David Deavel on De Sales, Newman, Chesterton, and Hitchcock
Date: March 18th, 2018

Location, location, location.  That is the eternal cry of every real estate agent, and it proved prophetic for this week’s guest, Prof. David Deavel, an assistant professor of Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas — as he grew up an evangelical Christian in the shadow of Notre Dame, which gave him the foundation for later converting to Catholicism.  And along the way, he became an expert on a number of Catholic saints, theologians, and writers, which is where our discussion winds today.  And a winding road it is, starting with St. Francis De Sales, moving into John Henry Newman, off to G.K. Chesterton, and finally stopping with Alfred Hitchcock.  This is a fun-filled and light-hearted look at a number of Catholic thinkers and their relationship to our modern world.

The conversation begins with a bit of the background on our guest, and an interesting fun fact that the city of St. Paul was once called “Pig’s Eye.”  We learn much about how Prof. Deavel ended up thinking about everything from Catholic social thought to vampires and Harry Potter.  After that, we get on to the primary topic at hand, which is Saint Francis De Sales, a priest who originally started out as a lawyer and who was also an avid rower back in the 16th century (and eventually passing in 1622).  Prof. Deavel terms De Sales a “patron saint for our time” by observing that Francis threw himself into a very contentious environment in Switzerland several decades after the Protestant Reformation.  Catholics were not all that popular in Geneva back then, thus De Sales had to figure out how to keep a low profile (once hiding in a tree for a full day), yet keep true to his love of spreading the Gospel.  De Sales strategy was to show and live a life of love, and would often minister in local houses.  His understanding that all Christians were holy was a thought that preceded the thinking of the Second Vatican Council’s emphasis on ecumenism by more than three centuries.  David points out that in today’s world where politics has become a “blood sport” and all sorts of groups are locked in seemingly endless battle, De Sales message of tolerance is one that should be heralded.  Francis De Sales eventually was promoted to bishop of Geneva and founded the Salesians religious order (or Visitation sisters).

We then move on to discuss John Henry Newman who lived for most of the 19th century and became an important figure in Catholic education.  Experiencing a Christian conversion at age 16 and becoming an Anglican clergy member in the 1820s, Newman was a principal leader of the Oxford Movement that sought to return the Church of England to its Catholic roots.  Though unsuccessful in returning the Anglican Church to Catholicism, Newman found himself converting to Catholicism in the mid-19th century, eventually becoming a Cardinal in the Church.  We discuss his emphasis on education, culminating both in his work in Dublin, as well as his series of lectures that culminated in the work The Idea of a University which has heavily influenced Catholic higher education to this day.  Although never having hidden in a tree like Francis De Sales, Cardinal Newman has been on the road to sainthood and is currently categorized as Blessed Newman, one step away from becoming an official saint.  Our conversation turns then to G.K. Chesterton, another Catholic thinker that has occupied the mind of Dr. Deavel.  He contrasts the irreligious early life of Chesterton with the two previous figures we discussed, but notes the similarities in how his faith was shaped early in adulthood, eventually culminating in his admission that he was Christian by age 26 and eventual conversion to Catholicism in 1922.  We then veer into the world of Alfred Hitchcock who was influenced by Chesterton but took a much different religious trajectory.  Prof. Deavel notes the religious influences in Hitchcock’s life and how he came back to Catholicism at the end of his life. Our conversation ends with some reflections by David on what this eclectic path of study he has taken has revealed to him over time.  Recorded: February 23, 2018.



Prof. David Deavel’s bio in the Department of Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas.

Prof. David Deavel’s Academia.edu page (where you can find his various articles).

LOGOS: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture.

The Catholic Controversy, by St. Francis De Sales.

Introduction to the Devout Life, by St. Francis De Sales.

The Idea of a University, by John Henry Newman.

Orthodoxy, by G.K. Chesterton.

The Ballad of the White Horse,” by G.K. Chesterton.

Martin Luther Insult Generator (mentioned in podcast).

Pope Francis Insult Generator (also mentioned in podcast in an ecumenical spirit).


Brian O’Neel on Saint Who? Some Holy Unknowns.

Brian O’Neel on the Saints of January.

Brian O’Neel on the Saints of February.

Jim Tonkowich on Converting to Catholicism.

Corey Olsen on J.R.R. Tolkien.

Louis Markos on the Poetry of Heaven and Hell.

Micah Watson on C.S. Lewis.

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