As a kid I played at the feet of Jesuits. Not in some creepy “show me on the doll where he touched you” sort of way, I literally played at their feet under our dining room table; tying together shoe laces, tapping on their legs and hiding as they peered under the table pretending not to know what just tapped them. I guess these fellas, along with my two queer brothers and one slightly napoleonic brother, were my male role models growing up. Oh brother, I can here the jokes on the rolling in. I grew up in middle class suburban America without a single right to. I was the youngest of seven children being raised by a single, very freakin’ hard working, mom. The early 70’s, this was no joke; we are talking bra burning feminism, parents without partners mixers, Divine’s Pink Flamingos, Vatican II had given permission for winners like The Flying Nun and Change Of Habit, Tricky Dick was the president (for a minute) and here I was doing Sunday night hangs with the Jesuits from St. Louis University. Okay, in all fairness I wasn’t hanging with the good fathers, I was more an observer. That was really the 70’s for me in general…, but that’s not the story I am telling right now. Right now I am talking about a group of righteous cats that could bend the opinion of even the biggest Roman Catholic skeptic; these were good dudes. I might be a practicing catholic to this day if I still had these guys in my life… mmmm, yep, I’ll leave it there. I am not going to pretend to be able to give you some enlightened description of the history of Jesuits but I think its important to note that this particular order of religious live in community and took the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and they are heavily focused in education. I know, “duh, they are priest of course they take vows.” Not so my friends, there are other boys out there that just make “promises” to do these things not vows, these guys are diocesan priests. These are the guys that are at most of your parishes and they can own shit, make some coin here and there, maybe a vacation, maybe keep company with a little someone special because its a promise, not a vow. Now, I could go a little deeper to say that this is why this current Pope, Mr Francis is so different and seems to really be about people and love, and not just church rhetoric, because he is a Jesuit and the first freakin Jesuit to ever be the pope out of 266 of those bad boys who have worn the papal ring. Yes, the major bullshit still exists… the church is NOT like, “come our dyke sister with your lover and your children and feel God’s unbiased love.” but I kinda feel like old Francis would say that on the QT and really mean it. Trying to be really accepting and non judgmental in the Catholic church hierarchy must be like trying to be a black president in the USA. Pretty lonely!
Whew, did I get off topic or what… So, my mom would send my brother Lance or Mike down to the Jesuit housing at St. Louis University Sunday late afternoon and he would bring back a car load of these men in black to break bread with my mom, my sibs that were around and me. There was usually a big pot of spaghetti sauce which is sort of my families version of the fishes and the loaves… a little ground meat went a long way when mixed with cans of tomato sauce and paste. Wine and laughter were typically a part of the meal. After dinner there was a lot of conversation & pipe smoke. Father Jim, who was our Sunday regular, loved a pipe. I mentioned before that my mom was a single mother. My old man did not die, my parents were divorced, yep the big evil D-word. Not a popular thing in the late 60’s and even less favored by the catholic church without an annulment. Which I am never clear why my mom didn’t get an annulment cause its not like she was all boss and said, “you know what Hal go find yourself a waitress at a diner in Perryville MO and take up with her and leave me and your seven damn kids to fend for ourselves.” Granted, I was only 6-months old so I don’t remember anything but I’m pretty fucking sure that is not how it went down. So my non-annulled mother who could no longer receive communion when she went to church EVERY Sunday and holy day of obligation would make special Sunday night’s for a bunch of priests. Maybe it was because the leader of the pack, Father Jim Burke, was a tremendously bright light who would speak intelligently and lovingly in our home. He was respectful of the job my mom was doing, along with the help of my older siblings, in keeping our family together. Now, I don’t think Father Jim or any of his brothers of the cloth that visited were naive, nope not at all. I have two queer brothers (at the time I was merely an adorable tomboy), one, my brother Lance, very outspoken and warm the other, Jeff, who is an artist was probably just out smoking pot and avoiding any conflict possible particularly involving his sexuality, my eldest sister, Deb, who was cut out of the bloom of the love that permeated the late 60’s early 70’s. Another brother, Mike, who played the obedient boy to the letter but was in fact the biggest & funniest con-artist on the pot smoking planet. A sister, Judy,who was plagued by her off color family and I’m convinced to this day has memory loss in order to not suffer the embarrassment of our eccentricities and last but not least my sister Tracy, the stunning looking athletic girl who would make sure things went how she had them planned. So with this wonderful and oversized family all in one house, Father Jim and company would come to our home to laugh, listen and discuss life, art, science, philosophy or whatever for hours on end before saying goodnight and tumbling back into our Dodge Dart Swinger to be deposited back at their housing. Our own little 27 rue de Fleurus right there at 7920 Colonel Dent Drive.
To this day on my mom’s kitchen window sill you can still see a photograph of Father Jim that accompanies his obituary, that twinkle in his eyes that gave everyone permission to be happy around him. Father Jim was a Jesuit so he went were his order sent him which was Spokane Washington for the later part of his life. My mom did get to see him in Spokane and indeed he spread no less of his love and teaching there than he bestowed upon our band of merry misfits at 7920. My mom was once told she led a “charmed life” by a boss of hers. Now to know my Mom’s story that statement is debatable at various times but there was something charmed that brought all of those thinkers into our home and share so much love on those Sunday nights. Perhaps, if I care to let myself indulge in that love, this is why are family stayed so bonded in our differences and healthy through some tricky times.