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Till Death

Till Death

by William X. Kienzle

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For years, a little group of priests and nuns have struggled together to recover from the rule of virtual slavery imposed upon them by tyrannical Father Angelico, now thankfully gone to his reward. But for some of them the group is no longer a godsend. The ties that once bound beloved Father Rick Casserly, beautiful former nun Dora



For years, a little group of priests and nuns have struggled together to recover from the rule of virtual slavery imposed upon them by tyrannical Father Angelico, now thankfully gone to his reward. But for some of them the group is no longer a godsend. The ties that once bound beloved Father Rick Casserly, beautiful former nun Dora Ricardo, defrocked priest Jerry Anderson, and warm and lovely school principal Lil Niedermier unshakably to their church are becoming dangerously frayed by the human passions their faith denies them. No one foresees the terrible events that will soon leave one of them dead, and only Father Koesler, in the wisdom of his seventy years, grasps the shocking truth. . . .

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“The real mystery of the novel is figuring out who this dead person is. The book’s prologue takes place at the grave of an unnamed person, whose life changed many others, beginning forty years earlier. The identity of the dead person is not revealed until the death finally occurs near the novel’s end.”
–Flint Journal

“Kienzle uses his considerable skill as a writer to take us deeply into the lives of each of the principal characters, bringing them alive with all their flaws and virtues. Kienzle’s intimate knowledge of the Catholic Church gives a rare behind-the-scenes look at some of the church’s most heated issues.”
–Knoxville News-Sentinel

“Kienzle has a good eye for detail and a good ear for dialogue. . . . Till Death is one of his best recent novels.”
–Star Press (Muncie, IN)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
With 21 previous Father Koesler mysteries to Kienzle's credit, it might be hard to deny that the 22nd (following No Greater Love) belongs to the same genre. But while this latest follows familiar ground in exploring the still-widening rifts in the Church caused (or revealed) by Vatican II, it departs from form by not including a conventional crime. Years before, after leaving the Detroit parish of St. Ursula's, Fr. Robert Koesler established the St. Ursula Survivors Club, to help salve the wounds and heal the souls of those priests and nuns who served as assistants under the despotic Father Angelico, who is now dead but whose victims still suffer from psychic scars. Among the dwindling members of the club are Fr. Rick Casserly, a popular and socially conscious pastor; Lillian "Lil" Niedermier, a lay principal of a parochial school; and Dora Ricardo, a nun turned reporter. In defiance of official church policy, Father Rick and Lil carry on a secret affair. When Dora begins to take a romantic interest in Rick, matters become even more difficult. Only death can bring any resolution. Kienzle's characters usually serve didactic purposes, and here they demonstrate changes in love and marriage and the clergy. Unfortunately, these figures lack the substance to lift the story to tragedy, nor does the novel boast sufficient suspense to succeed as a mystery. Some of Kienzle's fans may appreciate his ability to illustrate issues that confound many American Roman Catholics, but most will find little to cheer. (Apr.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Father Robert Koesler Series
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
4.17(w) x 6.87(h) x 0.81(d)

Read an Excerpt

Never get sick on a Wednesday.

Why not?

Because the doctors and priests will be on the golf course.

Lil smiled at the memory of the old wheeze as she peeled strips of bacon from the package and slid them into the frying pan.

It was very much an "in" joke for Catholics of long standing who could count themselves well within the loop. Once upon a time, when Catholics fell ill a priest might be summoned as routinely as a doctor. While the doctor scribbled a prescription, the priest would confer the appropriate sacrament, and assure the family of his prayers as well as those of the other parishioners.

Nowadays, doctors don't make house calls, and priests, an ever more endangered species, are buffered from callers by answering services. Nonetheless, Wednesday is still a popular day off for those able to arrange it.

Lil wore only the top half of a man's pajamas. The man, still snoozing, wore the bottoms.

The sun was creeping into the basement studio apartment. The tiny dwelling comprised a kitchenette wall, one bath, and an all-purpose space that was foyer, living room, dining room, and bedroom.

This Wednesday in June promised to be a pleasant day, the type that invited one to get out and enjoy the weather. Many of those left behind at this suburban apartment complex after the majority went off to work—mostly mothers and young children—would gather poolside.

Not this couple.

Lil and Rick had to be extremely careful.

This caution did not concern Rick nearly as much as it did Lil.

He was by nature carefree, spontaneous, and relatively fearless. She envied him these traits. Still she feared they'd be found out. Her fear was more for him than it was for her. But she, too, had high stakes in their relationship.

After all, Lillian Niedermier was principal of St. Enda's elementary school. She wondered how long she would hold that position if it leaked out that she had for the past ten years been half of a significant-other relationship.

The marital status of parochial teachers and principals had been taken for granted in the era when Catholic schools were staffed almost totally by nuns. Religious brothers served a few schools; priests—Jesuits, Basilians and the like—taught at some other schools as well as at seminaries.

That considerable dedication—for that was what it was—solved any number of problems.

There were no unions in Catholic schools. There was nothing to be negotiated. There were no interviews of prospective teachers to sap the pastor's time. If St. Paraphanucious school was slated to have twenty-four Dominican nuns, there they were: twenty-four dedicated women all in black-and-white habit.

None of the twenty-four had volunteered for a specific parish. The pastor did not select any of the nuns. They were sent.

Like so many other changes in the Catholic Church since 1965, when the Second Vatican Council concluded, things were radically different in today's parochial schools.

Formerly there was no challenge in finding the layperson on the Catholic school faculty. She was the only one wearing ordinary clothing.

Now there was plenty of challenge. The nun—if there was even one on the faculty—probably couldn't find a religious habit to save her soul—literally.

So, layperson Lillian Niedermier found herself principal of a parochial school in a northwest suburb of Detroit.

She could have made lots more money teaching in the public school system. Her choice to go parochial was partly because her schooling had been Catholic and also because here she could achieve the rank of principal. A position for which she would have had to wait many more years had she been in the public system.

But what would the parishioners of St. Enda's—let alone Father O'Leary, the pastor—think if they were to discover that she had a live-in boyfriend? Marriage and its rules and regulations had for centuries been, and continued to be, an obsession with the Catholic Church. It would not take a canonical major to conclude that Lillian was "living in sin." St. Enda's students were not the only ones likely to earn an A.

Lil began cracking eggs into a bowl. She dropped four slices of bread into the toaster. The essentials were ready to go. All that was missing was a hungry man. Her man would have to wake up to feel hunger.

As if on schedule, stirrings and grunts emanated from the bed. "Do those sounds," Lil called over, "mean that you are about to favor me with your presence?"

There was a pause while he rolled over onto his back and rubbed his eyes. "If you play your cards right . . . maybe."

She turned up the heat under the frying pan. After some moments the distinctive aroma of sizzling bacon permeated the room.

"Sweetie," he said, "you just dealt a royal flush!"

She smiled as she flipped and flopped the strips in the pan. He liked his bacon uniformly well done.

Her back was toward him and she swayed slowly as she busied herself at the stove. He studied her appreciatively.

Her straight dark hair, parted in the middle, fell to the base of her neck. Her shoulders and upper torso were, he thought, incredibly narrow. Yet she was surprisingly strong. On those occasions when a heavy object was too hefty or bulky for him to lift alone, Lil bore the load every bit as equally as he.

His pajama top was many times too large for her slender figure. The garment hung to approximately mid-thigh. It reminded him of a miniskirt. Below her wasplike waist, the pajama top clung to her hips and suggested the rounded firmness beneath.

No doubt about it, she was one beautiful woman. And he was one lucky guy.

Breakfast would be prepared without his participation. Not that he couldn't prepare food; actually he did that with some regularity. And when he himself was chief cook and bottle-washer, he welcomed the involvement of others.

Not so with Lil. When she was in charge she firmly warned all others to steer clear of "my" kitchen.

He'd learned his lesson. He would not approach the kitchen area until everything was on the table. Meanwhile, he would feast his eyes on her generous beauty. He'd never met a curve in her body that he didn't treasure.

His thoughts flowing in free association, he contrasted her youth and perfect form with what he brought to this relationship. His gift, he thought, was not all that much.

In his prime—Lil's age and younger—he had been a trim athlete. If it bounced he'd played it: baseball, football, basketball, hockey, tennis, racquetball. Come to think of it, even if it didn't bounce, as long as it was a game, he'd played it.

Now his exercise was limited to bowling, golf—when the season and weather allowed—and sporadic visits to a fitness gym.

His upper body testified to his youthful athleticism. A thick neck and strong, sloping shoulder and chest muscles suggested strength and sinewy toughness. But that was the end of that. Over the years, he had developed a paunch that now threatened to sag over his belt.

Well, he said to himself, what could you expect at age sixty? Gravity, as well as other forces such as inertia, tended to remind one of the passage of time. Belying a drooping middle was his rigidly square face displaying the storied map of Ireland, accentuated by brilliant blue eyes and a full head of still-red hair.

All in all not too disgraceful for a man of sixty years.

Sixty years! When he was on the way up at thirty, forty, or fifty—even fifty-nine—sixty had seemed ancient. Well, what was sixty supposed to feel like? It all depended on health. He had known men who were old in their thirties and forties. While others—yes, some even in their sixties—were still young.

However, further complicating things was Lil, twenty-five years his junior.

Sixty years against thirty-five. Some might say it was the embodiment of a May-December relationship, that he was robbing the cradle. From time to time, he himself wondered.

On such occasions, Lil would attempt to kiss away his troubled thoughts. And each time she would succeed. But he proved unable to return the favor.

Lil worried. He was reminded of it more often than not. She worried not about the difference in their ages, not a bit about their love for one another. Lil worried because she was principal of a Catholic school. And because he was a priest.

Father Richard Casserly, Roman Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit. Pastor of St. William of Thierry parish in the city of Detroit. Vicar of the East Side Vicariate. A substantial representative of the archdiocese.

If Lil had her way, no one on earth would have any idea that Father Casserly and Ms. Niedermier were an item. As it was, and due largely to her precautions, precious few suspected and actually only one other person knew for certain.

The situation demanded constant vigilance. The effort primarily was Lil's. In her mind, the alternative was disaster. If their secret were to be known by her pastor, or by the archbishop, undoubtedly she would be fired. And Rick? That was pretty much up in the air.

At very least he would suffer some sort of ecclesial punishment. Suspension, perhaps, which would demand that he not exercise any priestly function for some specified period—a month, a year, whatever the archbishop, Cardinal Mark Boyle, imposed.

Compared with what other bishops in other dioceses would do in this situation, temporary suspension was pretty mild. That was because Boyle was not confrontational. He would level such a penalty only if backed into a canonical corner with the media's glare turned on.

All of this, she thought, Rick could take.

But there was more.

The authorities would insist that their relationship be terminated. And that, Lil was convinced, Rick would refuse out of hand. In that sort of confrontation, Rick didn't have a ghost of a chance. Whatever form of penalty would follow—suspension, excommunication, laicization—he would face the loss of his priesthood, undoubtedly permanently.

The priesthood or Lil. It would be a gut-wrenching decision for Rick.

Frequently both would reminisce about how this had begun. The thread that bound them had originated at St. Ursula's, Rick's first assignment after his ordination in 1965. Rick became a popular priest in the inner-city parish that had for some time been held captive by a despotic pastor.

Against the pastor's wishes—he could not make them orders since his policies were even more harsh than restrictive Church law—the attractive, young Father Casserly had instituted an athletic program in the parish high school, regularly visited the grade school, preached well, and was as open and as healing as possible.

So popular was he that years after his hitch at St. Ursula's he was still called back to witness weddings and perform funerals for the friends he had made there.

It was impossible for the pastor to overlook Rick's profound popularity. And so he was welcomed back only reluctantly for such parish events as confirmation, Forty Hours, and the parish festival.

On many such occasions Father Casserly would meet and greet both the old and new parochial employees. One of these was Lillian Niedermier, who taught in the parish school from 1984 to 1987.

It wasn't love at first sight. It was respect, interest, and appreciation. The relationship deepened slowly. At the time she was nearly twenty, he in his mid-forties. He tended to treat her as a daughter, a chronological possibility.

Metaphorical incest never crossed her mind. He had an aura of wit, good humor, and intelligence, as well as physical attractiveness and an Irish gift of gab that charmed her completely if gradually.

For him, being a priest in the eighties was vastly different from being a priest in the fifties; for her, being a parochial teacher in the eighties contrasted greatly with being a Catholic schoolgirl in the seventies.

In the sixties, both priests and nuns were slowly emerging from their cocoon of clerical clothing. The Catholic Church, as well as the country, was in turmoil. But tradition, along with a residual discipline, held most of the Catholic clergy in place.

However, by the time Lil was in high school, the priest drain was in full force.

Still, even in the eighties, when Lil began teaching, Rick was very much a priest and Lillian was in awe of his priesthood.

So they began by being peripherally aware of each other and conscious of the comfortable feeling they had with each other. On rare occasions they might take in a movie or a concert. They took pains not to appear to be together, often even sitting apart in the theater.

The more they knew of and about each other, the more their initially platonic attraction grew and evolved.

By 1990, their love had become physical and total. Three years later, he moved some of his effects into her small apartment, while maintaining his residence in the rectory.

They were together almost every moment they were not on duty: evenings when he had no meetings or sacramental responsibilities; Saturday mornings and early afternoons; Sundays after morning Masses; Tuesday nights and—his regular day off—Wednesdays all day.

Nothing in Lil's schedule conflicted with his availability except Wednesday, when, of course, St. Enda's school was open for business as usual. She was able to clear her Wednesdays only because she was principal and had complete confidence in her assistant principal.

Indeed, the two educators were so close Lil almost shared her deepest secret. But in the end she could not break the omerta even with her best friend. That was the gigantic fly in her ointment. She could share her secret, her happiness, with no one—not her family, not her friends, not even her closest confidante.

She was beginning to feel sorry for herself. That would never do. It was a fine day; the forecast was sunny skies with a high in the mid- to upper seventies. She didn't have to go to work. Neither did her sweetheart. But even with a beautiful outdoors beckoning, they probably would spend the day in the apartment. That was their usual M.O. It was easier than being tensely on guard.

As long as they were together. She had her man.

She heard the bathroom door quietly close.

She removed the bacon from the pan, replacing it with the eggs. Scrambled eggs were her forte. Her recipe called for a humongous amount of milk to be added to the eggs and the whole scrambled vigorously until the mixture became fluffily firm.

She didn't hear him approaching. So she was startled when she felt his lips on her neck—startled and pleased. She turned to him and they embraced. She leaned away from him. "Good morning. I love you."

"Good morning. I love you," he replied.

Meet the Author

William X. Kienzle, author of twenty-one previous Father Koesler mysteries, spent twenty years as a parish priest. After leaving the priesthood, he became editor of MPLS magazine in Minneapolis and later moved to Texas, where he was director of the Center for Contemplative Studies at the University of Dallas. Kienzle and his wife, Javan, live in Detroit, where he enjoys playing piano as a diversion from writing.

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