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The Bishop in the Old Neighborhood
A Blackie Ryan Story
By Andrew M. Greeley
Tom Doherty Associates Copyright © 2005 Andrew M. Greeley Enterprises, Ltd.
All rights reserved.
"Blackwood, there's trouble in the old neighborhood! Murder in the sanctuary of the church!"
I glanced away from my computer and remarked again to myself that as he grew older, Sean Cardinal Cronin had come to look like a very High Church Anglican cleric, save for the scarlet shirts the latter affected. Tall, handsome, trim, broad-shouldered, white hair, immaculately groomed, perfectly tailored, and with a large ruby ring, a bejeweled pectoral cross, and only a touch of red at the edge of his Roman collar, he was much too presentable to be one of ours. Generally our kind look like tired and corrupt old men in funny dresses. Or dumpy little men in jeans and Chicago sports jackets like me.
The Anglican illusion faded when one saw the wild Celtic blue eyes — a gallowglass mercenary warrior disguised as a prelate.
"I have heard no alarms from St. Praxides," I said, referring to my own neighborhood of origin.
"I meant the West Side, of course," he said impatiently. "A locked church murder at St. Lucy's! Three bodies!"
"Deplorable," I sighed.
"Mick Woljy wants the place reconsecrated right away and I'm off to Rome to pick up some heavy markers. So you'd better see to it!"
"Markers" are part of a Chicago theory of economic exchange, though the theory originates not at The University but at City Hall. Suppose you ask me for a "personal favor." I respond, "Name it and you got it." Then I hold your marker, which entitles you to a similar exchange, no questions asked.
"They don't believe in markers over there."
A wicked grin crossed his face. The return of the gallowglass.
"They'll believe in mine ... Look, do you know Mick Woljy?"
He put down his suitcase and the garment bag carrying his cardinalatial finery, shoved aside a stack of precious computer output, and sat on the edge of my easy chair, a pilgrim ready with his staff in hand and his loins girded.
"Mikal Wolodyjowski," I spoke his name with a proper Polish pronunciation, "by the length of his name and his demeanor a cultivated member of the Polish nobility. We Irish don't have any such."
As best as I can transliterate the name is pronounced volodyovaski.
"He's a great priest," Milord Cronin repeated the defensive clerical cliché. "He's held that parish together for years, long after we should have closed it. Now it's gentrifying he has everyone on his side, blacks, whites, Hispanics, old-timers in the parish, and the yuppie newcomers. He says that the superstitions in the neighborhood are multicultural. He wants the church reconsecrated today — as soon as the cops get out. The school opens again next week. He'll probably have to build a new and bigger one next year ... So get out there and reconsecrate the church."
Milord did not perceive the contradiction. They should have closed the schools years ago, but now there would be yet another new school. I sighed mentally. I had not been able to exorcise those who proclaimed themselves city planners for the Archdiocese.
"I doubt that we can do that," I replied with my loudest sigh of protest. "It is after all a temporary basement church, even if it is almost a century old. It was never consecrated in the first place."
The Poles and the Germans built beautiful churches when they arrived in America. We put up parochial schools and used the basement "school hall" for a church until we could build a "new" church. In some places for reasons of hard times, poverty, or pastoral indolence, the dream of the new church faded away.
Milord Cronin frowned. He did not like liturgical rules to interfere with his plans. He leaned back in the chair, loins still girded but staff on the floor.
"Mickey and I went through the seminary, then on to Rome for graduate school. We were never exactly close friends — hard to break through that Polish formality. Still we got along all right. He's an extraordinary guy, brilliant, cultivated, knows everything. The people out in the neighborhood seem to adore his European aristocratic style ..."
He shut his eyes as if to blot out an unhappy memory.
"Every Polish priest in the city thinks that he ought to have my job. And they're right, Blackwood. He should be in this room talking to you, not me ... Only reason he doesn't have it is that he's Polish. In those days they were afraid to take that risk."
"I doubt that I would be in this room if Pan Mikal was in the room at the other end of the corridor."
"He's never said a word to me about it, Blackwood, nor as far as I know to anyone else. Totally loyal, though he is incapable of anything else. Yet it must bother him."
"Arguably he prefers reviving St. Lucy's to dealing with the Curia Romana."
"I owe him, Blackwood." He bounded out of the chair, metaphorical staff back in hand. "He needs help out there. I won't tolerate murders in one of my churches. See to it!"
He disappeared out the door of my office, a night train rushing through the darkness. His trip to Rome boded no good for anyone. The subject of his markers doubtless pertained to his approaching seventy-fifth birthday. He would be expected to submit his resignation. It would not be accepted, because the Curia lived in mortal fear of Sean Cronin. They knew full well over there that he did not give a damn about them and their increasingly empty power. A resigned Sean Cronin would be an even looser cannon. He might insist, even demand that his resignation be accepted. Or he might impose conditions for staying in power that would push them into a corner.
Nor were they likely to find consolation in appearances of declining health. Nora Cronin, his foster sister and sister-in-law (and one time long ago, as he had admitted to me, his temporary lover), had participated in a makeover aided and abetted by a certain all-seeing little auxiliary bishop — one cup of coffee every morning, one small glass of Bushmill's every evening, exercise every day, proper meals (of the sort I would never eat), a day off every week, a limited schedule of confirmation and anniversary appointments in the parishes, and a cap on the number of staff meetings a week. This remake had permitted the Cronin genes to reassert themselves and he would appear in Rome as indestructible.
The good Nora had not, however, been able to constrain his manic gallowglass moods. I doubt that she wanted to.
I called my friend Mike Casey — aka Mike the Cop — for the lay of the land out in St. Lucy's.
"It's the Lake Street L," Mike assured me. "Developers have finally figured out that it's twenty minutes to downtown inside Chicago just as it is across Austin Boulevard in Oak Park. So there's a boom between Central and Austin for six blocks from West End to Race. The old stock is prime for rehab, just like Ravenswood. The homes on West End are as elegant as any in the city. And the new town houses in close to the L are designed for prosperous Yuppies. Cops are cleaning up drug action against the south end of the tracks. There's St. Lucy's and St. Catherine's grade schools and Fenwick and Trinity High Schools. Too bad they closed Sienna. Anyway, Austin is ready for rebirth and as a native of Austin like Sean Cronin I say it's high time."
I wondered to myself what would happen when the poor were exiled from the city to suburbs and the city, like Paris, became a bastion of the white upper middle class. Again. Many of the neighborhoods of the city had been resegregated as blacks pushing for living space had moved into white neighborhoods and whites, panicked by real estate brokers called "blockbusters," fled farther out in the city's rings and into the suburbs. Then these neighborhoods deteriorated as the black middle class itself fled, pushed by street gangs, drug dealers, and the neighborhoods deteriorated physically. The next phase was the rediscovery of the possibility of the neighborhoods by the new urban professional class in search of good transportation routes back downtown. In a suburb like Oak Park, just across Austin Boulevard, the blockbusters had been foiled by property value insurance which protected home owners from panic. So now Austin was creeping towards emergence as a multiracial, multiclass community — a hard journey to rebirth.
"The three murders will delay that rebirth?"
"For a while maybe. The change, now that it's started, is too powerful to stop. It's dawning on people, then on developers, that transportation is the driving force in this city."
How did we ever forget that, I wondered.
"And the local cops?"
"Fifteenth Precinct — Austin. Over on Chicago Avenue near Laramie. Lieutenant Dawn Collins is the head of Homicide there. Area Five Homicide may try to take over but only if they want a fight with Dawn. She's a real stand-up cop. I'll tell her you'll be out there. She's African-American and Catholic."
"Aren't they all?"
I sighed loudly. There ought not to be violent crimes, much less in a church during the glorious fading days of August.CHAPTER 2
My trouble started on a Catholic retreat for cops.
My name is Declan O'Donnell and I'm a cop. I'm a lawyer too. And I'm studying for a Ph.D. in psychology. Overeducated, overqualified. But basically I'm a cop.
My father is a cop. My grandfather is a retired cop. I have two uncles, one on either side, who are cops. My little sister is in the Academy. My great- grandfather was also a cop for the old South Park district. Four generations of South Side Irish cops.
They are all stand-up cops, as I have been told repeatedly in my five years on the force — kind of a warning that I must live up to that tradition. I went on the force as soon as I had graduated from college. When my romantic life kind of sputtered out, I went to law school at night. Better than hanging around singles' bars.
All my family predecessors were detectives. They all worked hard on the street for many years before they made detective, earned it as they would say. Once they were detectives, and by all accounts, brilliant at their work, they had no interest in further promotion and indeed seemed to have turned it down. On the other hand I'm already a detective sergeant. What's worse I'm in a "Special Unit."
My family doesn't like these achievements. They don't like the law degree either, much less the Ph.D. Somehow these are not the kinds of things a stand-up cop should do. They hint that I shouldn't be spying on other cops. I tell them that's not what my Unit does, but I'm not sure they believe me. I don't explain, because I'm not supposed to. Actually when we find dirt about cops we turn it over to Internal Affairs and wash our hands of it. People say we're snoops. We're not. We're sniffers.
I should say that my little sister, who wrongly adores me, doesn't think I'm a poor cop. But what does she know?
Anyway, I didn't want to make this annual retreat for police officers. I feel suffocated when I'm surrounded by a lot of cops. I respect them and I admire them, well mostly; but I'm not like a lot of them. I would feel like a straight man might at a retreat for gays. However, everyone says that the retreat will be good for me. By which they meant it might "straighten me out."
I'm a good Catholic. Well, what's that? I go to church. Not every Sunday, but most of the time. I do volunteer work at my parish with elderly people. I pray, not often enough. I don't commit a lot of sins. But I'm not as good as I should be either. Maybe the retreat will do me some good. Besides, like my mother says, the retreat master will be a nun. One of my uncles says that might not be a good thing. I ask my priest about her and he says she's very good, but a bit of a feminist. I figure that I won't mind that because my boss in the Unit is a pretty thirty-six-year-old Asian woman with a mind as sharp as a bayonet.
The nun was indeed very tough, a solid woman in an ill-fitting pantsuit and not a hint of makeup who didn't smile much and didn't seem to like men and especially cops. She called herself a "facilitator" because, I suspect, "retreat master" is no longer politically correct. Yet she knew her stuff. She knew all about cops and the things they did. Most of my colleagues squirmed as she described the things that men do to women and, as she saw it, cops do to women. Since I'm relatively innocent in such matters — how can you abuse your wife if you don't have one? — I listened complacently. I thought to myself that she doesn't really know the spiritual needs of cops. We know how ugly human beings can be. We work in a world of cruelty, viciousness, absurdity. For many of us it is too much. We harden our hearts. That's why police marriages often break up, why cops become addicts — drugs, gambling, sex, whatever — and why they often blow their brains out with their service revolvers. They need a little hope. She was not about to give us any of that.
Then she hit me with a punch in the stomach.
"Many men become police officers because they're bullies. They think that because they have a badge and a gun they can push other people around — women, gays, drunks, homeless people, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, anyone they can arrest. Basically many of you are torturers at heart. You love to cause people pain. You were schoolyard bullies when you were growing up. You picked on kids smaller than you were, on kids who were a little strange, on black kids, and on little girls with glasses and braces and pigtails. You were proud of it. You were great big tough men and you could get away with cruelty. You ought to have been ashamed of yourselves. Then you became police so you could continue to be bullies. Before you face a just God who will punish you for your miserable sadism, you must find those whom you have victimized and make amends, whether you abused them last week or when you were a schoolyard sadist."
I didn't hear anything more she said. I remembered the film Flatliners in which Kevin Bacon had to seek forgiveness for teasing Kimberly Scott when she was a little black kid in a white school. I was twelve years old and I didn't link it to my own career as a bully in the yard of our parish school, but quickly forgot about it. Fourteen years later both the film and my career came back and guilt poured into my soul.
I considered talking to Sister in one the breaks, but couldn't find the courage to tell her that I had been a bully, not with my physical strength, which then as now is minimal, but with my mean Irish tongue, which I inherited from family discourse. We were always cutting each other up. We meant nothing by it. Or maybe we did. But it was part of life. So I would find kids in the schoolyard who would be vulnerable to ridicule and tear them apart. I was the scourge of recess time for a year or two, then grew out of it, perhaps because the family verbal culture had lost its attractiveness. I decided then that I didn't want to hurt anyone with my quick wit and sharp tongue, not even my obnoxious uncles.
Yet I had done so, particularly to a little girl, dark-skinned, cross-eyed, skinny, frizzled hair, bucktoothed, and Italian — no, Sicilian. She used to run from me at recess time as I shouted insults about her size, her teeth, and her Mafia background. "Ugly little greaser," was one of my milder insults.
Did I enjoy hurting her? I must have. Kids that age enjoy hurting one another. I was just playing the game. It didn't worry me, not till Sister kicked me in the gut.
I tried to remember her name that night in bed. She had moved away from St. Thomas More and didn't graduate with us. Where had she gone? What was her name, how could I find her? I climbed out of bed at three to hunt through our grammar-school class pictures. I found her just as the sun came up in a fifth-grade picture. Camilla Datillo. She was indeed a skinny little kid with thick glasses and dark skin. The glasses reminded me of another reason I delighted in tormenting her. She was too bright for her own good. I promised God that I would find Camilla and apologize to her.
How would I find her? Was I not a member of Annamaria Huong's sniffers? Aka the Dragon Lady?
Excerpted from The Bishop in the Old Neighborhood by Andrew M. Greeley. Copyright © 2005 Andrew M. Greeley Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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