Fr Hugh O'Flaherty has quite the story. As you read this fictitious account, based very much on the fact you quickly come to see his story as one that needed told. I had never heard about this Irish priest, a Schindler type hero who attempted to save lives in the bravest kinds of of ways with the Nazi’s most brutal regime eye balling him as he did so.
There is something contemporary about My Father’s House too. War in Ukraine in the age of social media has had us follow individuals trying to make a difference on the ground. It takes courage. Fr O’Flaherty seems to have had that is spades.
Joseph O’Connor it seems has started a Trilogy. My Father’s House is the first. The other two will be two other perspectives in the same period in Rome.
It is 1943 in the eternal city. The Nazi’s control Rome under SS Officer Paul Hauptmann. O’Connor paints a brutal picture of Hauptmann’s rule of terror.
It almost gets down to a head to head between this violent Nazi and an Irish priest who is using the neutrality of the Vatican as his refuge. This book in the Trilogy is without doubt about their almost personal relationship amidst the bloody violence.
As O’Flaherty measures his inches of safety and Hauptmann gets impatient to cross it, our heroic priest is conducting a choir, a menagerie of folk, not all of the Catholic faith or any faith at. They are a group using the choir as a front for an audacious escape plan That hopes to lead thousands of vulnerable souls from underneath Nazi hate. Escape!
Indeed, the book is written like a choir, with different voices harmonising O’Flaherty’s across the narrative.
O’Connor who you sense loves Rome ,like any of us who have been wooed by that cities streets and buildings and basilicas and fountains and coffee shops then takes us on a thrilling night run, twisting and turning in its pages and at times in the reader’s nerve ravaged stomachs!
Since finishing the book, in my time spent in Catholic Churches and monasteries, I have asked questions about the real Hugh O’Flaherty and met some who knew him or others in the choir. Out of these conversations I have got a sense that he had some of the same maverick, stubborn, courage of Fr Alec Reid who in his time in Clonard Monastery in Belfast threw himself into dangerous situations to save lives and bring peace in Northern Ireland.
The end? Well the end for us clergy might be the best of all. No spoilers BUT forgiveness becomes more difficult when you experience brutality. Forgiveness might be the most important word, the most vital key, to what gives us resolution, healing and peace in our personal souls and across societies. O’Connor throws in a profound tuppence worth!
Let us hear the rest of the choir. Soon. Please!