(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

An expansive four-part novel, North of Hope chronicles Father Frank Healy’s efforts to revive his languishing vocation as a Catholic priest. As he admits in therapy, “I’ve sprung a very big leak, and my spirit is draining away.”

Part 1 recounts Frank’s adolescence in the northern Minnesota town of Linden Falls, including his dying mother’s seminal wish that her son join the priesthood. This message is relayed through Eunice Pfeiffer, who kept a deathbed vigil while Frank served as altar boy at Christmas Mass. Adrian Lawrence, the parish priest, befriends Frank and quietly supports his desire to serve God. Frank’s choice is also manipulated by Eunice’s pious mothering. Unable to gain the affections of the widower, she devotes herself to making a priest of the widower’s son. Another influence on Frank’s decision is his hero, Father Zell, a nineteenth century missionary who served the Ojibway Indians and died from exposure while carrying Communion wafers across frozen Lake Sovereign.

In 1949 during his senior year, Frank’s first and only crush is on Libby Girard. A newcomer to Linden Falls, she catches Frank’s eye at the cinema. A voice in Frank’s head intuits that “she’s the one,” and Libby finds in the gentle teenager a refuge from her volatile home life. Though the confidants share walks to school, Frank watches from the sidelines as Libby wins her share of admirers. When she entreats Frank to take her to his house for a few hours’ respite, he panics and abandons her. Libby aims to marry early and cannot fathom Frank’s contemplation of the priesthood. Frank experiences his first dance and kiss with Libby, pleasures followed by heartbreak as, in quick succession, she gets pregnant, withdraws from school, marries the father of her child, moves to a farm, and gives birth. Frank heads to Aquinas Seminary to begin theological studies. To mortify his soul and to erase memories of Libby, he denies himself sufficient sustenance and warmth. When a recently divorced Libby gate-crashes the male enclave, Frank is both embarrassed and tempted by her disclosure of love. Ultimately he rejects her proposal for a life together.

Part 2 continues Father Frank Healy’s story decades later,...

(The entire section is 920 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Block, Ed. “A Conversation with Jon Hassler.” Image: A Journal of the Arts and Religion 19 (Spring, 1998): 41-58. In this interview, Hassler reviews his career as a writer and examines the many connections between his faith and his fiction.

Brown, W. Dale. “Jon Hassler: Happy Man.” In Of Fiction and Faith: Twelve American Writers Talk About Their Vision and Work. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1997. Traces characters’ values and behaviors to the author’s Catholicism.

Hassler, Jon. “Conversation with Jon Hassler: North of Hope.” Interview by Joseph Plut. Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature 55, no. 2 (Winter, 2003): 145-164. Hassler shares the origins of certain characters, settings, and events in North of Hope, including biographical links.

Low, Anthony. “Jon Hassler: Catholic Realist.” Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature 47, no. 1 (Fall, 1994): 59-70. Examines Hassler’s oeuvre in the light of its religiosity and realism.

Narveson, Robert D. “Catholic-Lutheran Interaction in Keillor’s Lake Wobegon Days and Hassler’s Grand Opening.” In Exploring the Midwestern Imagination, edited by Marcia Noe. Troy, N.Y.: Whitston, 1993. Compares Hassler’s interdenominational presentation of Christian life in rural Minnesota with that of Garrison Keillor.