Writer and Chicago native John R. Powers has died at 67

The author of 'The Last Catholic in America' had a light-hearted view of religion

January 18, 2013

By Rebecca Kruth

Author and Chicago native John R. Powers died of a heart attack at his home in Lake Geneva, Wis., on Thursday.

The humorist, who wasn’t afraid to poke fun at being raised Catholic, grew up in the Mt. Greenwood neighborhood on Chicago's South Side before spending the last 25 years of his life in Wisconsin.

Powers described himself as a "lousy student and horrible athlete" who "graduated in the bottom three percent of his high school class" at Brother Rice High School. 

He went on to earn a sociology degree from Loyola University and a Ph.D. in communications from Northwestern University.

Powers was the author of five best-selling books including The Last Catholic in America and Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?, which was made into a musical that ran in Chicago before going on Broadway.

In his writing, Powers explored coming-of-age experiences including a nerve-wracking first confession and "being declared the worst altar server ever."

A close friend, Chicago playwright Vicki Quade, said she and Powers bonded over being Catholic. She said his humor came at a time when people couldn’t make fun of religion.

“He tore the cover off of that, and let you see that you could have a funny recollection of your Catholic upbringing," Quade said. "That really has helped. It's helped people talk more about being Catholic and being religious.”

In addition to his novels, Powers wrote two one-man shows and two Emmy Award-winning television specials. In recent years, he worked as a motivational speaker.

Powers leaves behind a wife and two daughters.

Hear more on John R. Powers from WBEZ's Dueling Critics.