The sociologist and novelist, not the boxer … though he’s always been a fighter too!  Over the weekend his coat got caught in a taxi door in the Chicago area and he was dragged a bit, suffering a skull fracture.  (I’m sure he’s wondered since then if coats should be made of such strong stuff!)  He’s critical-but-stable in a Lutheran hospital’s surgical ICU.

His fiction as well as nonfiction have helped me learn about my Irish and Catholic background(s) in ways my working-class status couldn’t otherwise afford — no bagpipes or jigging growing up, no trips to The Old Country….  If anyone stood a chance of keeping me in the Catholic Church, it would’ve been he.  As I was returning to it in ’98 after 7 years among the Quakers and Mennonites, I asked him in an email, “What if I don’t agree with everything the Pope says?”  He responded, “Who does?”

Intriguingly, in recent years the religious resurrection of formerly-Communist Eastern Europe caught his attention as a sociologist of religion, and formed the backdrop of at least two of his novels — The Bishop Goes to THE University, about the apparent locked-room murder of a Russian monk at the U. of Chicago (it’s always apparent, isn’t it?!); and the stellar Star Bright!: A Christmas Story, which latter you must buy and read — meditatively — before the Nativity According to the Flesh of Our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ, especially if you’re American, Irish, and/or of Catholic background!  Fr. Greeley’s information about Orthodoxy isn’t perfect, but passable.  Star Bright! is not a murder mystery, but one of the blossoming romance between a Chicagoan Irish Catholic college Russian Studies major and an artist and art history major from Russia, a mystical young lady raised there without religion in the final years of Communist rule, who embraced Orthodoxy as a teen, ie, just a few years prior.  I imagine she’s a stand-in for her entire country / church, though sadly, an American Russian Studies major certainly isn’t, for our country, yet.  Atypically for Greeley, although the girl is “luminous,” the boy is not described as great-looking, which he pointed out to me when I chided him once for making most of his good characters good-looking and his evil characters ugly.  Also, this novel contains almost no sexual material — just one mild, and as always sincere, grope above the waistline, IIRC, as well as evocative allusions to an alleged tradition of “Christmas love,” around which the novel turns.  No violence, but some US Irish Catholic family holiday conflict; as one character complains, “It’s too bad Christ had to be born at Christmas!”  IMHO a true Western-style spiritual classic, though of a lay, not clerical / Religious, orientation … and an acceptable little dip into Russian / Orthodox faith too.  The pair even visit a traveling exhibit of Alaskan and Siberian Orthodox artifacts, complete with references to Saints Herman and Innocent of Alaska, serenaded by a recording of the St. Vladimir’s Seminary choir: I believe this is the coffee-table book based on the actual exhibition, put together for the 200th anniversary of the 1794 Valaam Monastery (Russia) mission to Native Alaska that formally brought Orthodoxy to the Americas to stay.

As for The Bishop Goes to THE University (a Blackie Ryan mystery), my most memorable line comes from Bishop Blackie’s boss, Sean Cardinal Cronin of Chicago, after attending the monk’s lengthy funeral liturgy (probably liturgies): “Three hours, Blackwood!”  His Eminence was not amused!

O Holy Father, heavenly Physician of our souls and bodies, Who hast sent Thine only-begotten Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, to heal all our ailments and deliver us from death, do Thou visit and heal Thy servant, Father Andrew, granting him release from pain and restoration to health and vigor, that he may give thanks unto Thee and bless Thy holy Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.  Amen.  (From the service of the Orthodox Mystery of Anointing.)

  1. As a point of contact for the Catholic faith, if I heard someone was directed to him, I would direct them to run the other way.

    That unplesantness being said, it is laudible, admirable, and humbling to see your sentiments of prayer for Father Andrew.

    God love you. That is the right thing to do.

  2. Leo Peter O'Filon

    Yes, it is true that Fr. Greeley is controversial within and without — er, beyond — the Churches in communion with First Rome. But as another somewhat-big RC columnist, Canadian Fr. Ron Rolheiser OMI, has said, “No one has ever left the {Catholic} Church because of Fr. Greeley’s books, but many have come back.” I love Fr. Greeley, as much as I can love someone I don’t know personally, and more than the ‘mere’ love we are to show to everyone. I no longer agree with everything he says(!), but that doesn’t seem to matter. I guess it does help that the man who was multitasking long before Windows is able to respond to hundreds of emailers per day, including occasionally myself, allowing many of us ‘fans’ to entertain the thought that maybe that vast mind and memory of his even allots some of us a neuron or two. (Though I’ve never had the nerve to test him on it!) I’ve also found that rare is the writer able to truly convey him/herself in their writing, and I seem to be drawn to them, even if they’re controversial, like Stanley Hauerwas, Victoria Clarke, and Andrew Greeley. Maybe it helps that I’ve read volume one of his autobiography, even as he downplayed it and put forward Blackie Ryan as his more informative alter ego. But I’ve also just found him informative or insightful (not to say inciteful!!) about my lifelong fave topic, religion: Lots of people, including religious leaders or spokespeople (self-appointed or otherwise), have opinions about the state of this or that faith in this or that land, but Greeley’s devotion to DATA offers to truly inform them — though they don’t often like what he reports, even, strangely, if it sounds like GOOD news!!! That’s his eternal frustration, I think; I just hope he doesn’t go out of this world bitter (to coin a phrase!).

    Speaking of which, I’d forgotten another profound e-interaction we’ve had: At one point, when I said I had significant experience in a certain Latin archdiocese under a certain Cardinal (not Chicago!), he offered that in doing so I’d already put in all my suffering for my sins, and would bypass Purgatory! (Not Orthodox teaching, and I was not Orthodox at the time!) I knew he wasn’t theologizing – he actually and technically accurately doesn’t claim to be a theologian in the Western sense – merely commiserating, and welcomed it in the spirit in which it was intended.

    Thanks for your note, and God Grant Him Many Years … or in Latin, Ad Multos Annos!

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