Friday, February 17, 2012

Censor Liborum

As luck would have it, during my retreat at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit last week I met a fellow retreatant who had actually known Fr. Paul Bourne, the monk who was the subject of last week's post. He shared with me some of his memories of Fr. Paul. For example, few knew (including this man) that Fr. Paul was chief censor for the Trappist order in America and was thus responsible for reviewing the manuscripts of writers like Thomas Merton prior to publication. According to one of the monks at Holy Spirit, "Paul Bourne was strict on Merton. He was finicky about any sexual stuff, and said that he had gotten some 'whining and complaining letters' from Merton. He taught us Church history on Tuesday mornings, was a litterateur, not a liberal, and had read all of Flannery's stuff. I think she saw in him a kindred spirit." (Brad Gooch, Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor, p. 327) Fr. Bourne may have been Merton's bete noire, but he was such a humble man that he didn't think his holding such a distinguished position in the order as censor liborum was worth mentioning even to friends. As the above citation makes clear, and what my friend at the monastery reiterated, was Paul Bourne's enthusiasm for Flannery. Though he may have been taciturn by nature, when it came to O'Connor Fr. Paul wasn't a bit shy in telling others about Flannery O'Connor. He thought the girl from Milledgeville was the bomb.
- Mark

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