The Catholic Studies Reader

By James T. Fisher; Margaret M. McGuinness | Go to book overview

1 “The Story Is What Saves Us”
American Catholic Memoirs

DEBRA CAMPBELL

I cannot totally grasp all that I am.

Saint Augustine

Autobiographical works such as Augustine’s Confessions are the very foundation of Catholic Studies.1 Even a cursory look at the footnotes in the comprehensive histories of American Catholicism published since the 1950s reveals how deeply our understanding of the evolution of Catholic life in North America is grounded in life-writings,anelastic term for personal narratives presented in a variety of genres and formats, from travel narratives and traditional memoirs to autobiographical fiction and specialized hybrids (conversion and departure narratives, “Why I am a Catholic” books, and so on). Life-writings are pervasive and various, yet they are frequently neglected as a separate topic in Catholic Studies. This chapter adopts an exploratory approach and examines some representative texts that belong in the emerging canon in the field of Catholic Studies, suggesting ways to think about these kinds of narratives in all of their diversity.2 One of the primary functions served by life-writings in Catholic Studies is to remind readers from all denominations, vocations, and walks of life that the Catholic Church is a community composed of individuals whose identities are deeply informed by a common faith and sharply varying experiences of Catholic lived religion. When we try to make sense of the massive institutional presence and imposing intellectual heritage of Catholicism, it is crucial to keep the actual life experiences of Catholic people in mind.

There is a sense in which all life-writings belong in the category of travel literature. It is no coincidence that the metaphor of the pilgrimage (or journey) is so frequently invoked in discussions of autobiographical writings of all kinds, not just the ones that are explicitly spiritual.

-19-

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