The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

30 October 2004

Pitching in the next world

Let the record show that I was a quirky sort of child — and how surprising is that? — and that after three years of school, during which I was largely bored out of my misshapen skull, the parental units dispatched me to the distant city of Summerville, where I did two years at a compound for the allegedly gifted, emerging with certification through grade eight and no place to go and no idea of what I wanted to do once I got to wherever I was going.

The man who found a place for me was Father Robert J. Kelly, then recently installed as rector of Bishop England High School, the Catholic high school in Charleston. His terms were clear: some allowance would be made for my appalling youth, but I would be cut no academic slack whatsoever.

It was much later that I learned that Kelly had gone through some serious soul-searching of his own: while in the seminary in New England, he'd been spending his summers in the then-class A Eastern League, and big-league clubs were offering him bonuses to come pitch for them. In the end, a lifetime of service was more compelling than a career of uncertain length, and Kelly put on his collar and never looked back.

I'd like to say, now that he's gone, that everything I know I learned from Father Kelly, but obviously that isn't so: as a kid with a puckish sense of humor and a marked lack of maturity, I had to go to considerable effort to stay out of his office. I figured out quickly enough that he had a finely-tuned sense of humor of his own, but in the presence of an erring student he was all business, and that stuck. What I remember most, though, is that I was wandering in the desert, to the extent that you can wander in the desert at age twelve, and he was happy to take me in.

"If we are lucky," said Father Lawrence McInerny (also BE '69) in Father Kelly's funeral homily, about the same moment I was on the operating table last month, "we get to meet certain people who are simply 'larger than life'." The big Irish priest, I remember, was the very definition of the phrase; I am lucky indeed to have crossed paths with him.

Posted at 10:14 AM to Immaterial Witness

Great post, with very touching words. It is amazing how certain people can have such a profound influence on our lives. Thanks for sharing your story with us.

Posted by: Babs at 11:45 AM on 30 October 2004