This past Friday, the faculty and students of Thomas More College gathered in the Humanities room of the library in order to consider the great 20th century American novelist, Walker Percy.
As part of the monthly series of Traditio seminars, the College was privileged to have as a guest lecturer the Reverend Michael D. Kerper, who offered an evening presentation entitled Walker Percy: The Conversion Story that Converts. Fr. Kerper is a priest of the Diocese of Manchester, and is currently the pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in nearby Nashua. He is also a regular contributor to the diocesan magazine Parable.
Throughout the semester, Thomas More students are periodically asked to consider in common readings that draw on major themes taken from the College’s wider curriculum, such as Friendship, Suffering, Peace and War. Following an afternoon conversation led by faculty members, in which students are invited to take part, the College reconvenes after supper for an evening lecture.
Continuing the theme of City and Cosmic Order begun by a common reading of Solzhenitsyn’s Harvard Address and Plato’s Timaeus, the student body was invited to consider several of Walker Percy’s essays, including “The Loss of the Creature.” These essays formed the context for the afternoon discussion, which opened with a few remarks from Writer-in-Residence Joseph Pearce, followed by an introductory survey of Percy’s writings from Dr. Patrick Powers. Dr. Powers focused on Percy’s novel The Moviegoer, pointing out the humorous and unconventional way in which Percy’s novels convey a Catholic view of the world. The afternoon session concluded with a question-and-answer session, which was opened up to participating students.
As he began his evening lecture, Fr. Kerper explained his own fascination with Walker Percy’s novels. “I first encountered Percy at the right time in my life,” he said. “I found his idea of alienation to correspond to much of my own experience as a Catholic trying to remain faithful in the midst of a secular milieu. I would like to offer his novels not so much as a specimen of 20th century literature—though they are great novels—as much as a cause for hope.”
Beginning with citations from Bernard Lonergan and Romano Guardini, Fr. Kerper first offered a definition of conversion, followed by an extended overview of Percy’s life and major influences, as well as major themes found in his novels. “In Percy’s view, the modern sense of alienation and the consequent search for meaning does not itself produce the answer to our malaise, but puts one in the position to hear the message of grace – the call to conversion.” As he went on to say, Percy believed that there can be a genuine rapprochement between the world and the Catholic, but one that requires a breakthrough of the ‘everydayness’ of contemporary life. After concluding his lecture, Fr. Kerper brought the seminar to a close by addressing questions from the audience.