After 50 Years, Controversial Priest Would Do It All Again

By Michelle Mullins
Daily Southtown [Chicago IL]
April 30, 2004

Andrew Greeley was a 7-year-old second-grader when Sister Helen asked her students who wanted to be a priest?

It was spring 1935, and Greeley's hand shot up. His commitment has not swayed since.

As a child he respected and admired the work of priests, and that led him to the seminary.

He said his first mass at Christ the King Church on the city's Southwest Side, but his life's work didn't stop with the priesthood.

Now 76, he celebrates his 50th year as a priest this year, and his sometimes-controversial career has included work as a sociologist, professor, author and journalist.

"I can hardly claim the path I followed is typical," said Greeley, who grew up in Chicago's Austin neighborhood. "Thinking about it, it's been an interesting life. I am happy in my life and work. I would do it again."

On Saturday, Greeley's ordination anniversary will be celebrated with a 6:30 p.m. mass at Old St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Chicago, followed by a dinner for 300.

Greeley remembers May 5, 1954, as the coldest May in history as he nervously waited to graduate from St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein. It was only after the priest in charge asked if anyone had told them it would be a cold day in hell that they would be ordained that the men relaxed.

After seminary, Greeley completed a master's and doctorate degrees in sociology at the University of Chicago, where he currently divides his teaching time with the University of Arizona.

Greeley said he wasn't afraid to take chances, and when the opportunity presented itself, he began writing and publishing both fiction and nonfiction books. Storytelling is a natural part of being a priest, who relates the stories of God, he said.

Over the years, Greeley has written more than 50 best-selling novels and more than 100 works of nonfiction. His writing has been translated into 12 languages.

Some of his stories have been described as racy and have sometimes been controversial, dealing with subject matters such as corruption and sex.

Greeley has released three books in the past two months: "Priests: A Calling in Crisis," "The Priestly Sins" and "The Catholic Revolution: New Wine, Old Wineskins and the Second Vatican Council."

"Priests: A Calling in Crisis" uses his sociology background to paint a picture of today's priests, while "The Priestly Sins" is a fictional work that takes on the issue of sexual abuse among priests and its cover-up.

Greeley, who said he's been warning church leaders for 20 years about the problems of reassigning abusive priests, uses "The Priestly Sins" to give a fictional account of a young priest who reports a fellow priest for abusing a child, and ends up in a mental hospital after the abuser is cleared of the charges.

The book's events are similar to actual events, he said, and is the result of "the discouraging pattern of the church's failure to deal with the problem."

Greeley said he doesn't intentionally strive to be controversial. His goal is get the Catholic Church to be more democratic, giving the lay people more power and responsibilities within their parishes.

"If it stirs up controversy, that's too bad," he said.

"On the other hand, I tend to say something if it needs to be said and said strongly. ... If I don't, who will?

"Storytelling doesn't want to indoctrinate, but illuminate."

Greeley also writes a weekly column for the Daily Southtown and the Chicago Sun-Times and is a regular contributor to The New York Times and the National Catholic Reporter.

With his earnings, he established a $1 million Catholic Inner-City School Fund to provide scholarships and financial support to schools in the Chicago Archdiocese with a significant minority population.

His 50 years as a priest have gone by quickly, he said.

"It seems like only yesterday but so much has happened that it seems so long ago. I have minor regrets, things I could have done better, blunders, mistakes and stupidity.

"I try to tell about God," he said. "God loves us, forgives us and gives us new opportunities. Priests need to continue to mediate the role of God and his people."


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