All Converts Together

A recent issue of the National Catholic Register, a Roman Catholic newspaper, journalist Rick Becker writes of his discovery and enjoyment of Mary Frances Coadey’s 2015 book  Merton and Waugh: A Monk, A Crusty Old Man, and The Seven Storey Mountain. He was particularly taken with how these two converts to  Roman Catholicism ended up supporting each other’s beliefs from their different life perspectives of worldly novelist and Trappist monk. Becker also recounts Waugh’s interaction with Dorothy Day, another convert, and notes how, despite her social activism, which made the conservative Waugh uneasy, he ended up supporting her cause with contributions. This relationship is also a subject of Coadey’s book.

It is Becker’s observation, based in part on Coadey’s book, that converts withdraw from their non-Catholic friends, who provide no religious support, and form relationships in a closer knit, exclusively Roman Catholic environment. Yet, that was certainly not the case with Waugh. As Becker recognizes, Waugh did not become a close friend or long-term correspondent with either Merton or Day. But contrary to Becker’s theory, Waugh’s  regular long-term correspondents, with the exception of Graham Greene, were non-Catholics. These included Nancy Mitford, Ann Fleming, and Diana Cooper. In the most notable case of Waugh’s nudging his friends toward conversion, the result was not a happy one. Penelope Betjeman converted and her husband John remained steadfastly Anglican, took up with a mistress and effectively ended their marriage.

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