Wednesday, March 21, 2007


Father Brown and the LIttle Irish Priest

Copyright 2007 by Donovan Baldwin

"It's not that we don't have enough scoundrels to curse; it's that we don't have enough good men to curse them."

- G. K. Chesterton

I love words.

I love the way they can flow and twist and wind themselves together into a thought or an image. Maybe it's the Irish in me, but I do know that part of my love for the words of poetry, stories, and philosophical thought can be pinned on one dear little Irish priest...Father Cunningham.

It was the 50's and I attended St. John's Parochial school in Warrington, Florida, a small community which lay between Pensacola and the huge naval air station, NAS Pensacola, where my father, and many of my friend's fathers worked.

As part of the good Catholic education I was supposed to be getting, one of the priests was tapped to come over to class regularly and give us some religious education. I don't know what the Lord was thinking, but he sent us Father Cunningham.

Father Cunningham was, as the Irish (at least those in movies like "The Quiet Man") say, "a dear little man". He was, of course, small, with an unruly shock of black hair, and a perpetual smile. Everyone, including the nuns, loved him dearly. At that time, I couldn't understand why they would shake their heads and smile a little sadly when they learned that Father Cunningham would be the one coming "for religion" on a given day.

They didn't seem to be happy about it!

On the other hand, we loved it, as Father Cunningham knew a million stories, and, like a good Irishman, was ever prepared to regale us with tales of leprechauns, the banshee, and the black coach...not to mention a myriad of other characters that nobody else ever bothered to tell us about!

Of all the characters I waited for, Father Brown was the best!

Father Brown was a fictional priest/detective created by the great Gilbert Keith (G. K.) Chesterton, a prolific and wide ranging author whose work was characterized as much by his free-wheeling, often acerbic, style of writing and witty opinionating as it was by its diversity, hidden humor, and depth of thought.

Father Cunningham knew all the Father Brown mysteries and loved to share them with us. Fortunately for the nuns they were written as short stories. He would, with a beautiful Irish brogue and flair for the tale, take us down streets and alleys in foreign cities we had never heard of (or had forgotten about after the bell rang or the test was over), and introduce us to adults we had never known before...nor had we seen them in that light.

I hated school with all the passion of my young heart, but I soared when Father Cunningham came to class, and I could hardly wait to hear the next adventure of Father Brown.

As I look back these 50 years, I am able to see the impact that one small Irish priest had on my entire future.

A year or two later, in a library, I stumbled across a book that had the words "Father Brown" on its spine. It also had the word "Chesterton". I took the book and read it cover to cover over the next few days. I devoured all the Father Brown mysteries and moved on to all the other mysteries on either side. I read about Sherlock Holmes, Bulldog Drummond, Simon Templar (the Saint), the Lone Wolf, Mr. Moto, and Dr. Fu Manchu. When I had made a dent in all the mysteries and hungered for something else, I read the westerns. I started with Zane Grey and went through western story after western story, acquiring an admiration for Hopalong cassidy (the real one, not the movie one made famous by Bill Boyd), and Hashknife Hartley and his sidekick, Sleepy Stevens, along the way.

From there, I moved to Science Fiction and eventually became acquainted with the works of Heinlein, Asimov, and others too numerous to mention.

Somewhere, I discovered G. K. Chesterton had written many things other than Father Brown mysteries, and I began to read anything of his I could find and this lead me to the essay. Essays led to poetry and philosophy, and by the time my high school teacher exposed me to Shakespeare, I was ready! These readings did not lead only to the dusty shelves full of what could be considered "literature", but also led me to the output of modern writers.

From fiction I moved to non-fiction and, wanting to know more about myself and my fellow travelers upon this earth, I uncovered the likes of Dale Carnegie and Napoleon Hill and dipped into such esoteric areas as meditation and yoga. I taught myself speed reading and tried to read my way through lists of great books.

I cannot credit Father Cunningham with my love of books, as my parents began taking me to the Pensacola library on a regular basis before I could read. In those days it was still in Old Christ Church on the edge of what is now Seville Square in Pensacola. The floors were wood, and the stereopticon with the collection of slides was the first thing I headed for when we entered.

Nor did Father Cunningham teach me to love adventure, romance, God or my homeland, but he led me to a love of words and the thoughts of men and women both great and simple. All these thoughts and opinions and stories and poems have helped to make the happy, healthy, usually well-balanced 62 year old man I am today. Almost any simple phrase or common event can send me into the corridors of my mind where an untold number of tales and thoughts await to intrigue or amuse me. No high speed movie car chase or thriller plot can set my blood racing as easily and completely as one simple passage, "'Come, Watson, come!' he cried. 'The game is afoot...'"

It was years later, by the way, that I came to realize one other thing as well. The nuns need not have worried. By telling us the Father Brown mysteries, Father Cunningham introduced us to the concept of good and evil and was actually using these stories as morality plays to make points in ways that we could absorb into our young beings. The "learning" would come later.

Donovan Baldwin is a Texas writer and a University of West Florida alumnus. He is a member of Mensa and is retired from the U. S. Army after 21 years of service. In his career, he has held many managerial and supervisory positions. However, his main pleasures have long been writing, nature, health and fitness. In the last few years, he has been able to combine these pleasures by writing poetry and articles on subjects such as health, fitness, yoga, writing, the environment, happiness, self improvement, and weight loss.

You can find his site on yoga at

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Dear Mr. Baldwin,

I enjoyed so much reading your blog piece “Father Brown and the Little Irish Priest” today, and it occurs to me that you might be interested to learn that a new edition of Napoleon Hill's classic book "Think and Grow Rich" has been published.

Its title is "Think and Grow Rich!" (subtitled) "The Original Version, Restored and Revised." I am the editor/annotator of this new 412-page edition, which is really an homage to Dr. Hill. (For several years I was the editor-in-chief of "Think & Grow Rich Newsletter.")

What I have done is this: to restore Dr. Hill's book to its original manuscript content (it was first published in 1937, but was abridged in 1960), annotate it with more than 50 pages of endnotes (most of the persons and events he discusses are generally unknown to readers today), index it thoroughly, add an appendix with a wealth of additional information about Dr. Hill and his work, and revise the book in ways to help remove certain "impediments" to reading the book today (language that today would be considered obsolete, sexist or racist). None of these things had previously been done with TGR.

If you would like to learn a little more about this project, a quick visit to will give you some details. The "Editor's Foreword" provides more complete information, and the “Testimonials” page will demonstrate how well-received this new book is around the world. Here is the book’s page:

The book is available on all the Amazon websites and most other online sellers, it can be ordered by any bookstore, and it will start appearing in bookstores soon.

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Thank you for your time and attention.

Ross Cornwell, Editor
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