A PLAY IN ONE ACT
The setting is Sunrise Senior Living, a retirement home in upstate New York. Julian Vega, approximately 30 years old, has just arrived to pay an unexpected visit to retired Monsignor Patrick Bannon.
Receptionist: May I help you, sir?
Julian: Yes, I’d like to see Monsignor Bannon if he’s available, please.
Receptionist: Monsignor has just finished lunch and is in the library, his usual afternoon pastime. Please come with me.
[Julian follows the receptionist down the hall to the library.]
Receptionist: There he is in his favorite corner chair. Enjoy your visit.
[The library is a comfortable room with paneled walls, Persian rugs and floor-to-ceiling shelves of books. Light classical music floats softly through the room. A tray with a tea pot, cups and a dish of cookies sits on the table to the right of the Monsignor. An empty chair is on the opposite side of the table and an open book sits on the Monsignor’s lap. As Julian approaches, he notices the elderly priest’s book is in Braille. Julian speaks softly.]
Julian: Excuse me, Monsignor. My name is Julian. I’m sorry to intrude on your private time but I was hoping we could talk. I have some important information.
Monsignor: Ah, I thought I heard someone heading in my direction but I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage. Do I know you?
Julian: No, you don’t know me but I’ve heard about you and knew I had to talk to you.
Monsignor: Well, it’s nice to meet you, Julian. Please make yourself comfortable. Help yourself to some tea and cookies.
Julian: Thank you, Monsignor. I’m fine.
Monsignor: So, what’s on your mind, Julian? You’re not from this area, are you? I detect a familiar accent.
Julian: I moved up here about six months ago; I’m originally from The Bronx. Quite a change of pace but I think I’ve finally found a place where I can settle down.
Monsignor: That’s good to hear, son. We all need to find our way home. And what a coincidence! I was at Holy Rosary Church in the Bronx for years! But please, you didn’t come here to listen to me ramble on about myself. How can I help you, Julian?
Julian: Well, you’re right about finding my way home. I’ve been a drifter most of my life. Times have been tough for me and I could never catch a break. My demons followed me everywhere I went, constantly reminding me of my sins and failings.
[Monsignor Bannon closes his book and carefully places it on the side table, a sign that his attention is fully on Julian.]
Monsignor: Please continue, my son. I may be retired but I will always be a priest and anything you tell me will stay right here.
[Monsignor pats his chest to indicate his heart. Julian hesitantly begins to unburden himself.]
Julian: Well, I’m not really sure where to begin.
Monsignor: Wherever you feel comfortable, son, but I find the beginning is usually a good place.
[The priest feels around for the handle of the teapot and begins to pour out a cup of tea for both of them. Julian immediately comes closer to help but the Monsignor raises a hand to stop him; he’s learned to do this and many daily routines instinctively over the years since he became blind. He hands Julian a cup of tea, raises his own cup to his lips and waits for Julian to speak. The two sit in silence for a moment before Julian starts talking again.]
Julian: My mother was from Puerto Rico. She and her large family settled in The Bronx where her father did manual labor and her mother took in laundry. My mother would help with the washing and ironing of clothes. They were dirt poor; my mother and her siblings never went to school. My mother did some house cleaning for women in the area. Her family was very devout and went to church every Sunday. When my mother turned 17, she was offered the job of laundress at their church. She eventually became the cleaning lady for the rectory and brought home every dime she ever made. She was good and decent but that all changed in 1970 when my mother was 20 years old.
[Julian stops talking and looks out the window. The monsignor tells him to take his time, gently encouraging him to continue. The old priest knew Julian was going to tell him something of extreme importance.]
Julian: My mother became involved with an Irish priest at the church and they began an affair that lasted seven years. That’s when she became pregnant. She told the priest that she was carrying his child but he refused to acknowledge his responsibility and told my mother he would never leave the church for her. It was her word against his and my mother knew no one would believe her side of the story. She was humiliated and desperate. She fled to Ossining to find her good friend Anita from Puerto Rico.
[Upon hearing those words, the Monsignor sits very still, makes the sign of the cross and rests his head in his hand. He waits for Julian to continue.]
Julian: Anita lived with her mother in the tiniest of apartments and worked in the kitchen of nearby Sing Sing Prison. She provided a home for my mother and I was born in that apartment. Several times my mother tried calling my father, the priest, with no success and finally gave up. Eventually Anita got a job for my mother in the prison laundry; I was raised by Anita’s mother.
[Julian places his cup on the table and both men sit quietly for a moment. Julian continues.]
Julian: I was an angry kid with a big chip on my shoulder. I was always getting into trouble, disrespecting everyone and everything. For years I heard whispers about the Irish priest at Holy Rosary Church who knocked up my mother and tossed her away like yesterday’s garbage. All the voices in my head screamed at me to get my revenge. How different our lives could have been if only he’d been a man and did the right thing. So, one day I went back to The Bronx, right back to the church where everything fell apart and found that Irish priest. I called out his name and when he turned, I threw bleach in his eyes. Do you remember that day, father, when you saw the face of your son, my face, for the first and last time?
[Monsignor Bannon weeps silently, his head bowed. Julian continues.]
Julian: I heard your screams as I ran out of the church. I didn’t know or care where I was going; I made you pay and I just had to get away.
[The two men sit crying, shoulders heaving. The Monsignor reaches for the box of tissues on the table, offers one to Julian and takes one himself. After a long period of quiet, Julian continues.]
Julian: But I was punished for what I did to you. As I was running from the church, I was hit by a delivery truck. I was thrown like a ragdoll, my body shattered. That was 15 years ago and my life has never been the same since. While in rehab I discovered a hidden talent; I’m an artist and I spend hours painting every day. When I was finally discharged from rehab, no one would hire me. I found small jobs like being a messenger and selling newspapers in subway stations. I felt like I was being cursed, chastised for what I did to you. I came here today because I knew it was time to make my confession to you. I pray you can forgive me, father.
[The Monsignor extends his hands and Julian reaches for them.]
Monsignor: Julian, there’s something you must know. Please walk with me in the garden.
[The Monsignor reaches for his white cane and the two men make their way to the door. The Monsignor holds the door open for Julian.]
Monsignor: Please, let me hold the door open for your chair, Julian.
Julian: How did you know I’m in a wheelchair, father? I never mentioned that to you.
Monsignor: When you lose one sense, your other senses become heightened. When you first arrived I didn’t hear footsteps but I knew you were approaching because I could detect the almost imperceptible purring of your wheelchair. I also knew who you were the moment you began to speak. I only heard your voice once 15 years ago but I have never forgotten it. It’s very true that God moves in mysterious ways. It was His wish that we re-connect, that you find your way home and that we become whole together. Julian, I forgive you for what you did to me all those years ago but there is something vital you must know and you need to prepare yourself for what I am going to tell you.
[With great urgency, Julian grabs the Monsignor’s hands. The priest can feel Julian’s tears as they fall onto his hands.)
Julian: Please, tell me what I need to know.
Monsignor: Julian, your mother and I never had an affair and I am not your father. When you returned to Holy Rosary seeking your revenge, I had only been there for a couple of years, taking over the position of the former priest who had been reassigned. His name was Patrick Gannon, not Patrick Bannon – a very easy mistake to make. I never even met your mother and had no idea why you attacked me. Now it has become crystal clear but I carry no hatred in my heart for you.
[Julian is shocked by this revelation and sits dumbfounded staring at the man he believed was his father, the man he thought betrayed his mother and destroyed his life.]
Julian: My God, Monsignor! How can you forgive me for such a horrible act? You’re blameless in all of this!
Monsignor: Julian, no one is blameless. Being blind has taught me to see with my heart. It has made me a better person, a better priest. I see goodness in you. God brought you here for a reason – not just for you to clear your conscience but to give you back your life. Sometimes it takes years of pain and hardship but there are things in life we can’t comprehend. We can only try to accept them and see what good can come from them.
Julian: I’m sorry, Monsignor, but I don’t understand what good can come from my assaulting you all those years ago. You’re an innocent man. Please tell me what you’re talking about.
Monsignor: Several weeks ago the art instructor here accepted another assignment and the directors have been searching for a new teacher ever since. The job pays well and includes room and board but so far they haven’t found anyone. I’ve been here long enough to have some sway. Julian, I’m sure you’d be welcome here as art instructor if you’re interested.
[Julian begins to weep again and the Monsignor places his hand on Julian’s head.]
Julian: I will never be able to repay you for helping me this way.
Monsignor: Julian, my son, I feel no need to be repaid. I have had a good life. You’re the one who has suffered for too long, physically and emotionally. Yes, it’s ironic how this all unfolded but God has a plan in mind for all of us and I learned many years ago never to question His plans. I see things more clearly at this moment than I ever have before. Come with me. Let me introduce you to the directors. I’m sure God will open their eyes and minds to the great possibilities that lie ahead.
[The Monsignor places his hand on Julian’s shoulder. Julian reaches up and covers the priest’s hand with his. Together they leave the garden.]