The account of a newly ordained priest encountering death for the first time is earning a Mississippi State University professor highest honors in a short story competition.
"Vessels of Clay," written by English department head Henry J. Donaghy, is grand prize winner in competition sponsored by Memphis magazine. A $1,000 check accompanies the prize.
For Donaghy, who retires next July, "Vessels" is his first attempt at non-academic writing. Chosen from more than 100 entries, the fictional piece will be published in December.
"Every English teacher would like to try literature from the other side," he said. "I want to continue to write fiction once I retire."
The magazine, which has a nationwide circulation of about 25,000, has sponsored the literary competition for the past eight years.
A former priest who grew up in New York, Donaghy set the story in that city in the 1950s. In it, a priest ordained only weeks earlier is called to administer last rites to a man who has been dragged by a garbage truck and to a young girl who dies in the middle of the night.
"It's shocking for a new priest to encounter such death," he said, adding that the story ultimately shows "the strength of the laity in the life of the church."
Donaghy, a graduate of Stonehill College in Massachusetts, was ordained in 1958 and left the priesthood in 1966. He earned a master's degree at Fordham University and a doctorate at New York University, both in English literature.