Beth Anne leaned over and said to me in a big-eyed giggly whisper, “”Did you hear what happened to Father Dennehy at the basketball game Friday night?”
“No, what happened?”
“Can you believe that one of the cheerleaders walked right up to him and…”
The classroom intercom crackled and a chipper and efficient voice asked: “Will you please send Linda to the officer, Sister?”
“Linda, go ahead and take your things with you.”
Slinging my shoulder bag over my arm and gathering my books, I could feel the laser beam eyeballs of my fellow classmates as they fantasized luridly. They all hoped, I am sure, that something juicy would be coming down. I just hoped it wasn’t really bad news.
It was just one of those strange Mondays when a steady stream of girls, all cheerleaders, was being called down to the office at intervals. I hardly noticed who went or when. I didn’t even notice the odd sort of attention they were giving me when they returned to class and whispered amongst themselves.
Cheerleader drama wasn’t my thing.
Beth Anne was dying to finish her sentence, but didn’t have a chance.
My eyes and nose both were producing enough snot to annihilate an entire forest of Kleenex. I had a mean cold and all I wanted to do is get through the day, walk home, and curl up with my cat and The Fellowship of the Ring on the big green corduroy couch where, magically, no one could last longer than five minutes before falling asleep. I was sick.
It was eerie walking the distance to the office down the loggias devoid of bustling kids. Everyone was in class and it was surreal, or I was woozy from my malady.
Standing outside of the office waiting for me was Father Thomas Dennehy, pacing, arms crossed, and face mottled red. I thought for one optimistic moment that he might be waiting for one of the guys to show up for coporal punishment of one kind or another. But, no, he was waiting for me.
Father Dennehy was an Irish priest, complete with a folksy sing-songy brogue. He was highly valued as a “rainmaker” for the Archdiocese. He could squeeze every last penny out of a congregation to build a church, gymnasium or a school using every technique possible to extract pledges and cash short of holding us upside down by the heels and shaking it out of us. Or offering penances. When a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from Purgatory springs and all that.
He begged, pleaded, scolded, guilted, coerced, blackmailed and even exerted mild forms of extortion. He was aggressive. And the Church loved him for it.
He was also well known amongst the guys for his no-hostages-taken disciplinary practices of getting their attention in a loud and physical manner and making examples. The good Father was a pugilist and enjoyed boxing with the boys to toughen them up. Many times I would see him paired off with one of the guys, bare-fisted, hopping around on light feet, sparring and ducking and lunging for fun.
But when he was not having fun, watch out.
Once Father burst into a class, pulled a boy out into the loggia by the back of the shirt, and smacked him down to the ground for some transgression. Another time he plucked a misbehaving scamp out of the school bus dragging him down the middle aisle by the kid’s hair and down the steps to the outside where he cuffed him, hard. Another boy received a shove so powerful that his head smashed into a blackboard and cracked it.
In those days, the guys shrugged it off, if not in need of medical attention. Astonishingly, I heard that many of their Dads had given permission for the Father to deliver this testosterone rage of rough justice as their proxies.
T’was the way young men were broken and remolded in those days and the Dads and the Fathers were in cahoots.
Just the guys though. When Father had business with a girl, it was verbal, mean, and followed up by lengthy repetitive, almost begging for forgiveness, apologies.
And I apparently became the object of his attentions that morning.
I sat in the chair in front of his big wooden desk. The open windows were behind him and he left the door open. I was relieved that the receptionist was within earshot. Jesus was there too. A giant crucifix towered over us on a stand behind his chair replete with a depiction of our pegged and painful Savior hanging from it, His eyes cast down in agony fixed precisely at the person being interviewed by the Father.
He sat in his leather chair and put his elbows on the desk, tenting his fingers and resting them against his lips.
“Ye took yer friends out onto the golf course behind yer house Friday night and you got ‘em all drunk on apple wine, din’t ye?”
“Did ye get yer friends drunk out on the golf course Friday night, little missy?”
And I don’t know what possessed me, but I laughed.
His hands slapped down so hard on that desktop the telephone receiver hopped out of its cradle and skittered across the surface of his blotter.
“Yer LYIN!” he bellowed, “Ye think I don't know a LIAR when I put eyes on one? I happen to have solid evidence and the testimony of WITNESSES pertainin’ to yer activities Friday night. I know what ye’ve been up to. Ye may get what ye want by lyin’ with everyone else who will excuse yer wanton dishonest and sneaky ways, but ye can’t lie yer way outta this!”
The receptionist’s fleeing footsteps and the slam of the outer door made me lose a little courage and some control of my bladder as well. My nose dripped unattended. I had to keep my wits about me here.
“Father, I was home Friday night with my Dad. I was sick. I didn’t go anywhere.”
“No. THIS is what ye did, girlie. Ye got that older guy ye date to buy wine for you and the girls on the cheerleadin’ squad and ye all sat out there on the fairway in the dark and got drunk! THEN ye all came to the game, those girls got to jumpin’ around like they do, and they got sick…”
Dennehy had information. How the hell did he know I was dating a college guy? How did he know the golf course was a great place, second only to the beach at Lauderdale by the Sea, to hang out and get wasted?
“Not true. I was home on the couch sick watching Star Trek with my Dad, Father.”
“NO. YOU. WERE.NOT!” his voice was straining and I could see the cords standing out in his neck.
He picked up the phone receiver and waved it in my face. “We are callin’ yer Dad right now to get to the bottom of this and agree on a consequence.
And I want ye to know, missy, ye’ve lied to a priest here; t’is like lyin’ in the confessional, y’know.
Do ye t’ink yer goin’ to heaven when ye’re sich a liar? Ye better change yer ways, quit engagin’ in sinful behavior wit that delinquent boyfriend ‘o yers and get the drinkin’ under control. And especially quit yer lyin about it all! Hell is a consequence.”
“Did ye hear a word I said?”
“Yes, Father, Jackson 33448 is his office number. His nurse assistant is Marty. She’ll put him on the phone.”
The color of his face changed drastically to a butter colored white. He scowled and spun the numbers on his rotary phone and put the earpiece to his ear. I could hear it engage.
“May I speak wit’ the Doctor please?” Then puffing his chest and standing straight looking me square in the eye he announced into the mouthpiece, “This is Father Dennehy.”
I heard my Dad’s garbled greeting on the other end. The good Father wasted no time and asked the big question.
“Doctor, may I ask if you know the whereabouts of your daughter this last Friday night?”
I could hear Dad’s polite even cheerful voice relay the news to the now shaken man of the cloth.
“Home with what I think is just a bad cold. We watched some TV together. Why do you ask Father?”
With that, Father Dennehy stuttered and thanked my Dad in an awkward spray of non-connecting syllables, maybe even Gaelic was worked in there, and hung up.
He wiped his hand across his now perspiring brow and said to me, “You are dismissed. Please return to class.”
So I did. Classes had just begun to change and about five of the cheerleaders were eyeing me from the commons in an uncharacteristically curious display of interest. I ran headlong into Beth Ann who, with big dramatic eyes, finished the sentence she had begun just before my interview with Father Dennehy.
“Yeah, ok, this is great. You’re gonna laugh your butt off. That cheerleader named Shelly walked right up and projectile barfed Boone’s Farm apple wine all over Father Dennehy on Friday night! Right in his face! In front of everybody in the gym! Boy was he mad!”
“Don’t I know it?” said I.
Don’t I know it.
Fast Forward - 2010.
Father Dennehy, deceased in 1999, was accused just this last September of child abuse and pedophilia by a man who served as an altar boy at the parish within which the high school is located. There is not much more to say about it until the lawsuit is at trial.