John L'Heureux, a "prolific author and former Jesuit priest whose fiction grappled with matters of morality, redemption and transcendence," died April 22, the New York Times reported. He was 84. L'Heureux was a professor of English at Stanford for 36 years, wrote more than 20 books and numerous short stories and poems.
His novels include The Medici Boy (2014), The Shrine at Altamira (1992), The Handmaid of Desire (1997), A Woman Run Mad (1988), and Tight White Collar (1972). An autobiographical memoir, Picnic in Babylon: A Jesuit Priest's Journal, 1963-67 (1967), "chronicled his religious education, much of which coincided with the Second Vatican Council, a revolutionary period for the church during which it modernized many of its practices," the Times noted.
L'Heureux eventually left the priesthood in and was laicized in 1971. He later told the Stanford Daily: "I left the Jesuits because I wanted to live my own life, make my own decisions and take responsibility for those decisions. With a vow of obedience, you simply cannot do that."
He married Joan Polston, who told the Times that her late husband knew he could not be a writer and a priest at the same time: "If you're a writer, what you want to do with your time is write. But if you're a priest, you must serve other people. And besides, being celibate was not something that looked possible."
"John's stories embody a strong sense of humor about the vagaries of faith and life and the fragility of human convictions," said Deborah Treisman, the New Yorker's fiction editor. "He allowed his characters both their comic foibles and their occasional, unexpected moments of grace."
Author Tobias Wolff, a former student of L'Heureux and later a colleague at Stanford, observed: "In taking on complex spiritual and moral questions, John wrote with distinctive exactitude, humanity, and wit--serious wit--and an adventurous sense of form. His work challenges our self-conceptions and certainties, and often troubles the heart."