Our Rebel Parish Priest

7 Apr

I knew a man who smoked and liked his wine. It would have been funny except it was our local parish priest. He’s long dead now, but he sure knew how to stir things up. Although he was quite old during the years I grew up, he was a radical. For one thing, he refused to be relocated which is the lot of catholic priests. They rotate them every few years, sometimes sending them to another country. But the priest of my church wouldn’t budge. After all, he had it made. The church he served was in a resort town near the lake. So small that everyone knew your name and no one locked their doors. The priest lived in a big old house right next door to the church. He had a live-in housekeeper and a black Cadillac. Sometimes I got confused and thought he drove a hearse.


I remember seeing him on occasional Saturday nights when we would have Mass and he would be sitting on the side porch facing the church so that he could greet everyone as they went inside. He’d have a cigarette in one hand, a glass of wine in the other and nobody said a word. If looks can be deceiving, that was the old priest. He had extremely thinning white hair, not very tall with round gold frame eyeglasses. He looked more like a grandfather than a rebel.


All those years in that church and I hardly remember anything he taught. One Sunday he said something about chess pieces and I perked up because that’s my favorite game. He said we were all like pawns on a chessboard. I was surprise he didn’t say he more closely resembled a bishop. Maybe it’s because we’re all sinners and impoverish in spirit. All I know is he always read from this huge, thick, red book. It wasn’t the Bible. Sometimes he’d say something in Latin. The church was so small that he had a closet  for a dressing room which was located at the front. The door was never shut and we could see the altar boy helping him to put on his cassock and the long piece of cloth with the tassels at the ends around his neck.  I remember one time an older lady fainted in the middle of Mass. The priest didn’t skip a beat in his homily. He just kept right on talking as if nothing happened. The ushers quietly took her outside. Homilies can be long and boring, even deadly in the summer when temperatures were in the 90’s There was no air conditioner in the church. Just 2 tall fans at the front which you couldn’t feel if you sat in the rear. Sometimes they would leave the back doors open, but the church was situated on the corner of an intersection and the traffic, especially the motorcycles, would get too loud. The church didn’t have a restroom. Kids who had to pee did it outside behind a bush which faced the road. I suffered that embarrassment only once. I don’t remember if any cars went by.


The priest was as healthy as a horse. On those rare occasions when he did get too sick to say the Mass, his fill-in priest was a bearded guy who looked like he belonged on a wooden boat with a fish pole in his hands. He was funny and we roared at his jokes.


Although I am no longer Catholic, I sure miss those days.


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