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Doris Burton

IT IS SCARCELY SURPRISING THAT I BELIEVED IN my young days that it mattered little to which Christian denomination one belonged, for my home in the country was vaguely Church of England, the headmistress of my school a Unitarian, her colleague a Quaker. To believe in God, Jesus Christ, and heaven in a vague way, and to be good, was all that mattered. But at sixteen, even this vague belief was shattered. Amid the beauties of Switzerland, in a school-Lutheran this time-I came in contact with an agnostic science teacher and atheistic literature. Having had no authoritative religious teaching, I accepted atheism as the truth. There was no God. Jesus Christ was an ordinary man. Immortality a childish fantasy. Up till then I had regarded the future happily enough, but if death were the end, what purpose was there in life--and in my life in particular-in one's hopes, efforts, ambitions, and achievements? A terrible depression filled my being. There seemed but one thing worth while-to serve humanity.

On my return to England, the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 with its toll of death and misery increased my heaviness of spirit, although I found in the service of others, that of nursing wounded soldiers in a London hospital, a sense of fulfillment. But with my agnostic outlook, the atmosphere of suffering proved too much for me. At the end of eighteen months I gave up being a nurse and became a volunteer health worker in the slums instead. It was interesting, worthwhile work, but now I was confronted with the problems arising from poverty and overcrowding. "Why should some be rich, others poor?" I asked myself. "Should not there be a system to ensure financial equality?" Yet although I felt the need for social justice, I did not feel that Socialism was the solution. Still, like many young people, I was convinced that Utopia could be brought into existence through some new political system and that suffering of many kinds would then be eliminated.

During these years I was groping for some kind of faith by reading books on Higher Thought and Theosophy until, moved by the eloquence of a famous Anglican preacher, I again became attached in a vague way to the Church of England. Very vague! A change of climate being recommended for my health, I left England to stay with relatives in South Africa. My faith-dependent not on authoritative teaching but on a personality-I also left behind!

Feeling that I could not solve the world's problems nor my own spiritual ones, I ceased to worry about them. Yet in that land of sunshine, a social life devoted to dancing, riding, picnics, and parties soon seemed to me somewhat futile. So I began to develop my talent for drawing, for imaginative black and white work, which I continued when I left Africa for a year in Australia.

Back in England as an illustrator for publishers, living partly with my family in the country and partly in an apartment in London, no longer bothering about social or spiritual problems, I found life quite pleasant. At first I was keen on my work, but after some years I was not sorry to give it up. Life spent entirely in the country was pleasant: I had my friends, I loved gardening and I loved my mother. But she died. Well, mothers do die. But how terrible for a devoted child-even if she is no longer young-if she has literally no belief in the immortality of the soul! That terrible depression from which I had suffered in adolescence, submerged me once more. In despair I tried spiritualism, cautiously, as a seeker of the truth. I decided it was a dangerous practice, the results inconclusive, the effects on people harmful. I gave it up. I felt that my search after truth was useless. It mattered little what people believed. One evening, in conversation with a young Catholic acquaintance, somewhat loftily, describing myself as a well-read person I expressed this view, adding that I considered Christianity no nearer the truth than any other religion. To my surprise he replied-equally loftily-that it was obvious that I knew precious little about Christianity; that if I studied the literature of the Catholic Church, I might not only discover the Truth but learn something of the history and work of Christianity from the days of its foundation up to the present.

I was struck by his statement but, losing sight of him, for the moment thought no more about it. Instead, sharing a flat with a friend in London, as an experiment I joined Moral Rearmament, the Oxford Group as it was then called. Before long, following their precepts which consisted in trying to find God's will for my life through the practice of purity, honesty, unselfishness and love, my agnosticism was replaced by a firm belief in God. As one of these zealous evangelists-members of all Christian denominations save the Catholic-winning others to God by witnessing to a change in my own life, I really believed I had found the key to change the world. But very soon I realized that in this superficial attitude to religion, I was finding no definite Christian solution to the problems which had baffled me--war, suffering, poverty, social injustice, etc. And as for Christ, he seemed but a figurehead. Since we all belonged to different denominations, our belief in Him differed. However, the end of my long search was near at hand. The friend I was living with, a lapsed Catholic, returned to the Church. I began to attend Mass with her. An operation brought my M.R.A. activities somewhat to a standstill. I read Catholic literature as the young man had advised. Gradually I became convinced, not only that Catholicism was the one true faith, but that it held the right solution to the world's problems. Finally, with reluctance--actually in tears in a church--for I knew it meant trouble with my family, the loss of friends and a break with national tradition, I made the decision to give up the M.R.A. and become a Catholic. And so, in 1936, convinced that I had at last discovered Divine Truth, I took that momentous step.

This description of my spiritual odyssey is leading up to the main point: why I became a Catholic writer. I had turned my hand to many things, but had never had any desire to write. But now, although I had given up Protestant evangelism, my zeal remained. I longed more than ever to help others to find the Catholic solution to their errors. And so, as my friend had returned to her husband-he eventually became a Catholic--feeling very much alone in this strange new life, continuing my study of the Faith by staying a good deal in convents, I began to write.

With the approval of the Jesuit who had received me into the Church, I started by writing letters to certain people who expressed their views in the press, advocates of easy divorce, birth control, euthanasia, communism, etc. My method was to give a pithy argument based on my own experience or on the Catholic Truth Society leaflet or pamphlet which I enclosed. This led to my occasionally writing my own leaflets or pamphlets under the name of Lucis Amator which was chosen for me by a Jesuit. At the end of six years I wrote a booklet entitled My Christian Stewardship, giving the Catholic teaching on education, money, marriage, politics, etc. It was intended for non-Catholics but, receiving a personal recommendation from the late Cardinal Hinsley, it was also used in Catholic study circles.

This led to a change of purpose. In my own name I began to write Catholic stories and articles, contributing to magazines including those in America, such as Extension, Holy Name Journal, and Messenger of the Sacred Heart. I also tried my hand at a novel. During World War II, owing to frail health, I had been living in the quiet West country, quiet save for an occasional raid or a few bombs and the continuous passing of enemy squadrons overhead making for the cities. My novel - a very serious one-had been written during a six months' stay in London. With incendiary attacks most nights, myself taking my turn as fire watcher at a trap door leading to the roof, from which the blazing buildings could be seen--including the Carmelite church burned to the ground-my novel should have been a masterpiece.

"Full of wisdom but very dull" was the verdict of my Jesuit adviser.

He also added that there were plenty of scholarly and theological writers; he felt that what should come from me was the human touch, the popular style.

I destroyed the manuscript, though I used the ideas elsewhere. About the same time, I submitted a collection of my published magazine stories to a publisher, who rejected them but suggested a book of stories for children instead.

And so, the war over, I settled down in my Kensington flat to become a Catholic writer for young people and children. The Angel Who Guarded the Toys was followed by Saints and Heroes for Boys. For, having myself become deeply interested in the history of the Church, and impressed by the self-sacrifice, courage, and sanctity revealed by saints and other great Catholics throughout the ages, my aim now was to try to inspire in young readers a love for their Faith. Four more books of this nature for juniors, containing stories of peril, adventure, and wondrous achievement came into being: Heroic Missionary Adventures, By Courage and Faith, Heroic Tales From Many Lands, and Girls' Book of Saints. And another, for the little ones: My Favourite Catholic Story Book.

Next I turned my attention to teenagers by writing the series Great Christians of Our Day. Daring to Live and Brave Wings portrayed such famous Catholics as Brother Dutton of Molokai and Bishop Ford of Maryknoll, a victim of Chinese communists, while Valiant Achievements for girls, included St. Francis Cabrini and Dr. Anna Dengel. Great Catholic Mothers of Yesterday and Today is another book of this type, while Pioneers for Christ and The Loveliest Flower, stories of the founders and foundresses of religious Congregations, contain Father Flanagan of Boys Town, St. Francis Cabrini, Mother Drexel, and Mother Seton. My recent trilogy, Heroic Priests, Heroic Nuns and Famous Religious Brothers, was published by the Academy Library Guild in 1960.

In my writing I avoid exaggeration and though I consider it important to appeal to the heart, I try to avoid sentimentality. To ensure accuracy means considerable research; I study each character carefully and seek the aid of experts.

At the time of my conversion I saw the need for converting others, but gradually I became aware of the indifference of many Catholics and of their lapsing from the Faith, especially during adolescence. Remembering my own misery and confusion of mind as an agnostic, my purpose in these Catholic books is to show the light of faith as a sure guide, not only to the solution of the world's problems and one's own, but to the happy fulfillment of one's being.

Thus I portray my characters, not as saintly figures on a pedestal, but as human beings who, starting off as ordinary boys and girls, overcoming the difficulties and trials of everyday life in the services of God, become stars in the heavenly firmament of the Church. As such, these great Catholic saints, heroes, and heroines with their call to the highest, themselves proclaim to young readers, the glories of their Catholic heritage.

Originally published in The Book of Catholic Authors, Walter Romig, Sixth Series, 1960.


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