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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