Pope Francis biographer to speak at Seattle University book festival

  • Written by Christina Novak
  • Published in Local
Search for Meaning Book Festival attendees browse book selections at the 2014 Seattle University event. Photo credit: Seattle University/Gordon Inouye Search for Meaning Book Festival attendees browse book selections at the 2014 Seattle University event. Photo credit: Seattle University/Gordon Inouye

Paul Vallely set off for Argentina shortly after smoke signals from the Vatican announced Jorge Mario Bergoglio was pope. 

The British writer said he was determined to reconcile the man on the balcony — who was signaling “a new way of being pope and a new kind of church that was simple, humble and nonjudgmental” — with reports of his past authoritative, reactionary and divisive leadership of the Jesuits in Argentina.

“I set out with these two stories in my mind and wondered which one of them was true. And if both were true, how could they both be reconciled,” Vallely said recently in an interview via Skype. “I wanted to do some firsthand research and talk to people who had really known him at different stages earlier in his life.”

Paul Valelly
Paul Vallely

Vallely’s efforts resulted in the biography, “Pope Francis: Untying the Knots,” published a few months after the papal election. “I was very lucky,” Vallely said. “I set off to find the story of this man and it could have been a boring story, but a lot happened to him in his life and so it makes the book a very good read.”

Vallely, who is also a broadcaster, lecturer and consultant on media and business ethics, will be among the featured speakers at Seattle University’s Search for Meaning Book Festival Feb. 28.

His talk, “Francis — The Pope of Surprises,” will explore the pope’s transformative years, including two years of exile in seclusion and censorship, and nearly two decades as “bishop of the slums” in Buenos Aires.

Ultimately, Vallely said, he found “a man like the rest of us, who has had a journey through life and made mistakes and tried to learn from them to become this figure of simplicity and humility … because he thinks that’s the kind of leader you have to be to do what God wants.”

Vallely will join more than 55 national and international authors participating in this year’s book festival. Admission to the all-day event is $10. Catholic-related authors and their scheduled presentations include:

  • Jan Alkire, "Sharing Your Stories, Creating Your Legacy”
  • Fred Bahnson, “Soil and Sacrament: Food, Faith, and Growing Heaven on Earth”
  • Roberta Stringham Brown and Patricia O’Connell Killen, “Deep Impulses in Pacific Northwest Catholicism, Then and Now”
  • Brian Doyle, “A Book of Uncommon Prayer: A Reading From My Work”
  • Rick Grant, “Seattle’s Churches: Ministry, Legacy, and Amazing Architecture”
  • Dana Greene, “Denise Levertov: Poet and Pilgrim”
  • Gregory Orfalea, “Junipero Serra: an Alternate Foundation Story for the United States”
  • Kenneth Peterson, “Prayer as Night Falls: Seeking the Numinous at the End of the Day”
  • Dominican Father Timothy Radcliffe, “How Can Christians Touch the Imagination of Our Contemporaries?”
  • Father Thomas Vandenberg, “The Surprising Sacrament of Matrimony: What Difference Does it Make?”