Joseph Pearce is the director of the Aquinas Center for Faith and Culture at Aquinas College in Nashville, Tenn. An accomplished Catholic writer, Pearce has written several books, including biographies on J.R.R. Tolkien and G.K. Chesterton. A native of England who was involved in extremist politics as a young man, Pearce credits Chesterton’s writings for his conversion to the Catholic faith. Pearce is currently writing a biography on Tom Monaghan, founder of Domino’s Pizza, Ave Maria University and Legatus. Pearce spoke with Legatus magazine staff writer Brian Fraga.
How is your biography on Tom Monaghan coming?
I’m halfway through the writing. I expect to have it finished by the end of this year and hopefully published by sometime next year. I’ve known Tom on one level for many years, but now I’m working on a much deeper level. I have been spending an awful lot of time with him, not just interviewing him personally, but looking at old newspaper copies, unpublished manuscripts, all sorts of things about Tom’s life from the beginning until today.
What have you been learning about him?
People know the facts of Tom’s life, but in many ways the truth is something that puts flesh on those bones. What I want to do is bring out the humanity of Tom — from his childhood, where he loses his father at a young age, and the years in the orphanage, the struggles, the poverty he suffered as a young man, the betrayal of trust with people when he was young, and how he never allowed that to harden his heart. Basically what we see is a journey of a soul, a soul that is growing in wisdom and understanding and love. And of course we have this conversion experience. Tom was a lifelong Catholic, but he read C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity in the late 1980s, and that had a profound impact on his life.
What role did Chesterton’s writing play in your conversion?
One thing I do have in common with Tom is that our lives have been changed radically by reading these great Christian evangelists. With me, reading Chesterton initially opened my eyes to a sense of wonder, to a sense of gratitude to the sheer impossibility and beauty of the material cosmos in which we find ourselves.
How can literature play a role in the conversion of individuals and culture?
The power of story really can change lives, and change hearts and change minds, and that’s what literature does. Literature is using the power of story to open our eyes to the truths of the Gospel — at least that’s what it should do. The great works of Western civilization, certainly right up until the 20th century for the most part, were expressions of the goodness, truth and beauty of God.
How did you discover your talent for writing?
I’m reminded of the Gospel parable by Christ of the talents. There are many things I’m very bad at, but thanks be to God, He gave me the talent of writing. I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember, going back to my childhood. Even when I was in my bad place, I was editing magazines. I was using my writing — those talents God gave me — for evil and pernicious uses. But I think part of my own personal mission in life now is to undo the damage I did in my early life with the good that hopefully I’ve been doing now to evangelize the culture.