Doubleday says I Heard the Owl Call My Name is Margaret Craven’s her first novel, but that description is a bit overblown. Owlis really a longish short story. All the narrative bones are in place without the flesh and guts to make it a novel.
A Catholic Bishop sends a young, newly-ordained priest to a remote Native American community in British Columbia where running water means a river. There are no roads, no electricity, no telephone, no doctor.
Young Mark Brian has to adjust to a new role in an unfamiliar culture among people whose language he doesn’t know in a rural village miles from anyone he knows.
Mark is quickly captivated by the setting: the sea, rivers, fish, animals, and landscape enthrall him. The children are next to win his heart.
Mark is blessed with ability to listen and empathize, not forcing his ways on his congregation. Unlike most outsiders, Mark realizes the value of the traditional native traditions.
He is as torn as many of his parishioners are at the realization that the community is doomed to extinction.
I wish another writer had attempted to turn this story into a novel. A novel of this sort requires the author get inside the characters. Craven doesn’t do that.
I Heard the Owl Call My Name
by Margaret Craven
Doubleday,  166 p.
1974 bestseller #8. My grade: B
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
The Cardinal opens with Father Stephen Fermoyle returning to Boston after study in Rome. Stephen’s first job as a curate is under “Dollar Bill” Monaghan, a gifted fundraiser who is suspicious of Stephen’s mystical and intellectual bent.
Stephen next serves an impoverished parish under a saintly priest with no financial abilities at all. Stephen steps into the breech, revealing an aptitude for management.
The Diocese next sends Stephen to the Vatican where his first job is sorting the diplomatic mail that arrives from all over the world. As he learns, he gets more and more responsibility.
In 1927 the Pope sends Stephen back to America as Bishop of Hartfield.
At 44, Stephen bcomes the youngest Archbishop in the US. When the next pope is elected, Stephen is one of the red hatted cardinals voting their choice.
Henry Morton Robinson writes as a lay Catholic, loyal to the Church but not blind to the faults of its leaders. Robinson makes Stephen human, subject to temptations but strong enough to walk away from them.
Unlike most religious novelists, Robinson focuses on the managerial and administrative work of the clergy. This perspective lets Robinson give nuanced portrait of a man who often finds his religious obligations require him to surpress his own spiritual longings.
By Henry Morton Robinson
Simon and Schuster, 1950
#1 bestselling novel in 1950
My grade: B+