I first ran across the writings of Ronald Knox as a very young, and extremely ignorant, convert to Roman Catholicism. Always an avid reader, I was hungry for the truth in written, intellectually stimulating and satisfying form. Providentially, I didn't have to wade through muddy waters alone but had a tremendous guide in my father-in-law, Neil McCaffrey Jr., who took me by the hand and led me directly to the very best English-language, Catholic writing. One of many books he gave me was a small, paperback volume of Catholic Digest, in which I found an abbreviated version of Knox’s ‘Trials of a Translator’. What struck me immediately was that here was a formidable intellect at work. I felt an immediate attraction. The fact that I, uninstructed as I was, could not only read, but understand what he had to say, only proves the marvelous talent which Knox exhibited throughout his life: that of being able to address any level of reader, any type of audience. He seemed extremely approachable.
I was hooked. For readers, there are few things more exciting in this life than finding an author one has never read and, further, that he has written prolifically. It’s like opening the door to Aladdin’s Cave. Over the years I read all the books I could find by Knox. Most of them came from my father-in-law’s enormous, personal library. And garage sales. In the early 80s almost none of Knox’s books were in print. Roman Catholic Books published ‘A Retreat For Lay People’, which is one of Knox’s best. Then Ignatius Press came to the rescue and began, slowly, to publish Knox’s sermons and apologetics. A generation later, there are now quite a few of Knox’s works in print. Enough to be going on with.
Somewhere in that time period, with the advent of the internet and Google, I founded the Ronald Knox Society, purely by chance, and without forethought. One night I was googling Knox in search of something-or-other and noticed that there was really very little information about him online. The only information which kept resurfacing with alarming regularity was an article by Fr. Leonard Feeney, S.J., taking Knox to task for his “liberal” views of extra Ecclesiam nulla salus. Without commenting further on Fr. Feeney I will say that, at the very least, it was extremely one-sided. So I looked up domain names and found that, unsurprisingly, www.ronaldknoxsociety.com was available. I made a little do-it-yourself website and started adding content. My purpose was, quite simply, to insure that when someone did a Google search for Ronald Knox he would get solid information about the man and his work.
Nothing much has changed since then. The greatest benefit that I have personally received from the Society has been the friendship of Fr. Milton Walsh, expert on the writings of Ronald Knox and terrific tour-guide to San Francisco. His advice has been to let the Society grow organically and not hustle about trying to make it other than what it currently is: a very small, and rather odd assortment of people who greatly admire, and are indebted to, the writings of Msgr. Ronald Knox.
So if our members are waiting for newsletters and conventions, membership drives and cruises, they are destined to be disappointed. People often ask whether I have begun a cause for Knox’s canonization. No, nor do I have any intention of doing so. Aside from the fact that I have neither the energy nor the patience for such an undertaking, I rather think that modesty would prevent Knox from wanting himself put forward in that way. His life’s work was to clear the grime from our intellects that we might see the object of his own gaze: Our Lord Jesus Christ, the “window in the wall”. That is more than enough to be going on with.
President, Ronald Knox Society