Seamus Brennan ‘20
On Monday, Apr. 23, the McFarland Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture hosted Randy Boyagoda, a Catholic writer and professor of English at the University of Toronto, for a lecture entitled “My Flannery O’Connor Problem, and Yours …” in Rehm Library. The lecture was a part of the Deitchman Family Lectures on Religion and Modernity series, which explores religious and spiritual life in the modern age.
Boyagoda’s lecture was centered on his frustration with Flannery O’Connor’s definitive and sometimes dominating stature within the world of Catholic literature. Throughout his lecture, Boyagoda discussed his own challenges in authoring religiously serious fiction in 2018, when the terms for doing so are often overshadowed, he noted, by the immense literary influences and popularity of Catholic writers such as Flannery O’Connor and Marilynne Robinson.
Boyagoda explained that the notion of the “Catholic family” has served as a major influence within his writing career, as it has allowed him to “prove something” unique about himself and his writing to the secular world around him. He suggested that his “Catholic” label is an important marker of his identity that leads to important assumptions and expectations about himself and his writing.
“[Holy Cross] English Professor Jonathan Mulrooney brought Professor Boyagoda’s work to our attention, and we welcomed the opportunity to approach Catholic literature from the perspective of someone so highly regarded for both teaching and practicing the craft,” said Thomas Landy, Director of the McFarland Center at Holy Cross.
Landy continued, “The Deitchman Lectures are a distinguished series that explores the place of religious and spiritual life in the modern world. The lectures sometimes span historical views of religion and modernity, and sometimes illuminate specific religious practices or religion’s role in navigating contemporary social justice concerns. This talk folds in a focus on the humanities and vocation in exploring modern Catholic intellectual life.”
“Last fall I noticed an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education by a Dean and professor at St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto. The article, about teaching at a Catholic school affiliated with a large secular university, turned out to be by Randy Boyagoda, an old grad school colleague of mine. We had an email exchange and, with Tom Landy’s encouragement and support, [Holy Cross] invited him to speak,” said Jonathan Mulrooney, Associate Professor of English at Holy Cross.
“Professor Boyagoda’s talk about his work as a Catholic writer provided for students an example of a vital and engaged Catholic intellectual life. We wanted them to get a sense of how Professor Boyagoda integrated his teaching and his writing, and how both are shaped by his commitment to a Catholic way of imagining and understanding the world,” Mulrooney explained.
Boyagoda concluded his lecture with a passage from his forthcoming novel, “Original Prin,” slated for release later this year.
Boyagoda’s other published works include novels: “Governor of the Northern Province” (2006) and “Beggar’s Feast” (2011), a biography: “Richard John Neuhaus: A Life in the Public Square” (2015), and a scholarly monograph: “Race, Immigration and American Identity in the Fiction of Salman Rushdie, Ralph Ellison, and William Faulkner” (2007). He regularly writes essays, reviews, and opinion pieces for publications including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, First Things, Harper’s, Financial Times, Guardian, New Statesman, Globe and Mail, and National Post and he makes frequent appearances on CBC Radio.