RIP Toni Morrison, Catholic

RIP Toni Morrison, Catholic August 6, 2019

The acclaimed author of “Beloved” — and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature — has died. She was 88.

What many may not know is that she was baptized Catholic.

From an interview with Terri Gross on NPR:

GROSS: So your birth name is Chloe Wofford. Morrison was your married name when you were married, but you’ve been divorced a long time – since 1974. And Toni was shortened from Anthony, which was the name when you were…

MORRISON: Baptized.

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GROSS: …Baptized. And so am I right in saying that you became a Catholic when you were 12? That’s what I read.

MORRISON: Yeah, I did.

GROSS: So let’s start with your name. Once you started being called Toni, did you feel different from being called Chloe?

MORRISON: I never felt like anything other than Chloe. You know, my name, Chloe, nobody could pronounce it properly outside my family. In school, the teachers called me Chlo (ph) or Chlovee (ph) or Chlorey (ph) because it was spelled that way. It’s much more common now. But I couldn’t bear to have people mispronounce my name. But the person I was, was this person who was called Chloe. And then there’s a wing of my family who are all Catholics. And I – and one of them was a cousin with whom I was very close, and she was a Catholic. And so I got baptized, et cetera, and I chose Saint Anthony of Padua as the baptismal name.

So then I go away and the people in Washington, they don’t know how to pronounce C-H-L-O-E. So somebody mistakenly called me Toni ’cause she couldn’t hear Chloe. So I said uh-huh (laughter). Now – so I don’t care. Call me Toni. It’s easy. You don’t have to mispronounce my name. And then I meant to put my maiden name in the first book I wrote, as a matter of fact. But I called the publisher and said, oh, by the way, I don’t want Toni Morrison to be on the book. And they said, it’s too late. They’ve already sent it to the Library of Congress. But I really would have preferred Toni Wofford.

GROSS: So the opening quote in your book, and it stands on a page alone before the book begins, is “suffer little children to come unto me…”

MORRISON: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: “…And forbid them not.” And it’s – Jesus wants to bless the children, so he’s basically saying, let the children come to me. Do not forbid them from coming.

MORRISON: Yeah, they were holding them back.

GROSS: Yeah, the disciples wanted to hold them, yeah.

MORRISON: Right.

GROSS: So it just made me wonder if you have spent a lot of time reading the Bible, either through your mother’s religion when you were young – and she was very religious – or as a Catholic or as a literary person?

MORRISON: I think as a scholar that it’s necessarily inspirational because it’s gone through so many hands, so many translations. That’s the way I approach it now. But in my mother’s church, everybody read the Bible and it was mostly about music. My mother had the most beautiful voice and people came from long distances to that little church she went to – African Methodist Episcopal, the AME church she belonged to – just hear her.

So for me, her church was about her and music. The lessons, you know, were like fairytales to me. So at an early age I moved into this other religion and was perfectly content with its aesthetics. That’s shallow, I understand (laughter). But that’s what it was, until I grew up a little older and began to take it seriously and then – took it seriously for years and years and years.

GROSS: So is there any form of religion in your life now?

MORRISON: Not a structured one. I might be easily seduced to go back to church because I like the controversy as well as the beauty of this particular Pope Francis. He’s very interesting to me.

Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her … 


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