Joy of Y'at Catholicism (Higgins)

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The Joy at Y'at Catholicism
Earl J. Higgins, 2007 
Pelican Publishers
144 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781589804104

In Brief  
New Orleans culture is a fusion of secular and holy. From the earliest days of the community founded on the banks of the Mississippi River, the Catholic faith has been an influence on, and inspiration for, daily life. To be sure, religious rites such as weddings, funerals, and feast day festivals transpire elsewhere in the country. In New Orleans, however, they are celebrated with a zeal and verve that speaks to the uniqueness of the community.

Earl Higgins amuses us with those quirky, sometimes paradoxical, customs that define modern New Orleans life. He humorously explains why the answer to the question "Where did you go to high school?" is a better identifying characteristic of a New Orleanian than a thumbprint. What's in a name? Many New Orleans streets and one local bayou bear the names of Catholic saints. Louisiana's civil districts are parishes, not counties, bearing testimony to the strong congregational life of the region's founding fathers.

Holidays take a twist as New Orleanians observe Christmas, but just as importantly, Twelfth Night, which ushers in the Carnival season and ultimately Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday. Meatless Fridays and the Creole culinary tradition of Holy Thursday's gumbo z'herbes hail from religious observances connected with Lent.

The term y'at is an affectionate nickname proudly worn by some New Orleanians. Higgins, a proud Jesuit High School blue jay and y'at, explains how all these Catholic customs and traditions have blended throughout history to create a unique lifestyle and shorthand language found only in New Orleans. (From the publisher.)

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About the Author 

Birth—October 1941
Where—New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
Education—B.A. and J.D., Tulane University
Currently—lives in River Ridge, Louisiana

Much like royalty ascending a throne, Earl J. Higgins had the markings of a Y’at Catholic from the beginning. He began his physical and spiritual life in bastions of New Orleans’ Catholic culture, having been born October 1941 in Hotel Dieu Hospital and christened in St. Stephen’s Catholic Church. Graduating from Jesuit High School cinched the deal. He is an authentic Y’at, an affectionate term for a local New Orleanian.

Armed with a B.A. in English and a juris doctorate from Tulane University, Higgins compiled an impressive resume of government service. He retired from the United States Navy in 1989 with the rank of commander, U.S. Naval Reserve, and from the United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit, in 2002 as the assistant director of staff attorneys. When questioned about his seemingly dry government service, Higgins points out that there is much humor and creativity among bureaucrats and military people. No doubt Higgins led the charge, instigating his share of humor over the years.

As for his creative leanings, reading has always been a passion. His interests are eclectic, from the twenty Aubrey-Maturin novels of Patrick O’Brian to the spiritual writings of Thomas Merton. If he had to choose one author as his favorite, Higgins would choose Nikos Kazantzakis. The classics have interested him since childhood, and he has read and reread Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Virgil, Martial, St. Augustine, and others from time to time. Shakespeare fascinates him. Higgins listens to classical music but is very fond of jazz and rhythm and blues. He plays blues and boogie-woogie on the piano.

“I’m a Y’at, so to say that I’m a Mardi Gras enthusiast is sort of redundant,” says Higgins, who is a proud member of the Krewe du Vieux, a satirical Mardi Gras organization known for its parades lampooning the famous and infamous. Carrying on local traditions in post-Katrina New Orleans is important to Higgins, who humorously displays his affection for his hometown in The Joy of Y’at Catholicism.

Higgins is a ranger at the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve and writes a column of humor, satire, and whimsy for the Delta Sierran, a bimonthly publication of the Sierra Club. Higgins is a member of St. Thomas More Parish of Tulane University. He and his wife, Janet, are the parents of three grown children and reside in River Ridge, Louisiana. (From the publisher.)

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Critics Say . . . 
(Some books have few mainstream press reviews online. See Amazon and Barnes & Noble for helpful customer reivews.)

Just as all Y'at Orleanians know dat a true miracle is a Catlick family wid less than five kids, and da priest's benediction is da starting block for da mad dash to da parking lot, now dey'll know dat if dere's ever an archbishop of Y'ats, it'll be Earl Higgins—excuse me, Oil Higgins.
Angus Lind - New Orleans Times-Picayune

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Book Club Discussion Questions 

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Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for The Joy at Y'at Catholicism

1. What makes the New Orleans Catholic tradition so different from other places in the world? Consider the ways in which the city's history shaped its religious identification.

2. Which particular observances do you find most humorous, quirky, or strange?

3. What is Higgins's attitude toward his native city and towards Y'at Catholicism? Is his tone humorous, affectionate, satirical, condescending, or angry?

4. If you're a native of New Orleans (or know it well), do you think Higgins does justice to the city—is his portrayal fair or accurate? What, if anything, has changed about the city's Ya't Catholicism since Katrina?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please fee free to use them, online or off, with attribution.)

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