Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

St. Clement’s Hill

St. Clement’s Hill. White elephant of a retreat house located near the fictional town of Duesterhaus, Minnesota, and a symbol of the Clementine order’s struggle for survival. In Father Urban’s mind, the central question confronting the Clementines is whether St. Clement’s Hill will end up “as one more spot where the good seed of its zeal had fallen and flourished, or as another where the order had lost out?” In a practical sense the task handed Father Urban primarily involves his being able to apply his entrepreneurial talents to his new environs. It is a switch rich in irony. Chicago had provided for him a market he had become accustomed to, a vast commercial landscape upon which he could wheel and deal with a unique mix of business insight and religious devotion. He had been the order’s star performer. Then suddenly and without clear cause, he is banished to a backwater retreat house where a devoted priest’s view is expected to turn within, especially to the direction his life is taking. However, Father Urban’s entrepreneurial instincts are still on display immediately upon his arrival at St. Clement’s Hill. One of his first reactions to the facility is to the welcoming signboard whose “lettering was sharp and elegant, worthy of a tombstone” but whose colors “didn’t do much for each other” and had the overall effect of stating “fresh eggs for sale.”


*Chicago. Major midwestern city in...

(The entire section is 613 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Evans, Fallon, and Thomas Merton. J. F. Powers. St. Louis, Mo.: Herder, 1968. A collection of articles including four on Morte d’Urban, one by the famous Trappist writer Thomas Merton.

Hagopian, John V. J. F. Powers. Twayne’s United States Authors 130. New York: Twayne, 1968. This concise examination of Powers’s life and work (to the mid-1960’s) emphasizes the acuteness and subtlety of his observations of Catholic clerical life, especially as presented in Morte d’Urban.

Henault, Marie. “The Saving of Father Urban.” America 108 (March 2, 1963): 290-292. A study of the Arthurian references in the novel.

Hinchcliffe, Arnold P. “Nightmare of Grace.” Blackfriars 45 (February, 1964): 61-69. A consideration of what Hinchliffe calls the “Mammon of Iniquity” theme in the novel.

Merton, Thomas. “Morte d’Urban: Two Celebrations.” Worship 36 (November, 1962): 645-650. Defends Powers against charges of anticlericalism and calls the novel a work of genius.

Settimo, Scott R. “What Fellowship Has Light with Darkness? A Carmelite Reading of J. F. Powers.” Master’s thesis. St. Benedict, Oreg.: Mount Angel Seminary, 2005. Analyzes works of J. F. Powers in relation to their treatment of progress, or the lack of such, in spritual growth.

Sisk, John P. “Morte d’Urban, by J. F. Powers.” Renascence 16 (1963): 101. According to Hagopian, Sisk’s review of the novel is one of the best early assessments.

Tartt, Donna. “The Glory of J. F. Powers: A Writer’s Work Is Resurrected.” Harper’s 301, no. 1802 (July, 2000): 69-74. A positive reassessment of Powers’s work two decades after he had achieved the pinnacle of his production and critical acclaim.