Fans of Pat Conroy – both the man and the books he wrote – know of his love for the Lowcountry that he called home. They know about his family life, his college years at The Citadel, and his experiences as a teacher on the then-remote island of Daufuskie.
What they might not know about Conroy is that he was a man of faith, though perhaps not a dedicated churchgoer or practitioner of any particular religion.
In a presentation Oct. 3 at Lowcountry Presbyterian Church in Bluffton, guests can learn about Conroy’s humanistic faith and the themes of spirituality presented in 11 of his 12 books. The presentation will be livestreamed on the church’s Facebook page and website.
Jonathan Haupt, director of the Pat Conroy Literary Center in Beaufort, and the center’s first intern, Holland Perryman, will lead guests through a 90-minute glimpse of Conroy’s history of faith, how his perspectives were influenced by his parents, and how he eventually found God in nature.
In an August interview, Haupt and Perryman explained how this presentation came to be.
“I’ve given lots of talks and library programs since the Conroy Center opened,” Haupt said, noting that most people want to know about the author’s writing career, his family, details about his subject matter and the like.
Then, about a year ago, “The Athens (Ga.) Chautauqua Society asked me to speak on Conroy, and asked ‘What topic have you always wanted to talk about, but haven’t yet?’ I immediately replied, ‘The faith of Pat Conroy.’ That led to a 90-minute presentation, because he had so much to say.”
Faith wasn’t an overriding theme in any of Conroy’s books, Haupt said, “but there was always an underlying element of faith.”
Haupt and Perryman will give examples from his books in which faith plays a part. For instance, in his 2004 “Pat Conroy Cookbook,” the author wrote, “The great salt marsh spreading all around as far as the eye could see has remained the central image that runs through my work. I cannot look at a salt marsh, veined with salt creeks swollen with the moonstruck tides, without believing in God.”
The two speakers know a lot about Conroy and about faith. Haupt, the grandson of a preacher, is the former director of the University of South Carolina Press. There, he worked closely with Conroy when the two created the Story River Books imprint; they remained close friends. Haupt also is co-editor of the anthology “Our Prince of Scribes: Writers Remember Pat Conroy.”
The 17-year-old Perryman, a senior at Beaufort High School – which Conroy attended – is the daughter of the Rev. Dr. Patrick Perryman, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Beaufort, where Conroy was a frequent visitor.
Perryman, whose family moved to Beaufort when she was 5, said she was aware of Conroy and his presence in Beaufort, but it wasn’t until her freshman year in high school that she read one of his books, “The Water is Wide,” and was assigned to write about a sense of place.
At that point, her desire to be a writer was growing. When she visited the Pat Conroy Literary Center in 8th grade, invited by resident writer Stephanie Austin Edwards, “I figured something really important was going on here.”
That visit was to become a major event in her own writing life. A couple of years later, “I was trying to figure out how I’m going to do what I want in this small town,” she said. “Then my mother ‘suggested’ that a become an intern at the Center.”
She boldly approached the center with her resume in hand and explained to Haupt why she should become the Center’s first intern. “It was a rather cold interview process,” she said.
“I was reluctant,” Haupt said, “because I had been a mentor to a number of college students” with varied results.
But, the two stepped out in faith, so to speak, as mentor and mentee and have continued to work well together, navigating the circles that bring Lowcountry writers together in interesting and amazing ways.
Their presentation, “The Faith of Pat Conroy,” will begin at 4 p.m. Oct. 3. It is free and open to the public. Face coverings are recommended.
Lowcountry Presbyterian Church is located at 10 Simmonsville Road. The presentation will be held in the sanctuary.