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Annabelle McConnell Melville

EVEN AFTER FINDING A THIRD BOOK IN PRINT, I AM STILL a little surprised to be considered an author; and, having been reared a good Protestant, it is especially edifying to be considered a Catholic author. With an opening sentence like that, I am almost bound to tell in~ subsequent ones how I became a Catholic, and then how I became an author, if such I am.

I became a Catholic, at the age of twenty-six, owing to four factors. First, through fortunate accident it happened that the finest intellects I encountered among my contemporaries were possessed by actively practicing Catholics. Second, I was given almost a year of instruction in the Church's teaching by Father Arthur Cunningham, the pastor of the church in St. Johnsville, New York, where I did my first five years of high school teaching. Third, I read the Imitation of Christ. And, finally, I did my master's thesis on the subject of G. K. Chesterton's philosophy. The first factor roused my interest; the last three, pursued simultaneously, brought me to the baptismal font in May, 1936.

As for writing, the story is almost as brief. One institution and one man were largely responsible. The institution was the Catholic University of America in Washington, D. C.; the man was Monsignor John Tracy Ellis, professor of church history in that institution. My first book, Elizabeth Bayley Seton, began as a term paper in one of Monsignor Ellis's courses and emerged as a doctoral dissertation in 1949. Whatever excellence that work possessed was chiefly due to the direction of Monsignor Ellis, whose standards of scholarship have notably influenced the work of anyone who worked under him or will work under his direction in the future.

Elizabeth Bayley Seton brought several benefits to her biographer. Not only did I begin to have entree to the fascinating stores of church history materials in the United States, but I was also able to see something of the European connections with our history. In 1951, as a result of studying the life of a woman whose cause has been proposed for beatification, I was introduced to the Sacred Congregation of Rites in Rome and given a glimpse of the process of documenting such causes. My own work was given Roman approval prior to publication. In Livorno I had the pleasure of meeting descendants of the Filicchi family about whom I had written, and saw materials still in their possession which relate to Washington's administration. At home, in Emmitsburg, Maryland, I had the supreme satisfaction of discovering a document relating to Mother Seton that had never before been used in clarifying her career. On the material side, the Seton brought me a publisher, Charles Scribner's Sons, and a wise editor, Mr. J. E. G. Hopkins.

My second book stemmed rather naturally from the first. John Carroll of Baltimore was a contemporary of Mother Seton's, and I was already at home in the field of American church history archives. Again the direction of John Tracy Ellis, the editing of J. E. G. Hopkins, and the kind publishing of Scribner's gave my work what excellence it possessed. This time I had the added encouragement of the interest of Archbishop Patrick A. O'Boyle of Washington, the commendation of the Thomas More Book Club which selected it for their readers in July, 1955, and the recognition of the American Catholic Historical Association which awarded it the John Gilmary Shea prize in December, 1955.

As a result of this interest in American church history, I began to be asked to lecture to Catholic groups such as men's clubs, seminaries, Newman clubs, the Catholic Library Association, etc. One such engagement in l956 led me to spend a night in a Boston Fire Station! I was scheduled to speak at a Communion Breakfast in my home town of Albany, New York, and I started out just as the famous blizzard of March 16 began. We left the Boston bus station at about five in the afternoon. At one the next morning we had progressed as far as the Museum of Fine Arts of Huntington Avenue, just blocks away, had to be rescued from the bus, and wound up on cots furnished by the Red Cross at Fire Station 67. I now accept speaking engagements with the proviso, "weather permitting."

In 1956 the Library Journal described me as "a new creative writer of 1956," and that raises the question of how I happened to write a "who-dunnit." Certainly not because I was abandoning my first love, church history. In the days when I traveled rather regularly between Albany and Washington or Baltimore I was an inveterate reader of mystery novels. In the course of writing the Carroll, there was one period of almost a year when the manuscript was in the hands of advisory readers. In order to escape my own impatience while waiting for the return of the Carroll, I decided to keep my typing hand in practice by doing something else. "I've read enough mysteries," I told myself. "Why not try to write one?" Many years ago I had read somewhere that amateur writers do well to stick to the scenes they know, so I chose the little town where I had lived for nine years prior to 1945, described events that had actually taken place, but re-arranged them to make a mystery plot. Several people read it upon completion but none with intent to publish. The Carroll manuscript came back, I went to work on the revision, and it was not until publication was under way that I got out the mystery again to see what, if anything, could be done with it. I still liked it the way it was first written, so I took another chance, sent it to the Bruce Publishing Company with apologies that it was not history, and they decided to risk it. The editing of Mr. Bernard Wirth cut it down a bit, but it remains substantially what it was the first time I typed it out in Emmitsburg. The Catholic Literary Foundation used it for an August selection in 1956, and my students in the State Teachers College in Bridgewater read it, I suspect, in preference to my more substantial work.

I have no idea whether fiction will lure me again or not. At present, I am back with my first love, busily working on a biography of Boston's first bishop, John Shavers. This time research took me to France where I have just finished nine weeks of most happy delving. Hopes are high that 1958 will see the completed book. But only time, scholarly readers, editors, and publishers will decide the issue. Meanwhile I have a very full schedule at the Bridgewater Teachers College of Massachusetts, and teaching is my true profession.

On the side I dabble in amateur theatre, when I can be type-cast in middle-aged roles. I putter over African violets, experiment with cooking, whip up a new dress when I am desperate for something to wear, continue to be a devotee of the Boston Symphony, write book reviews for
Books on Trial or the Catholic Historical Review, and try to keep track of my five godchildren who live in the District of Columbia, Maryland, New York, and New Hampshire.

As far as details of education and teaching experience go, ~ think that The American Catholic Who's Who has most of these.

The only comical thing that has happened to me as a result of taking up writing occurred in June of 1956 when Stonehill College of Easton, Massachusetts, conferred an honorary Doctor of Laws on this budding author. I misinterpreted the dramatic pause of the reader of my citation, galloped across the platform midway through his speech, and will undoubtedly go down in the college history as the only woman who just couldn't wait for her degree. I certainly disrupted the dignity of the occasion.

I'm afraid none of this is very exciting. I'm a pretty run-of-the-mill small town school teacher and that suits me fine. I like small towns, and I have always enjoyed teaching. If I can find archives for historical research nearby, I also enjoy doing some note-taking during my free time. With the excellent archives of Boston so near my present teaching position, I am likely to finish another biography. After that, who can say?

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