In the Vineyard :: August 26, 2016 :: Volume 16, Issue 16

Book Review (Continued)

The stories he shares are poignant anecdotes of miraculous coincidences (“God’s way of remaining anonymous.”) and heartbreaking losses borne with compassion.

The patchwork quilt of his assignments ranges from poor inner city parishes to wealthier suburban churches and to the rural countryside. His honesty in addressing his own issues of uncertainty and prejudice emphasize the mutuality of healing. Through the pages of his book, this extends to the reader as well.

Here are a few examples:

His first assignment was at a country parish in Missouri where his outreach to the poor and those most in need was recognized with a Distinguished Service Award. A long list of duties in the church did not prevent Gerry from engaging in every aspect people’s lives. The story tells of Gerry’s relationship with two of the children in that parish—one of whom died during his third year there. He had a close relationship with Gari, a boy with disabilities who none-the-less was able to mischievously get the best of the new priest in town. When Gari died, Gerry concelebrated his funeral mass. As Gerry noted, “Nobody involved in seminary preparation spent any time helping the future priest learn how to be with a dying child and his inconsolable family members.”

But Gari taught him that. At a party after the funeral, his will was read, and Gerry was surprised to learn that he was to receive two of Gari’s prized possessions: his joke books. Gerry holds the hope that the two of them will share more laughter when they meet in heaven. 

Gerry also shares stories of serendipitous meetings with such surprising people as Dr. Ben Carson, who helped a family make a life-saving decision for their son. In another, Gerry tells of the inspiration of a woman, once his student, who left a legacy of service to the poor and credited Gerry with teaching her how to live each day to the fullest. One humorous story tells of his experience protesting the selection of Napoleon Duarte as a commencement speaker at Notre Dame in 1985. Throughout all, there is the thread of love for the people he served and a willingness to listen and to be changed by them.

In a final story, Gerry recounts his experience at St. Cronan’s community, where he entered “a volatile hornets’ nest.” His predecessor was an abusive priest who had knowingly been sent to the parish. Gerry’s efforts to help heal the wounds found him deeply appreciative of those who remained in the church. He supported this progressive and inclusive community and, as a result, found himself pitted against the then-archbishop in defending the community’s members. In 2011, the St. Louis affiliate of VOTF presented him with the “Person of Integrity” award.

This brief overview does not do justice to the deeply personal and touching stories of the children and families who come to life in the pages of this book.

It is a book that needs to reach everyone who has decried the egregious abuse and cover up that has marred the Catholic Church—because as important as it is to rise up and speak the truth about such abuses, we also should recognize the good.

These examples of goodness and compassion serve as an antidote to the heart-breaking stories we have heard since 2002. They paint a picture of hope and inspiration for the Church today. I recommend this book as a reminder of the lived reality of the majority of the Catholic faithful. Many such stories abound. They just haven’t been told. You might consider making it a gift to those priests and pastors who are doing God’s work and are also in need of a few good stories!

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