Loyola alumnus and author John Powers dies

John Powers
John Powers

John Powers, a Loyola University Chicago graduate and author of the Catholic nostalgia bestselling book and play, “Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?”, has died.

Powers, 67, received his undergraduate degree in sociology from Loyola, and his works were published by Loyola Press.

Powers died Thursday of heart failure at his home in Lake Geneva, Wisc.

Here is a portion of the obituary from the Chicago Tribune:

John R. Powers, the author of the made-in-Chicago hit “Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?” and a nostalgist who helped thousands laugh at their complex memories of rigorous parochial schooling, died early Thursday morning. He was 67.

Powers suffered a heart attack while exercising at home in his most recent hometown of Lake Geneva, Wisc.

Powers was a man of many parts: playwright, novelist, motivational speaker. But in Chicago, he was best known for his shrewdly titled play, “Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?,” part of the subset of shows wherein writers exorcised some elements of their Catholic education.

First written as a novel, the cheerfully satirical piece was adapted into a musical at the Forum Theater in Summit (music was by James Quinn and Alaric Jans) in 1979, from where it went all the way to Broadway, where it opened in 1982. “Patent Leather Shoes” was a monster hit for the Forum Theater. In 1987, the Tribune reported it had cost $75,000 to produce but grossed more than $600,000, running for more than two years, a record for a locally created show at the time.

Powers had taught at Northeastern Illinois University and was also the author of such novels as “The Last Catholic in America,” and “The Junk-Drawer, Corner-Store, Front-Porch Blues.” He made, he often said, a very comfortable living from “Patent Shoes.”

Powers earned a bachelor’s degree from Loyola University in Chicago, and a master’s and doctorate from Northwestern University. He attended Brother Rice High School in Chicago.

Visitation and services are planned for Sunday at The Chapel on the Hill in Lake Geneva.

Powers is survived by his wife, JaNelle Powers (whom he met when she appeared in “Patent Leather Shoes”), and daughters Jacey Powers and Joy Powers.


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