John Bentley Mays, a former columnist for The Catholic Register, passed away suddenly on Sept. 19. Photo/courtesy of Facebook via John Bentley Mays

Former Register columnist passes away suddenly

  • September 21, 2016

TORONTO – Cultural critic, intellectual pilgrim and fearless explorer of his own soul, John Bentley Mays died suddenly and peacefully while walking with friend and fellow-writer Philip Marchand Sept. 19.

Mr. Mays was a columnist for The Catholic Register through most of the first decade of this century, after a long and distinguished career in cultural journalism with The Globe and Mail and The National Post. He was the best-selling author of In the Jaws of the Black Dogs, his 1996 memoir of struggles with depression, and Power in the Blood, a 1998 examination of his heritage as the son of an old southern family of cotton planters, small town merchants and local politicians.

Though he wrote for some of the largest and most important newspapers and magazines in Canada, winning the National Newspaper Award for criticism, the National Magazine Award Foundation’s President’s Medal and other prizes, Mr. Mays sought out The Catholic Register so he would have an outlet for his thoughts on faith and spirituality.

“His work for The Register was an important part of his life,” said his widow Margaret Cannon.

Mr. Mays had a long-standing interest in theology and Christian culture. He had chosen the Anglicanism of the American Episcopal Church early in his life. His 1998 conversion to Catholicism while on a working visit to Lourdes was unexpected.

Mr. Mays visited Lourdes at the suggestion of an editor at The National Post just as he was taking up a post as roving cultural columnist for the then-new and ambitious national paper. He didn’t think much of Lourdes when he got there.

“The town was a run-down heap of holy hardware shops stuffed with enormous Day-Glo rosaries and Immaculate Conception ashtrays and other trashy souvenirs,” he wrote for this newspaper in 2008.

But his experience of the pilgrims and of the shrine itself prompted an unexpected and urgent need to be received into the Catholic Church.

“I have never regretted what happened at Lourdes,” he wrote. “I was ambushed by Love, and my divine captor demanded my allegiance at once. I could have refused, of course. But refusal of so great an invitation to life, I believed at the time, would have been the craziest thing in the world to do.”

Mr. Mays came to Toronto in 1969 to teach humanities at York University. In 1971 he married writer and Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Cannon. He made a new year’s resolution to become a writer in 1973 and by 1978 had successfully published his first novel. By 1980 he was on staff at The Globe and Mail.

He made the jump to the upstart National Post when it launched in 1998 and stayed with it until 2001.

He taught university courses in architecture, urbanism and criticism. He curated important art exhibitions. He lectured on Christianity, culture, history and art.

Two weeks before his death, Mr. Mays finished work on an unpublished novel.

He was the father of Erin Anne Bentley Mays, father-in-law to Simon Cain, grandfather of Ava Margaret Victoria Gonzalez, Rebekkah and Alyxandra Peters and step-father of Jacquelyn Hutcheson Peters.

A Mass for the dead is scheduled for St. Vincent de Paul Church, 263 Roncesvalles Ave., for Sept. 24. The family requests donations to Doctors Without Borders — Syria Relief.

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