5 Short Stories that Every Catholic should Read

The genre of the short story is a particularly extraordinary human invention.


Listers, the genre of the short story is a particularly extraordinary human invention. In a matter of two hours or less, the short story can illustrate some complexities of life without taxing the mind with deep philosophical terms or concepts. As some of us don’t have the proclivity to have intense philosophical and theological discussions on the various nuances of life and faith, the short story provides us with a brief vision on the robust nature of the Christian existence. Many people would suggest that short stories are just for children. However, I would argue that adults need short stories as well. It is one of the few welcome outlets in which adults can hold up a mirror to themselves and observe what they see, warts and all.

In this spirit, I submit to you all, Listers, a modest list of 5 short stories that testify to the beauty and the blemishes of our humanity. I, by no means, believe that this list is a complete one (hence the “part 1” in the title of the posting). I hope to do more postings on great short stories, so please suggest any if you feel a particular piece is appropriate to this list. Now on to the stories:

#1 “Leaf by Niggle” by J. R. R. Tolkien

J. R. R. Tolkien is one of the more recognized and widely read modern authors in the English language. However, due to the vast and well-deserved popularity of The Lord of the Rings, many of his other works like his short stories are not given the attention that some of them deserve. Originally published in a book called Tree and Leaf in 1964, “Leaf by Niggle” is a short story about an artist named Niggle who procrastinates making plans for a necessary journey. However, when his journey abruptly begins without warning he finds himself ill-prepared and thinks of the people and unfinished projects that he has now left behind. My recommendation for this story is to have tissues or a handkerchief close by, not because it is sad, but, because it elucidates a beautiful reality of humanity’s participation in the Kingdom of God.

#2 “The Light Princess” by George MacDonald

It is truly shocking how a lot of people don’t know and haven’t read George MacDonald’s works even though his influence has left an indelible mark on the world of literature. C. S. Lewis honors MacDonald in The Great Divorce by making MacDonald into a character who guides the narrator on a bus ride from hell to heaven. He may not have been a Roman Catholic, but MacDonald’s influence has certainly made a massive impact on Catholic literature. Both J. R. R. Tolkien and G. K. Chesterton admit that MacDonald’s writing made a enormous impact on their lives, their method of writing, and their way of re-imagining the world. “The Light Princess” is, in my humble opinion, the most romantic fairy tale that I have ever read. It is about a princess, obviously, who has had a curse put upon her by an evil witch. I won’t tell you what the curse is because that would rob the story of its whimsy. However, she meets a handsome prince who falls madly in love with her. When the witch takes away something terribly dear to her, a hard decision has to be made. I realize that some of you all might object that I suggest reading a fairy tale, but I assure this is no watered-down Disney production. You’ll find this story not only wildly entertaining, but extremely edifying as MacDonald weaves this tale of true love.

#3 “The Selfish Giant” by Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde might perhaps be one of the more controversial authors in the history of Catholic literature due to certain predilections he had in his personal life. However he lived his life, it is certain the Gospel inspired him in some way as many of works reflect a distinct fascination to certain aspects of Christianity. One great example of his deep attraction to Christianity is in Wilde’s collection of short stories entitled The Happy Prince and Other Tales. This book is filled with wonderful stories, including my personal favorite, “The Selfish Giant.” This story is about a giant who had a beautiful garden, and while he was away on extended trip to visit an Ogre, the town children played in his garden happily. But, when he returns and discovers the children, he banishes them from his garden and builds up a wall to prevent their entry, which in turn causes a dreadful consequence. This whimsical fairy tale of “The Selfish Giant” is a lighthearted story of how God’s grace can soften the hardest of hearts.

#4 “The Blue Cross” By G. K. Chesterton

It won’t take you too long when exploring the various posts on St. Peter’s List to notice that many of our contributors greatly esteem the “Prophet of Orthodoxy,” G. K. Chesterton. His wit, his ideas, his stories, and his unabashed passion for reason have inspired many Christians, Catholic or not, to delve deeper into what it means to be truly Christian. His decided use of reason perhaps becomes incarnate in the beloved character of Father Brown, a crime fighting Roman Catholic priest whose only weapons are faith and reason. Father Brown first appears in “The Blue Cross” a story first published in The Saturday Evening Post in 1910. In the story, the head of the Parisian police is trying to apprehend the famous and wicked criminal, Flambeau. Amidst his search for the criminal, he encounters a mild-mannered priest, Father Brown, who at first seems like a easy target for theft as he is carrying a jewel encrusted cross. However, Valentin soon discovers that Father Brown is not your average cleric, but a man who has the happy knack of finding clues to the hardest of mysteries using the most unusual methods.

#5 “Revelation” by Flannery O’Connor”

Flannery O’Connor is one of my literary idols, because she shook the American literary scene with her dark and yet realistically sinister characters. “Revelation” is one such story that frightens me to my very core with its gruesome realistic portrayal of a rather stuck-up, white, middle-class, and “Christian” lady from the South named Mrs. Turpin. Throughout the story she constantly is looking down her nose at the people she is sharing a waiting room with. However, with an abrupt and sudden run-in with an angry young girl, Mrs. Turpin’s elite perception of her life is called into question. WARNING! Flannery O’Connor’s stories are not for the faint in heart. These stories are deliciously gritty. She frequently, yet rightly, uses strong and shocking language to capture entirely the reality of the darkness of human failure and the glorious beauty of the sudden emergence of unmerited grace.



Listers, please click the title of the short story to view the work on Amazon. Thank you.


Part II: 5 More Short Stories That Every Catholic Should Read.

Author: Catherine

Catherine was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She converted to Catholicism in November 2004. She graduated from Oral Roberts University in the winter of 2005 with a degree in New Testament Biblical Studies. She married the love of her life in January 2006. She is a mother of two wonderful and rambunctious boys and hopes God will bless her with several more. She loves to read good literature and theology, she dabbles in writing, and she likes to riff bad movies.

  • Want to read them all! Thanks. Amazon?

    • Each title links to the amazon page!

  • KSchmidt
  • Kevin

    Thanks for the list!

    Could anyone recommend a short story on the theme of sin appropriate for the high-school and young adult level?

    • I suppose my first question is how would you define high-school and young adult level?

      • Kevin

        What I’m looking for mainly is something that doesn’t contain language or scenes inappropriate for a high school curriculum.

        Any ideas?

        • “The Passing of Third Floor Back” by Jerome K. Jerome. There might be a bit of language (e.g. “damn”), but if you read it for yourself you can determine whether it is appropriate to for a classroom setting. I read this week and I found it thought provoking and strikingly beautiful. It is about a stranger who comes to stay at a boarding house in London.

          • Kevin


    • Amy Craig

      “The Forged Coupon” by Tolstoy.

      • Kevin

        Many thanks!

  • RichardC

    My favorite short story by Flannery O’Connor is A Temple of the Holy Ghost. Maybe Revelation will be my favorite short story by Flanner O’Connor if I get around to reading it again.

    • I will have to check this one out as well!

  • Father Paul in Greenville, TX

    A Hint of an Explanation by Graham Greene should be on the list too. But when you limit it to 5, I see how he could get squeezed out.

    • Don’t worry, he is on part 2, which will be coming in the next couple of weeks. :)

    • Yes!!! My favorite!!!! What about Walter Macken? God Made Sunday is amazing!

  • Toledo Bill

    I like Myles Connolly’s, Mr. Blue.

    • I haven’t read that. I will have to check it out. Thank you Toledo Bill. :D

  • J. E. Foyer’s keen eye and discerning spirit quickly identifies stories that matter. Her theological training sharpens her literary sense.
    The Blue Cross, my favorite, Shows how rejection of reason is quite un-Christian. As I remember, Chesterton went to a publisher and asked what was selling. he needed to make some extra money. He was told that Detective and mystery stories were the rage. He wrote the story in the publisher’s waiting room in about half an hour.

  • Ben

    Typo (hopefully it’s a typo, anyway, as the alternative would be difficult to express in a charitable manner*…): The Lord of the Rings is *NOT* a series. (It’s one work that was published in three volumes for economic reasons.)

    * I’m joking: I understand that this is a fairly common misconception.

    • Thank you for the correction. Quite right, Lord of the Rings is not a series. This fact slipped my mind while I was drafting. God bless.

  • Mark

    JF Powers has some great short stories. Any of his included in Part 2 of your list?


    • Yes, JF Powers is in part 2….coming soon. :)

  • Richard A

    I’ve considered The Miracle of Moon Crescent my favorite Fr. Brown story.

  • Is Walker Percy in part 2?