Tag Archives: Fr. Tom

ForgeTown Cover

ForgeTown 1.11 – Two Men In T-Shirts

Don was sipping his glass of iced water — a glass which he was amused to note bore definite signs of having been part of a loyalty program giveaway some decades previously — when the sliding doors to the rectory sitting room parted and a man about his own age, in cargo shorts and a Foo Fighters t-shirt, stepped into the room.

“Don?”

Don put his glass down on the coaster Jean had provided and struggled to his feet. He found himself a bit off-balance.

“Sorry to keep you, but I see Jean’s been taking good care of you. She runs the place, of course, but you’ll know how that works.” The man smiled and extended his hand.

“Father Tom. Good to meet you.”

Don hastily wiped his hand, wet from the condensation on the glass, on his own shorts and shook the other man’s hand.

“Don Morris,” he said. “Late of Massachusetts, new resident and parishioner, reporting for duty, just like my mother trained me.”

Don grinned and the young priest grinned back.

“Ah, where would we be without our mothers? Don’t answer that!”

And with that, the two men sat down across from each other.

“I hope you don’t mind the civvies,” Father Tom said, pointing at his neck where the clerical collar wasn’t. “It’s just, in this heat,” he waved a hand.

“Not at all,” Don said. “Sensible. We don’t have enough priests left for you to be passing out from heat stroke.”

The priest said nothing, but gave Don a long, appraising look. He sat still through it, but he wasn’t ashamed to admit later, to Kath, that he’d been squirming inside. It was like the man was looking directly at his soul and Don had the definite sense that all his charm would be nothing but window-dressing to this guy. This was a man to watch.

“So,” said the priest, settling back into his armchair. “Tell me about your family.”

Don relaxed. If there was one thing he could do, it was talk.

“Well, let’s see. There’s my wife Kath — Kathleen — but she goes by her own name, Rodriguez and I’d advise you to remember that. Then there’s Stella, eleven-going-on-twelve. She’s a firecracker, just like her mother. She’s stuck between being Daddy’s little girl and too old for that kind of nonsense so I guess the teen years are almost upon us.”

The priest nodded.

“From what I’ve seen,” he said. “They’re always Daddy’s little girl, even when they’re trying their best not to be. My sister certainly is.”

Don looked up.

“Are there many of you?” he asked.

“Just me and my sister,” the priest replied. He leaned forward in his armchair. “Contrary to expectations, isn’t it? To be honest, I suspect my parents were not entirely aligned with Church teaching in certain areas, not that we ever talked about it.”

He winked and Don laughed out loud. The image of discussing ‘such things’ with his own parents was not one he could conjure, for all his fertile imagination. It was odd enough to be having the discussion with a priest. A day of firsts, indeed. On a whim, he asked,

“So, how did they feel about their only boy becoming a priest?”

Fr Tom gave Don another searching look.

“A bit surprised actually, and not entirely confident. We weren’t the most strict family, to be honest. I know my mother wanted me to settle down and find a nice wife to look after me. And there are days, like today, when I almost wish I’d listened to her.” He winked at Don. “But the Lord can be quite insistent when he comes calling. They gave me their blessing in the end.”

The man opposite him was smiling, but Don had a strong sense of things left unsaid.

“Bad day?” he asked.

Fr Tom paused.

“Busy, let’s say. Interesting, even. But enough about me, you were talking about Stella. Is she your only?”

“Oh no, “Don said. “Robbie’s our youngest. Nine. All boy, as they say. A bundle of potential but God knows where he’ll end up. He’s all over the place, but that’s probably my fault — he’s got my overactive imagination, I’m afraid.”

“And will they be joining us at our school? I can point you in the direction of the registration forms.”

“Ah,” Don picked up his water glass from the table in front of him and twirled it, the cut glass pattern catching a beam of sunlight and splashing a lightshow across the exquisite fireplace. “Public school.”

“That’s fine,” Father Tom said. After a pause, he continued, “I don’t want to be indelicate but I do let everyone know that we have an excellent reputation and a robust scholarship fund. I hate for anyone to let financial concerns get in the way of their true wishes.”

“It’s not that, Father, And I’m sure the school is lovely. But my wife has…views.” Don stopped. Did that make him sound disloyal? “In fact, we’re both big supporters of public education,” he hurried on, taking a drink of from his glass to cover the moment.

“Well, we’re always here if you change you mind,” Fr. Tom waved his hand as if to dismiss the topic. Then he leaned forward again. “12 years of public education, sitting right in front of you, by the way, so I’m not going to tell you to fear for their immortal souls, or anything.”

Don looked at the man opposite. He was beginning to get the sense that this was a priest unlike any he’d met before. He was someone Don might like to call a friend.
They talked on for a bit, Fr Tom doing his sales pitch for the parish and telling Don all about the various ministries (“Are you musical? You know choirs are always desperate for men”) and the not-to-be-missed parish picnic in September, and all the other little things that make up parish life. Jean reappeared and pressed some forms into Don’s hand (“just return them whenever you can’”) and then the men were standing on the porch, shaking hands again, the door propped open behind them.

“My advice?” Fr Tom said, at last. “Don’t sign up for more than two things in any one year. It’s easy to get sucked in and then you end up overwhelmed and you’re no good to man nor beast.”

“Well there’s another surprise,” Don said. “A paster asking me not to volunteer!”

“People know my views, by now. You’ll thank me when Jack Rousch comes to sign you up for the seventh thing this week and you can tell him, ‘sorry Jack, I’ve already filled my two spots, you know how Fr Tom is…’ and shrug helplessly.”

Don laughed and then said,

“Will you come for dinner? One night this week. It won’t be fancy but we’d love to have you over.”

The priest frowned — the first Don had seen.

“Problem?”

“It’s not like the old days,” Fr Tom said, carefully. “There aren’t enough of us around anymore to go making home visits all the time. I’m not able to get around all the parishioners…”

“So you don’t want to offend anyone?” Don looked across the street. There were children swinging in a park. A woman in a straw hat emerged from behind a great green hedge to check her mailbox.

“Come after dark. Nobody knows who we are yet, and I can keep a secret.” Don leaned in and lowered his voice. “You know, if it was my mother, she’d have had you down there to bless the house before the movers had even crossed the threshold. The people before us, who built our house, lovely as they were, were named Patel. If I told my poor mother that we were sleeping in a house that’s likely never had a touch of holy water…”

Jean’s voice floated through from the inner room.

“You’re free on Wednesday evening, Father. After the Parish finance meeting. And it’ll be getting dark by then!”

“And they say priests don’t have wives,” Don winked.

Fr Tom laughed,

“We don’t. Just an abundance of mothers. And far be it from me to get between a fellow Irishman and the wishes of his mammy.”

“God bless you,” Don grinned. “Though I’m sure he already does. Come over whenever you’re free. . Wear your civvies if it helps, but don’t forget the holy water!”

“They’d defrock me if I did!” Tom offered Don his hand. “A real pleasure. Wednesday, a little after eight, then?”




ForgeTown 1.10 – Don Goes To Church

ForgeTown CoverThe heavy wood and glass door would have been magnificent it if hadn’t been sandwiched between an ugly louvered-plastic storm door on the outside and a set of yellowing lace curtains on the inside. But for all the church’s theoretical wealth it was, at the grass roots, the charity it claimed to be on its tax filings. There was little of what Don’s father would have called ‘liquid assets’ for such frivolities as cosmetic upgrades. Actually, the ugliness was kind of reassuring. It hinted at a pastor who put the extra cash into the hands of the needy rather than the Glory of Rome — assuming this parish had ‘needy’. Don hadn’t seen much evidence of poverty in the little town yet, but he was sure he’d soon meet plenty of people willing to warn him off walking down the streets where “they” congregated. People were always very quick to do that for new arrivals.

The door ahead of him jerked and twitched a couple of times and Don plastered his most charming smile onto his face, timing it to reach its full power just as the door opened. Which it didn’t. It twitched another couple of times. Clearly whoever was behind it was having a little difficulty pulling the old and probably warped door free of its frame. Don’s hand was on the knob of the ugly storm door, ready to lend a bit of counterweight to the problem, when the lace curtain twitched back and the face of every parish housekeeper he’d ever known appeared beyond it. It was quite remarkable how, regardless of age, race or station, every woman who took on the role of priests’s Girl Friday had the same bouffant hair, the same patterned polyester blouses — flounced at collar and cuffs — and some kind of sensible knee-length leg-covering. The woman behind the glass flashed him a smile.

“Stuck,” she mouthed. “Just a moment.”

She disappeared behind the lace again. A moment passed and then, with a mighty heave, the parish lady wrenched the door open.

“Sorry about that,” she said. “Beautiful old buildings do have their drawbacks. It’s the original door, you see. Fr Tom is quite keen to save it if we can, so I’ve taken up lifting weights at the Y on Saturday mornings. My doctor says it’ll keep the osteoporosis at bay, too, so it’s a win-win really. Come on in out of the heat.”

Dan noticed with a jolt that, in this case, the lady in question certainly had the regimental hairstyle but was wearing a daring sleeveless top (synthetic, patterned) and shorts (shorts!) that fell just at the knee. How modern.

The woman ushered Dan into the dim, tiled foyer. The space had an air of stillness that he savored for a moment before following her into a bright front room, lit on two sides by tall windows in elegant wooden frames. The room was stuffed full of computer screens and printers and piles of paper all shrieking for urgent attention.

“Jean McGinty” said the name plate on the desk behind which the woman had slipped.

“So, what can I help you with?” Jean looked up from behind the piles of paper she had quickly shuffled aside on her desk.

Don twinkled at her. Get the parish secretary on your side and all will be right with the world. Another lesson he’d learned early. He checked her left hand for rings.

“Well, Mrs McGinty,” he began.

“Jean, please!”

“Jean,” Don said, slowly. Surely she could see he was honored to be invited to call her by her first name? “My name is Don Morris, new to this parish. Just moved in this morning in fact, and I’d never be able to face my mother again if my first stop hadn’t been here at the rectory.” He grinned. “I called ahead and made an appointment.”

Jean made a show of pulling up reading glasses from where they hung around her neck on a beaded chain and of paging through the big paper diary on the desk, but Don had the distinct impression she knew exactly what she was going to find. There, on the page, he could see his own name in beautiful, painstaking cursive script. Number 2 pencil, if he was any judge of character.

Jean tapped the page with a manicured nail (a modest short curve, natural shade) and smiled up at Don over her glasses.

“Ah yes, I think we spoke on the phone. I remember a young man with Irish manners calling me and laying on the charm a couple of weeks ago.”

“Guilty as charged,” Don winked.

“Well, let’s get you settled in the sitting room. Father’ll be with you in two shakes of a lamb’s tail. He’s just back from lunch with Father Andryczyk over at St. Stephens and…well.”

Her face clouded. Oh-ho, there’s a story there. Don made a note but didn’t press for details now. Better to broach it with the priest himself in case it was…though he hoped to God it wasn’t. Funny how quickly the mind jumped to “that” conclusion these days.

The sex abuse scandal had rocked the church much more than it might appear to outsiders who only saw carefully-worded press statements by corpulent bishops on the steps of forbidding cathedrals or heard soundbites selected by ambitious reporters desperate for a ticket to the big time. It had rocked families too: civil wars over Christmas dinner when the drinks were flowing and patience grew thin (“How can you stay?!” “How can you leave?”). Don sighed and thought of Kath and the empty space in the pew next to him these past few years.

Please don’t let it be that.

Jean lead Don back across the still hallway to  the sitting room, all worn-velvet armchairs and an ornate fireplace. It was a room full of faded gentility and, normally, Don would shave taken great pleasure in the sense of history in the place. But his thoughts had been polluted, his peace ruffled and he sent up a quick prayer for the will to forgive the men who’d brought this down on the church.

Jean left to get him a glass of water and he could hear her footsteps echoing on the old wooden floorboards of the old house. He tried to rekindle the sense of a fresh start as he sat alone in the room filled with who-knows what kind of memories. He was certain his glass of water would come back in a worn and scratched cut glass tumbler from a mismatched set stored in a cabinet near an elderly stove that burned pizzas on one side and left them raw on the other. He had been in enough rectories over the years to be absolutely sure of that. No matter how affluently this parish house had started out — and in this one the signs of former wealth were everywhere, from that intricate Italian tile foyer to the ornate carvings over the fireplace — he knew that everything else in the house would be hand-me-down and make-do. It always was. The surest sign of a good parish, in his experience, was a preset who saw this as the way things should be. He’d known plenty who had railed against it, requesting the parish council to sign off on upgrades and new leather sofas as if the rectory were a doctor’s office.

The big question, Don thought, the thing that shapes it all, is what kind of man is this Father Tyler?


 




 

Forgetown Episode 1.09 – We Meet Jane Cope

ForgeTown CoverJane Cope straightened up from where she had been weeding under her forsythia hedge. She pressed the back of one of her gloved hands to her forehead and squinted against the sun. She sighed deeply. Jane wasn’t in bad shape for her age, but she had to admit the knees were not what they had once been. She watched with envy as a youngish man bounded down the steps of the St Therese rectory building across the main road from her corner lot. He doesn’t even think about his knees. Just trots along on them with no thought for cartilage or menisci or spondylitis. Just expects them to keep on bending and cushioning as they do today.

She herself had been the same, of course — sitting cross legged at all those sit-ins in the ’70s; running up and down the stairs between dressing rooms and stages; not to mention all those hours hunkered down among her plants. Had these things accelerated or fended off the stiffness? You could find doctors arguing for both. Worth it, though. All of it worth it.

Jane turned and beheld the majestic wall of green leaves sweeping down the side of her property. It was an honor, really to have been entrusted with the care of such a specimen. And, she had to admit, modesty aside, that the forsythia had flourished here. If only it weren’t for…Jane frowned and turned to follow Father Tom’s progress across Carnegie Park. Wiping her Hori Hori knife and sliding it into its sheath on her gardening apron, Jane set off across the park on the diagonal, to intercept the Catholic pastor.

Another sign of a life well lived, she was a little out of breath by the time she had caught up with the young man. The midday sun had burned away any traces of morning cool now with the result that Jane was rather more flustered than she would have liked when addressing the male of the species, no matter what his age. But needs must…

“Good morning, Ms Cope,” Fr Tom called as her path intersected his. “Going my way? I’d be glad of the company.”

“Oh I doubt that, Father,” Jane said, waving one hand at the universe in general. “You must get little enough time when you’re not on-stage, so to speak, and I’m sure you treasure those moments. I won’t keep you. Its’s just that I wanted to catch you and ask to please intercede for me,” she paused, pleased that she had been able to pluck the particularly Catholic word from her less-and-less-reliable memory, “with your parishioners, once again, on behalf of my forsythia.”

She watched his face carefully. There was no flicker of impatience, no hint of irritation.

“Do you know,” she said, changing tack with the unusual effect of appearing to interrupt herself. “You would make a very fine actor, I think. Have you done any formal acting? In college maybe? Although I suppose in your case you’d have had to be very Shakespearean about it — men playing all the women’s parts…Well, at any rate, the Forgetown Players summer musical offering is to be Oklahoma this year — a little ambitious, I feel, but Jacob and Cynthia Doolan are convinced we can manage — all those dance numbers! Can you imagine? Still, we would get on a lot better, it occurs to me, with a young man like yourself playing our Curly. And I hear rumors that you have a very fine Irish tenor voice.”

Her own voice trailed upward in the way of a question as she turned her best ‘reach the cheap-seats’ smile on the priest. She had been so caught up in the new idea that she had stopped walking right alongside the memorial rose garden — ratty-looking things they were too. Honestly, imagine putting in roses as a memorial to anything in this climate and then expecting them to get by under only the tender ministrations of the Parks’ Department’s butchers for hire. She really ought to have a word with Damian Belasco about it.

“You’re too kind,” Fr. Tom was saying. He had stopped when Jane had, and was looking at her now with that slightly awed look she often saw on people’s faces when she engaged them in conversation. It was hardly surprisingly, of course. She had presence. Always had. Ms Fonda herself had been kind enough to say so that summer she’d played at the Walnut in Philadelphia and she, Jane Cope, had had a small part as Dancer #2.

“But,” the priest was saying, “I don’t think my schedule permits. The show must go on but so, unfortunately must the emergency call-outs to Golden Acres and the hospice. I’m not sure the Archbishop would understand if I told him I’d missed giving the Sacrament of the Sick because my public needed me.”

He was smiling broadly and Jane thought she might have detected the hint of a wink. With that, the priest began to walk again. Jane found herself momentarily adrift in the middle of the park, head full of barn raisings and memorial roses and Ms Fonda’s summer in Philadelphia — that glorious garden party  — and found herself unsure, quite, why she was standing in the middle of Carnegie Park. Fr Tom had slowed and turned back to her.

“About your bushes,” he called. “I really am very sorry if the parishioners are causing damage. I’ll mention it again this Sunday and stress that if they must park in your lane, they should take better care with their car doors. It’s all God’s creation, after all!.

“I do appreciate it, your…um, Father,” Jane snapped back to the business at hand. “I know some of them think me a silly woman to fret, but it’s just that the very first cutting was given to me…”

“By Mr Fonda, wasn’t it? 1960-something?” Fr Tom was smiling again.

“’61, yes. Every so often I take a cutting and start a new bush. I brought the first cuttings from a garden party at Ms Fonda’s rented place — her father was there you know. Such an intimidating man. Quite kind, of course, but such presence! And then of course, I brought cuttings from my garden in Llanfair when I moved here to Foregetown. It’s taken me fully ten years to develop it into the hedge you see before you now, so often “trampled under foot, by the shifting throng that forms the population of most of our country places”. With apologies to Washington Irving.”

“My mother was a gardener herself,” Fr Tom said, saluting her in farewell as they reached the far aside of the park. “So I know all too well the heartache caused by a carelessly placed sneaker. I’ll speak to them again, I promise. And I’ll pray for a good healthy rain, for your shrubs.”

Jane watched the priest stride off down Frederick St towards St. Stephen’s no doubt. Which reminded her.

“Father,” She called. He stopped and turned, one foot on the sidewalk, the other a step into the D Street crosswalk, just next to where that awfully nice lesbian couple lived. Janice and somebody. Oh, how terrible that she couldn’t call her name to mind. Jane saw Fr Tom watching her and hurried over. “Is there any news about the merger? Not that I’m a parishioner of course — old Episcopalians as my parents were, and I being a true child of the 60s, well — but I do have friends…and I can’t help wondering, if you do merge, what the extra traffic will do to the…parking situation.”

“Not to mention your forsythias.”

Jane inclined her head, acknowledging the hit.

“An announcement will be forthcoming, Mrs Cope. Forthcoming rather soon. In fact, I’m on my way to talk to Fr Andruczyk now, if you’ll excuse me.”

And with that, he was gone.

“My mother was” he had said, Jane thought as she strolled back across the park, taking the occasional, absent-minded dig with her Hori Hori knife at lawless patches of crabgrass in the park as she went. Past tense. So the mother is no longer with us? And he, such a young man. Do I scent tragedy?

Jane arrived back at her forsythia fortress with an apron full of weeds and a mind full of questions.




Forgetown Episode 1.05 – Father Tom’s Inbox

ForgeTown CoverThe ‘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.

DECREE
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?”

Tom nodded.

“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?”

“Mmm.”

“Oh Father! I thought…”

“I know.”

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.

“I know.”

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 …

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