“So one hundred and one doesn’t move you?” I snapped.
“No, it does not,” he responded coldly. “Is this boy, Sayed Hussain Catholic?”
“No, he is not, Monsignor.”
“Ah Ha,” he said disappointingly. He went on to say, “Maria, who would you give a scholarship to – a Pagliarulo who is Catholic and has been attending Catholic school all of his or her life, or a Hussain, a Muslim who has no affiliation with the Catholic Church?”
I immediately responded, “I would give it to the better student.”
“Maybe that’s how you would do things. But it doesn’t mean that’s how others would.”
My jaw clenched. “Monsignor, when this young man’s parents were able to pay the tuition for the last six months, his religion was not an issue. Now that he is not able to pay, his religion becomes an issue. He’s eligible for a scholarship, but it is not available to him because he is not Catholic?! I understand that you are legally able to exercise this right, but it’s just not ethical.” A strained silence fell. I said, exasperated, “With all of the terrible accusations swirling around the Catholic church, this story would be great to boost its tarnished image. Maybe we could get the Bronx Times to write a piece about the charitable ways of the Catholic Church.”
“ I don’t go that route,” he replied tersely. He paused, then asked the Big Question: “Maria do go to church?”
I sighed and said, “I guess I should be honest.”
”Yes, this would be the appropriate place to be honest.”
I was. “Sometimes I go to church. But Monsignor, we all know that morality is independent of religion.”
“Yes, Maria this is true, but religion helps with morality issues.”
“Right,” I responded sarcastically.
“Maria, do you believe in the sacraments? The sacraments are very important.”
“Monsignor, I would be happy to speak with you about the theological ideologies of the Catholic Church, it’s the man-made aspects of it that I do not believe in.”
“I see,” he responded, smiling.
I could no longer read where this short story was going.
But the Monsignor had seemingly written his own ending. He said, “Well, thank you for coming, Maria. Do you have a telephone number where I could reach you? I am going to investigate this situation tomorrow morning with Brother Stan and I will contact you thereafter.”
I gave him my phone number, certain that I would never hear from him again. As I got up to leave I spotted a DVD titledItaly’s Most Glorious Cities. I pointed to it and said, “I see you have an interest inItaly. I’m Italian. Will that help my neighbor’s case?”
“Italyis divine, I vacationed there last month, and no, that will not help your neighbor’s case.”
“I’m an artist,” I told him. “I could paint you a religious, Italian painting for the rectory. Will that help my neighbor’s case?”
He smirked, “No it will not. I hope to see you in church next Sunday, I will be giving mass at12:45. But you’ll have to take Holy Communion – man-made.” At that moment our exchange had felt like a heated tennis match of back-and-forth verbal play.
I said, amused, “I’ll be there if that will help my neighbor’s case.”
“It will not, but if you do attend, I will see you and remember that you are that nice woman who cares so much about her neighbors.” His tone was controlled and unreadable.
I shook his hand, thanked him for his time and walked home feeling as I had when I’d walked home fromCatholicSchool– hoping that my prayer would be answered, but certain that it would not.
The next morning, to my utter astonishment, I received a phone call from the Monsignor. He told me thatSt. John’sPrep did not want to lose a student as brilliant as Sayed and that they would, in fact, be granting him a scholarship for more than half of the tuition. I was grateful, as was young Sayed and his family. The Monsignor also said that he expected to see me in church that coming Sunday. Although going to church had never moved me spiritually, it was a small price to pay for my answered prayer. So I attended and paid close spiritual attention. The Monsignor’s sermon centered around the unexplainable tragedies in the world and how they do not make sense. How humans did not have the mental or spiritual capacity to understand them. All I was thinking was: yeah, yeah, we’ve all heard that before. He kept repeating the same words: “It doesn’t make sense.” His ending, however, was more pronounced: “It doesn’t make human sense.” He emphasized the word human.