John L’Heureux, a renowned Massachusetts-born novelist and poet, spent seventeen years of his life as a Jesuit before embracing the literary world. On June 11th, 1966, after twelve years of rigorous study, he was ordained as a priest. During the three years leading up to this significant event, L’Heureux meticulously maintained a journal that would later be published, providing a deeply personal glimpse into his life. The following entry, written in April 1966, just two months before his ordination, reveals his inner struggles and doubts about his own capabilities. Despite his challenges, L’Heureux remained a priest until 1971, when he left the priesthood “because of difficulties with the vow of obedience.” Later that same year, he married Joan Polston, a former nun.
The Diary Entry
Sunday, 17 April
Thinking about ordination as I do all the time, I find only one thing disturbs me and I don’t know how to formulate it so that it doesn’t sound like the old “I’m not worthy” plea. (Of course you’re not worthy; it would be impertinent of you to wonder if you were.) I have no doubts that I want to be a priest, no uncertainty as to why. But it pains and embarrasses me more than I can say that what I will bring to that altar for ordination is this nauseating sack of guts: selfish, small, lecherous; a mind like a whorehouse; a tongue like a longshoreman’s; a soft mousy body that seeks always its own comforts, a will deluded by hyperactive desires. Poor wreck that I am. Can I give over to God’s service only so little, and that so badly damaged, so in and out of sin and desire? I shall have to let my grotesqueness testify to his mercy. God help me.
Later. Today’s liturgy texts are about the peace of the risen Christ. For the first time in a long while, I don’t feel anything except a ghastly abandoned ache in the pit of my stomach.
John L’Heureux’s journal was published in 1967 by Macmillan, titled Picnic in Babylon: A Jesuit Priest’s Journal, 1963-1967. As for the man himself, there’s a nice but brief bio, written by L’Heureux, on the Grove Atlantic website, and you can read a nice obituary (he died in 2019) on the website of Stanford University, where he taught writing for many years.