The Holy Mark: Gregory Alexander
Visions, predictions and the wish of a dying grandmother as Father Tony reflects upon his life as a priest for 25 years. Coming from a family that is wealthy and judges others by their bank account, Father Tony became a priest because of an odd mark on his head that his Italian Grandmother said was a sign from God that her grandson was to become a priest. The story begins with the father about to start the next chapter in his life. Placed in exile because of his many transgressions, the priest is now housed in a small town in North Louisiana where he ahs been reassigned by those in the Church. Formerly in New Orleans, where he was born, he will now bear the brunt of his behavior, as he is about to celebrate mass in a trailer, as he is about to mark his silver jubilee as a priest. Father Tony did not have an exemplary career nor did he follow the testaments of the church when he transgressed and had relationships with young teenage boys. Justifying his own actions, describing his dysfunctional family the author creates a profile of a disturbed man. Feeling as if he was special to his grandmother, outcast to the rest of his family, he often relates how they were jealous, tried to undercut each other, faired well during prohibition and some might have dappled in areas they should not.
Born with a red birthmark on his head, his grandmother uses this as a sign that he is destined for the priesthood filling a prophecy that none of her other children could fill sending him to work with disadvantaged teenage boys and opening up a forum for his actions and his digressions.
The author relates the history of the family, the jealousies, the in fighting and the love that one grandmother had for this young man. An uncle who was out to destroy him and a mother, who defended him as the grandmother sees a vision, has a prophecy on her deathbed. He is destined for the priesthood but is this right for him? She sees her deceased husband but what does she really see? Why is the truth hidden for so long and what happens when she dies? As the truth about his grandfather is revealed and is life sealed this young man enters the seminary.
What happens when the truth about him is revealed and the world learns that he is preying on young men? Mama Miggliore sets the stage as the rest of the relatives argue, stand by and wait for her to die hoping that they too will receive something from her estate. As a young man he is not attractive yet his parishioners find him hard to resist. Told in the first person narrative the character relates the story as he sees it true or not. Confident in his actions and wanting to endear himself with readers Father Tony spins a web of lies, deceits and betrayals to himself and to the Catholic Church.
We learn more about Father Tony and his relationship with his two cousins Ronnie and Tony as our narrator relates his true feelings of insecurity, poor self-esteem and jealousy over the relationship his two cousins have for each other. Sadly, he sees that they are not only attracted to each other but often sneak away to enjoy more than conversation. Watching them from afar Tony becomes enraged, sad and relates how Ronnie planned the incident that he observes stating that it hurt him to see Ronnie go with Tony rather than him. Here is where we get the first hint of what is to be his downfall after entering the seminary. Flashing to when he was a priest he relates why most come to see him and the result of the Tchefuncte retreat ordeal. When you read that incident and hear his words as he is instructed to seek someone to speak with we learn about the fate of both Ronnie and Tony which had a great impact on our narrator.
The Ordination is described and the significance of the Holy Mark more pronounced as this simple or complex symbol of what his grandmother thought to be his destiny turns out to be more like an albatross on his head or around his neck. Holy Gates is where he meets Father John Foley and we learn about Church politics, their goal to leave things status quo when the nuns would like to trade in their black habits for street clothes and how they convinced them to wear black for five years and then hopefully they would not have to deal with them or send them somewhere else. Promises made in other areas to have them agree, research into a nun named Thersita Albara will shock readers as learn that she did little more than fast, pray and lacked liberal education we learn a harsh truth about her as the church is deciding whether to make her a Saint. The Den is next and the scene is quite different than the Gates. Here is where the story takes a different turn and our narrator meets the boys in this all boys high school. He immediate states that one of the sisters took a liking to him and when he stated his last name the flood gates of welcome opened. Father Tony meets the boys who take an immediate liking to him especially with the great cooking of the housekeeper. Having
Then in early August he meets the first six young men who came from broken homes with parents that were often drunk, foster families and lived in filth. Jason was the first and he was streetwise as the author tells about him on pages 146-147. Listening to him teach a class was quite revealing and explaining Watergate even more. As Jason runs with the discussion and the rest follow along. Realizing that Jason was the catalyst for discussions as Michael would ask the question and wait for his confirmation. Eight years he worked there with the boys and after a while they boys began to vie for his attention. Gestures that in the shower that might be inappropriate and elsewhere at times the boys seemed consumed as the narrator relates with his presence and him. Whether it is temptation, a young man’s need for love or punishing a Jason for a transgression that he came to his room as he becomes aware of his relationship with Michael.
When Jason did something against the rules the punishment and sentence was unusual and most might find inappropriate yet it seemed to change this young teen. Coming into his room Jason expressed his feelings for Father Tony and things got out of hand as the Holy Mark seemed to radiate and their relationship changed. Jason was only the first there were many more to follow and Father Tony did not wait for them to initiate the contact. The Den was too close and no more boys were to be registered and he lost touch with Jason. Never reflecting on what was done or realizing this was wrong. Tragedy strikes and one student is killed and his world changes right in front of him replacing Jason with another.
The Den Closes and he is feeling unappreciated and insulted. Poor living conditions, suffering at the hand of Ratchet, doing his uncle’s bidding, making him miserable and the old apartment house where he would live was in a poor neighborhood. Throughout the novel we hear the narrator justify why he should receive better treatment, be appreciated and the politics involved in the Catholic Church. Roussell House was his next stop and the author relates his time there, why someone would refer to him by his real name and four years later he was sent to the ranks of petty high school pedagogues for the remainder of his career. With his hands tied and decisions made by someone else, Father Tony decided to deviate from the curriculum, Things fell down after Tchefuncte which is a tiny river in southeastern Louisiana. This is where Father Tony goes for his retreat and it included a visit to the school’s senior guidance counselor to brief him on the boys that would be attending. Same for the most part as the other 12, these eight came from broken homes, and many needed more than just professional help.
Here the voice of our narrator as he relates his feelings about Ronnie and his death before facing the boys on his retreat called Our Inner Voice which would enable them to consider what is means to each one of them in their own way and how would they discuss it group. He was their group leader. Encouraging them to talk about what is inside of them. The author describes how they drove to the retreat at Tchefuncte and what happens. A Holy Mark that would itch him out of nowhere and that would often control his actions and his life. When the boys learn about his mark they question as to why he would think this mark and his grandmother could make such a prediction about him and his future. The author relates the story within the confines of the Catholic church and we hear about Tony’s life, his family and why he became a priest and now lets end with his downfall.
Vulnerable young men whose lives were in his hands and who were impressionable because their parents were not around and their lives had so much pain and turmoil. One man attempting to comfort them or did he just want to be loved? Accusations thrown and his reaction to blame it on others as he thought he was set up when told the archbishop was monitoring the situation, was disappointed that he abused his power and his position and he felt Ratchett was in on it. The seal of confession would protect the young man. What about him? Pondering and speculating where this young man might have confessed and to whom would not change what happened. So, why did he feel it was lame or pathetic? As you read Chapter 9 you will hear his thoughts, his excuses and the blame he placed on others for what he was accused of doing. Regressing to the past rather than the present he dreamed of hearing Sean’s voice and remembering it all. When you read page 238 you will understand just how deranged and sick this man is and why he felt like the victim.
Winding up in New Orleans and thinking he was blessed with a God given gift to work with young boys, what he waste and sin it would be if he could not continue on. Rationalizing, not thinking that he would even have to resign, and free of being Father Tony Miggliore, he would change his appearance and hide his mark so the terrible itching would be gone. Hear his words and understand his rationale as the author weaves an ending that you will never forget. What is his final fate? Who could prove what he did? Guilty or innocent? A mark that is holy or a mark that branded him for life? The Holy Mark: Read it and you decide as you hear his final words and listen to his final prayers.
Fran Lewis: Reviewer