Ah, the amazing power of Google to ferret-out important (and often regrettably belated) information in a matter of mere seconds for the intrepid or even for the plain ol’ nosy among us. I found myself thinking about an old friend last night and wondered where in the world he might have ended-up since we inadvertently lost touch ten years ago, not long after I moved to Southern California.
I am a bit embarrassed to admit this, but I have the distinct feeling that I am not alone when it comes to “Googling” elderly friends and acquaintances with whom I have lost touch specifically because I have a sudden and random inkling that they could very well be … er … deceased. I suppose it’s more than a trifle morbid, but what else do you do when the whereabouts of someone who was 68 the last time you saw or heard from them remains unknown? Consult a Ouijah board? I don’t think so. Not even for this Recovering Catholic.
Perhaps it’s a sad commentary upon the transitory nature of friendships that didn’t quite manage to segue into some form of the social media sphere (where it’s creepily easy to stay perhaps a bit too much “in touch”), but I was wondering about my old pal, Monsignor John O’Connor, former Pastor of the historic Mission Dolores Basilica in San Francisco, as well as the cavernous St. Mary of the Assumption on Gough Street. Oh, those were the days! A number of us smarty-pants types always used to call the latter church “St. Mary Maytag” or “Our Lady of the Rinse Cycle” because St. Mary’s was designed and built in an architecturally adventurous, postmodern style that ultimately reminded people of a gigantic, cumbersome, space-age washing-machine that had been inexplicably abandoned in the middle of a vast parking lot in downtown San Francisco. It looked like something God (or Godzilla) might do His socks in, or, if you recognized a dryer instead of a washing-machine, you could easily imagine the Blessed Virgin pulling down the apse like a door to toss-in a few of those sky-blue veils and set them on “Air Fluff” for an hour or two. [She would never need to change the Holy Filter, either: her blue veils are lint-free and any machine she uses must be classified de facto as an Immaculate Contraption.]
All kidding (and possible sacrilege) aside, St. Mary’s on Gough was clearly not my favorite example of brilliance in contemporary ecclesiastical architecture, but Monsignor John O’Connor (“Father Jack” to most of us) was one of the best and most respectable priests I ever had the pleasure of knowing and working with back in my churchy days. And, yes, my impromptu Google search revealed that he had indeed passed-away on March 15 of this year at the age of 78. I hate when I have a hunch like that and it turns out to be true. I felt like some sort of twisted cyber-ghoul, in a sense, and the news was definitely a bummer, but in the case of someone who still espouses a few scattered wisps of the Catholic faith, I have no doubt that Father Jack is now part of that great “cloud of witnesses” or whatever you want to call the paradisiacal, nebulous Formation of Fabulousness comprised of all the Good that can be found in the created sphere. Ba-da-bing.
I first met Monsignor in 1994, when I became active in political and archdiocesan circles not long after moving to San Francisco and began attending Mission Dolores Basilica. The Mission was only a block from my apartment and I felt, via the welcoming guidance of Monsignor O’Connor, a genuine and immediate sense of belonging and possibility within the framework of what was, for me, a totally brand new community. The congregation of the Mission itself was a delightful and affirming melting-pot of people from all sorts of local neighborhood cultures: Latino (of several South American backgrounds); Irish; Italian; Vietnamese; Korean; Chinese; etc. Heck, there was even a fair sprinkling of gay folks from the nearby Castro district–everyone was welcome at Mission Dolores, and the accomplished Monsignor O’Connor’s compassionate, exquisitely diplomatic leadership was one of the big reasons for the ongoing spiritual “oasis atmosphere” of California’s oldest mission establishment. Some of my best memories of the city include Monsignor: the look of relief on his face when I managed to assuage an angry local crowd with a few diplomatic maneuvers of my own while moderating one of former-mayor Frank Jordan’s reelection stops at the Parish Hall; being asked to attend Midnight Mass at the Basilica Chapel with Monsignor personally, as a congregant, on a magical Christmas Eve 1994; his hearty vote of confidence in asking me to sit on the Parish Council of one of the most prestigious Catholic religious institutions in the United States in early 1995.
We stayed in touch, off and on, after I moved to the Monterey Peninsula and then to Southern California in 2002, and it was a year later that he dropped by my house for a long visit and a glass of wine to reminisce while he was in town to see a number of other friends, too. “Father Jack,” whose distinguished career as a priest was marked by an intense dedication to issues of social justice, never lacked for the irreplaceable treasure of friends in his life, and this bounty remains a testament to his grace, faith, warmth and inimitable charm. I’m sorry I lost touch with him in the ensuing years, but I was soon traveling all over the world (again) and he was preparing to launch his ship into the tranquil waters of a well-deserved retirement. I’m a bit sad to know that my “Google hunch” was proved correct, but quite happy to render a truly extraordinary man a great deal of gratitude for past friendship and wish for him an incomparably peaceful eternity. Godspeed, Father Jack. You really were one of the Good Ones.
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Jonathan Kieran’s (as-yet-untitled) new novel, an epic supernatural thriller, is now finished and slated for release in late Spring 2014. Look for news about the release here and at Amazon.com in the coming weeks and months.
Jonathan is also the author of the classically appointed Rowan Blaize series of modern fairy-tales and novels. Visit Jonathan Kieran’s Official Facebook Page and give it a “Like,” if you are so inclined. Meanwhile …
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Rowan Blaize Official Website