Father Francis Chisolm is, without a doubt, the most inspiring character in the works of A. J. Cronin. In Francis, Cronin has created what in demeanor and appearance would be a most ordinary human being, but Cronin also shows how little appearance means compared to the inner nature of the man of conviction who is determined to leave the world a better place. Francis’ inspiration lies in a humble nature and in a total commitment to humanity, not to Church dogma or Church politics. Because he is lacking in surface conviviality, he is not seen as the real success he is by his superiors.
In addition to this, there is his religious tolerance, a lesson which he learned by the death of his parents: He chooses not to impose his religious faith upon those who are not receptive to it. This tolerance is best exemplified by his friendship with Dr. Willie Tulloch, a friend of Francis from childhood on. Willie, a physician, comes to assist Francis at the mission in China during a terrible plague and finally dies for his efforts. Francis’ regard for Willie shocks Mother Maria-Veronica because Willie was always an atheist and dies unrepentant and unconverted.
Francis’ tolerance is again seen with the coming of Dr. Fiske to the town of Pai-tan. Dr. Fiske, an American Methodist missionary, is regarded by some of Francis’ flock as a rival whom they would drive away as an unwanted competitor for the souls of the people. Instead, Francis befriends Dr. Fiske and his wife; together they do much to help the lives of the people of the town. At the heart of Francis’ faith is his respect for the...
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