illustrated portrait of American author Flannery O'Connor

Flannery O'Connor

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In Flannery O'Connor's childhood, what was her perspective towards church and religion?

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Flannery O’Connor was a deeply devout Roman Catholic and wrote from an obviously Christian (and particularly Catholic) perspective when she became an adult author. Yet she seems to have been a sincere Christian and devout Catholic from a very early age. Nothing suggests that she objected to the Catholic religious training she received as a girl, and, in fact, in some ways she was more orthodox than many Catholic adults. By the time she arrived at college, especially graduate school, she was exceptionally devout and exceptionally interested in defending and even advocating her faith.

References to the role of religion in O’Connor’s youth can be found in nearly all the biographies about her.  Brad Gooch, for instance, in his important study of her life (Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor), notes the following relevant facts:

  • Her strongest grade in all subjects, during one year of her schooling, was in catechism (p. 32).
  • As an adult, she joked that she had had fist fights with her guardian angel when she was a child (p. 36).
  • Most significantly, she later said that her first communion had felt

as natural to me and about as startling as brushing my teeth. (p. 36)

In other words, from a very young age she felt perfectly at ease and at home in the Church.

  • Later, she seems to have no problem at all being confirmed in the Church (p. 37).
  • The young O’Connor seemed to have attended church regularly while a girl (p. 62).
  • The funeral service for O’Connor’s father, who died while she was still young, took place in a Catholic church (p. 70).
  • She was still a regular church-goer when she became a young woman (p. 99).
  • She even debated church history with one of her college professors, taking a very orthodox line (p. 114).
  • While in graduate school, she was a particularly faithful church-goer (p. 120).

In short, almost all the evidence seems to suggest that O’Connor was just as pious a girl as she later became a pious adult.  Christianity seems to have been an important influence on her life almost from the beginning and definitely remained such an influence until she died.


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