In the Name of the FatherWILLIAM MCGURN
Of all the tests put to a priest, perhaps none is greater than the one Christ put to his disciples: Can ye drink of the cup that I drink of?
Father Ed's murder made headlines across the U.S., not least because the man accused of killing him is St. Pat's long-time custodian, known in the parish as Mr. Jose. Add to this the element of suburbia – Chatham is one of those towns invariably described as "leafy" – and the raw feelings made for colorful copy. At the first Mass after the killing, one paper reported, some grieving parishioners had "hissed" at the mention of forgiveness.
There the news has mostly left it, moving on to other places and other crimes. But if that's all you know about St. Pat's, you would have a most incomplete picture. Above all, you would not know that in the midst of horror, a wounded community of imperfect human beings looked to their better angels to set their course.
This past Friday night we saw this hopeful side, as Mr. Jose's daughter graduated from St. Pat's School. When this young lady walked across the gym floor to collect her diploma, she did so secure in the knowledge that at St. Pat's she is more than a student. At St. Pat's she is loved.
I happen to know something of St. Pat's, because its school is the same one that took my eldest daughter in after other plans fell through at the last minute. As a guest, I knew Father Ed and Mr. Jose only enough for a friendly hello at a basketball game. The shining, smiling face of Mr. Jose's youngest child I knew well, however, because she and my daughter were in the same class and played on the same team.
We tend to speak about what the dead would have wanted. Manifestly Father Ed did not open his door expecting to be killed. Yet even in our age, is it that hard to believe that this gentle man, murdered 50 feet from the altar where each day he celebrated the "sacrifice" of the Mass, would have wanted his blood to bring forth the best in his flock, to bear witness to the redemptive love symbolized by his collar?
This doesn't mean Mr. Jose should not answer for his crimes, if indeed he is found guilty. It does mean St. Pat's could never allow this to be the end of the story. This is a community, you see, defined by the belief that whatever he may have done, Mr. Jose still has a soul, and that love, if it is to be worthy of the name, imposes special claims on behalf of the innocent and the inconvenient.
And so the people of St. Pat's rallied. There were the staff and teachers who worked hard to keep things normal and see Mr. Jose's daughter graduate. The school parents who opened their homes. The basketball coaches who looked out for her, without ever making it obvious. The local police who made quiet drive-bys, to ensure no kook showed up to disturb the peace.
Even so, of course, awkward moments were inevitable. So early on, at a meeting of parents, the principal was asked what we should tell our kids lest they inadvertently say something hurtful. This good woman replied, "Tell them, 'when you speak, let Christ fill your hearts.'"
The principal's trust was well founded. In the days following the killing I mentioned to my daughter that her classmate might not return, with her mom maybe fearing someone might say something unkind. "They'd better not," responded my eldest. Thus would she and her fellow eighth-graders wrap their classmate in their love.
It sounds incredible, yet I saw it happen. Nor is it so mysterious. The people of St. Pat's hold, as an article of faith, that Father Ed's love remains operative in this world, and ours in his. With that in mind, they took a crime that bound two of their men in tragedy – one murdered, the other the alleged murderer – and handled it with the grace and good sense that America's little platoons so often rise to when we most need them.
Someday the beautiful young lady who collected her diploma Friday night will go out into the world. When she does, we hope her heart forever tells her: St. Pat's will always be your home. As for this guest and father, let's just say how grateful he is that his own eighth-grader could come of age in a place where the commandment to love was deemed most precious when it was most difficult.
William McGurn. "In the Name of the Father." The Wall Street Journal (June 15, 2010).
Reprinted with permission of the author and The Wall Street Journal © 2010 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.
William McGurn was the chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush until February 8, 2008. Formerly an executive with Newscorp, McGurn also served as the chief editorial writer with The Wall Street Journal. From 1992 to 1998 McGurn served as the senior editor of the Far Eastern Economic Review. Prior to this he was the Washington bureau chief of National Review. McGurn is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and Boston University. He is the author, with Rebecca Blank, of Is the Market Moral?.
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