The Son Online - Leonard Foglia


“He walks the earth,”

Monsignor Gallagher stared deep into the eyes of his assistant, Father Mathias, and although he was having trouble breathing, the words came out with perfect clarity.

Over eighty, the old priest lay on the floor of the church in East Acton, Massachusetts that he had served faithfully for nearly sixty years. His face was a spider web of wrinkles and his body a spindly version of what had once been strong and imposing. But the voice showed no signs of age.

“He walks the earth,” he repeated, amazement coloring his frail features this time.

Father Mathias had just pulled the priest from the confessional, where he had collapsed in the midst of absolving Mrs. Connelly of her usual inconsequential sins. Mrs. Connelly stood by, momentarily speechless with the fear that her confession might have provoked what appeared to be a heart attack or an impending one. Father Mathias wiped beads of perspiration off the monsignor’s brow with the back of his hand, reassuring him that help was on the way and that everything would be fine. Outside, the siren of an approaching ambulance grew louder.

Mrs. Connelly had kept her distance, since running to get Father Mathias in the rectory with the news that Monsignor Gallagher seemed to have fallen and injured himself. The dull thud had been followed by silence, and when she’s asked, “Are you okay, Monsignor?” there had been no response.

“The monsignor was in there for so long with that young man,” the woman muttered, as much to herself as to anyone else. “Maybe the heat got to him. Those heavy curtains shut out every last breath of fresh air. I can’t imagine what that young man had to confess that took so long, but it seemed like hours. I get short of breath in there after a few minutes. And the monsignor is getting on in years, after all.”

Father Mathias looked up. “What young man?”

Mrs. Connelly, caught up short in her monologue, took a moment to recover her bearings. “The person before me…a young man…Well, youngish…Twentyish, I’d say…The Monsignor is going to be all right, isn’t he?”

“‘Hours,’ you said?”

“Well, maybe not hours. But forty-five or fifty minutes, at least. I checked my watch? When the young man finally left, I went in and said the act of contrition, but I heard nothing back. Then there was this thump and I realized that Monsignor Gallagher had fallen over or hit his head or something…I loved him so, Father Mathias.”

“Monsignor Gallagher is still with us, Mrs. Connelly.”

“Oh, yes. Of course he is. Thank the Lord…”

Outside Our Lady of Perpetual Light, an ambulance skidded to a stop and a team of rescue workers burst down the church aisle and lifted the Monsignor onto a stretcher.

“It must have been the heat,” Mrs. Connelly informed no one in particular. “It’s hotter than blazes in that confessional.”

“Scuse me, lady,” one of the workers said, as they maneuvered the stretcher back up the aisle. The old man’s breathing was irregular, but there were no signs of physical distress on his face. To the contrary, thought Father Mathias, as he followed behind, his features had a strange peacefulness about them.

The rescue workers slid the stretcher into the back of the ambulance, and Father Mathias prepared to climb in beside his mentor.

Before the doors were closed, Mrs. Connelly gave a tug on his sleeve. “Heat prostration isn’t serious, is it?”

“No, Mrs. Connelly. The Monsignor will be good as new in no time. But tell me something. This young man, did you recognize him?”

“I never saw him before. He’s not from this parish, that’s for sure.”

“And he was in the confessional for nearly an hour?”

“I’m sure of it. I checked my watch several times. I even thought of going home and coming back later. What could he have had to confess, I wonder? He seemed like such a sweet young man. He smiled at me when he left. Lovely smile. As if we’d known one another all our lives. I’ll never forget it.”

The ambulance doors closed and the vehicle ground up the gravel driveway, producing a cloud of dust that enveloped Mrs. Connelly. The woman had stopped talking and was waving a handkerchief in the air, as if the Monsignor were about to take a long voyage and she had inadvertently been left behind on the dock.


The wail of the siren cut into the tranquility of Acton’s leafy streets, like a knife slashing an impressionist landscape, as the ambulance made its way past the East Acton Library, down