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Updated: July 2018

Book Reviews

The New Curate by Canon Patrick Augustine Sheehan

There is a touch of P.G. Wodehouse in this light novel about a bishop who sends out a curate to a parish priest for the purpose of breaking the priest’s heart in six weeks after a careless remark made by the priest.

My New Curate by Rev. Patrick Sheehan starts with the comedic departure of the present curate preceded by all his possessions and followed by villagers calling out plaintively after him.

But despite the light humour, the observations are astute. For example:

"How has it come to pass in Ireland that “poet” and “saint” are terms which denote some weakness or irregularity in their possessors? At one time in our history we know that the bard was second only to the King in power and influence; and are we not vaguely proud of that title the world gives us - Island of Saints? Yet, nowadays, through some fatal degeneracy, a poet is looked upon as an idealist, an unpractical builder of airy castles, to whom no one would go for advice in an important matter, or intrust with the investment of a five-pound note."

How true. And Father Dan, the narrator, goes on to say:

And to speak of a man or a woman as a “saint” is to hint at some secret imbecility, which it would be charitable to pass over in silence.

For those in our world today who think that religion is the outdated musings of an ancient Bronze Age culture, Father Dan remarks:

For what does modern literature deal with? Exactly those questions of philosophy, ethics, and morality which form the staple material of theological studies and discussions in our own colleges and academies.

Father Dan is a man who tried. He tried to rouse the sleepy parish he was assigned to thirty years earlier. One can feel the salt in the air as he describes what might be the most languid fishing village on God’s green earth, a salty damp air reputed to turn anyone with energy into the most impassive of citizens. And now Father Dan sees young priests serving Mass in the cathedrals in parishes he once dreamed of.

“And so I drifted,” he says. “… drifted down from high empyreans of great ideals and lofty speculations into a humdrum life, that was only saved from sordidness by the sacred duty of my office.” It is Father Dan’s faith that sets this book apart from other light novels of the day.

"After all, I find that we are not independent of our circumstances. We are fashioned and moulded by them as plaster of Paris is fashioned and moulded into angels or gargoyles by the deft hand of the sculptor."

Father Dan’s new curate arrives at a significant point in Father Dan’s life. “Even my love for the sea had vanished . . . Altogether I was soured and discontented, and I had a dread consciousness that my life was a failure.” He sees himself as, “the barren fig tree, fit only to be cut down” and cries out for a way to escape the inevitable fire for dead wood. In answer to the prayer comes his new curate.

So even if it’s unusual circumstances that bring Father Dan’s new curate to his parish, this is a well-written story of God’s timing being the best timing.

You can read The New Curate for free here:

My New Curate by Canon Patrick Sheehan