Welcoming two ‘men of the cloth’

The 2018 Festival sees a welcome return of two priests who have presented talks at previous festivals. On Saturday afternoon, The Reverend Mark Bosco of Georgetown University will give what sounds like a topical paper entitled, Coloring Catholicism  Greene in the Age of Pope Francis. On Friday morning, Monsignor Roderick Strange will present the inaugural ‘David Pearce Memorial Talk’, Graham Greene: Treachery and Trust. Monsignor Strange is currently Professor of Theology at St. Mary’s University, Twickenham.

Graham Greene enjoyed friendships with Catholic priests at various stages throughout his life although his first encounter with Father Trollope, who was to guide him to his eventual reception into the Church, was inauspicious. Father Trollope, ‘at first sight … was all I detested most in my private image of the Church’, he admitted in his autobiography A Sort of Life.

While some of Greene’s relationships with Catholic priests such as Leopoldo Durán and Philip Caraman have been well documented, others are less well known. A case in point is Fr. Anthony Bischoff, a Jesuit priest and academic who Greene met through a mutual friend, Fr. Philip Caraman, at the Jesuit Church at Farm Street  in London (left). The earliest collected letter from the writer, almost certainly dating from 1949, is tentative in tone suggesting a lack of acquaintance, ‘Dear Tony – that is right, isn’t it …’.

Very soon, the correspondence falls into a pattern, regular but not intense, with Bischoff pursuing a teaching career at Gonzaga University, Spokane and Greene travelling and working incessantly. This means that they meet infrequently, closely missing one another at various times in Florence, Paris and New York. Greene, very early on in their relationship, assures Bischoff that he could always write ‘candidly’ although he should make sure he marked such letters, ‘Personal’, an interesting inversion of the customary priest-laity relationship.

The correspondence reveals that Bischoff felt frustrated and isolated living and working on America’s West Coast. In 1970, Greene asks, ’What have you done against the Society (the Jesuits) that they keep you in exile so long at Spokane?’ Seventeen years later, Bischoff is still there. ‘I can’t bear to think of you stuck in Spokane among the retired and sick. I always think of you as a young man … Of course I will pray for you,’ he writes. The priest endured further, intense personal disappointment when his life-long project on the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins was rejected for publication.

Greene’s letters are frequently tinged with pessimism and a sense of inadequacy which matched his often depressed state of mind. In October 1949 he writes, ‘I have nothing to tell you about but general boredom and driness (sic). My film The Third Man has had success, but it doesn’t really lift one.’

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this correspondence is the show of true affection and openness on Greene’s part who too often is portrayed as being acerbic, cynical and guarded. ‘I’m a very bad correspondent,’ he writes on one occasion, ‘ but this does not mean I have in any way forgotten you and that you don’t frequently come to my thoughts’. Poignantly, his last letter, dated February 25th 1991, and signed with a shaky hand, reads, ‘Alas I need all your prayers for my health is very bad indeed and has been for two years’, perhaps a reminder that although Greene’s faith had waned over the years, it had not been entirely eclipsed

The archive collection of correspondence between the Reverend Anthony D. Bischoff SJ and Graham Greene comprises some 37 letters, postcards and telegrams from Greene and is held at Gonzaga University, Spokane, Washington State.