Thursday, January 26, 2012


No, the subject of today's post is not the chap pictured here whose band, Hootie and the Blowfish, was a pop music sensation in the 1990s. The man I am referring to was Flannery O'Connor's confessor, spiritual director, and among her closest confidantes (unfortunately, I was unable to find a photo of him). Affectionately known as "Hootie" to all who loved him, Fr. James H. McCown, S.J. was born in Mobile, Alabama in 1912, the eldest child in a large family. He graduated from Spring Hill College in 1932 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1947. During Fr. McCown's ministry, he served the church as a missionary in Mexico, Kenya, Tanzania, and Alaska. In addition to his missionary activity, Fr. McCown worked in retreat houses in Texas and Louisiana and authored a number of books. It was while he was assistant pastor at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Macon (1953-58) that he met O'Connor. Taken as he was with her first collection of short stories, Fr. McCown decided to drive out to Andalusia to meet the author. The two hit it off immediately, and Flannery later confessed that Fr. McCown was "the first priest to say 'turkey-dog' to me about liking anything I wrote." Besides being the priest she trusted most, Fr. McCown recommended O'Connor to Harold C. Gardiner, SJ, the literary editor of America, who published her essay "The Church and the Fiction Writer" on March 30, 1957. Besides turning to Fr. McCown for spiritual matters, Flannery also consulted the priest about literary concerns. In March, 1962, O'Connor was having serious writer's block and feared the well was running dry. She wrote to McCown asking him to pray for her. "I've been writing for sixteen years and I have the sense of having exhausted my original potentiality and being now in need of the kind of grace that deepens perception, a new shot of life or something." (The Habit of Being, p. 468). Some six years before Flannery died, Fr. McCown was reassigned to Houston, Texas, and though they continued to correspond, the two never saw each other again this side of heaven. It was in 1991, when he was on the road leading a retreat as he loved to do, that Fr. McCown died at the age of 80. Last week, Southern Cross, the newsweekly of the Diocese of Savannah, ran a story on Fr. McCown. The reader who is interested in learning more about Fr. James H. McCown is encouraged to check out this interesting article by Rita H. DeLorme (Southern Cross, vol. 92, No. 03, January 19, 2012, p. 5).
- Mark

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