St. John’s Roman Catholic cathedral in Lafayette Square is an active parish of 1400 families, and the place where Flannery O’Connor went to daily mass with her mother, Regina Cline O’Connor. The O’Connor’s lived just across the square, in a house rented to them by their wealthy cousin Katie. Mary Flannery, as she was called as a child, is named for Katie’s father, John Flannery. Our tour guide warned us that the church is closed to tourists during the noon mass, and sometimes in the afternoon if there is a parish event going on. We made it our first stop.
Just as we arrived a volunteer docent — a guy from Jersey City, N.J. — was giving a short introduction to the historic structure. We sat down and listened, then did a self-guided tour of the interior.
Flannery was part of this parish until she was 13, when her father, Edward O’Connor, lost his job and the family moved to the Cline family mansion in Milledgeville — again, with the help of cousin Katie. Two years later, Edward died of lupus. He is buried in Milledgeville, in the Cline family plot, along with his daughter Flannery and much later, Regina, who lived to be 99.
Flannery was deeply Roman Catholic, and this church was her home for the first and perhaps most formative faith years.