The Priest With No Name

This is an article about a man who did not want me to write it.

A few weeks ago, I gave a commencement speech at a Catholic elementary school. I received the invitation from a 13-year-old young lady, Elisabeth, who began listening to my radio show at 6-and-a-half years of age, who has now finished the eighth grade and prepares, next semester, to enter high school.

Years ago, her mom wrote a letter to me. The mom drove the car one day with her daughter inside. The daughter’s book about Helen Keller somehow flew out of the car window as a result of a bump in the road. The mom told the daughter that the busy street made it too dangerous to go back and retrieve the book. Mom tried to console her distraught daughter by saying, “Don’t worry, we’ll get you another one,” to which the little girl said, “I bet if it was a book written by Larry Elder, you’d go back and get it.”

After her mother wrote me about the incident, I sent the little girl a signed copy of my first book, and later received a photograph of Elisabeth — asleep — clutching my book in her hands. Over the years, Elisabeth and I wrote from time to time, and she would discuss politics, social issues, popular culture and other matters talked about on my radio show.

But this article is not about Elisabeth. It is about the pastor of her school.

As I waited to give my commencement speech, the pastor of the school and I spoke for several minutes. I asked him how and why he chose the priesthood. He told me that he had decided, at a relatively young age, to become a priest, but kept putting the matter off. In fact, he worked in private industry for a number of years, “chasing the almighty dollar.” Feeling empty, he decided to pursue his true calling — that of helping others. So he quit his lucrative job and began the years-long process of becoming a priest. After several assignments, he became the pastor of this school, located in a middle-class neighborhood.

How, I asked, did it feel to make the transition from the private sector to the priesthood? He laughed. “It was easier than you might think. I actually live right here on the grounds,” he said, pointing to a residence building. “The church takes care of my bills. I get $1,000 a month, and now I actually have more disposable income than I did before.”

He said he felt tremendous pride in helping to shape and mold young people, and send them on their way to the next step. So a few days later, I called him. Would he agree to an interview? I wanted to write about his transition from the private sector to his “calling” and his contribution to our society.

He paused, and said, “Well, I’m not much into self-promotion. I feel that I simply do what my calling wants me to do. There are many people — soldiers, teachers, firefighters, parents, social workers and others — who, without praise, make the kind of sacrifice or contribution that I try to do every day.”

What, I asked, if I write without using your name, your school or your city? You certainly inspire me, and I think your story can inspire others. The priest said he intended to go on vacation next month, and during that time would consider my request. But, he added, “Surely you can find more worthy people to write about.”

I told him that any other answer would have surprised me, and his humility and unwillingness to consider himself a hero makes him all the more compelling a subject. He laughed and said, “Again, this sounds flattering, but undeservedly so. I like what I do and feel morally obligated to do that which God wishes me to do. Why is that remarkable? Why is that heroic?”

You see, he continued, God called me to do this. I saw a need and feel a moral and spiritual obligation to fulfill it. I don’t consider this extraordinary. I’m simply doing what God expects me do. I don’t do it for personal attention or for self-aggrandizement, but for the glory of God.

Well, I didn’t wait for the pastor to return from vacation. I wrote about him anyway. I hope God will forgive me. As for the pastor, that is another matter.