While the world is still reeling from the news that Pope Benedict will abdicate the Chair of Peter at the end of the month, this week’s Whiskey Men series focuses on a man who perhaps understood Existential Crises better than any other major American Catholic figure.
Walker Percy: Catholic and Benedictine Oblate, American and Southerner, Author and Philosopher. He was certainly a man of distinction.
Born in 1916 to a Southern Protestant family, his childhood was marked by tragedy. Both of his parents died by the time Walker was 15, resulting in his moving in with a second cousin. After graduating from Columbia University Medical School, he contracted tuberculosis while performing an autopsy. During his recuperation, he began to read Existential Philosophy and later started attending Mass daily. He eventually decided to be received into the Catholic Church at the age of 31.
After pursuing literature as a career, Walker published his first solo novel in 1961. The Moviegoer became a instant classic. Since winning the National Book Award, The Moviegoer has become part of the American canon of Literature. The character of Binx Bolling: his existential crises, his relationships, and his faith leave a lasting impression on the reader. The novel intertwines philosophy and faith into Southern themes reminiscent of those of Flannery O’Connor and other Southern Catholic authors. After The Moviegoer, Walker Percy published 5 other novels, each of which brings in themes and questions which are edifying for the Catholic reader.
He became influenced by the Benedictine charism later in life, eventually becoming a secular oblate of the order. After dying in 1990 at the age of 73, he was buried at St. Joseph’s Benedictine Abbey in Louisiana.
Walker Percy was a devout Catholic who understood the existential crises common to modern man. His insights provide a great insight into the ways in which modern man deals with situations, both successfully and unsuccessfully. Both the example of a virtuous life and the greatness of his literary works are beneficial for the Catholic Gentleman to look to. He was a true Catholic (Southern) Gentleman.
“Jews wait for the Lord, Protestants sing hymns to Him, Catholics say Mass and eat Him.” — Walker Percy (Love in the Ruins)
As mentioned previously on Whiskey Catholic, we will be devoting a full post soon to Walker Percy’s positively sublime essay (and Whiskey Catholic manifesto) Bourbon, Neat