Paying it Forward with Inspiration – A Poetry Lecture with Kathleen Norris

“We need to take words seriously. Words can wound; words can heal; words can do powerful things.”

Students were left with this advice following a moving discussion with the award-winning poet, Kathleen Norris. Norris, a writer and a New York Times bestselling author, came to Saint Peter’s on February 12 as part of the Valente and Blihar Families Poetry Series.

The Valente and Blihar Families Poetry Series was developed by Judy Valente Reynard ’76, a critically-acclaimed author and alumna of Saint Peter’s. She created the series as a means to share her love of the art of poetry with Saint Peter’s students through inviting contemporary poets to campus. The inaugural event was held in the fall and featured acclaimed poet Marie Howe.

Valente moderated the event and her inspiration for developing this lecture series proved to be a commendable one by the end of the discussion. Throughout the event, both Valente and Norris explained how their experiences at campus events and lessons from professors helped shaped them into the notable poets they had become.

Valente welcomed students and expressed gratitude for the professors who impacted her during her time at Saint Peter’s. These individuals included James C. G. Conniff, a former English professor who passed last year, and Rev. Robert E. Kennedy, S.J., a former theology professor, who was present at the event.

Norris took the stage to explain to the students how her detest for poetry grew to be a passion over the years with the help of an English professor who gave her unique assignments. She also shared poetry from her friends and works of individuals who inspired her. “Whenever I come across a good poem, I copy it, save it and share it. I am an evangelist of poetry,” she said.

Norris also discussed her personal experiences with writing a piece of poetry. She explained that a poem often needs to time to become “a poem.” She explained the drafts and revisions she often goes through to create a piece and she even shared a recent poem as an initial draft and its final form.

In addition to seven books of poetry, Norris has written The Cloister Walk, structured as a diary of her monastic experience interspersed with meditations on virgin saints, Emily Dickinson, celibacy, loneliness, monogamy and more. Some reviewers have compared her portrait of the world of the monastics to the writings of Thomas Merton. Her book Amazing Grace continues her theme that the spiritual world is rooted in the chaos of daily life. In this book, she sheds light on the very difficult theological concepts such as grace, repentance, dogma, and faith. Her intention is to tell stories about these religious concepts by grounding them in the world in which we live.

Valente currently serves as a correspondent for PBS’s Religion and Ethics Newsweekly and is the Midwest correspondent for the Jesuit magazine, America. Her reports have also appeared on The News Hour on PBS and on Chicago Public Radio and National Public Radio. She has worked as a news producer for WTTW/Chicago and is a former staff writer for The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, where she was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in in the feature writing category. She has won nine broadcast awards and was twice nominated for an Emmy.

The University community is looking forward to the next event in the Valente and Blihar Families Poetry Series. For more information about upcoming events, please contact Ana Cravo at or (201) 761-6104.