By Howard Schonberger, Journal columnist
I never thought I would be blown away by the winner of the pope’s election last week.
But when I saw Francis coming out of that white-smoke filled room last week and got the word of his saintly manner, I was a celebrant.
It’s not that I didn’t hold the Catholic church in high esteem. When I was a 12-year old carrier for the Omaha Bee News back in the early ‘30s, I was working for one of William Randolph Hearst’s newspapers. It was tough going up against the Omaha World Herald. Hearst was a tough boss and he expected his employes to make every sacrifice.
For example, when the newness of the Bee wore off and new subscriptions became almost impossible to obtain, the Bee told carriers they were going to be getting one extra paper added to their subscriber-list draw each month and… “Sell it or eat it”.
On weekday evenings, it wasn’t so bad, as I could sell copies to workers getting off the trolleys on their way home (copies cost only 3 cents during the week and occasionally I even got to keep change from a nickel). Sundays were a different story.
I had to deliver my route, about 20 square blocks, and the only traffic was St. Margaret Mary’s Parish, at early mass. I wasn’t about to lose 7 cents a copy (as the big paper with color comics and America Weekly cost 10 cents apiece).
As soon as I finished my bike route, I headed for the church near my home on 49th street and did my best on the parishioners after they said farewell to the Father.
It worked, at first. But a few weeks later, as my number of papers for sale increased, the Father came over and asked me to wait around after I finished selling my extras.
He was from Ireland, and he asked me to come to his home across the street from the church for a cup of hot chocolate. It was summertime. I joined him in his garden.
He loosened his collar and brought out a cigar, and a bottle of some kind. He proceeded to tell me he did not think it was proper to sell newspapers as his flock walked home to consider holier things. I explained my dilemma under Hearst’s sales-incentive plan. There was a long silence.
The Father dipped his cigar in his drink and asked if I would like to come inside and listen to his sermons, and the choir. I said I would try it, but couldn’t afford to lose that income.
After a long silence, he said, “Tell you, what, lad, I will buy up to 10 Sunday papers every week and give them to the brightest or neediest students we have in our school if you come into the sanctuary when you finish your route.”
That was the beginning of a long friendship. Even though we played football against Father Flanagan’s Boystown and Creighton, we have always admired the history and legends of faith, art and sacrifice of the church, despite the fact that, like any institution, imperfections do occur. Now, Pope Francis is like a breath of fresh air.
The fact that the cardinals chose someone from the fastest growing area of Catholicism, Latin America… and that he reveres Saint Francis of Assisi as his papal role model… and then to learn that this Buenos Aires-born cardinal was riding a public bus to work each day, cooking his own meals, sporting a wooden cross as he was introduced to the deliriously worshipful crowd at the Vatican… Wow!
It couldn’t have come at a better time. We congratulate the selection of this leader from our hemisphere.
Isn’t it fine to have Saint Francis Parish as our Catholic church on San Juan Island, and I can just imagine how happy San Francisco’s faithful must be.
— Go with the F.L.O.W. (Ferry Lovers Of Washington)