Telling Stories that Matter

978-1-58731-865-8; 978-1-58731-866-5
New Books
Hardback $35, E-book $22
Edited by William G. Schmitt, Foreword by Wilson D. Miscamble, C.S.C, Afterword by David Solomon, 6" x 9", 300 pages

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Telling Stories that Matter

Memoirs and Essays

O'Connell, Marvin R.

The late historian Marvin O’Connell left a legacy of brilliant prose and pictures of the past, and in this book the reader at long last has access to O’Connell’s own story. Fr. Bill Miscamble, a noted historian and scholar in his own right, attributes to O’Connell the title ‘Master’ above all on account of his ability to know what matters and then write about it “in the way that all great stories are told.” In addition to his status as histor (giver of history), O’Connell was a long-time professor and chair of the history department at the University of Notre Dame. He is author of the masterwork, Sorin, which presents the riveting and dynamic narrative of the founding of Notre Dame on the inspired ambition of Edward Sorin, C.S.C. O’Connell was not a man who “genuflected in hagiography.” Rather, in the manner he lived faithfully yet soberly under the shining shadow of the Golden Dome, O’Connell told stories in the manner they were lived and with all the accompanying faults and triumphs.

In Miscamble’s thorough introduction of O’Connell, he writes that the latter “utilized his striking talents as a historian as an integral part of his fundamental vocation as a priest. [O’Connell] once described the historian as a veritable ‘midwife to our faith,’ who must capture, as best as evidence will allow, the truth of the past.” This position lends itself to the structure of this work. The first part is the sadly incomplete memoirs of Fr. O’Connell, wherein the reader meets the historian and moves with eagerness and confidence into the essays that follow. Highlights of these collected essays include thoughts on Cardinal Newman, Belloc, the Spanish Inquisition, and the historical perspective of evangelization in the United States and modernism at large. What one reads are stories that might have been lost but are here are preserved in what can with all moral certainty be called truthfulness. As his friend Ralph McInerny once qualified him, O’Connell combined compassion and judgment such that his histories were always indeed primarily stories and, as the reader well knows, stories have layers and threads and are not told simply for their conclusions.

O’Connell succeeds in showing one how human history is written. Above all, he reveals that history is made by humans, but must also be remembered and deciphered by humans who cannot forego leaving their own marks and prints on everything they encounter (in memory or otherwise). The objectivity we seek can be found in one historical account alone, asserts the priest-storyteller, yet a sharp eye to the past is always consonant with a compassionate desire to understand. Bill Schmitt, Fr. Bill Miscamble and David Solomon do posterity a service by giving us this man and his masterful engagement of history. These friends of O’Connell deem the historian’s passion for truth-in-context to be foundational for shaping stories that matter, including his own.