About Ignatius Insight
  Who We Are
  Author Pages
  Pope Benedict XVI/Cardinal Ratzinger
  Pope John Paul II/ Karol Wojtyla
  Rev. Louis Bouyer
  G.K. Chesterton
  Fr. Thomas Dubay
  Mother Mary Francis
  Fr. Benedict Groeschel
  Thomas Howard
  Karl Keating
  Msgr Ronald Knox
  Peter Kreeft
  Fr. Henri de Lubac, SJ
  Michael O'Brien
  Joseph Pearce
  Josef Pieper
  Richard Purtill
  Steve Ray
  Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, OP
  Fr. James V. Schall, SJ
  Frank Sheed
  Fr. Hans Urs von Balthasar
  Adrienne von Speyr
  Louis de Wohl
  Catholic World Report
  H&P Review
Article Archives
  Jan 2006-Present
  July-Dec 2005
  Apr-Jun 2005
  Jan-Mar 2005
  Nov-Dec 2004
  June-Oct 2004
  Press Room
  Sacred Art
  Religious Ed
  Request Catalog
  Web Specials
  Ignatius Press
  Noteworthy News
  Catholic World News
  EWTN News
  Vatican News
  Catholic News Agency
  Catholic News

Michael O'Brien, born in Ottawa, Canada, in 1948 is a self-taught painter and writer. He has worked as a professional artist since 1970 when he had his first one-man exhibit at a major gallery in Ottawa. The show was nearly sold out in a short time, and has been followed by 40 exhibits across North America during the ensuing 30 years. Since 1976 he has painted religious imagery exclusively, a field that ranges from liturgical commissions to work reflecting on the meaning of the human person, transcendence and immanence. His paintings hang in churches, monasteries, universities, community collections and private collections in the U.S.A., Canada, England, Australia, and Africa.

The artist is also well known writer on religion and culture. His essays have appeared in several international journals and anthologies concerned with these topics, urging the people of the Western world to examine the negative effects of materialism, and to rediscover authentic spiritual sources in the absolutes of the Christian faith. Both his written work and visual art have been reviewed and reproduced widely. He is an author of several books, notably his seven volume series of novels published by Ignatius Press of San Francisco. The first volume, Father Elijah, published in 1996, has sold more than 40,000 copies in hardcover, and subsequent novels have also sold well.

Michael O'Brien's author page |, Michael's personal web site

Part One (of Two) of an exclusive interview with Michael O'Brien

Ignatius Insight: Your most recent novel, A Cry of Stone, is the fifth book in the Children of the Last Days series. What was the inspiration and idea behind this series of novels?

O’Brien: It began one day in the mid-1990’s, when I was visiting the Blessed Sacrament in my local parish. I was praying for the Church. Suddenly overwhelmed by the reality of how many particular Catholic churches in the Western world have been seduced by materialism and have slid into grave sin and error, I was stricken with a deep grief. Though I am not an especially emotional person by nature, I began to weep....a profound weeping and groaning that was more spiritual than emotional. I begged God to purify and strengthen the Church in my land, in all the Americas and Western Europe.

Without warning or explanation, into my mind there flashed the image of a priest struggling to make sense of his times, confronted by several layers of struggle, both in his interior life and the exterior situation of compromise.
With this powerful image came a peaceful, though compelling, understanding that I was to tell a story about this man, a fictional character who would embody the dilemma of the modern Catholic striving to see the truth and remain faithful in the midst of a spreading apostasy and other evils growing in the world around him.

At the same time there came to my mind a passage in St. Thomas Aquinas’s Summa, in which he says that if a work of art is to glorify God, the Lord will send an angel to assist in its creation. During the eight months when I wrote the novel, I went to the Blessed Sacrament every day and asked God for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and an angel of inspiration. Though I have written many books and articles over the years, Father Elijah was the easiest thing I ever wrote. It flowed out almost fully formed, literary problems solved themselves effortlessly, scenes and dialogue appeared in my imagination as if I was watching a film. The whole process still amazes me. It taught me that grace is odorless, tasteless, soundless....yet very powerful.

Ignatius Insight: Your latest novel,
A Cry of Stone is partially based on the lives of native North Americans you have known. How did your knowledge and interaction with certain Native Americans inspire or shape the novel?

O’Brien: My claim to speak for native North Americans borders on presumption, of course, but I plead a limping credibility, because according to family lore there is a trickle of native blood in my veins. Among family members long since passed away, it was said that my maternal great-great grandmother, Josephine Routhier, was an Algonquin from the reserve of Maniwaki, Quebec. This may have been guesswork on their part, or it may have been a fact. In any event, she must have been an extraordinary woman, for she converted a Protestant Irishman (a leading figure in the Orange Lodge) to the Catholic faith. She married him and together they launched a large clan of fervent and prolific papists. In addition, I lived in the Canadian Arctic for several years during my adolescence, in small Inuit villages where my friends were children who spoke little or no English. In our mutual efforts to learn each other’s languages, especially the language that needs no words, we were given a priceless experience. For ten months of each year I lived in a residential school in the western Arctic where I was the only "white" boy in a dormitory of native and part-native boys: the Inuit, the Na-Dené, and the Métis.

Other fragmentary influences: My wife, who has worked as a teacher among the Nisga of northern British Columbia, was formally adopted by that people. One of our nieces is a Carrier Indian. A Salish man named Louie, a great artist but unknown and severely damaged by his alcoholism, once surprised me with the gift of a magnificent easel that he had made for me. One winter a man named Joseph, a Dené from the Northwest Territories, appeared on our doorstep and lived with us for a while. A carpenter by trade, he helped me to make a large mural-crucifix. He was in great physical pain at the time, but insisted on doing most of the work and refused all payment. In these and other experiences, I was humbled before the face of an incarnate humility and love.

I think also of a little native boy named Louis Jack, who suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome, raised by a dear friend of ours who loved him as a mother until his death at an early age. He was a "small" person according to the world’s standards, but one who embodied presence and compassion to an unusual degree. I think also of the troubled lives of other native artists I have known, people gifted with great creative powers and sensitivity. Perhaps from the perspective of eternity we will see that their heroic, often unsuccessful, struggles to overcome their trials are more meritorious in the eyes of God than our easy successes. Of course, it’s simplistic to reduce a race to a caricature. But the sufferings of native people in general, especially those with deep faith in Christ, bring them very close to the living Beatitudes. In these times, poverty of spirit is one of the most neglected and misunderstood aspects of life in Christ. Our Lord’s beloved "little ones" have much to teach us in this regard.

Ignatius Insight: In addition to being a novelist, you are an accomplished painter and iconographer. What differences and similarities exist between painting and writing? How does your work in one medium affect your work in another?

O’Brien: For many years I’ve been fascinated by the phenomenon of language. I suspect that having two artistic "languages", so to speak, has enhanced my awareness that "words" take many forms. Beginning in the ground of essential being itself, in a kind of silence that is pure presence, meaning flows through a rich hierarchy of communication. All language is ultimately about the end of man, that is eternal communion in the Love of the Holy Trinity. All genuine communication, by which I mean the truth spoken in love, is simultaneously a yearning forward and a movement toward Paradise. Whenever we violate language we move ourselves and our listeners farther from our true destination.

Painting engages the visual and emotional senses directly through color and mood; the marriage of content and style is immediate and dramatic. In fiction this relationship between content and style is subtler. I think that the dominance of the visual in my painting has informed my novels with a stronger sense of imagery, prompting the reader’s imagination without inflaming it. By the same token, my writing has helped me to be more conscious of form in painting. The form of a work is as important as content and style, something I’ve learned only gradually over thirty years of painting and twenty-five years of writing fiction. But painting was my first teacher, my greatest teacher.

(Part two of this interview coming soon!)

A Cry of Stone

by Michael D. O'Brien

853 pages. Hardcover.

In this long-awaited fifth novel in his series, Children of the Last Days, Michael O’Brien explores the true meaning of poverty of spirit. Loosely based on the real lives of a number of native North Americans, A Cry of Stone is the fictional account of the life of a native artist, Rose Wâbos. Abandoned as an infant, Rose is raised by her grandmother, Oldmary Wâbos, in the remotest regions of the northern Ontario wilderness. The story covers a period from 1940 to 1973, chronicling Rose’s growth to womanhood, her discovery of art, her moving out into the world of cities and sophisticated cultural circles. Above all it is the story of a soul who is granted little of human strengths and resources, yet who strives to love in all circumstances. As she searches for the ultimate meaning of her life, she changes the lives of many people whom she meets along the way.

O’Brien takes the reader deep into the heart of a “small” person. There he uncovers the beauty and struggles of a soul who wants only to create, to help others to see what she sees. The story also explores the complex lies and false images, the ambitions and posturing that dominate much of contemporary culture, and shows how these have contributed to a loss of our understanding of the sacredness of each human life.

Once again, Michael O’Brien beautifully demonstrates that no matter how insignificant a person may be in the world’s eyes, marvels and mysteries are to be found in everyone. His central character, Rose, is among the despised and rejected of the earth, yet her life bears witness to the greatness in man, and to his eternal destiny.

“Michael D. O’Brien is a major talent, one of the brightest lights in the Catholic literary firmament. His latest novel, A Cry of Stone, makes for disturbing reading at times. This is as it should be. We live in disturbing times and O’Brien’s narrative strips the gloss from the demonic reality of our heedless and hedonistic age. Few writers of fiction unveil this paradoxical Presence in Absence better than O’Brien.”
Joseph Pearce, Author, Tolkien: Man and Myth

“Like O’Brien’s other novels, this book has the same perception, empathy and style; the same importance of subject; the same intense need to tell a story and tell it so very well. Fans will be delighted to continue their relationship, newcomers will be delighted to discover this remarkable voice.”
Michael Coren, Author, The Man Who Was Chesterton

A Cry of Stone by Michael O’Brien is a delightful maze of interest. After reading it through, I re-read it again. It is inspiring, educational, and tests the sense of understanding. Altogether a good read!”
Rita Joe, Native Canadian poet, Winner, Governor General’s Prize for Literature

“O’Brien is a painter as well as a novelist, and his unlikely heroine—an Indian girl, Rose, with a twisted spine, is a painter too. Endowed with the ability to get inside the souls of her subjects, she reveals the grandeur of painting from past ages and attacks the barren spirit of the modern age. O’Brien has chosen a broad canvas with complex themes and plots.”
D.J. Dooley, Professor of English, St. Michael’s College, Toronto

World Wide Web

Place your order toll-free at 1-800-651-1531

Ignatius Press | P.O. Box 1339 | Ft. Collins, CO 80522
Web design under direction of Ignatius Press.
Send your comments or web problems to:

Copyright 2016 by Ignatius Press catholic blog books insight scoop weblog ignatius