"The Man IN The Rear Pew"
Father Armond saw the tall, stoop shoudered old man in the rear pew of the Sacred
Heart Catholic church only on accasion, but recently he began seeing him as a regular at mass. Father Armond was told by a parishioner that the man had been coming to the church in the afternoons to pray the rosary. The priest liked to be on a first name basis with his parishioners and wanted to get to know the old fellow.
After Sunday mass on a blustery February morning, Father Armond made his way to the rear of the church to greet the parishioners as they left.
The old man was one of the last people to get out of his pew. He was bald, with a deeply lined face, a Roman nose, large ears and dark rimmed glasses. He walked with a cane, and he made his way slowly toward the priest.
When the old man reached where the priest stood, Father Armond laid his hand on his shoulder. "How are you doing today, young man?"
The old man looked at the priest and chuckled. 'Been a long time since anybody called me that."
"I like to know my parishioners," the priest said. "What's your name?"
"Alfred Sherman," the old man replied.
"Mr. Sherman,"the priest said as his hand still rested on the old man's shoulder. "how long have you lived around here."
"Just about all my life."
The priest took the old man's hand and shook it. "Guess I didn't notice you when I first came here four years ago."
Mr. Sherman glanced down at the worn grey carpet. "Didn't go to church then."
Father Armond licked his lips as he glanced across the parking lot as a gust of wind sent paper and leaves sailing through the air. "There is a stiff wind out there. "I'll walk you to your car."
"That would be nice of you Father, but I can make it all right on my own."
The priest shrugged his shoulders. "I don't have anything else to do."
Father Armond took the old man by the arm and led his across the cobblestone entrance and down the sidewalk to the ninty-eight red Chevy. He opened the door and the old man flopped down in the seat and slowly swung his legs inside. He put his cane on the seat beside him.
"Hell to get old," he muttered.
"Maybe we can get together and talk some time," the priest suggested.
"Always nice to talk to someone."
The priest watched as the old man drove out of the parking lot and moved slowly up the street. then he returned to the church and took Commun ion to the shut ins and to the restidents of the Crestwood Nursing Home. From there he went to the hospital to visit a parishioner. But that time, it was almost noon, so he went to the Lord's Diner,
a church community sponsored hot meal for the homeless.
During the afternoon, he was called to adminiter Last Rights to a parisahioner who had been criticallu injured in an automobile accident.
Nursing Home. From there he went to the hospital to visit a parishioner. By that time, it was almost noon, so he stopped at the Lord's Diner, where the homeless recieved a hot meal.
It was late afternoon when he returned to the church. Alfred Sherman wasn't there. He made preparations for the upcoming funeral, and when evening came, the priest gave up on the old man and retired to the rectory.
The next morning, Mr. Sherman was at his usual palace in the rear pew. Father Armond had planned to talk to him, but as soon as mass was over another parishioner wanted to speak to him. By the the time he had finished, the old man was gone.
The following morning there was no daily mass because of a funeral. After the funeral, the burial and the dinner, Father Armond took Communion to the shut ins. It was almost two by the time he arrived at the Lord's Diner, but by that time most of the homeless people had returned to the streets.
He visited a parishioner in the hospital, and it was late afternoon when he arrived back at the church. Mr. Sherman was sitting in the rear pew with his head bent forward, his gnarled hand beading the rosary.
The priest waited intil the old man had finished his rosary, then he sat down beside him. The old man riased his head and looked at the priest and smiled.
"How are you doing today, Mr. Sherman?"
"I've been better."
"I make it a point to know my parishioners." The priest paused as he ran his hand through his thinning blond hair. "Tell me a little about your life."
The old man chuckled. "My life is a long story, Father. You think you have the time?"
"I'll take the time," the priest replied.
Mr. Sherman sighed heavily as he glanced up at the light blue ceiling. "Well, Father,
I guess I'll begin with my senior year in high school when my father suffered a fatal heart attack. I quit school and took his place on the construction crew to help my mother support my younger brother and sister. We specialized in commercial building like schools, hospitals, churchs and the like. I had never been anywhere before, so the job proved to be very educational and interesting."
"I met Clara while I was on a job in Texas. We dated for about eight months before we decided to marry, at which time I brought her back here to live. We had four children. My daughter, Janice and her family live across town. The oldest son, John is single and lives in Texas. My middle son, Carl, was killed in Viet Nam. David, the youngest, is married and lived in Kansas City."
I became the owner of the construction company after working therre for twenty five years and I sold it about fifteen years ago. It was soon after that that Clara was diagosed with cancer. I watched her suffer, and waste away, and near the end of her life i became embittered thinking that God shouldn't allow a person to suffer that much for so long. After the funeral nine years ago, I vowed that I would never set foot in church again."
"A few months ago, I drove by the church during mass.I parked outside for a time before I finally went inside. At first I attended on an irregular basis, but I found a spirital richness, so lately I started attending daily mass. I come to say a rasary almost every afternoon."
"I"m glad you came back."
"Glad to be back." Mr. Sherman paused as he clasped his hands tightly together. "I might not be coming much longer."
Father Armond raised his brow. "And why is that?"
The old man ran his hands over his legs. "My daughter would like me to enter a nursinf home. My legs are giving out aslong with other things."
"You would get good care there."
"I know, and I don't think it would be so bad there. I'm pretty certain a couple of old buddies are there." He paused. "At least I think they are because I haven't seen their names in the obituary column."
The priest patted the old man on the leg. "Nice talking with you Mr. Sherman."
"Call me Al." He paused. "I'm not anywhere near ready to enter that nursing home any time soon, so you will still see me around."
The nest morning, Father Armond saw the old man in the rear pew. He had to leave right after mass to attend a meeting with the bishop. When he returned he had a funeral which was followed in the evening by a wedding.
In the days that followed, the church committee voted to make renovation to the church. Also he was busy with the Lord's Diner. He had several parishioners to visit in the hospital. with his busy schedule, he designated a Eucharistic Minister to tends to the needs of the people in the hosipital and the shut ins.
Alfred Sherman no longer attended mass, and Father Armond became concerned that something had happened to him. He found out where he lived, but there was nobody living in the house. None of his parishioners knew his daughter. It was believed that he was either in the hospital or a nursing home.
After Sunday morning mass, Father Armond visit the sick in the hospital, then he went to the Crestwood Nursing Home. As he made his way down the hallway which was lined with Victorian paintings, he came to an abript stop when he saw alfred Sherman's name on the door.He glanced into the room to see the old man asleep in his recliner. Father Armond knocked on the door. Mr. Sherman raised his head, blinked, then smiled.
"You found me, Father," Sherman said in a raspy voice. "I took a bad fall, and I agreed with my daughter that I could no longer live alone."
"I was concerned when you didn't show up at church." He paused. "Al, would you like to recieve communion?"
The old man shifted his weight uncomfortably in his chair as he glanced at the rosary in his hand. "I haven't made a confession or recieved communion since my Clara's funeral." He hand his hand over his bald head and looked up at the priest. "Would you have time to hear my confession?"
The priest glanced into the hallway. "I have a few residents to attend to, then I'll be back."
The old man smiled broadly. "Maybe we can talk some more. That is if you have the time."
Father Armond smiled as he stepped in the hallway. "I'll take the time," he said.