Kristin Malloy, O.S.B. and Irish Voices
Summer '92 was when Sister Kristin came into my life. I had known her-or more accurately, known about her-before then, but in the general way that members of our two monastic communities are aware of one another. We were both in the English department but I had been on leave for administrative roles of one sort or another since 1978, and earlier than that she had been famously Banished By The Bishop for rashly exposing impressionable college students to Holden Caulfield's bad language.
Now in 1992 I was returning to teaching in the heady early years of the Freshman Symposium. Asked what the topic of my section would be I had responded "Irish Voices." What inspired me to pick that topic out of the blue was Jennifer Johnston's Shadows on Our Skin, a novel about the contemporary Troubles that friends had brought me from Ireland. I liked it a lot and thought I would like to read other contemporary Irish writers. A drawback was that I didn't know any other contemporary Irish writers.
This is where Kristin came into the picture. She was back on active status in the department, too. It seemed only common sense to ask her if she had any suggestions about authors between Joyce and Johnston whom one might read to fill out a two-semester course.
You can imagine asking Kristin Malloy if she had any suggestions about anything Irish! She had reams of suggestions in the form of duplicated materials, mostly short stories, that she had put together at one time or another. Suddenly I was poring over Edna O'Brien, Mary Lavin (a GREAT favorite of hers; they were all favorites), Benedict Kiely, Sean O'Faolain, Frank O'Connor (of course), William Trevor, John McGahern, Maeve Binchy, and on and on.
My idea was to start in the fall semester with current Irish writers, a couple of films, some poems, a play or two, and work back to the giants in the early part of the century, Yeats and Joyce, to be honest the only Irish writers about whom I had once upon a time had a little schooling.
Kristin thought this was just fine. She called my attention to a couple of other giants, O'Casey and Synge, and to Somerville and Ross, not exactly giants but collaborators in evoking the flavor of life in Ascendency Ireland before WW I.
Above all, she called my attention to Irish history and to Ireland itself. Three years earlier I had been in Ireland for a week with Father Eugene McGlothlin, himself no slouch in things Irish, and I had a bit of the feel of Galway, Mayo, Donegal, but Kristin knew a whole alphabet of counties to the south and east as well, and she relished the earthy humor of The Tailor and Anstey as much as the TV version of The Irish R.M.
In all of this I was getting to know Kristin herself-her rich delight in life, her good cheer, her graciousness, her command of blarney in a good cause, her relish of the ironies of her own life. From one of her Irish tours she brought me a black T-shirt commemorating Yeats. I still have it, more gray than black by now, but I wouldn't think of parting with this tangible link to a woman who radiated wit and intelligence and joy. It is a pleasure to have known her as both colleague and friend.