Title: Death Comes for the Archbishop
Author: Willa Cather
Genre: Literary classic
Publisher: Vintage Classics
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
First line: One summer evening in the year 1848, three Cardinals and a missionary Bishop from America were dining together in the gardens of a villa in the Sabine hills, overlooking Rome.
In Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather, Father Jean Latour comes to New Mexico as a missionary vicar, along with his longtime friend and fellow missionary, Father Joseph Vaillant. Father Latour eventually becomes the Archbishop of New Mexico, while Father Joseph has a thriving missionary work in the gold rush towns of Colorado.
This book is hard to summarize, because it is more a book of short stories than a book of chapters that build on each other. Each story is an episode in the life of Father Latour, explaining his work, the land he comes to love, and the different people groups he ministers to. Cather has a gentle, lyrical style of writing, and the book is deceptively simple.
Each story told builds on the image of the majestic land of New Mexico, and the proud Navajos and Mexicans that the two priests come to love and respect. The descriptions of the land and people are gorgeous, and reading this book made me feel quiet and contemplative. Although the writing style is different, this book reminded me of the work of Wendell Berry in the deep respect shown to the land and to the people of the land.
At the heart of the book is the friendship between the two priests, the brotherly love they have for each other, and the respect they give each other in spite of their very different personalities and methods of ministry. This is a small book that will stay with me for a long time.