I live in Dublin, Ireland. Sometimes. Most times I live in my head, quite unaware of my surroundings – if you know what I mean… If you succeed in tracking Sean Walsh, please let me know, ok? I've been searching for him for years…
This play shows why art is needed – to go where history cannot: in this case into the internal impact of a ‘defection’ from the fortress church of Irish Catholicism in the 1960s. Xavier, a monk, has disappeared, but why – and what will this mean for the morale and mission of his brothers? How are they to make sense of it, and what does the future hold for ‘the church’ anyway, a church over-identified then and now with its celibate clergy?
That question is not yet past history of course: ‘The Search for Xavier’ helps the reader – and not just the Irish Catholic reader – to articulate those questions we tend to suppress because of the ‘Seamus Heaney Protocol’: “whatever you say, say nothing”. It obviously took great courage for Sean Walsh to write this story, but it is also his skill as a writer that makes the book one of those as yet unknown classics that historians of the future will need if they are to map our recent past and present. No other book has taken me so close to the inner turmoil caused to that fortress church of the 1960s by the answering of a vocation to a life that can nourish the heart as well as the soul.
This is a truly powerful drama that will engage the reader at many levels. It is set in that pivotal moment within the Catholic church when the tectonic plates that had been building up pressure for centuries begin to unexpectedly shift with the workings of the Second Vatican Council. The play explores the energy released by this shift through the lens of a community of Friars in a monastery in Ireland. Their world is a microcosm of the world of the church at that time and of the culture as a whole. The members of the community are portrayed with honesty, insight and, ultimately, compassion. These are real human beings engaging with situations and issues they have never had to engage with up until this moment. The whole of humanity is there and the readers will sense that they are there too. The human dramas generated by the members of this community at this time of profound change will continue to speak to us long after we have read this play. It is a play that deserves a stage.
A fascinating period play which brings to light a deeply felt human drama in the context of bigger questions and the unfolding of larger issues – and I have only read it! The stage would bring it to life. It would be great to see it acted.