The Catholic journalist who embraced the Cross

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It is easy to assume that well-known Catholic writers and broadcasters either have not experienced the sorrows and difficulties the rest of us are familiar with, or that they have surmounted them with ease.

Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle, a regular broadcaster for EWTN in the US, as well as a popular author of books on Catholic themes, is one such person.

It is only when reading her very affecting personal memoir, The Kiss of Jesus (Ignatius) that you realise such an assumption is an illusion. The book’s sub-title, “How Mother Teresa and the Saints Helped Me to Discover the Beauty of the Cross” indicates its contents – but one is hardly prepared for the long record of emotional and physical abuse the author herself suffered before emerging with a palpable spiritual strength that she has subsequently radiated to others in her apostolate.

In her book O’Boyle relates that she grew up in a stable, loving Catholic household of eight children (although there is a brief reference to tensions in her parents’ marriage, which was healed before her father died.) Her problems started seriously in her late teens when she got engaged to, and then moved in with, a man who quickly became abusive towards her. Those who listen to The Archers on Radio 4 will instantly recognise a damaged personality like that of Rob Titchener.

She was cut off from her family, held captive in his flat while he dealt in drugs and guns, and threatened with reprisals if she tried to escape. Eventually fleeing this ordeal she marries and has three children before her husband, an alcoholic who is often out of work abandons her. An annulment follows, then marriage to a respectable attorney and “daily Mass-goer”. This man, psychologically damaged by a religious cult to which he had once belonged, then starts to abuse O’Boyle in his turn.

I won’t relate the rest of the story, except to say that after many more tribulations it ends happily. What struck me on reading it was how, in her darkest moments, God put holy people in Donna-Marie’s path to sustain her in her ordeals.

One was Mother Teresa (now St Teresa of Calcutta) whom she met in Washington at a home run by the Missionaries of Charity and who kept up a long correspondence with her, full of spiritual encouragement and hope; the other was the late Fr John Hardon SJ, whose own Cause for beatification has been opened.

Fr Hardon, who prompted the author not to forget the needs of others amidst her own trials, told her: “To be a true Christian means to expect the cross. To be a true Christian means not to run away from the cross.” A tough message – but then, saints are tough people.