The Stories of Flannery O’Connor


Dr. Jessica Hooten Wilson

JUNE 27 – JULY 2, 2021



2021 PIETAS: The Stories of Flannery O’Connor


The 2021 PIETAS: Intellectual and Contemplative Retreat for Teachers will offer Catholic teachers an encounter with the work of American novelist and short-story writer Flannery O’Connor. Bishop Robert Barron refers to Flannery as “a great prophetess of sin, grace, of God’s mercy, of God’s redemption.” Upon her death, Thomas Merton compared Flannery “not with Hemingway, Porter and Sartre,” but rather with “someone like Sophocles.” Indeed, her work is highly-charged with grace and violence, sin and redemption, suffering and ecstasy. Her work–which draws much of its symbolism from her experiences living in the American south of mid-twentieth century–speaks to us today through its universal grasp of human and divine reality. At heart, her stories reflect the hopeful and frightful reality of the Incarnation. They thus deserve to be read and studied and shared in a community of friends bound together by books and prayer.

Senior Faculty

Dr. Jessica Hooten Wilson | Jessica is the Louise Cowan Scholar in Residence at the University of Dallas in the Classical Education and Humanities Graduate Program. She is the author of three books: Giving the Devil his Due: Flannery O’Connor and The Brothers Karamazov, which received a 2018 Christianity Today book of the year awardWalker Percy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and the Search for Influenceand Reading Walker Percy’s Novels. In 2019 she received the Hiett Prize for Humanities from the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. She is co-editor of the volume Solzhenitsyn and American Culture: The Russian Soul in the West, a collection of essays on the legacy of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Currently, she is preparing Flannery O’Connor’s unfinished novel Why Do the Heathen Rage? for publication.

Kale Zelden | Kale is a husband, father, teacher, and pilgrim.

Kale was born in New Orleans, raised in Baton Rouge, and educated in New England. He is married to Dimitra, and they have three children, two big dogs, 13 chickens, and a large yard.

He has taught here at Portsmouth Abbey for 14 years, a dozen of which he did duty as an administrator in various academic capacities. His true love is the classroom, however, where he has taught and now leads the school’s signature Humanities program, a hop-skip-and-jump through the Western Canon. 

Deeply grateful for his own wide and quirky exposure to the liberal arts Kale has committed his professional life to the return of that gift. In the spirit of Lewis Hyde, he knows deep down that the only proper response to the gift of something unearned is to give it back. 

Kale earned his BA from Thomas More College in Literature and his MA from Louisiana State University. After a brief stint as a regional golf writer, Kale spent five years working in story development in Hollywood. He found himself pulled back into the classroom through his wife, and finally relented, accepted his vocation as a teacher, and returned to the classroom full time here at the Abbey in 2007. 

His academic interests are broadly literary (Dante, Shakespeare, Russian and Southern Lit, as well as lyric poetry), theological, and historical. He writes, podcasts, copes with his addiction to twitter, cooks for his family, and mixes cocktails for himself.


COST: $1,500 (includes lunches, dinners, cocktail receptions, special events, and reading material)

• CURRICULUM: The Stories of Flannery O’Connor
Flannery O’Connor: Collected Works (Library of America)

Days 1-2: A Good Man is Hard to Find
Days 3-4: Everything that Rises Must Converge
Day 5: Open Selection and Participant Presentations

Participants are responsible for reading all stories in the short story collections, A Good Man is Hard to Find and Everything that Rises Must Converge.

DATES: June 27-July 2, 2021

LOCATION: Portsmouth Abbey Monastery and School in scenic Newport County, Rhode Island

OVERNIGHT LODGING (+$150, includes continental breakfast) PLEASE NOTE: Accommodations are in modest dormitories on the campus of Portsmouth Abbey School. Rooms are single occupancy with a shared bathroom on a first-come, first-served basis. Linens but not toiletries will be provided. Attendees should bring hangers. A small fan may be desirable for warm days. A full list of suggested items is here. Late registrants may be limited to double occupancy. For those interested in local hotel accommodations, see here.

FORMAT: Participants will gather for three seminars per day, two prior to lunch and one following lunch. Each seminar will begin with a short opening lecture by senior faculty, followed by an in-depth discussion of the text. Ample leisure time is provided over lunchtime to encourage friendship among participants and to provide opportunities for individual exploration of the local culture and participation in recreational activities that Rhode Island has to offer. Time and space is also given for moments of personal writing and reflection. Evenings include poetry readings, social gatherings, evening prayers with the monastery, and dinner, concluding by 7pm. Daily mass is available each morning in the monastery church as 7:20am. There will be an opening Mass, reception, and dinner on Sunday evening for all participants with opening remarks from Executive Director Chris Fisher, and a closing dinner at the conclusion of the program on Friday evening. Participants are free to depart Friday evening following the closing dinner. Those who are travelling may stay overnight on Friday and depart Saturday if necessary. Please contact Portsmouth Institute Associate Director for Program Operations Jordan Saiz at to arrange accommodations.




If you are interested in attending or sponsoring an attendee, please contact Portsmouth Institute Executive Director Christopher Fisher at or 401.643.1255.


What is PIETAS?

PIETAS exists to celebrate the Catholic intellectual life and enter into an intentional contemplative retreat so that we teachers may flourish, and as a result, our students may flourish as well. By offering Catholic teachers an inspirational encounter with the best literature, philosophy, and theology of the West in addition to an immersive Monastic experience, participants will be equipped to inspire their own students with a shared love of learning. PIETAS will thus strengthen Catholic teaching– and Catholic school identity–through an encounter with the Catholic intellectual tradition.  

Rather than studying the practical dimensions of teaching, PIETAS offers teachers an opportunity to be students themselves—encountering and re-encountering the passion for learning which draws all teachers to their vocation in the first place. PIETAS is designed to be accessible and beneficial for Catholic teachers of all educational backgrounds and from any discipline.

PIETAS was created when a group of Catholic teachers and heads of school recognized a need for faithful Catholic teachers to gather in a shared community of fellowship and encouragement, based on an encounter with the rich Catholic and Western literary tradition. The cornerstone of PIETAS is a six-day intensive and immersive program in classic literature, philosophy, and theology, where Catholic educators gather out of a deep, shared love of the Catholic imagination.

Daily lectures delivered by expert faculty illuminate the inherent meaning of a text. Breakout sessions offer teachers an opportunity to integrate the literature with their own expertise and interests. Teachers from a variety of disciplines will thus be encouraged to share their core knowledge with fellow teachers. This makes PIETAS truly interdisciplinary.

Most importantly, PIETAS is a harbor for spiritual rejuvenation. Engagement with the Monastic rhythms of prayer will inspire contemplation and cultivate a space to recognize Grace at work in our lives and how to best respond to its invitations.

What makes PIETAS unique?

PIETAS is unique in its focus on an interdisciplinary encounter between literature, theology, art, philosophy, and history. We treat education as fundamentally interdisciplinary because Christ “is all, and is in all ” (Col. 3:11). Thus, wherever truth is, there is Christ. This is the Incarnational reality of our faith.

Further, the classical and Christian tradition teaches that an education in literature stirs the affections and moves the soul towards the attainment of the true, the good, and the beautiful–and thus ultimately, to God. Education, then, is a poetic experience, in that it addresses the human imagination and affections. It is the poetic spirit which St. John Henry Newman attributes to the Benedictine monk, with his “desire for learning and love of God.” Thus, in both our study of literature and participation in monastic liturgical life, PIETAS is a fundamentally Benedictine experience.

By spending time with fellow teachers and program faculty in various settings, participants will encounter pedagogy, rather than study it. PIETAS will treat teachers as intellectuals in their own right: intellectuals who desire to continue learning with similarly-spirited teachers.  At its root, PIETAS recognizes the sacred authority of the teacher, and we seek to nurture, cultivate, and ennoble that sacredness.

Participation in the sacraments and the Divine Office, excursions to local cultural treasures in Newport County, encounters with nature, feasts and celebrations, generous hospitality—all will energize, motivate, and uplift teachers in their pursuit of the good, true, and beautiful.

Finally, consistent with the vision of the Portsmouth Institute, PIETAS aims to be a place of learning, leisure, and love. Through learning, we will enliven teacher’s imagination in its pursuit of truth. Through leisure, we will encourage contemplation and open receptivity to God’s goodness. And through love, we will engage the heart in its pursuit of God in the beatific vision. In this way, we will cultivate a vibrant Catholic intellectual community and contribute to the restoration of Christian culture in New England and beyond.

Who is PIETAS for?

PIETAS is tailored for Catholic school educators, from administrators, to classroom teachers, to board members. PIETAS is a cohort experience that allows educators an opportunity to = collegiality in an environment where “faith seeks understanding.” We aim to inspire friendships and collaborations that last for the duration of the program and beyond.

Cancellation Policy:

  • Cancellations prior to April 27, 2021: Full refund
  • Cancellations after April 27, 2021: 50% cancellation fee
  • Cancellations after May 27, 2021: No refund
  • Please allow up to 30 days for refunds.
  • For cancellation of the program due to COVID19, participants will receive a full refund.

COVID19 Notice: Participants may be asked to provide proof of a negative result from a COVID-19 test taken after arrival or within 72 hours before arrival. Details regarding COVID restrictions will be communicated closer to the event in accordance with CDC and RIDOH guidance. Up-to-date information for visitors to Rhode Island can be found on the RIDOH website.