I had nothing to lose – except more of my faith. I went to see the Monsignor the following Sunday. On the short walk from my home to the rectory, images of my own Catholic school years bubbled up. There were Hail Mary’s filled with grace, nuns on a rampage, priests preying on the fears of the young, suffering statues, holy communion, confirmation, confessing child sins that never needed forgiveness, a man bludgeoned and crucified on the cross…He died for me…Who? What? It never made much sense. I had attended Catholic school my entire life, but I was lucky to have been born into a family where Fellini flicks and Picasso prints made regular appearances at the kitchen table. My parents, although Italian and Catholic, raised me and my brothers to believe in ourselves, to be kind to others and to appreciate the Arts. Religion was not a factor. So as I stood in front of the rectory and rang the bell, a sense of nervousness, of unfamiliarity, took hold. I hadn’t stepped inside a church or been associated with anything “religious” for quite a while. Inside, I was approached by a young Hispanic woman seated behind a large desk. ”Can I help you?”
“Ah, yes,” I responded, “Can I please speak with Monsignor Collins?”
“Do you have an appointment?”
“No, I don’t,” I responded. “Look, this is a personal matter and it’s quite urgent…my name is Maria Pagliarulo and I really need to speak with the Monsignor.”
She looked away, picked up the telephone and spoke into the receiver for about ten seconds. She then looked at me and said, “The Monsignor with be right with you.”
The unexpected, even if in positive terms, can be quite devastating.
“Great, thank you,” I responded.
The huge brown door to the left of the stained-glass window opened, and like an apparition waiting to announce himself, THE MONSIGNOR stood before me. He was a man of average height and weight, in his late fifties, and dressed in regular clothing. Minus the robes and crosses, he looked like one of my uncles. “Can I help you, Miss? What was your name?” His tone was direct, if not cold.
I told him, then extended my hand.
“Let’s go by your first name,” he said. “Okay, Maria? I’m on my way out to see my mother, who’s in a nursing home. Can this wait?”
“I’ll only take up a few minutes of your time,” I assured him.
He sighed. “Come with me.”
I followed him down a short dark hallway and into his office. He sat behind his desk, folded his hands together and said, “Go ahead.”
Sitting there, I couldn’t help but notice the religious décor of my surroundings. Above the Monsignor’s head hung a large wooden crucifix, to his left a photograph of Mother Teresa. Pope John Paul II waved from my right. I suddenly became the Amen part of the sign of the cross. This had to be a good omen. So I calmly but firmly expressed to him the dilemma Sayed was facing. Why wouldn’t the principal of the Catholic boys school see Sayed or his parents? Didn’t anyone know what a great student this kid was? I even went as far as to mention my own Catholic education, thinking it might somehow aid my mission. The Monsignor was rocking back and forth in his chair, his hands folded on the desktop. He stared. I stared back. And then he said very calmly, “Let’s see his report card.”
As I handed over the crinkled sheet f paper, I heard a familiar tune spin through my mind: the melody from the Clint Eastwood movie The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. The Monsignor glanced at the report card. He said, “Obviously he is a brilliant student, but it all has to do with a pecking order. There are many financially needy Catholic students atSaint John’s. And by the way, Brother Stan is a very busy man.” He held up the report card so it faced me. “I have seen at least one hundred cases like this before.”