father callahan

In thinking of Dan this year, I recalled two of the nicknames he assigned, “snow goose” (when winter came, my nose would start running, and I was soon honking into handkerchiefs) and “the gray nun”.

Dan was ordained as a priest around 1950. He loved it, and thrived in the work. He would never have left if there had been a place for him in the church when he decided to come out of the closet. When I met him 30 years later, he had started thinking he’d like to celebrate the Mass again. Joan, his right hand at C.O.I.L., pointed him to a verse from the Book of Psalms, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” He decided to do it. Across the street from where I was living in Catonsville, there was a Catholic supply store, and I bought him everything he needed to set up an altar in his guest bedroom. After I moved in with him and brought my cat, she would always go in and jump up on the bed, sitting behind him through the rite, and earning her name.

I’ve thought lately about how different things might have been in a more sensible world. There was no reason for the church to have lost what I know was an excellent and devoted priest. He was ultimately able to do great good in the nonprofit sector, but could have done as much in the work he was originally trained to do. Why was he shunted to an upstairs room with a feline congregation, hidden away like Jews in Torquemada’s Spain? What if he had been able to remain in the job he loved and was born to do, while expressing the fullness of everything he was? What if I had married him and moved into the Rectory, like the spouse of any Minister or Rabbi would have done? The enrichment of our marriage would have made him an even better priest, and there would have been a million ways I could have helped around the parish. The Catholics of Baltimore lost us both, and all we could have given.

Like symphony orchestra promoters looking out over ever-whiter heads in the seats, the church goes on year after year lamenting its aging and dwindling cadre of clergy. Mindless prejudice trickles down until the whole world suffers.

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