David’s sister drove him to the monastery on move in day. It was actually a few days earlier than everyone else was scheduled to move in, because his lease was up and he had to be out of his apartment. She wasn’t allowed to go into the cloister, so she drove him around back and helped him at least unpack her trunk. David was one of fifteen candidates that year. The biggest group they’d ever had. Not all fifteen men were expected to make it through to Novitiate and beyond, but David was sure going to try to be one of the ones who did.
There were only so many rooms in the postulant’s wing, so several of the new arrivals had to live upstairs on the second floor with the professed brothers and fathers. He was right next to an older man who would later become his best friend, Ray. Ray was quite a bit older than David with gray hair, a pretty good sized belly, and a heavy Long Island accent that David loved to mimic. Ray could laugh and tell a story like no other.
Everyone was thrown right into their new lives with a schedule of morning prayers and mass, breakfast, work, lunch, class, evening prayer, dinner, and then free time. The weekends were a little different. Everyone was expected to take a shift in the gift shop and serve a mass. The others were way ahead of David on the doing the latter. He had been a Catholic less than a year and had never served mass! Luckily for him, the priests were very patient with him.
Each postulant was assigned a job. David was assigned to the laundry with Bro. Samuel, who was a big man in both stature and presence. The laundry was kept in a separate building which was connected to the monastery by an underground tunnel that was used in the winter or by a door above ground. Each person who wanted their laundry done, put their clothes and sheets in a bag and set it outside their door. Either David or Bro. Samuel would come by with a cart and pick up the laundry bags. Each friar and candidate had a number on their bag, and they put that number on all their items to be washed. When they were washed and dried, they were folded and put in a numbered cubby for the person to pick up later or put back in the bag and dropped off at their door.
Laundry was only done once a week, though, so he worked with Bro. Samuel in the Taylor Shop, too. He helped repair clothes, mend socks and make habits for the friars to wear. He also worked with Bro. Louis who was a very muscular guy with a tan from working outside all the time. Bro. Louis asked David to paint the ceiling of the portico. It was supposed to be white, but had turned quite yellow over the decades. It took a couple of coats and David painted the portico ceiling until the paint froze in the can. Then he moved inside to paint the ceiling of the refectory. There always seemed to be something that needed painting, so he kept pretty busy that first year.
Classes were taught by some of the priests and were about the Holy Land and the history of the Custody, and about St. Francis and the Order of Friars Minor. David did pretty well in these classes despite his being at a distinct disadvantage. As it turned out, there was another candidate who was not raised as a Catholic either. Daren was a redheaded, freckle-faced guy who was brought up Mormon. David found this fascinating as he knew next to nothing about the Mormon faith at the time. David’s father had once gotten the family into the Mormon Temple in Kensington, Maryland before it was consecrated and “infidels” like him were no longer allowed in.
David would find out that friars liked to have fun, too. The Halloween costume contest was reputed to be a lot of fun. David and the other candidates tried their best to come up with something that would be good enough, but no one outdid Bro. Samuel, not even David. He made a tiger mask out of cardboard, pastels, pipe cleaners, and glitter. He would later give the mask to his good friend “Ella.”
One of the first postulants to leave was someone David was actually trying to help. David sat next to him in choir to keep him in tune. Unfortunately for David, he thought that made them friends. It wasn’t that David didn’t like him, it was just that Flynn thought David owed him his friendship. That should have been David’s first clue that it was going to be a difficult conversation. David tried to make him understand that friendship wasn’t demanded, it was earned. But Flynn wouldn’t accept that.
Christmas was a huge deal at the monastery. They went all out with the decorations and the flowers, especially poinsettias. People donated them in memory of loved ones. Christmas trees were set up, too. Midnight Mass was a really wonderful experience for David. It was his first there and he got to experience the beauty of the singing of the Christmas carols and the lighting of the candles. The friars didn’t exchange Christmas gifts, but they did celebrate Gaudeamus. David won the Gaudeamus gift that year. It was a figurine of the baby Jesus that was made in Italy and carried in the gift shop. He would always cherish that statuette and even made a special pillow for it to lie on.
1986 would be David’s second Lent and Easter. On Maundy Thursday, David got to watch Fr. John wash the feet of some of the Knights, some of the friars, and some of the people who came to the mass. On Good Friday, the life-size statue of Christ was taken by the Knights down from Calvary to the spot in front of the tomb and later taken inside. And then on Easter morning, the tomb was of course found empty.
Every postulant chose a spiritual advisor and confessor from among the priests at the monastery or the local parish. He had chosen Fr. James because he seemed easy to talk to and indeed he was. Unfortunately, Fr. James started to pay a little too much attention to David. He was a slight man and David could tell that his hairline was receding a little faster than would have liked, because of the pains he took to conceal that fact with a comb-over. They were never supposed to meet in their rooms, but Fr. James came to David’s room one evening and sat down on the floor while David sat on his bed. He gazed up at David which made him feel very uncomfortable.
“I like you, David. I feel drawn to you. Do you feel it too?” Fr. James asked.
“Uh, I like you too, but I’m afraid I don’t feel anything more than that. I’m sorry.”
After Fr. James left his room, David went and talked to Fr. Daniel about the visit. He assured David that he would take care of it and advised him to find a new spiritual advisor as soon as possible. The next day, Fr. James avoided David like the plague. He felt badly about it, but knew it was for the best.
David had made a really good friend among the professed friars who didn’t want anything from him. Bro. Julian was a jolly, older friar who had worked in the Holy Land for many years. He was retired now and spent most of his day holding court in the lounge. He would sit in his chair (some called it his throne), drinking his ale, and smoking his cigars. David and some of the other postulants loved to hear stories of the old days in the Holy Land. Even though he was not English himself, he seemed to know a lot about the British monarchy, too. He could tell you who reigned as king or queen and from when to when. He was a font of amazing facts.
The postulants’ numbers dwindled as the year went on and they got closer to leaving for novitiate. Those who remained were packed into a van to go on retreat in Pennsylvania. This was their last chance to search their souls and make sure that they wanted to continue on the path to a life of service at the monastery and later the Holy Land. There was plenty of time to eat, pray, and reflect on the week long retreat. On one of his walks he had taken a pen and paper and made a sketch of the retreat house. He figured since he was so close to Pittsburgh, he’d take a few moments to call Sharon and tell her where he was and what he was doing. She was surprised, but supportive.
When they got back from Pennsylvania, the community had to vote on each postulant, hear from their work supervisors, and hear final recommendations. At last the final group was set; it would be David, Ray, Silvio, Gaz, Malcolm, and Adam (Dennis asked to attend novitiate in the Holy Land). The length of their stay was a tradition. It was to be a year and a day. They were to pack up their things, ship their boxes ahead, and take a train with their suitcases to Valparaiso, Indiana. They were all pretty excited, because it was a night train. Each man had his own room with a tiny bed and a sink. The only problem was that when the train was stopped there was no air conditioning and you couldn’t use the restroom. And it was stopped for two hours in the middle of the night in, Pittsburgh of all places, in August!
The sweaty and exhausted men arrived at the train station in Valparaiso the next afternoon. Matteo and Salvatore were there to meet them. They were about the same height, but that was where the similarity ended. Matteo was stocky and dark-haired with a full beard. Salvatore was fair haired, slim with a mustache. When David stepped onto the platform, Salvatore didn’t even recognize him. David had been eating three square meals a day for the past year and the last time Salvatore had seen him was when he came to stay for a weekend before applying for candidacy and weighed about 135 pounds. He was probably up to about 185 now and looked like a totally different guy.
The anxious group piled into the van for the ride back to the Shrine of the Seven Dolors. Each man was assigned a room and then went about exploring the church and grounds before dinner. Even though David and Salvatore had been corresponding over the past year and Ray had been writing to Matteo, it seemed only natural for them to switch and go off in different directions. There was a lot that David wanted to know about the shrine, the friars, their duties, etc. He was sure that Ray was asking Salvatore the same kinds of questions. They only had one more day before they had to return to the Franciscan Monastery, so David wanted to share as much quality time with these two guys as possible before they were separated by hundreds of miles.
Each of the new novices was given the opportunity to change their name. As there was already a plethora of Davids at the monastery, he chose the name Gregory Augustine. Gregory for Pope St. Gregory the Great, who was credited with inventing Gregorian chant and Augustine for the sinner turned Saint, who became a Doctor of the Church, and wrote City of God among other great works.
The shrine was dedicated to the seven dolors (sorrows) of Mary. The sorrows were: the prophecy of Simeon, the flight into Egypt, the loss of the child Jesus in the temple, Mary meets Jesus on the way to Calvary, Jesus dies on the cross, Mary receives the body of Jesus in her arms, and the body of Jesus is laid in the tomb. Each of the shrines and grottoes were made of a volcanic rock called tufa. It was a pretty cool place.
The friars who lived at the shrine were from the Polish province. There were two priests and a brother. Fr. Stanislas was very old and retired, but he still said his own private mass each day on the altar in the sacristy behind the main altar. Then there was Fr. John James, the Novice Master, and Bro. Mark who was in charge of everything else. The house had a cook for most nights, but the brothers were in charge of making at least one meal a week, so that she could have the day off. Her specialty was making perogies. She made traditional potato, but also made sauerkraut and even prune (Gregory’s favorite). One thing that Fr. Stanislas liked to eat, that Gregory couldn’t stand, was blood sausage, because it stunk up the whole house! There was one more person vital to the welfare of the house and that was the “Cookie Lady.” The friars called her that because she dropped off cookies at least once a week. She had trouble sleeping so she baked!
A few months after Gregory arrived, his Auntie drove from Michigan for a visit. He showed her around the Shrine and they had a nice talk. She wanted to make sure he was happy. He assured her that he was and that she needn’t worry. He told her that there were plenty of things for the novices to do at the shrine. They had community prayers twice a day, classes, manual labor, and they had a rotating schedule as servers at daily mass. Some of the friars also volunteered to teach catechism classes during the school year. But no one wanted to teach the high schoolers. Word was that the high schoolers didn’t want to be there either, so Gregory volunteered to teach them. He enjoyed teaching them, so when they wanted to have their own Christmas party, he said, “Okay.” As it turned out the Director of the program was not thrilled with him for doing that and let him know it, months later, in front of the whole group of teachers, religious and non-religious alike, at their end-of-year party. “No good deed goes unpunished Gregory,” he thought.
Gregory developed a particular devotion to the Infant of Prague after reading a book about it. The shrine church had a statue of the Infant Jesus in one of the side chapels, so he took to changing the statue’s vestments according to the season. The story of the Holy Infant Jesus of Prague goes like this:
The Carmelite friary was plundered and the statue of the Infant of Prague was thrown into a pile of rubbish behind the altar. Here it lay forgotten, its hands broken off, for seven years, until it was found again in 1637 by Father Cyrillus and placed in the church’s oratory. One day, while praying before the statue, Fr. Cyrillus claimed to have heard a voice say, “Have pity on me, and I will have pity on you. Give me my hands, and I will give you peace. The more you honor me, the more I will bless you.” Since then, the statue has remained in Prague and has drawn many devotees worldwide to go and honor the Holy Child. Claims of blessings, favors and miraculous healings have been made by many who petitioned before the Infant Jesus.
Gregory’s sister, Susan, had told him that she was pregnant when he was back at the monastery. She was due in January, so he was anxiously awaiting news of the birth every day after the start of the New Year. Finally, he got the call. She had given birth to a baby boy. She was doing well and she would send pictures as soon as she could. Gregory congratulated her and her husband and told her that he loved them then hung up. He told everyone, who wasn’t in the room, the good news. He was one happy uncle!
Soon after Gregory arrived in Indiana, he read stories about St. Francis and other saints practicing mortification of the body. So he tried fasting and flagellation for his penances while there. His only motives were the love of God and the desire for the salvation of his immortal soul, so he fashioned a cat-o’-nine-tails from cording. He added knots and small bits of wire. The tool did hurt, but it had an unwanted consequence. It gave Gregory pleasure as well as pain. That was not what he desired, so he gave up the practice after just a few weeks.
Morning meditation had a desirable consequence. He had another vision. He was sitting in his pew in the church with his eyes closed when he “saw” Christ on the cross. The rain started to wash His blood from His body, down the rocks and into the earth. Down through the earth it ran, red, until it flowed over the dead. As it did, it resurrected those dead bodies and as they climbed though the earth toward the surface, they began to look as they had in life. That’s when he opened his eyes. He hadn’t had a vision in a long time, but he was happy to have had another. He was sure he was still on the right path. When their prayers were finished, he went back to his room and wrote the vision down in his journal.
Fr. John James was into Faith Healing, so he took the novices to a couple of healing services. One was at a small gathering where the healers spoke in tongues. This was the one and only time he would be exposed to this supernatural language. On another occasion, he took them to a mass where each person went up and had hands laid on them. It was an interesting experience, but not one where Gregory felt anything out of the ordinary. A few people were slain in the spirit, though, so it was a good thing there were “catchers” to keep them from hurting themselves when they fell back.
The novices heard about an Eastern Orthodox Church in Chicago that had a weeping Madonna icon. They received permission to make a pilgrimage to see it. When they parked and made it to the church, they saw that there was a line, but they thought it would be worth the wait. They were dressed in their habits, so when they got inside they were asked if they’d like some of the tears to take home. Of course they said, “Yes.” Each novice was given a cotton ball that had soaked up tears from the icon of the Blessed Mother. Gregory cherished his new treasure.
Then soon enough their time in Indiana was coming to an end and there was another retreat to take before taking simple vows. The small group went to a retreat house in Wisconsin this time. It was run by a group of friars from yet another province. This was again a time to reflect on their decision to follow Christ as a Friar Minor. The brother who greeted them was a very large man with a round belly. He turned out to be the cook and he was obviously very good at his job!
After everyone settled in, they met for evening prayer and then had dinner. It was soup and homemade bread served at one great long table. The novices got to meet the other brothers at dinner and even one doing his retreat before solemn vows. His name was Bro. Bartholomew and he couldn’t have been more opposite from Gregory if he tried. Whereas Gregory was tall, he was short. Gregory was fair while Bart was dark. They did have one thing in common, though. They both loved to laugh. Bart had a great, big laugh actually; bigger than he was it seemed.
He and Gregory got along right from the start. They went on walks around the lake. They talked for hours on end about everything under the sun. And Bart was gay, too, so it was easy to talk to him. One evening, he and Bart were sitting on the bed talking and Bart was wearing a striped t-shirt. It reminded Gregory of Hobbes, the stuffed tiger from the Calvin and Hobbes comic strips, so he called him Hobbes just for laughs. Bart didn’t seem to mind and even called him Calvin in return. They both laughed at that. They looked at each other and something sparked. Bart leaned in and kissed Gregory. And he returned the kiss. They made love that night in Gregory’s room. It was slow and sweet and absolutely wonderful. Afterwards Gregory held the smaller man in his arms and asked,
“That was great, Bart, but do you think we’re bad friars for having had sex?”
“I don’t think God would consider what we did bad. No.”
“Would you do it differently if you had to do it over again? I mean, would you have kissed me?” Gregory asked needing all the reassurance he could get.
“Look at it this way, Greg. I’m taking a permanent vow of celibacy in a few days. This was probably my last chance to be close to someone.” Bart offered. “And I’m glad it was you.”
“Thanks! Yeah, you’re right. I wouldn’t have traded it for the world, Hobbes.”
“Me either, Calvin, me either.”
Bart kissed him, got out of bed, put his clothes on, said goodnight, and went back to his room. The next night, Gregory came to Bart’s room to help him pack, having finished his own packing earlier in the day. When they were finished, Bart lay down on his bed and invited Gregory to join him for a cuddle. They hadn’t planned on doing anything more, but he and Gregory had sex again, one last hurrah. Afterwards, they said their goodnights and goodbyes with kisses. It would be the last time they ever saw each other. They would keep in touch for years, but eventually even that would stop. The fond memories would not go away, however.
The next morning, the guys were packed up and driving back to Valparaiso to start packing up their things for the trip back to DC. After each of them spoke with Fr. John James and he made his final recommendations, that is. Fr. John James recommended that all of the novices take their simple vows, which they did in a special ceremony before leaving for home. Fr. Kenneth even made a special trip to administer the vows on behalf of the Custody. There would be no train ride this time, though, they were going to fly home. Bro. Malcolm had called and gotten them a great deal on airfare and they were all happy to be closing this chapter in their lives!
When the group got back, they were greeted by the friars and given their new room assignments upstairs. Gregory, already having roomed upstairs, was used to it. He was now down the hall and around the corner from his old room. This room was actually a little larger being an inside corner room. When you first walked in, the wardrobe was on the left, then the desk and a bookshelf. Straight ahead was the window. In the summer, the A/C window unit kept him cool and beneath it was a radiator to keep him warm in the winter; then the bed, the dresser and the sink, with a mirrored medicine cabinet above it, behind the door. That was it. It was sparse, but he had all he needed. They were free to exchange furniture with spare rooms, but all Gregory wanted was an extra bookshelf for all of his books, because he dearly loved to read.
At first, the old brothers had trouble remembering to call them by their new religious names, but got the hang of it after awhile. Fr. Javier, the leader of the Hispanic community who worshipped at the monastery, had the most trouble. He had called Gregory David (only he pronounced it Day-bee) for a year, and was now having to call him something entirely different. It was very hard, but Gregory was patient with him.
Gregory had thought long and hard about what he wanted to do once he got back, so he asked the new Commissary, Fr. Matthew, if he could go to school. He knew that the Catholic University of America was within walking distance of the monastery and that they had a small art department. He didn’t think it would be hard to get in since he had already gone to art school and taken some community college courses. All he had to do was request transcripts and apply. Fr. Matthew said, “Yes.” And that was the beginning of his academic career at CUA.
He was able to transfer four of his classes from community college, two to the Philosophy department and two to the Religion department. He was also able to take care of some of the entry level Art classes with credits from art school. He was never very good at Math, so he enrolled in what he hoped was the easiest one. In addition to Math, Religion, Philosophy, and art, he took English, Anthropology, Sociology, Education, and Italian, because it was the official language of the Custody.
With his class schedule full, Gregory would only have time for one job in the house now. He chose to keep working with Bro. Samuel in the Tailor Shop. He also asked Bro. Louis if he could have a small section of the paint shop for times when he needed to stretch canvas or paint at home. The only regret he had about attending college was that he had less time to spend with Bro. Julian.
Julian asked Gregory to come to his room one afternoon. He knocked on the door when he got there and Julian opened it, inviting him in. He wanted to give Gregory something. It was a book on the architecture of New England where Julian had grown up. Over the course of many conversations, he must have remembered Gregory’s love of architecture. He said,
“I want you to have this,” as he handed Gregory the book.
“Thanks Julian, but what’s the occasion?”
“No occasion, I just wanted you to have it. And this,” he said as he handed Gregory a
“Thanks. Again,” David responded. Gregory left the room shaking his head and
wondering, “Wonder what that was all about.”
When Julian was admitted to the hospital for kidney failure a few weeks later, Gregory went to visit him every day, before or after class. At first, Julian was doing okay, but pretty soon he started going downhill fast. On one of Gregory’s earlier visits, Julian asked him something completely out of the blue.
“Gregory, do you think I’m being punished?”
“What are you talking about, Julian?”
“For drinking and smoking, am I being punished?” he asked again.
“Of course not, don’t even think like that!” David replied and took Julian’s hand in his.
The next time he visited the hospital, Julian didn’t even know who he was. This made Gregory very sad, because Julian was drowning in his own fluid and there was nothing the doctors could do about it. Then just like that, he was dead. Bro. Salvatore was Master of Ceremonies, so he asked Gregory to do one of the readings at his funeral mass. He was pretty proud that he made it through the entire reading without crying. He was going to miss his old friend very much.
It wasn’t too long after Julian’s funeral that Gregory was made Master of Ceremonies. And he was terrified! He wasn’t sure he could do it. His vow of obedience meant that he had to, but that didn’t mean he was going to like it. His first big test was Holy Week. The Knights almost dropped the statue of Christ, so Gregory thought it might be best not to have them carry it down the marble stairs that year. He could see that they were disappointed and he would regret that decision for years to come. It was a stressful week, but he somehow managed to survive it, but obedience would be the one vow he would have the most trouble with. He just wasn’t good at following orders even though he would continue to try.
In order to save some money on retreats at houses owned by other provinces, the monastery decided it was time to buy a pair of townhouses in Bethany. One house was “Mary” named after the sister who sat at Jesus’ feet, so it was the contemplative side. The other was “Martha” for the sister who did all the work while her sister sat at the Lord’s feet. They needed some decorations, pictures, etc. to finish them up. Gregory was asked to take care of it, but when the group got back and Bro. Caleb saw the bill he was not happy. Gregory assured him that he had only got what they absolutely needed and most of it had been on sale. After the good brother got a chance to see the houses, he came to Gregory and told him that he thought he had done a good job decorating them.
Morning meditation was a time of quiet reflection and even though Gregory wasn’t a morning person he looked forward to it. It didn’t always turn out to be quiet though. A stomach could often be heard grumbling if a friar had forgotten to drink some water beforehand. Sometimes someone would fall asleep and start snoring. Bro. Albert had a hearing aid and sometimes he forgot to turn it down during meditation, so it would make a high-pitched squealing noise right in the middle of this supposed “quiet time.” He couldn’t hear it squealing though, so Fr. Matthew had to yell,
“Albert! Turn your hearing aid down!!!”
The friars had to try very hard not to snicker.
As Gregory passed the infirmary on the way to his room one afternoon, he noticed Fr. Matthew, an empty wheelchair, and someone lying on the floor about halfway down the hall. He dropped his backpack and asked Fr. Matthew what had happened.
“Angelus has fallen out of his wheelchair. Help me get him back in it.”
“Sure.” They tried to pick Angelus up off the floor, but it was proving difficult.
“Angelus, you have to help us. You’re deadweight!”
But he just lay there unable to help them. After some more struggling, they somehow managed to get him back in his chair and down to the solarium. It seemed he was none the worse for wear, but the same could not be said for Bro. Gregory and Fr. Matthew!
Most of the friars’ rooms didn’t have showers, so Gregory was used to walking down the hall to take a shower. As was said previously, he was not a morning person, so he never turned the light on in the bathroom. Fr. Miguel took his shower in the morning, also. Whenever he came into the bathroom and saw that the light was off, but heard the water running, he would ask,
“Gregory, is that you?”
“Yes,” he would answer.
“Why didn’t you turn the lights on?” Miguel would ask, as usual.
“Because I know where everything is,” Gregory would always answer.
A production company came to the monastery and wanted to film a couple of scenes for a movie starring Dan Aykroyd, Gene Hackman, and Dom DeLuise. They asked a few of the friars if they would like to be extras in the film. Gregory and the others were to stand in the Lourdes Grotto and appear to be singing (they would add Gregorian chant later in postproduction). There was a lot of standing around, but each one of them was to be paid scale for the day. They would even be allowed to keep the money!
It was interesting to see just what went into making a movie. Gregory, who was always good at details, saw that one of the actors had a regular rosary instead of a Franciscan habit rosary. He made a comment to the prop master about it and was asked if they could borrow one of his. Gregory had made several, so he agreed. Lunch for the cast, crew, and friars was served in the Franciscan Hall. Mr. Hackman was nice enough to sit down and eat at the brothers table and Aaron (formerly Ray), being the most gregarious of the bunch, entertained him with stories all through the meal. At the end of production, Gregory was asked if they could buy the habit rosary from him, but as the rosary was blessed it could not be sold. The prop master told them that he would be sure to mail it back to Bro. Gregory once the movie was finished. The movie came out a good deal later and was titled “Loose Cannons.” It didn’t do very well at the box office and they even changed the ending shot at the gates of the monastery, but Gregory didn’t care. His back was in a movie for a whole second!
Gregory’s sister, brother-in-law, and 11 month old nephew came to visit him at Christmastime. They met him in one of the parlors meant for visitors before you entered the cloister. Gregory was so happy to see them, especially his nephew, Timmy. Susan took him out of the stroller and handed him to his uncle. While Gregory was holding him on his lap, Timmy started making a grunting sound.
“Why is he making that sound?” David asked her.
“He‘s pooping,” she said laughingly.
“Here, then take him back!” he said, as he lifted him and tried to give Timmy back to his mother.
It was a sunny afternoon in 1988, when Gregory heard his bell page. He picked up the phone in the sacristy and when he was connected with the caller, it was his sister. She wanted to tell him something. She announced that she had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. He asked her if she was okay. She assured him that she was, but that she had to walk with canes.
“Canes, plural?” he asked incredulously.
“Yeah, both of my feet are always numb, but I can get around better with two canes rather than one,” she responded.
“You sound like you’re okay with this,” he replied.
“Yeah, I guess I am.”
When they hung up, all he could do was think, “Wow, this is terrible news.” He went to ask Salvatore, who was a nurse, about MS. He gave Gregory something to read on it and even though he found that it was incurable, it was good to know that Susan’s getting around was a good sign for now. When he saw her that Christmas, he experienced it firsthand. She made it up the stairs, at his Dad’s house, slowly and with two canes. It was her son’s second Christmas and her mood could not be dampened even by a debilitating disease.
Gregory had to do some real soul searching. His sister had MS. How could he go to the Holy Land while she was so ill? What if she died while he was away? Would he ever be able to forgive himself? And what about his art, as a friar he was supposed to be drawing, painting, and sculpting religious themes, right? Where did his love of the human form and his nudes fit in? He was very conflicted, so he called Bart and asked him what he thought. Bart told him that he had to make that decision for himself, but that it sounded like he already had even if he didn’t know it yet.
Matteo was the next friend he had to visit in the hospital. He knew that Matteo was HIV positive, but apparently one of his lungs had collapsed. When Gregory arrived, he was shocked by Matteo’s appearance. It was as though he had changed overnight. He could see every bone in his skull-like face. He was much thinner than he had ever seen him and he had tubes sticking out everywhere. Gregory sat down to visit with him and noticed that had considerable trouble breathing. He was so moved by Matteo’s appearance, that he used it as the inspiration for a relief sculpture in sculpture class. It was haunting and very personal and one of the best pieces he ever did in that class.
Matteo had told Gregory that there was a group called Dignity where gay Catholics went to worship openly together. Gregory took the Metro up to DuPont Circle and walked up the hill to the church, St. Margaret’s Episcopal, one Sunday evening. He didn’t know anyone there, but was greeted by a nice young man who was rather on the short side, balding, and a full beard. He introduced himself as Peter. After a moment’s hesitation, Gregory introduced himself. He hesitated because he wasn’t sure if it was actually “okay” for him to be there. Peter asked if he could stay after Mass for social hour he would be happy to introduce him to some of the guys. Gregory thanked him, then went inside and took a seat.
The Mass was full of wonderful singing and the homily was very good, not dry at all like they sometimes were. After the Mass was over, Peter found Gregory in the crowd and introduced him to some of his friends. It was easy to talk to these men and they were curious about where he lived and what he did for work. He deliberately didn’t tell them what he was, while still telling them the truth; he was a student, in the Art department, at Catholic U. On his way back to the monastery, Gregory was sure that he wanted to come back again next week.
Now he was more torn that ever. Should he stay in the Order? It would be easy enough to do that. Or was there another path that he was supposed to follow? What about all the time and money the friars had invested in him? Didn’t he owe it to himself to find out what he really wanted, though? This wasn’t a crisis of faith; it was a crisis of vocation. And now he had more questions than he had answers. He really needed to talk to his spiritual advisor.
After the whole Fr. James debacle, he had been going to see a priest in another community, but still within walking distance of the monastery. He met with Fr. Anthony and told him the situation. Fr. Anthony was supportive of Gregory’s conundrum, but he reminded Gregory that nothing had to be decided right away. He advised him to give it some time and check back with him. Gregory made his confession, was absolved, and given his penance. He thanked Fr. Anthony and left. “Nothing needs to be decided yet,” he repeated to himself all the way home. “I have time.”
Gregory had long ago made his choice of majors, Studio Art. But he could choose a minor as well, an area of study that also interested him but didn’t require as many credit hours. He chose Religion as his minor. It made sense. He was a “Religious” and he had to take religion classes anyway, so why not? Gregory’s name was submitted by the head of the Art department for the Magi scholarship through the Religion department. Religion majors always won, so he wasn’t too confident. It would take care of half his tuition if he did win. When he received the letter that had indeed won, he was overjoyed. It would help the monastery and he would be the first recipient ever from the Art department. He even had a chance to meet the donor on one occasion.
There was another area that interested him, though, Anthropology. He loved the study of Archeology. The class even went on an archeological dig! It was so fascinating to him: the ancient relics, architecture, and cultures. He just thought it would be great to take a few more classes and minor in that as well. He was now the opposite of his high school self. He was focused, he studied, and he attended class. He was determined to do his very best. He wanted to be able to present good reports to the Commissary, but more importantly he wanted to be proud of himself.
Perry was living and working in San Francisco, so Gregory decided to visit him for his vacation that year. Perry was living in Marin County and working in the East Bay. Gregory stayed with him and slept on the sleep-sofa in the living room. He watched MTV while Perry was at work, something he couldn’t do back at the monastery. Perry drove him to the top of Mount Tam, over to Pier 39, down Lombard Street, and for sushi. Gregory had to admit that once he tried sushi, he liked it and it would become one of his favorite things to eat. On his way back to DC, he stopped in Detroit to visit his Auntie. When he got home, Bro. Caleb was not happy. Apparently, he was only allowed to make one stop not two, but Gregory didn’t know that. All he could do was promise not to do it again.
That same year San Francisco was rocked by a 6.9 earthquake. It was impossible to get ahold of Perry afterwards. The bridge that Perry took over the bay each day collapsed. Days later Gregory learned that the building where Perry worked was hit badly, people panicked, and that he had helped one of the secretaries that had fallen and other people had stepped over in order to get out. He was glad to hear that his brother had survived and had helped someone out, too.
With his background in Graphic Art, Gregory was asked to take over the Crusader Magazine. It was a publication that the monastery put out highlighting pilgrimages to the Holy Land, good works, the Knights of Mt. St. Sepulchre, and the friars both at home and abroad. Gregory really enjoyed pulling the articles and photos together, designing the layout, and even drawing a picture of St. Francis for the vocational ad. It was a really rewarding endeavor and he was happy to help out with it.
The days and months passed by so quickly that soon enough it was the New Year and Gregory was about to turn 30. He had been attending services at Dignity every Sunday evening for the past few months. He had made some really close friends and he had come out to them as a Religious. They were very supportive of his situation and sometimes drove him home after church. Blaise took a particular interest in Gregory, but he made sure that the nice young man knew that he was not available due to his vow of chastity. It did make Gregory wonder if he really wanted a relationship, though. Was this life enough for him or did he want to fall in love and settle down? He had a difficult decision to make. One that would either keep him on the path he had been on for four years or start him on a new one; one that was a mystery, a new adventure. Which one to choose? He made up his mind and then made an appointment with Fr. Matthew.
Fr. Matthew was an imposing figure. He was tall and wide and his voice was always rather gruff, even if he didn’t mean for it to be. His eyes seemed like they could look right through you. Gregory knocked on the door and Fr. Matthew told him to,
“Come in. Have a seat.” He got up from his desk and gestured toward the chairs by the window.
“Thank you for seeing me Father.” They sat down in chairs opposite each other.
“What can I do for you today, Gregory?”
“I have been praying about this long and hard for months now and I have finally come to a decision.” Fr. Matthew didn’t interrupt. He continued to give Gregory his undivided attention.
“I would really like to fall in love and have a relationship. I can’t do that here. I’m sorry.” Gregory couldn’t help but look down.
“Don’t apologize, Gregory. This life isn’t for everyone. It takes a special person to make this kind of sacrifice. You’ve always been an exemplary friar. You’ve given it your best and it didn’t turn out to be God’s path for you. You need to find your own way now.”
“Thank you for understanding,” Gregory said relieved.
“When would you like to leave?” Fr. Matthew asked.
“Spring Break would be the best time, I think. I have a week off from classes and should be able to find a place to live by then.”
“Well, let me know what we can do to make the transition easier for you.”
“I will,” said Gregory. “Thank you.”
“Oh, before I forget. Would you like to let your vows run out in September or ask to be released from them by the Custos?” Fr. Matthew asked.
“I hadn’t thought about it, but if it isn’t too much trouble, could you ask the Custos to release me?”
“I can do that. God bless you, Bro. Gregory.”
“God bless you, too, Father,” and he left the Commissary’s office.
He needed to tell some people that he was leaving. Salvatore and Aaron were the most important ones. He told Salvatore first. He took it rather well. He told Bro. Samuel alone; he gave Gregory a great big, bear hug, and wished him all the best. He told Fr. Daniel and Fr. Kenneth, too. It was proving more difficult to tell Aaron than he could have imagined. A few days before he was set to leave, he finally told his best friend.
“I have some difficult news that I have to share with you.”
“What is it?” Aaron asked.
“I’ve decided to leave the monastery. Wait, “he held up his hand as Aaron was about to interrupt him, “I’ve given this a lot of thought. It would be really easy for me to stay, but I would be living a lie. I want to fall in love. I want to find someone to settle down and grow old with. I need that. Can you forgive me?”
“There’s nothing to forgive! You’re my friend and I want only what’s best for you. Of course, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I wanted you to stay, but I want you to be happy.”
They both cried. Gregory was still going to be attending CUA and he assured them all that he would come to visit often. He was going to miss them very much. He also had to tell his friends at Dignity. Hopefully, they would have some ideas about possible places to live and maybe even jobs.
When he told Peter and Blaise that he was leaving the monastery, they told him not to worry. They would ask around and find him a place to live. The following week, Thom came up to Gregory after mass and told him that he had an extra room and would be happy to rent it to him. He was a very tall impressive-looking man with a gentle smile and his house was within walking distance of the Metro, so it would be easy for him to make it to classes, no problem. Gregory thanked him and told him that he would find a job as soon as possible. Thom told him not to worry about it, he had faith in him.