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What Matters Most Reader’s Guide

By Luanne Rice

What Matters Most by Luanne Rice


A celebration of love’s infinite power, What Matters Most weaves two tales of undying devotion, illuminating past and present, hope and reconciliation, as only acclaimed novelist Luanne Rice can. Completing the unforgettable story of Sister Bernadette Ignatius and Tom Kelly that began in the bestseller Sandcastles, Rice takes us to the enchanted Irish homeland of these singular characters. Long ago, young lovers Tom and Bernadette forged a timeless bond on Ireland’s shores. When Bernadette’s calling led her to a life of service at Star of the Sea Academy in Connecticut, she and Tom left behind their secret past–and their newborn child. Now, more than two decades later, they have embarked on a bittersweet journey to reclaim him. They never imagined that they could also give their tormented son a chance to find his childhood sweetheart. She was the only family he had ever known, and not even an ocean will keep them apart. Each of the characters on this mesmerizing journey will find themselves risking everything for what matters most.

The questions and discussion topics that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Luanne Rice’s What Matters Most. We hope they will enrich your experience of this deeply moving novel.

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. Discuss the role of miracles in What Matters Most. Which miracles were mixed blessings? Which ones brought unconditional joy to those who experienced them? If you had witnessed Bernadette’s vision, how would you have interpreted the words she heard: “Love my son”?

2. How are “family” and “home” defined in What Matters Most? Who forged the strongest family ties? What sort of home life existed for those who inhabited St. Augustine’s Children’s Home, compared to Star of the Sea and the Wells home in Newport?

3. How did you feel about Sister Eleanor Marie after learning about her childhood? Are actions such as hers unforgivable?

4. Tom experienced a lifetime of longing for Bernadette, becoming the caretaker at Star of the Sea so that he could be near her. Kathleen and Seamus’s love remained strong despite years of physical separation. What kept these lovers devoted to each other, regardless of the circumstances? Which is more powerful: devotion or fate?

5. In your opinion, why did Kathleen sleep with Pierce? How did their trysts reflect the loneliness and despair that had defined so much of her life?

6. Discuss the dynamics of the Wells household. Who are the most powerful family members? Do women or men dominate the decision making? What standards do the Wellses use to measure happiness and fulfillment?

7. What does it mean to be a member of the Kelly family? How do Dublin’s monuments and the legend of the sea monster convey their special legacy? What do the stark differences between Seamus’s heritage and Kathleen’s tell us about the consequences of knowing our genealogical roots?

8. What is the effect of Honor and John’s story, and their family’s ability to experience redemption, in the midst of Bernadette’s ordeal?

9. What was the result of the reunions featured in the novel? How do they compare to the reunion scenes anticipated and hoped for by the characters? With which figures from your past would you most want to be reunited?

10. In chapter sixteen, Tom says he believes Bernadette is exempt from fully living in this world; her life as Mother Superior insulates her from real-life woes. What are the benefits and limitations of her life as a nun? How does she perceive this identity?

11. What transformations have taken place in Seamus by the time he sees the ghost? Would the younger Seamus have been able to accept such an experience, or to even hear the ghost’s message?

12. What had you predicted for Bernadette and Tom as they crossed paths with John and Honor in the closing scenes of Sandcastles? What aspects of Bernadette and Tom’s quest surprised you the most? In what way does What Matters Most underscore other aspects of yearning and healing in previous Luanne Rice novels you have read?

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