Morte d'Urban Additional Summary

J. F. Powers


(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Morte d’Urban (literally meaning “death of Urban”) describes the rise and fall of Father Urban Roche, a priest in the Chicago province of the Order of Saint Clement, an order dedicated to preaching and teaching. Urban became a Clementine after being inspired as a boy by one of their dynamic, outgoing preachers, Father Placidus. One of the Clementines’ leading preachers, he travels by train throughout the Midwest giving parish missions. Father Urban, however, considers the Clementines a mediocre group. They compete with the Dalmatian and Dolomite orders. The province head, Father Boniface, transfers him to a newly established retreat house in Duesterhaus, Minnesota, removing him from the mission circuit. Urban is accompanied by Jack Kelleher, a burned-out preacher who clings to tiresome Clementine devotional publications. Father Urban’s patron, Billy Cosgrove, is a wealthy yet shady character.

Arriving at the retreat house, Father Urban finds it a rambling complex, renovated in a happenstance manner. The rector is the parsimonious Father Wilfrid “Wilf” Bestudik, assisted by Brother Harold Peters, a jack of all trades. Father Urban retires to his sparse bedroom, underheated to reduce costs. In their first chapter meeting, they haggle over mundane matters such as the naming of their location (eventually St. Clement’s Hill), the design of a tedious brochure to attract retreatants, and squirrels and rats on the premises. A rivalry exists between Wilf and Urban. The former is a narrow-minded pinchpenny and the latter, indulgent and garrulous. The rector expects Urban to submit to drab routines, repressing his “star” power. Nonetheless, their petty arguments over how to set up a Nativity crib or expenses for using a phone or electric heater are usually won by Urban. Passive-aggressive resistance makes the rector submit.

Father Urban goes as a visiting parish priest to St. Monica’s in Great Plains, seat of the diocese....

(The entire section is 803 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Father Urban Roche, born Harvey Roche in a small town in Illinois, is fifty-four years old and a longtime member of the Order of Saint Clement, a small order of Roman Catholic priests based in Chicago. Urban spends a number of years traveling and raising money for the order when, one day after a mass he says in a suburban Chicago church, he is approached by Billy Cosgrove.

Cosgrove, a wealthy man given to frequent golfing and sailing outings, later meets Urban at South Bend, Indiana, after a Notre Dame University football game. Hailing Urban from his chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce, Cosgrove becomes a mysterious and capricious force in Urban’s life. Their relationship, from the beginning, is based on a strange kind of material need—on Billy’s need to give Urban money and things, and on Urban’s professional courting of a generous and affluent man. Urban gives Billy a load of firewood from the Saint Clement novitiate; later, over the course of time, Cosgrove endows the Clementines with items for their foundation in Minnesota, builds a golf course for the order, and invites Urban on fishing expeditions.

In the meantime, however, Urban is banished by Father Boniface to backwoods Minnesota, where a Clementine priest, Wilfrid “Bunny” Bestudik, presides over a tiny group of men clustered in a former sanatorium. Bunny has the idea of saving the facility, and even the order, from oblivion by transforming the outpost into a retreat center. Much work needs to be done on the buildings, work which, Bunny insists, can be done by the resident clerics.

Urban has a very difficult time adjusting to his new role and, in fact, does not try very hard to work as a member of the small Clementine team. He complains of the cold and...

(The entire section is 715 words.)