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Reverend William Lodewick Doty

LOOKING FOR SIGNS OF A WRITING CAREER IN MY character and attitudes of pre-school age, I can only say that there was a library in our home, and we were all encouraged to read as soon as we could, and this may have had some bearing on my later desire to write books. I remember my elation when I completed reading my first book, Little Black Sambo, and how I proudly ran to my parents to inform them of my accomplishment.

In school I had a perhaps more than average interest in composition and in literature, and when there were literary activities to be undertaken in extracurricular work, I was usually among those who participated. When I reached senior year in the Collegiate School in New York, I was chosen to edit the annual. This was the first publication in book form with which I was connected, although I had been editor of the school paper prior to my final year in high school.

Searching my family background for influences which might have led me to want to write, I recall my mother saying that my father, a New York physician, had in his youth written a play which he read to her with great enthusiasm. And there was a tradition in my mother's family that Oliver Goldsmith was one of the ancestors to whom they could trace their line. This may have given the interest if not the ability in the matter of literary creation which I found burgeoning within myself at school and especially in college.

At Fordham, from the very first days of Freshman year, I tried to have articles and poems accepted by the literary magazine, The Fordham Monthly. But I made the mistake of submitting themes or compositions which I had written in the past or which I was then preparing in connection with class work, and this, together with my lack of experience, led to the rejection of my manuscripts. It was only in Junior year when I started writing original stories and essays just for the Monthly that I found acceptance from the critics of that venerable college periodical. Once success came, it continued and grew so that I at last attained what had at first seemed to me an impossibility, namely, membership on the board of editors. From then onward, I began to feel identified with writing and things literary and the desire to write and to be published became something almost habitual with me. I was encouraged in this by my courses in English and especially by a course in creative writing under the late Father Francis P. Donnelly, S.J., whose many books were known to students throughout the Catholic English-speaking world, and whose writing abilities ranged from popular songs to spiritual classics. By the end of college, I was convinced that, although my career lay in the field of law and although I would attend Fordham Law School, I would never abandon my interest in writing.

I need not detail the change in vocation to which I was inspired during my first year at law school, except to say that I entered St. Joseph's Seminary, Dunwoodie, the major seminary of the Archdiocese of New York, the following year. There, although most of my energies and efforts were directed to the courses and spiritual exercises necessary in the preparation of priests, I still found time to be a member of the seminary literary society and to write occasional pieces for local publications of various types.

On January 27, 1945, I was ordained to the priesthood by the then Archbishop Francis J. Spellman, and received as my first assignment an appointment to the river town of Haverstraw, New York. Here, adapting to the demands and wonders of priestly life occupied most of my time and concern, yet I was able to prepare two scripts for a New York radio station in connection with what was then known as the Faith in Action series, produced by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine of New York.

In June 1946, I was appointed to St. Luke's parish in the lower Bronx, and then the following September the call came to teach religion and English in the archdiocesan Cardinal Hayes High School, attended by 3,500 boys. There I completed a series of catechetical sermons for the children's Mass which I had begun the previous summer. Having had my manuscript typed, I sent it off as my first attempt at having a book published. Months went by with one rejection slip after another. Five publishers, then six told me they were unable to publish it. Nevertheless, I sent the well-worn pages off again, and this time I received a letter of acceptance from Joseph F. Wagner, Inc.

Thus my Catechetical Stories for Children was published in 1948. This was a great incentive to my desire to carry on the apostolate of the pen, an ambition which had been encouraged in me by several of my college and seminary professors.

I immediately started work on a second book, a series of short stories which illustrated some point of Christian doctrine or social teaching and thus might form the basis for a discussion by a study group or church society, or a class in school or college. I believed that this method of developing a discussion might be more interesting and attractive than the usual cut and dried method. This book, Stories for Discussion (Wagner, 1951), although rather well received by critics, did not achieve a very great sale.

Meanwhile, I had conceived the idea of writing a novel which would be a realistic picture of priestly life in our times, presenting the inner problems of a young priest in his early assignments, and picturing his efforts to meet the challenge of paganism and indifference so characteristic of our time. I felt that such a book might be a source of inspiration toward greater co-ordinated effort between clergy and laity.

This novel, Fire in the Rain (Bruce, 1951), achieved unexpected success, being selected by the Catholic Literary Foundation as its choice for "the book of the month," and being listed for six consecutive months on America's best seller list.

A second novel, The Mark (Bruce, 1953), followed quickly. A story about a young priest chaplain in a Catholic high school, it tried to picture the trials, the joys, the inspiration and the possibilities for good or evil which presented themselves in such a situation. Because of the more restricted theme and the circumstances of the plot, it did not achieve as wide a circulation as my first novel.

My most recent book, I Father Roland (Bruce, 1961), is a sort of clerical picaresque novel which highlights some events of special interest in the life of a fictional priest, beginning with his time of preparation in the seminary and ending with his efforts as a large city pastor to bring Christ more fully into the community.

In 1958, Benziger Brothers published, as one of their Banner Series for children from nine to thirteen, my biography of Pre Marquette and Louis Joliet, the explorers of the Mississippi, under the title Crusaders of the Great River. Like all the volumes in the series, it is being given a fine reception by young readers.

In addition to the assignments I have mentioned, I have been a curate of St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York City, for three years, assistant director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith in the Archdiocese of New York, and I am at present chaplain of the College of New Rochelle, New Rochelle, New York, where I attend to the spiritual needs of nine hundred young women students as well as teach theology to the senior class. Certainly I am in an atmosphere which encourages writing, and I intend to continue to do so as long as I feel I have something to say which may have interest or value.

Writing has given a dimension to my life which, under God, nothing else could possibly supply, and I am grateful for the opportunity which I have had to share my thoughts and emotions with others.

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


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