Mary Bruton Sandifer, B.A. 1975, lives in the Bordeaux region of France, where she, her husband, and their children run the family winery, Domaine La Tourbeille. She also recently published her first novel, Jeanne: Seeds of Infinit , a multi-generational, coming-of-age story about a young French girl who is introduced to the powers of nature.
This summer, Sandifer visited the U.S., to explore additional marketing options for the vineyard’s wines, but to catch up with family and friends and hold a book reading at The Writer’s Center in her former home town of Bethesda, Md. She also spent an afternoon on campus, reminiscing about her time at Catholic University.
Mary, whose father, John Bruton, B.E.E. 1935, and sister, Ann Kennedy, B.A. 1978, are also University alumni, nearly didn’t choose the University, but her friend Bernadette Driscoll Engelstad, B.A. 1974, persuaded her. Aided by a scholarship, Mary discovered wonderful professors.
“Dr. Joseph Williman was our French professor. He also taught French literature, old French, and medieval studies. He helped me do an interdisciplinary degree,” she said, although such a thing didn’t really exist at the time. Mary’s senior thesis was a comparative study on the influence of medieval literature and art on 19th century literature and art especially the pre-Raphaelites.
She lived in Ryan and Cardinal (now O’Connell) halls, competed on the University’s co-ed gymnastics team, was a member of the fin arts club, and earned a literature degree before traveling in Europe and taking a job with the National Endowment for the Arts. It was there she met her husband, John Sandifer.
Writing a novel had always been in the back of Mary’s mind. She said it went back to playing games of pretend when she was a child. “I used to make up stories and imagine all sorts of characters and plots.” Her inspiration for Jeanne was a conversation at the vineyard about 15 years ago. In talking to local farmers, she learned of laws prohibiting farmers from buying certain seeds.
She started writing Jeanne in 2015, waking up in the predawn hours on winter mornings to take advantage of the early silence. She’s considering a sequel, although “my son jokes we need to sell more wine” first
While at Catholic University, Mary had no idea she would one day live in France. “I always had a dream of living in a castle in France,” she said, even as a child. “I went to an ordinary Catholic school, where I had French lessons in kindergarten and I learned French songs and French poems. It’s funny how dreams come true.”