Conference Schedule



5:30 PM-
7:00 PM
Pre-Conference Reception | Lewis Towers, 111 E Pearson Street (WATER TOWER CAMPUS)
Sponsored by Commonweal Magazine
7:30 PM
Pre-Conference Film Showing: Flannery | Damen Cinema (LAKE SHORE CAMPUS)
Cosponsored by Loyola University Chicago School of Communication
With a response from Jonathan Rosenbaum


8:30 AM-
4:00 PM
Pre-Conference Sessions: Graduate students and early career scholars
Cosponsored by Commonweal Magazine
12:10 PM
Mass (optional) | Holy Name Cathedral
4:00 PM-
5:30 PM
Registration and Welcome Reception with Cocktails* | Kasbeer Hall, Corboy Law Center 15th Floor (25 E Pearson St.)
5:30 PM
Welcome Banquet* | Kasbeer Hall, Corboy Law Center 15th Floor
6:30 PM
Flannery O'Connor Lifetime Achievement Award honoring Paul Mariani* | Kasbeer Hall, Corboy Law Center 15th Floor
7:30 PM
Conference Welcome: Michael P. Murphy
Keynote: Paul Mariani | Wintrust Hall, Schreiber Center 908 (16 E Pearson St.)
Simulcast in Beane Hall, Lewis Towers 13th Floor


7:45 AM-
8:30 AM                  
Continental Breakfast | Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, BVM Ballroom, Damen Student Center (Sister Jean Ballroom)
8:15 AM: Morning Prayer Poem: Susan L. Miller
8:30 AM-
9:45 AM
Concurrent Session #1
A. Poetry: Featured Readings | Sister Jean Ballroom
What does it mean to be a Catholic poet in 2019? Is it primarily a matter of doctrinal adherence? Or is it more a matter of poetic sensibility--a particular relationship to form, tradition, and the social and political world? In this panel, poets Fanny Howe and Lawrence Joseph read from their work and engage in conversation, considering what the "Catholic imagination" means for them and contemporary literature.
B. Dreaming the Black Imagination: The Spiritual Foundations of Black Art and Activism | Information Commons 4th Floor
Given the recent passing of Toni Morrison, much of this panel will be devoted to reflecting on her writings and their impact, including the Catholic faith that supported her and the Black imagination that shaped her vision. Carolyn Medine has written extensively on Morrison, who died on the Feast of the Transfiguration, a theme she will explore in her presentation. Joseph A. Brown, S.J., will consider the imagination as the source of emancipatory hope in African American art, with a special emphasis on recurring tropes and performative dimensions in Black art, including the work of Morrison. timone davis will bring an engaged perspective on teaching, scholarship, and activism in Black communities as seen through the lenses of storytelling and ministry.
C. Midway Upon the Journey of Our Life: Dante as Resource for the Present Moment | McCormick Lounge, Coffey Hall
This panel explores the enduring influence of Dante's poetics on both theological imagination and contemporary thought. Participants will discuss how Dante's Commedia can assist in the recovery of understanding the meaning of human suffering; how Dante's vision of the afterlife engages and dialogues with other traditions; and how Dante's understanding of the spiritual fecundity of poverty can help us imagine a way through the present crises of clerical abuse and cover-up in the Catholic Church.
D. Seeking After the Whole: The Catholic Imagination as Critical Context | Damen Cinema
In most basic terms, the Catholic imagination refers to the holistic faculty endowed to creatures for critical, contemplative, and creative engagement with the living God. This panel will not only reflect on the nature of a “Catholic Imagination” (as a theoretical/creative lens, an exercise in cultural production, a way of knowing and participating, and so on), but will also explore how a Catholic imagination might be situated against other Christian (or “Christic”) imaginations. The speakers will engage a diverse array of thinkers—from Julian of Norwich to Dostoevsky to John Henry Newman to Karl Barth to William Lynch to Eugene Vodolazkin—in the hope of providing insight, distinctions, and scope to the Biennial Conference’s main theme.
10:00 AM-
11:00 AM
Opening Plenary: On the Catholic Imagination—an Unfolding Story of Shared Commitment  | Sister Jean Ballroom
11:15 AM-
12:15 PM
Plenary: Richard Rodriguez | Sister Jean Ballroom
12:15 PM-
1:30 PM
Lunch | Sister Jean Ballroom
1:30 PM-
2:45 PM
Concurrent Session #2
A. Poetry: Featured Readings | Sister Jean Ballroom
In "The Catholic Novelist in the Protestant South," Flannery O'Connor explores the conundrum of writing as a Catholic amid a culture that seems alien to her belief. What she reveals, ultimately, is that her culture has shaped her work as much as her faith has. This panel explores similar terrain, posing the question, "What does it mean to be a Catholic poet in a secular culture?" Can the contemporary Catholic poet succeed in writing for readers who share his/her belief and for those who do not? What are the challenges of being true to one's Catholic vision while writing for a universal (or small "c" catholic) readership? Panelists will draw on their own experiences as practitioners and readers.
With Susan L. Miller
B. The Aesthetics of Faith and Doubt | Information Commons 4th Floor
As Pope Francis observed early in his papacy, “the great leaders of God’s people, like Moses, always left room for doubt. We must always leave room for the Lord and not for our own certainties.” This panel engages the mysterious dialogue between faith and doubt through the lens of poetry, painting, and critical insight. By considering the poetry and poetic life of Seamus Heaney and tracking various receptions of Hans Holbein’s well-known painting Der Leichnam Christi im Grabe (“The Body of Christ in the Tomb”), the session panelists will consider not only of the role of the arts of faith and doubt as moments of personal and cultural reflection, but also as a means to explore the boundaries—if there are such a thing—of Beauty’s reach.
C. Catholic Artists in Modernist Spaces | McCormick Lounge, Coffey Hall
Even against the robust interwar Catholic literary renaissance that challenged some of their claims, “modernist” secularization narratives have dominated literary studies for generations. Still, theology—and the theological imagination as inspiration for modernist experimentation in the arts—has rarely been treated with the same seriousness by secular critics as by the modernists themselves. This panel will explore such questions—from how Charles Péguy invents his own definition of the “modern” in an idiom entirely his own, to David Jones's "Art and Sacrament" (and how the notion of the sacramental functions in some living Catholic poets), to the struggle to connect speech back with the Logos as a central concern for many modern French writers and critics (from Paul Claudel to Jean-Louis Chrétien). In this sense, the panel seeks to recover interrelationships between modernism, poetics, and theology that are often neglected in current scholarship.
D. Handmaids, Prophets, and Misfits: Cinematic Moments, Transformative Encounters | Damen Cinema
Just as in the other arts, deep in the bones of cinematic form exists a vast potential for spiritual and theological expression. This panel, comprised of filmmakers, screenwriters, and a film critic, takes the impulse toward the transcendent in film and television seriously—an often fraught position given the materialist/secularist sway in late modern cinematic art. Still, from dialogue and action, to art design and sound, to editing and post-production, cinema can also be seen as an act of sacred liturgy. It brings all so many elements together in powerful ways—like consciousness does—and demonstrates the range and mystery of transformation.
3:00 PM-
4:00 PM
Plenary: Tobias Wolff | Sister Jean Ballroom
4:15 PM-
5:30 PM
Plenary: Paul Schrader | Sister Jean Ballroom
5:30 PM-
6:45 PM
Small Plates Dinner Reception | Sister Jean Ballroom
Cosponsored by Slant Books and the Loyola University Chicago Institute of Pastoral Studies
7:00 PM-
8:30 PM
Play and TalkBack: Everything That Rises Must Converge | Newhart Family Theatre, Mundelein Center 2nd Floor
with creator/ director Karin Coonrod and Angela Alaimo O'Donnell
7:00 PM-
9:00 PM
Film Showing: First Reformed | Sister Jean Ballroom
8:45 PM-
10:00 PM
Presence 2019: Poems, Essays, and Translations from the Current Issue | Information Commons 4th Floor
Join founding editor, Mary Ann B. Miller; assistant editor, Marjorie Maddox; and advisory board member, Angela Alaimo O'Donnell, as they host contributors to Presence 2019 to showcase the mission of the journal, including new poems, poems in translation, In Memoriam poems and essays on Catholic poets whose work has spanned many decades. Featuring Debra Bruce, Kathleen Marks, Susan L. Miller and Jeannine M. Pitas.
9:30 PM-
Troubadour's Lounge: Live Music—Chicago Blues, The Boss, and Special Guests. Intrigues, Drinks, and Snacks | McCormick Lounge, Coffey Hall


7:45 AM-
8:30 AM                     
Continental Breakfast | Sister Jean Ballroom
8:15 AM: Morning Prayer Poem: Shann Ray
8:30 AM-
9:45 AM
Concurrent Session #3
A. Still Guests in Our Own House? The Catholic Imagination from Women's Perspectives | Sister Jean Ballroom
This session will consider the role of Catholic women writers in shaping literature of the past and present. Panelists will discuss their own writing along with the work of their predecessors who have influenced and encouraged them to find their voices amid a church culture—and a secular culture—that has not traditionally valued women’s voices or perspectives.
B. Irish Catholic Identities | Damen Den
This panel will explore the extent to which the Catholic Church has (or has not) shaped the Irish literary imagination. John McCourt will explore James Joyce’s Catholic imagination, and how Joyce has variously been seen as Ireland’s most Catholic and most anti-Catholic writer. Eamon Maher will pick up this thread of how Irish Catholic ritual and practice have shaped the country’s culture, history, and tradition, and argue that despite this influence, a "Catholic Novel" never emerged in Ireland. He will discuss a range of both mid-century and contemporary Irish novelists. Finally, Bishop Paul Tighe will discuss the Catholic traces in the work of the Brothers McDonagh—acclaimed playwrights/screenwriters and directors Martin and John Patrick.
C. The Art and Craft of Spiritual Memoir | McCormick Lounge, Coffey Hall
From St. Augustine to St. Teresa of Ávila to Pascal to Julien Greene to Patricia Hampl, Catholic writers have engaged in telling stories of their moral, intellectual, and spiritual formation. This panel brings together practitioners of the genre who will discuss the challenges, pleasures, and risks of writing about one's life and dreams, one's spiritual formation and conversion, one's faith and doubt, friends and family, neighborhood and nation.
D. As Satan Falls: René Girard and the Mystery of Paying Attention | Information Commons 4th Floor
By looking back to humanity's origins, René Girard unearthed clues in ancient myths and sacrificial rituals that led him to a startling discovery about the connection between violence, religion, and human culture. According to Girard, when Jesus "saw Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning", he was anticipating the effect of his death and resurrection on the cultural forms and practices that have protected humanity from its own violence "since the foundation of the world." Employing Girard's imaginative reading of literary masterpieces, including the Gospels, this panel will examine how he anticipated the present moment and serves as a prophetic voice for the "futures" of Catholic thought, practice, and artistic representation.
10:00 AM-
11:00 AM
Plenary: Alice McDermott | Sister Jean Ballroom
11:15 AM-
12:30 PM
Concurrent Session #4
A. Sacramental Telepathy: What goes on in Catholic Writers' Heads? | Sister Jean Ballroom
What does it mean to be a Catholic/ writer today? How do writers attune themselves to community, ritual, and sacrament? What are the lines of continuity between the mundane and the extraordinary, between family life and the writing life, and the tensions among the personal and the spiritual? Three writers engage with these questions as thei read excerpts from their work. Phil Klay reads from his upcoming novel A Good War; Kirstin Valdez Quade reads from her upcoming collection Saints by Half; Randy Boyagoda reads from his novel Original Prin (2018). Discussion to follow.
B. Polish Religious Literature after Miłosz | McCormick Lounge, Coffey Hall
Symbols, images, and narratives derived from both biblical stories and the life of the Church have dominated the imagination of Polish writers and their readers for many centuries. In the rapidly secularizing 20th century, Christianity survived in Poland thanks to the language of the poets--and Czesław Miłosz has a special place in this achievement. Exploring the context of this unique tradition, this panel will be posing questions about contemporary times. At a time when Polish culture has entered the same path of development as its Western European neighbors, what is the state of religious feeling and identity of Polish poets? Has contemporary Polish poetry lost its relationship with Catholicism or has it gained new inspiration? Does the poet, whose language and imagination shaped the culture derived from Christianity, have a new, compelling message to offer to the modern world?
C. Graces Seen and Unseen: Catholic Imagination and Contemporary Literary Studies | Information Commons 4th Floor
This session explores new work in Catholic literary studies. Paul Mariani will offer reflections on the recent release of his The Mystery of It All: The Vocation of Poetry in the Twilight of Modernity (2019) and his forthcoming Ordinary Time: Poems (2020). Dana Greene will discuss her new work, Elizabeth Jennings: 'The Inward War' (2018)—not only to illustrate how Jennings’s poetry reflects the Catholic imagination, but also to suggest how biography as a genre might nurture a sacramental, incarnational perspective, an objective that Greene has exercised both in the writing the Jennings study and in her 2012 biography, Denise Levertov: A Poet's Life.  Kevin Burke will draw further focus to Levertov and the vocation of the poet/writer/scholar by reflecting on his current work on Levertov: a chapter in the forthcoming “this need to dance; this need to kneel”: Denise Levertov and the Poetics of Faith (Murphy/Bradshaw, eds.), and his current book project Into the Ring of the Dance.  Burke observes that the poet “has given much to the theologian. Let us hope the theologian can make an offering in return”—an aspiration that distills the dialogical heart of the Catholic imagination.
D. 20th Century Landscapes: Everson, Merton, and Day | Damen Den
This panel considers the literary landscape created by three seminal 20th Century Catholic writers: William Everson (AKA Brother Antoninus, 1912-94), Thomas Merton (1915-68), and Dorothy Day (1897-1980). Albert Gelpi addresses Everson’s exploration of the mystery of the Incarnation on a personal level in what he terms “erotic mysticism”—an acute sacramentality that connects Everson’s poetics to the natural world and natural processes. Jon M. Sweeney explores the ways that Thomas Merton ignited the 20th century Catholic imagination—certainly as a Trappist monk—but most of all as a writer engaged with the world, transcending, even, the monastery at Gethsemeni. Kimberly Rae Connor reflects on Dorothy Day’s diaries, The Duty of Delight, and suggests how a deep engagement with Day’s personal reflections become valuable counsel about how to live honorably in our current context.
With Thomas Donnelly
12:30 PM-
1:45 PM
Lunch | Sister Jean Ballroom
2:00 PM-
3:15 PM
Concurrent Session #5
A. Poetry: Featured Readings | Damen Den
What does it mean to be a Catholic poet in the 21st century? How does the integration of variegated poetic forms—along with choices in rhyme, meter, sound, and sense—convey what Hopkins called the “inscape” of things? What role does poetry play in communicating theological mystery or in distilling transformative moments of spiritual and historical encounter? Is poetry at the service of something bigger than itself or is the art irreducible? Will the famous “both/and” attached to the Catholic imagination suffice as an answer?  In this session, poets Ryan Wilson, Angela Alaimo O’Donnell, and James Matthew Wilson will read from their work and share poetry that explores both the effects of Catholic formation on the imagination and the living inspiration of the Holy Spirit who, as Hans Urs von Balthasar observes, is “empowered to utter a fresh and central answer to any situation”—not least of which is the writing of poetry.
B. Latinx Catholic Identities and the Catholic Experience | McCormick Lounge, Coffey Hall
This panel focuses on the Catholic experience of Latinx writers. From the passion plays of contemporary New Mexico, to the classrooms of the Midwest where students are introduced to the political and social worlds of Spain and Latin America, to the Texas borderlands where congregations belt out English-language Contemporary Christian music during Mass, this discussion will explore a wide-ranging portrayal of Catholic experiences among those who identify as Latinx authors in the United States.
C. Lost in the Cosmos 2.0: Reconsidering Walker Percy in the 21st Century | Information Commons 4th Floor
Walker Percy diagnosed the moviegoing and dystopian moment that the entire nation is in 100 years after his birth, and he began doing so before more seemingly cosmopolitan writers did. This panel reconsiders Percy's prescience about today's culture, the defunct vocabulary of Christendom, and the place of mystery as a key "note" of his Catholic imagination. Jessica Hooten Wilson will outline "Why Disney Needs to Read Lost in the Cosmos"; Farrell O'Gorman will offer remarks on "Percy: The Once and Future Postmodern Catholic Novelist"; and Paul Elie will explore "Percy in the Middle of Mystery."
D. The Catholic Imagination in Culture: Journalism, Magazines, and Web Spaces | Sister Jean Ballroom
This panel features editors who will not only discuss the role each of their magazines has played historically in fostering dialogues among faith, culture, and the arts, but will also focus on how the panelists have contributed as writers for these magazines and beyond. Of special concern are: How are these topics broached and discussed in the wide terrain of new media venues and spaces? What is the state of the union for the Catholic Imagination in journalism, magazines, and web spaces? What will the terrain look like in 10-15 years?
Matt Malone, S.J. (America Magazine)
Ken Woodward (formerly of Newsweek)
Vinson Cunningham (The New Yorker)
With Melinda Henneberger (The Kansas City Star
E. Second Performance of Everything that Rises Must Converge | Newhart Family Theatre, Mundelein Center 2nd Floor
3:30 PM-
4:45 PM
Concurrent Session #6
A. Poetry: Featured Readings | Sister Jean Ballroom
Dana Gioia and Samuel Hazo are poets who have performed and promoted poetry as public speech for decades. As genuine practitioners of a Catholic imagination, both have served the arts, culture, and the church as tireless stalwarts both in local (Gioia in his native California and Hazo in Pennsylvania) and more global ways (Gioia is past chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts; Hazo founded the International Poetry Forum and directed it for four decades). Both will read from their work and engage in conversation, considering what the "Catholic imagination" means for them and for contemporary literature.
B. Writing the Catholic Midwest | Damen Den
Flannery O'Connor contended that the Midwest "lack[s] significant features" that reflect the Catholic writer's particular problems and vision. Our panelists counter this claim by considering significant Midwestern influences and Catholic Heartland idioms found in their own novels and short stories, as well as the writings of such authors as Kathleen Norris and Jon Hassler.
C. Flannery O'Connor: From The Prayer Journal to her Letters | Information Commons 4th Floor
This session will explore O’Connor’s letters beyond The Habit of Being. Professors O’Donnell and Baumgaertner both explore O’Connor’s A Prayer Journal, which contains numerous letters addressed to God. O’Donnell observes not only how the letters gave O’Connor the rare chance to write from the first-person perspective (so as to experiment with persona), but also how O’Connor discerns in these pieces her vocations as both a writer and a Catholic. Baumgaertner explores the numerous questions provoked by the journal: How does a person of faith approach her creative work? Why was the journal abandoned after 18 months? Moving to later texts, Professor Flanagan discusses her recent book, The Letters of Flannery O’Connor and Caroline Gordon, specifically, how the abstract “Catholic imagination” becomes explicit in epistolary content and technique. Flanagan understands O’Connor’s and Gordon’s correspondence as a living master class in creative writing—one that offers Catholic writers some guidelines for how to communicate their vision.

D. Curating the Catholic Imagination: Editors' Roundtable Discussion | McCormick Lounge, Coffey Hall
How are Catholic literary editors and publishers defining, shaping, and fostering the growth of a "Catholic literary culture" in a spiritual and economic climate that often challenges such a community of writers and readers? This panel features a gathering of editors of Catholic/Christian journals and presses in conversation about the state of Catholic publishing today. Each editor will discuss the audience, mission, and contributors to his/her publication(s) and also address larger questions about the role of publishers in creating conditions wherein the Catholic Imagination might flourish.
Gregory Wolfe (Slant Books)
Katy Carl (Dappled Things)
Tim Bete (Integrated Catholic Life)
With Mary Ann Miller (Presence Journal)
5:15 PM-
6:15 PM
Mass | Madonna della Strada Chapel
Bishop Paul Tighe, Presider
Deacon Ron Hansen, Homilist
6:30 PM-
7:30 PM
Cocktails and Hors D'Oeuvres | Damen Student Center 2nd Floor
Cosponsored by The Lumen Christi Institute
7:30 PM-
9:30 PM
Banquet: The George W. Hunt, S.J. Prize honoring 2019 winner Mary Szybist* | Sister Jean Ballroom
Awarded by the trustees of America Magazine and The Saint Thomas More Chapel and Center at Yale University
* Additional Event Registration Required