WinnieThomson

Father Jack

This is a fairy story, because it ends happily and potential harm is averted.

It was midday in the parlour of St Mary Magdalene convent, and the cat was eating the food which the sisters put out for him. Sister Philomena entered the parlour to see that everything was in order for the meeting with the parents of the confirmation children. She shooed the cat out “Bad beast.  Beast of the devil! Get out!”

The cat slunk away. Sister Philomena and her broom were two things he feared. She straightened the anti-macassars on the leather chairs. Father O’Donaghue would be having tea before meeting the parents of the confirmation class at 6 p.m. With a storm brewing, Sister Philomena knew that Father O’Donaghue wouldn’t leave until the storm had passed.

“Blast the man,” she said to herself, “why can’t he be brave and face the wet like any other man?”

Father Jack O’Donaghue wasn’t like other people.

He was a dancer.

We now go back to when Jack O’Donoghue was about ten. One day, when Mrs. O’Donaghue had a moment to notice her eldest son, she saw that he had great trouble walking: he seemed to fall over his feet. Martha O’Donaghue acted quickly and told young Jack that he had to join the gymnastics class on Wednesday afternoons in the school hall. So on Wednesday, Jack arrived at the hall. He was a little surprised to see that he was the only boy, and that the girls were wearing skirts over what looked like pink bathing-suits. He soon found out that this was a ballet class, but he enjoyed his first lesson, and so continued to attend. He was popular in the ballet class because he was strong and could partner the girls in pas de deux.

He spent the rest of his time at school attending ballet lessons and even winning prizes in competitions.

After leaving school, uncertain about his career, he worked in a bank. He continued going to dance classes, but this time, they were ballroom dancing classes. His ballet training helped him: his movements were graceful and the girls in the class liked dancing with him, Latin being their preferred style of dance.

When Jack was about 30, a particularly emotive homily on the Prodigal Son, roused ideas he hadn’t considered for many years – perhaps he had a vocation to the priesthood.

***

After his ordination, he worked first as a curate and then later as a parish priest. Even in his busy schedule, in his own parish, he still found time to go to a ballroom-dancing school to continue his dancing. He would go, on his day off, to a remote suburb of a big city, he wore a wedding ring, and was generally evasive about questions about his job and where he worked.

This double life continued for many years Jack was well-liked:
He was a good preacher and sympathetic confessor. He was particularly liked by the younger members of the parish.  His classes with 16 or 17-year-olds preparing for confirmation were interesting and challenging as Jack gave the young men and women a realistic view of their faith. All went smoothly and Father Jack continued to dance.

Until that day in 2007- when Sister Philomena shooed the cat out of the nuns’ parlour. The confirmands were going to stage a variety show a week after their confirmation to thank the parish for their support. The only complication was that the date planned for the concert was also the date of a dance competition and for the first time, Tania- May had convinced Jack that they should participate and show off their spectacular Tango. How was Jack – or rather Father Jack – going to resolve this dilemma? He liked Tania-May and enjoyed dancing but he was a priest and his duty to the confirmation class was far more important.

Mysterious things happen in fairy stories and when they are allied to religion, miracles can happen!

And so one did. Four of the judges of the dance competition were all ill with a very bad dose of ‘flu and were unable to judge – so the competition was postponed for two weeks. This gave Jack and Tania-May more time to practise. Jack was tired of this “double life” so he suggested to Tania- May that they use the concert as an extra practice. In this way he could reveal his secret to the parish.

If the parish knew nothing of Fatter Jack’s dancing life, Tania-May did not suspect what her regular partner did when he wasn’t dancing. So she was somewhat surprised that the venue was a church and Jack – now Father Jack – was in clerical garb.

“Oh, yes, I meant to explain, but now I don’t have to- I’ve ‘come out’, as it were. But we’re still going to dance.”

“Dance?”

As in all good fairy stories, everyone lived happily ever after: Jack O’ Donoghue remained a well-liked parish priest; Tania-May met Jerome Flynn: it was love at first sight and they too lived happily ever after.

Indeed, Father Jack O’Donoghue was not like other people, or other priests!

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