Imperfect clergy always been kinda cool

I could never be a clergyman.

I curse too much.

Damn it!

See. Can’t go 12 words without letting out some sort of “expleted deleted,” even one as mild as a “damn.”

Didn’t think much of this except when I met with Katharine, a bonifide member of the clergy who shared tea with me outside Omega Institute In Rhinebeck, NY. I casually mentioned to her that I had a profile done by Custom Keirsey Temperament Report, and it said that among the occupations I’m suited for is “minister.”

Katharine, of whom I had just met even though we have corresponded several months blogging over the Internet, indicated I’d make a good one. Clergy, that is, not a blogger. (She did say she liked how I turned a phrase here and there.)

But be a clergy?

I’m reminded of the old Groucho Marx quip when he said he wouldn’t want to be a member of any club that would have him as a member. That’s me and the clergy.

But, I started thinking about my earliest models for the clergy. Catholic priests at St. Ludwig’s Roman Catholic Church. A parish in Brewerytown of North Philadelphia that served mostly German families (My mom’s parents came from either Germany or Hungary, depending on which relative you talk to.)

I remember Fathers Kanick and Scherf. The pastor was Father Kanick who put boxing gloves on me and taught working class kids how to defend themselves every First Friday if they had appeared in church during the summer months. I loved him like a father. (Did I really say that? Well, he was cool for a priest, and helped many of us appreciate the art of self-defense while still being a gentlemen.)

He also cursed while saying Mass. Not a lot, but often enough for me to remember decades later. Like when he was unable to get the lid off one of the chalices. Or when he’d spill one of the “cruets” at the side table when he poured either wine or water into a bowl.

I liked it! He was more human and down to Earth when he did that. I also liked it when he’d go several days without shaving. Thought that was cool, too. He drank a bit, but how many really good priests — German and Irish — did not?

Father Scherf came on the scene years later, when I had reached the 7th or 8th grade and got caught playing “hookey” from school. I stayed out with one of the rough kids — Franny O’Neill, one of a few that ended up in “reform school”. I thought he was cool, too.

Got caught when I left a book bag in the one of the town dumps where we hid out.

Sister St. Clair, whom we called the “Penquin,” demanded of me the names of who stayed out of school with me. I refused, believing there was a higher good in not “squealing” than in telling this “questionable” authority figure what she wanted while interrogating me at the top of the school’s metal stairway. She was “pushy,” this short, overweight nun, who smuggled pieces of candy under her long black shawl and ate the treats when other nuns weren’t looking, but in full view of students.

She kept pointing at me, getting closer and closer to my chest, and may have pushed me while my back was at the top step. I might have simply backed up to get away from that old, gnarly finger she kept jabbing at me.

I fell, head over heals, all the way to the landing some 12 to 15 steps below. How I escaped injury, I don’t know. The nun was very apologetic. And I agreed to tell anyone who asked that it was just an accident. Well, she stopped interrogating me. And I did not have to “rat out” who had stayed out of school with me.

Father Scherf visited the class. He stayed afterwards and met with me and Sister St. Clair. “So this is the little Jimmy Cagney” he said, with a smile in his voice, and a twinkle in his eye. He ruffled my hair. I smiled back, feeling more forgiven then for anything I had ever done in my life including all sins I ever admitted in a confessional booth.

Got a slot open for that kind of clergy, anyone? Not too religious, but overflowing with the spiritual.

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