By Ellen Petersen, The Circuit.
Dr. Stephen Mirarchi is working to revitalize the works of a forgotten author, Myles Connolly.
Mirarchi, Associate Professor in the English Department, became interested in the works of Myles Connolly after a student recommended his book Mr. Blue, published 1928, and saw that the author was in danger of being forgotten.
Connolly is best known as a Hollywood producer and writer for over 40 of the most notable Old-Hollywood films, including “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” “State of the Union” and “Harvey.”
He was, however, an author of several Catholic parable novels, all of which were unpopular at the time of their publication.
After reading Mr. Blue, the story of a contemporary St. Francis-like figure living as a poor man in New York City after selling his inheritance, Mirarchi began using the book in his English classes.
“I have always been interested in how literature, especially fiction, explores the spiritual journey of a soul,” he said. “Of course, there are many nonfiction books that do this, but is there a special place for a fictional treatment that can actually bring a person into understanding the life of the spirit better?
“I do think there is a place for that. It is something I seem to explore in my work, something I am called to.”
After exploring his works more in depth, Mirarchi decided to write annotations for all of Connolly’s books with the intention of enriching people’s understanding and sparking academic conversation.
“Myles Connolly took a lot of effort to craft the book and I think it is just a matter of justice to recognize the craft that he did,” he said. “They are not superfluous details; there is a whole iceberg underneath the surface.
“Connolly knew his stuff backwards and forwards and you can see it. That is one of the reasons I wrote annotations, to show people, ‘look, there is a lot going on in these books.’”
Mirarchi describes Mr. Blue, the book he is teaching in class and the first he annotated, as “rare.”
It seemed to be a great example of a book that has both excellent literary qualities and accurately shows the classic spiritual progress of a soul, Mirarchi said.
“It is not only a good work of art in itself but [it] shows spiritual progress at the same time.”
At the time of its publication, Mr. Blue saw little to no readership, but gained popularity with half a million copies sold in the 1950s.
Mirarchi said the reason Connolly is “endangered of being forgotten” was due to the way Vatican II changed the outlook of many Catholics.
“With everything that happened after Vatican II, you had a new kind of focus on things,” Mirarchi said. “Several people have surmised that books that explore the spiritual life in an artistic way were seeming not to capture people’s attention.
“There is a cultural emphasis on the aspects of what the Church is teaching, versus what the art has to say, and those things are sometimes at odds.”
Mirarchi explained that Connolly himself believed that, “The Catholic Church was so focused on teaching what we might call a ‘manualist’ way, that a character that lived somewhat outside the bounds was not appreciated.”
Junior English major Christian Spesia was one of Mirarchi’s first students to read Mr. Blue.
“The character of Mr. Blue is all about living entirely for everyone else; being selfless in every regard,” Spesia said. “He just lived that love of Christ and impacted everyone he met.”
Spesia believes there is a reason why Mirarchi himself is the one revitalizing Connolly’s works.
“I think he found a bit of himself in Mr. Blue,” Spesia said. “He has a five-book deal—that takes more than just dedication. That takes your heart or a piece of you in it. There is a personal tie in there for him.”
Mirarchi appeared in an interview on the Eternal Word Television Network, EWTN, with Raymond on Arroyo. The interview aired aired Sept. 28.
“‘Well, I got the experience of wearing makeup,” Mirarchi said. “For what ended up being roughly a ten minute interview, I probably did at least 6-8 hours of preparation.”
Mirarchi’s annotated copies of Connolly’s Mr. Blue and Dan England and the Noonday Devil are available for purchase on Amazon. Mirarchi hopes to have The Bump on Brannigan’s Head available for purchase in April.