Tuesday, January 11, 2011

"I'm Going Be A Priest!"

I was fascinated by the mysteries and rituals of the Catholic Church. Serving mass as an altar boy, I believed and was awed by the supernatural transformations performed by the priest. My favorite priest was Father Benedict J. Dudley. I prayed that my name would be next to his Sunday mass on the weekly altar boy schedule that was delivered to us every Friday afternoon by Brother Albert (see my story, "It's Not a Blouse!"). Father Dudley was our pastor, he was tall, athletic, graceful and carried himself regally. Father Dudley was no nonsense (once he teased me, but I thought he took it back.) and you knew you were on the altar with the big guy when you assisted his mass. Until I was 10 not yet 11, I gave long thought to becoming a priest. Every time, I said, "I'm going to be a priest!" in front of my mother, her smile lit up. Every time I said it in front of my father, his face twitched.
Father Dudley was the reason I obsessed about the priesthood, and it practically had nothing to do with what I said above. Yes, he dressed sharp, but when he relaxed he wore cool sandals, a brown tunic robe and a white rope belt. This was an outfit that interested me. I looked into the process to becoming a priest. A Franciscan Vocation is a vocation to follow Christ after the manner of St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226 A.D.), by living the religious vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. I was fairly obedient, loved girls and liked my stuff. So obedient would be easy, giving up girls, tough, and losing my stuff, tough as well. But look what I was getting in return.

After Labor Day, we'd go back to school, and the football and hockey season would get going. I was nuts over the New York Giants and crazy about the New York Rangers. When I was very young, the Yankees were in the World Series in 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963 & 1964. That's straight through 5th grade, I was spoiled. But my heart always led me back to the Giants. I carried a football with me year round, I dreamt about Yankee Stadium's gridiron, I could taste the dirt. I was hooked.

If I served Father Dudley's mass, this is how the day played out.

9am, Father Dudley liked to advance the mass chop-chop. All his movements and Latin responses were sharp and quick. I had to be on the ball. When it was time for me to put water and wine in the priest's golden chalice, Father Dudley would give me a couple of head nods to keep the wine coming.

Most other priests liked a little wine with their water, Father Dudley favored the grape. I'd fill the chalice half way with wine and only then would he lift it and return to the altar. After mass, I'd run out to the parking lot and wait for Father Dudley. He'd come through the rectory door in a sharp black suit, a black Homburg hat and black shoes with a military polish. He walked like he owned a bank. I'd say hi, he'd wave, then he'd get into a black sedan and drive down 82nd Street.

I'd play football in the street until 12:35pm, then get my transistor radio and listen to Marty Glickman announce the home New York Giant game at Yankee Stadium. At some point in the broadcast Marty would say,"On the sideline rooting the Giants on is the team chaplain, Father Benedict Dudley, close friend of the owner Wellington Mara." I'd flip out. My Father Dudley was a close friend with the man they named the NFL football, "The Duke," after, who also owned the team. Not only that, Father Dudley was close friends with Vince Lombardi and Toots Shor, and famous announcers, like Ted Husing and Red Barber. His Sunday did not end at the Giant game. after leaving Yankee Stadium, he'd have dinner at Toots Shor, his childhood friend from Philadelphia. TootsShor, the most famous sports and celebrity restaurant in New York City. Later, after our dinner, Dad would take me to the New York Ranger hockey game at the old Madison Square Garden at 49th Street & 8th Avenue in a Checker cab. I'd see Father Dudley pacing behind the Ranger bench with the Ranger coach, Emile Francis. He was the Rangers chaplain, too.

This is how I would spend my fall Sundays, I would replace Father Dudley, If this was living the religious vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, I was in. I made plans to become a Franciscan. Made plans to replace Father Dudley in his duties. Not sure what, but something got in the way.

Read about Father Dudley here:

Come to Cornelia Street Cafe tonight @ 6pm for hardy storytelling led by Barbara Aliprantis. I'm telling my Father Dudley tale.

Tuesday, Jan 11 - 6:00PM

Barbara Aliprantis

Jim Hawkins ; Elizabeth Rowe; Barbara Aliprantis

BARBARA ALIPRANTIS, Curator/Host of this series since January 1997 is an award-winning nationally acclaimed storyteller, honored at New York City Hall in the year 2000 for "her distinguished body of work...for her commitment to sharing immigrant's experiences and multicultural folklore for both hearing and non-hearing audiences around the country." She is also the recipient of an Oracle Service Award from the National Storytelling Network "for exemplary service and significant contributions to her community through storytelling." Tonight she debuts a snippet from a new cycle of family stories about �The Jersey Shore

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