mary Gordon by Patrick Samway is in the same issue of America.

101. Anita Gandolfo, Testing the Faith (New York: Greenwood, 1992), xii.

102. Ibid., 17-19.

103. Mary Gerhart, “What Ever Happened to the Catholic Novel?” in Morphologies of Faith, ed. Mary Gerhart and Anthony Yu (Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press, 1990), 200.

104. Mariella Gable, “The Novel,” The Literature of Spiritual Values,56.

105. Ibid., The author was tempted to name this book, The Literature of Ethical Values, in Wayne Booth’s sense of that term: “the entire range of effects on the ‘character’ or ‘person’ or ‘self” with moral judgments only a small part (Booth, The Company We Keep, Los Angeles: University of California, 1988, 8). Gable’s definition, however, stresses the spiritual values of humanity and” ethical” doesn’t quite suggest that.