The Sacrament of Reconciliation

It's an Operation on the Heart

Bill Jack, my old friend from grade school, has reminded me. It all remains indelible and permanently mysterious to him, too: those Saint Paul Saturday nights in lilac time, the years before daylight-savings, when it was already dark by seven o’clock. Monsignor Cullinan, little barrel of a body, shuffling up the slight incline of Lexington in an oddly staccato way. And Father Slattery. Handsome and remote. He always accompanied monsignor, and slowed his long-legged gait to match the old man’s. A priestly Mutt and Jeff. They were returning from their after-dinner stroll, headed back to Saint Luke’s to hear Saturday night confessions. In the cobalt light, their cassocks slapped softly against their trouser legs.

Easy to bring them back. They come up Lex from Grand, a busy street even then. Pause at Summit, their destination the pale gray hulk of Saint Luke’s on the far corner. From the deep pockets of their cassocks, each priest roots out a big handkerchief. Then, waving these white squares above their black shapes, they step off the sidewalk. Cars screech to a halt. They proceed across the avenue, holding up traffic, their white flags fluttering in the growing gloom of early evening. They disappear through the side door to the basement church where the Catholics are already patiently lined up, waiting to present their sins.

That’s how it was, late 1950s, even well into the 1960s. On a...

To read the rest of this article please login or become a subscriber.

About the Author

Patricia Hampl is the author of The Florist's Daughter and several other books. She teaches creative writing at the University of Minnesota.