The ‘From’ field said “Archdiocesan Office of…” This was it.
Tom’s hand hesitated over the mouse. He knew what it would say. He was 99% sure, at least. Ninety-eight, maybe.
This is it, Tommy boy, the end of your nice quiet life. And he clicked.
OF THE MERGER OF ST. STEPHEN’S PARISH, FORGETOWN, PENNSYLVANIA
INTO SAINT THERESE PARISH, FORGETOWN, PENNSYLVANIA
St. Stephen’s Parish was founded in the Borough of Forgetown in 1901 to serve Polish speaking people in Forgetown and surrounding area. As the result of an Archdiocesan Pastoral Planning initiative, a proposal to merge this parish with the neighboring territorial St. Therese Parish, Forgetown, was studied and discussed with committees from both parishes and with the appropriate Archdiocesan offices. Throughout this process, sufficient information regarding the proposal was gathered, and sufficient consultation was conducted ….
“Congratulations,” the accompanying note from the assistant Bishop said.
Congratulations. We’ve just turned your life upside down, but we’re allowed to do that because you pledged obedience, and we explained that this kind of thing would happen. Congratulations, we’ve just made you the hatchet man who gets to tell a parish full of psuedo-Polish retirees that you’re closing down their social club. Congratulations, Fr. Tom. Here’s the cross you longed to carry when you were an idealistic young boy in altar robes, gazing up at the impassioned face of your savior dangling above your head.
There was a knock at the door. Jean’s frosted blonde curls appeared.
“It’s arrived then, Father?” she said. “I saw the email but I didn’t peek.”
Fr. Tom Tyler smiled broadly, glad to see the parish receptionist. She had access to all his email but firm sense that she shouldn’t ever open the priest’s mail. A bit of a flaw in a secretary, and it had caused him some trouble at first, but he’d long since learned this was a battle he wasn’t going to win.
“This is isn’t going to make your life any easier,” he said, gesturing for her to come around and read the email over his shoulder — the one concession she would make to spying on his exalted correspondence.
“They’ve done it, then?” Jean scurried over. “They’re closing St. Stephens?”
“And merging her with us at St. Therese here.”
Jean sighed, then took a deep steadying breath.
“Oh!” she said. “They’re not changing the name! We’re just, what, swallowing up St Stephen’s without a trace?”
“Oh Father! I thought…”
The drone of a nearby lawnmower drifted in through the open window. A car honked at someone at the four-way stop Tom had insisted the town install at ‘his’ corner. It had not improved the fractious relations with the street’s non-Catholic residents with whom there there was a permanent cold war over parking.
“They are not going to like this.” Jean brought him back to the issue in hand, or rather, on screen.
Tom sighed deeply and looked at Jean. She looked right back at him. He saw a grandmotherly figure who had become, in his mind, younger and more vibrant during the five years he’d known her. Now that he knew her better, she seemed more maternal than grandmotherly.
Jean, for her part, saw a good man, younger than her own son, God rest him, and one with a world of trouble piling up on his plate. He looked a lot older than he had when he’d arrived, fresh-faced and full of ideas, five years ago. He hadn’t hit forty yet — young to be a pastor, but a bit of a rising star, she gathered. Usually they kept the rising stars close — in the city — and moved them into the administration as quickly as possible. She knew he must have done something wrong to be assigned to this sleepy backwater. She’d wondered if whatever it was might have been forgiven under the new Archbishop, but here he was, still in Forgetown. A blessing for them, of course, but she wondered how he really felt about it.
“So, when are you going to tell them?”
“Well, I expect Fr. Andruczyk will be telling the Parish Council today and then we’ll set up some kind of joint meeting for tomorrow night.”
“Have you heard where he’s going?”
“There was a rumor about the prison chaplaincy,”
Jean straightened up, rubbing her back.
“Big change for a man of his age.”
“Big changes all around, Jean.” Tom said. “And we are sworn to obedience.”
“Yes,” Jean said, with feeling.
“It’s going to be tricky for you, Jean. You’re my front line and your phone’s going to be red hot.”
“Oh don’t you worry about me.”
Tom looked at her and smiled.
“I don’t worry about you, Jean. But let’s get a statement together anyway, so we’re presenting a united front; sharing the same information, that kind of thing.”
It struck him that he had already started using the metaphors of battle and made a mental note to read some civil rights era speeches tonight. He needed to find a better class of cliché.
The lawnmower outside spluttered to a stop. There was a moment of silence, where the world seemed to hold its breath before, in ones and twos—and finally a chorus—the birds began to sing again.
That’s where we are, Fr. Tom thought. In the silence. I wonder how many voices will be in our chorus when all’s said and done.
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Subject: A Daily Escape For You
Hi! I thought of you today, because I know you love to read. I’ve been enjoying this series of short stories set in the fictional Pennsylvania town of Forgetown and I thought you would too. They’re fun and short, and new ‘episodes’ come online three days a week. My favorite character so far is …
Hope you enjoy them too. The series starts here: http://julieduffy.com/forgetown-episode-01
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