A. J. Cronin’s The Keys of the Kingdom is the story of a man who never fit in.
The suicide of the woman he loves drives Francis Chisholm into the priesthood. He’s more interested in practical faith than in proclamations of piety. Francis ticks off one priest by organizing a community center. He offends another by discovering a miracle was a girl’s overactive imagination.
The church sends Francis off to China. His “flourishing missionary compound” turns out to be a shambles, his parishioners “rice Christians.”
Refusing to buy converts, Francis opens a free medical clinic, takes in orphan girls, and establishes a school. He also establishes a relationship with a Catholic community in a remote mountain village and a friendship with a Methodist missionary couple.
Mostly, however, Francis wins respect rather than friends. The church retires him to Scotland, leaving his mission to priests with better PR sense.
Readers would probably not care for Francis in the flesh, but in the novel he’s a sympathetic character, both noble and flawed. And Cronin’s China scenes are reminiscent of Pearl S. Buck.
Though hardly great literature, The Keys of the Kingdom is a good read with a spiritually uplifting tone that’s free of any offensive doctrinal foundation.The Keys of the Kingdom
By A. J. Cronin
1941 bestseller #1