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Editor's Note: Fr. Greeley died on May 29, 2013. He was 85.

JUDY VALENTE, correspondent: He is one of the best known priests in America, a respected sociologist, researcher, and commentator, and author of dozens of best-selling novels. Father John Cusick has known Father Greeley for forty years.

REV. JOHN CUSICK: When the history of the American Catholic Church is written in America, I don’t know if you’re going to find a more significant name or a more impacting name on church than Andrew Greeley.

VALENTE: He was one of the first priests to criticize the Church’s position on birth control. He called for better preaching from the pulpit, a greater outreach to young people, and greater humility among the clergy. He promoted a more active role for lay people. Eileen Durkin is Greeley’s niece.

EILEEN DURKIN: He would write and write and write, and it was a part of his life. It couldn’t be separated from him. It wasn’t a chore for him. It just flowed out of him. Many people were touched by his stories and by his image of God as a God of love and a God of compassion and a God of forgiveness and a God especially of passion.

post02-andrewgreeleyVALENTE: In November 2008, Father Greeley stepped out of a taxi in this Chicago suburb after a speaking engagement. His coat caught in the door, and as the taxi pulled away he was thrown to the pavement and suffered a traumatic brain injury. The prolific author who had written on so many subjects would write no more.

DURKIN: He’s suffering. Anyone who has had a traumatic brain injury to the extent that my uncle has, anyone who is a vibrant, intelligent, brilliant person who is now reduced to 24-hour care is suffering.

VALENTE: Father James Martin is an editor at the national Catholic magazine America.

REV. JAMES MARTIN, SJ: The mystery of suffering really does remain a mystery. There is no satisfactory answer to the question. It has bedeviled theologians and saints and scholars over millennia.

CUSICK: His attention span is certainly not what it used to be. He’s very slow. I mean, I think medical people have said it takes him a lot longer to process things.

DURKIN: Seeing his suffering has not necessarily affected my faith, because I know of his faith. For 80 years up until his accident I observed his faith, and I certainly heard about his faith because he shared so much of it and wrote about so much of it.

post03-andrewgreeleyVALENTE: Father Greeley’s steamy novels won him both fans and critics. He wasn’t afraid to depict the sexual side of priests in his fiction and often included provocative sex scenes.

DURKIN: He would say all the other things he did as a sociologist, as a novelist, as a commentator were just his way of being a priest.

CUSICK: He would always stir things up, and people would be yelling and screaming and saying, how can he say that? How could he write that? And ten years later they’re saying it and they’re writing it.

DURKIN: Certainly the whole sexual abuse crisis in the Church—he was writing about that and identifying that long before it came out in most of the press in America.

VALENTE: Father Greeley warned of clergy sex abuse on national TV nearly a decade before the scope of the scandal became known.

Andrew Greeley on the Phil Donahue Show in 1993: I don’t think the Vatican cares. I mean they recently ordered the bishop of Pittsburgh to reassign a priest he had removed because he was a child molester, and so the Vatican doesn’t get it.

post04-andrewgreeleyVALENTE: He has said that one of the church’s biggest problems is the status of women.

Andrew Greeley in 2002: The church just has not been able to cope with the demands for fairness and equality from women, so they’re very angry. For a long time, the bishops could console themselves, and I think some still do, that these are just your radical feminists. But the radical feminists include their sisters and their nieces and their mothers and all the women in their lives. They just don’t like the way the Church treats them.

CUSICK: He could drive the Vatican crazy, and I’m sure the Vatican could drive him crazy.

Andrew Greeley in 2000: The Vatican is cut off from the rest of the Church. It doesn’t understand. There’s no reason why it should, given its structure. It doesn’t understand what’s going on in the minds of the ordinary lay people or the ordinary priests.

CUSICK: When push came to shove, he said I’m not leaving and you can’t throw me out, and that was typical Greeley in his prime.

VALENTE: At a Mass celebrating his 50th anniversary [2004] in the priesthood, Greeley, who said he had wanted to be a priest ever since the second grade, reflected on the controversies he had sparked.

post01-andrewgreeleyDURKIN: He said I’m sorry for anything that I have done to people, and I’m not sorry for what I did in the name of people, in the name of helping people, in the name of challenging people, but I’m sorry for any relationships that were hurt.

VALENTE: After the accident family and friends wondered, would he ever again be able to say the Mass, which meant so much to him?

DURKIN: He has always written about the centrality of the Eucharist in the Catholic faith. We’ve reached out to his priest friends and tried to make arrangements for them to come to his home and to celebrate Mass with him.

VALENTE: Last year, with his family around him, Greeley helped celebrate Easter Mass at the home of his niece, Eileen.

Cusick presiding at Mass with Greeley: In the name of the Father…

CUSICK: I’m sad because such a brilliant mind and such a voice in the Catholic Church has been silenced by an accident.

post05-andrewgreeleyMARTIN: When we suffer we are often made more vulnerable, and in our vulnerability God can break in more. But, you know, it’s up to us whether or not we accept those invitations to new ways of encountering God. But certainly Andrew Greeley is a deeply spiritual person, and I’m sure he is finding God in new ways in this terrible experience.

DURKIN: Does he have moments of grace, times when he flourishes? Yes, definitely, when he interacts with his family and with his friends, when he is still able to be a priest.

Cusick at Mass with Greeley: By the Spirit that is within us, grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ…

DURKIN: He is disabled, but he has been a witness to us in his attempts to celebrate the Mass. He is communicating in ways that have always been his priestly function.

Cusick at Mass: Can you bless them now?

DURKIN: The priest is still there. All those years of being a priest, all those years of blessing—they’re still there. They’re still connecting, and we don’t know what it all means, but we know that he’s blessing, and we know that he is blessed, and he’s blessing us, and it means a lot.

VALENTE: Though the public life of Andrew Greeley has come to an end, Father Andrew Greeley endures.

Presiding at Mass: The Lord be with you.

Response: And also with you.

Presiding at Mass: Almighty God bless you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Response: Amen.

For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, this is Judy Valente in Chicago.

Andrew Greeley

Despite having sustained a serious head injury some years ago, Father Andrew Greeley, who died on May 29, 2013, was a priest to the end. “We know he is blessed and he’s blessing us,” said Greeley’s niece, Eileen Durkin.

  • J. Pickett

    I loved Father Greeley’s books. I think they helped me be a better Catholic. His characters although sometimes predictable, were real. His books originally hooked me because I grew up on the west and northwest sides. Austin, West Garfield Park, Oak Park. I was sadly disappointed when he in one of his books defended that liar and open sinner Clinton. But I realize all of us have feet of clay. His inability to see anything wrong about national democrats, but be aware of the corruption in Chicago was just part of his west side Irish nature. Being west side Irish myself, I can see where he got it. It did though stop me from enjoying his work as much as I had. God bless him and hold him in the hollow of his hand through his disability.

  • ANNE DONLON ACHENBACH

    Poignant and lovely, and I feel as if I had been able to visit this dear wonderful friend and mentor of mine.
    Thank you for sharing this with those of us who care deeply about Andrew Greeley.

  • NJJean

    Thank you for the thoughtful update on Fr. Greeley. His writing was vastly influential in shaping my conception of a God who is parental and loving. When I found Fr. Greeley’s novels, I read as many as I could find and I thank him for novel-length enlightening and enjoyable homilies. And also for being an honest priest. I pray God gives him strength for his situation.

  • Mona Villarrubia

    A courageous, multi-talented man using his many layers of insight to pursue issues of faith and to challenge the Church – individuals and leadership – to live a more eucharistic life: being the presence of Jesus in the world. May God bring him blessings and an easy heart.

  • Nancy

    I so miss his weekly column on current issues in the Tribune.

  • Viv from NZ

    My heart is filled with a loving sorrow for you, yet a kind of joy as well.
    To give so much to people all your life and, even now, to continue giving …
    Dear Greels, God loves you.
    Thank you to your family, for sending me a precious moment with you.

  • Diane

    I didn’t know this. I always loved his books, his fiction and inspirational books. God bless and help him.

  • Mary Wheeler McFarland

    Father:
    I have enjoyed reading your books for many years. Bless you!
    Mary
    St. Angela alumnus

  • Bruce

    The commentators, like Fr. Greeley, illustrate what’s wrong with the left. Its all about Fr. Freeley and his faith, not the Church and her Faith, which is Christ’s. Father no doubt communicated his faith well to people, but did he communicate the Faith shared by Augustine, Aquinas, Catherine and Therese? Even on women’s (sacramental) equality, there is the leftist conceit about their opinion – “all women” feel as they do. No all women do not, not all Catholic women of America, not all Catholic women living today in the world, only certain Catholic women living in America and Europe. The Church’s Faith, on the other hand, is, as Chesterton wrote, “the democracy of the dead,” shared across centuries, nations, races and languages by men and women since the time of Christ.

  • David Clohessy

    Fr. Greeley is one of the few courageous priests who is willing to challenge the church hierarchy about clergy sex crimes and cover ups.

    David Clohessy of St. Louis, Director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (314 566 9790, SNAPclohessy@aol.com)

  • Ray Connelly

    Thanks for a glimpse of one of the greatest men I’ve ever encountered. If only I could write well enough to express the depth of the connection Father Andy created for my spiritual life. All the best to my parish priest.

  • Nancy Payne Olewiler

    I do not know Father Greeley personally; however, my husband Bill and I own all of his books–some of which he autographed–and reread them often. Now a Florida resident, I lived in northern Illinois, knew Chicago and loved the stories based there. Father Greeley was gracious to respond to a slightly gushing email I sent. My husband and I “met” on an Internet group which read and discussed Father Greeley’s books. The group became more than just a discussion venue–it became what we call a cyber parish in which we pray for and support one another. My husband Henry died in 2001, and the group cared for me. Bill’s wife Mary died in 2005, and the cyber parish was there for him. Bill and I met face-to-face after that and were married in 2008. Bill completed his D.Min. studies, writing his thesis on the cyber parish. Blackie, Nuala Ann, Chucky, and Cardinal Cronin are dear friends and we speak of them often. Father Greeley and all who love him are in our prayers.

  • Pastora San Juan Cafferty

    I have learned from Andrew Greeley as my most generous colleague at the University of Chicago; as a priest whose faith evidenced his superior intellect and loving soul and as a valued friend. His fiction was grounded in his scholarship as a sociologist and his understanding of the human soul as a priest. Each book is an accessible parable as effective as any sermon. His novels were a way for him to communicate to a parish without borders. His body of work: academic research and popular books continue to inform on matters of human behavior, on faith and morals: educating each of us and challenging the human heart.

  • Mara Pemberton

    Until today I did not know that Fr. Greeley had had an accident and from that accident had suffered a TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) and is now not able to speak or write. I am so saddened that I and his other fan will no longer be able to look forward to and then sit on pins and needles anxiously waiting for the book to be online, in the bookstore, or in our city or county library.

    I had know of Fr. Greeley over the years of my growing up, but did not know he was a writer until one of his first fiction books became an issue to the church. I still did not pay attention to his books until I came upon IRISH GOLD in my local libray about 15 or so years ago.

    I instantly fell in love with Nuala Ann McGrail & Company. I don’t think I had laughed and had so much fun with characters in a book until I read that book. That book and Fr. Greeley helped me through a very sad time in my life. I believe I contacted Fr. Greeley through email thanking him for writing IRISH GOLD and telling him how much I enjoyed Herself, as Nuala Ann McGrail, is affectionally called by Dermot, her husband, and Fr. Greeley. He wrote back and thanked me for enjoying the book

    Not long after reading IRISH GOLD, I read his book CONTRACT WITH AN ANGEL. I believe it is a story about how a man makes a contract with an Angel that looks like Michael Jordan, and how the maind character find redemption within himself and his family.

    I also learned from Fr. Greeley you don’t have to be Catholic to understand what he is saying, or find meaning in your faith. I will

  • Marybeth (Murphy) Hay

    A beautiful interview, indeed. As a member of Fr. Greeley’s extended family (by marriage – one of his beloved nieces is my sister-in-law), I have seen the joy and beauty Uncle – as he’s referred to – brings to our Catholic faith. He’s presided at family weddings, baptisms of nieces, nephews and then great nieces and nephews, funerals, house blessings and more. He was (and I believe contiunues to be) a champion for change in our Catholic church.
    His progessive thinking and outspoken nature have deterred and upset some, but educated and opened the minds of so many others; Like Christ himself in many ways.
    The loss of Fr. Andrew’s cognitive abilities is devastating to his family, friends and colleagues. They are, each and every one, in my daily prayers. Uncle’s ability to produce thought provoking ‘product’ is gone now, but, we must never forget the gifts and blessings he has bestowed on each and every one of us who love and respect him. His pain and suffering are doors now open to us – we are charged with carrying his message and mission onward.
    God Bless Fr. Andrew, the Greeley, Durkin, Montague, Goebelbecker, and Murphy families.

  • JDE

    @Bruce: “The commentators, like Fr. Greeley, illustrate what’s wrong with the left. Its all about Fr. Freeley and his faith, not the Church and her Faith, which is Christ’s.”

    Don’t worry, Bruce – we’re all going to hell. I’m sure that will give you a great deal of pleasure.

  • Barb Hanson

    Andrew Greeley’s novels illuminate God’s love, and I always feel more connected to God and other people when I read them. I hope that Father Greeley is experiencing that love.

  • elizabeth hansen

    I could relate to Fr. Greeley’s accident since a similar accident happened to my spouse who was a very vibrant man. There is grace in such a lose and times of joy and laughter, but it was hard for him and me to accept the change. I remember Greeley addressing a CCD conference in Spokane over 40 years ago, which I was priviledged to attend and how exciting his talk was. So I’ve been a long time fan.

  • Terry Werick

    Father Greeley-
    I think of you and pray for you often.
    I am glad you are able to concelebrate Mass.
    I am glad that you have a family who loves you and whom you love and trust to be with you now.
    Love and prayers for you and your family.

  • Linda Greeley

    I have loved your messages through your novels. I heard you speak in Tucson and you kindly shared with my husband and me about the Greeleys in the old country. We are happy to hold you in prayer dear Father Greeley.

  • Suzannah

    I was just reading about Fr. Stan Rother in the online edition of NCR (he was martyred during one of the many the terrible times in Guatemala (1981)) and for some reason that led me to thinking about Andrew Greeley, with whom my husband did part of a Univ. of Chicago sabbatical in the late 70′s. Imagine his response to the world-wide clergy abuse situation. Imagine his response to the “new” translation of the Roman Missal. Imagine his response to the Cubs winning a World Series.

    Thank you, consummate priest, scholar, Irish storyteller, for enlivening our minds and hearts for many years and for teaching us the meaning of grace today.

  • Kathleen

    Just wanted to wish you a Blessed Christmas and to thank your family for keeping us posted on your recovery ,You are whats needed in the Catholic Church today and wish we all had in our parish ,God does not give us a cross we cant carry so now your helping him with his cross once again for all the sins of this world ,You are and always have been a special chosen one .
    God Bless you and your family and your care givers and friends

  • Barbara

    Just came across this as I got to wondering how Fr Greeley is doing. I was so very saddened when I heard of his accident and have been praying he ‘comes back’ with that wonderful wit and voice of wisdom. I first read his ‘controversial’ wonderful inspiring novels years and years ago and wanted to be part of a church where priests as Blacky Ryan served..and so finally after many years of being an ordained pastor in another Christian denomination I joined the Roman Catholic church; when people ask why and who influenced me..well, one of the greatest influences was/is Fr. Andrew Greeley. Thank you! Bless you!
    and we all pray that the Church continues to move forward again, and cease this backward movement they seem to be taking!

  • Candace

    @Bruce – yes, it is about Fr. Greeley and his faith. Afterall, this is a story ABOUT Fr. Greeley.

  • Roberta Nesbit

    A lifetime of nurturing the children of the Church must surely give Fr. Greeley some satisfaction when he reads these comments and realizes how widely his influence has spread. As one of his teenage flock when he was an assistant priest in the sixties, I know how much he prepared us for the changes to come and reminded us that we were in God’s hands. He has been a beloved friend to my family and a mentor, guiding us through the turmoils in the church. As he would often comment, his books reached farther than his sermons. Now they stiill reach out, all over the world. In Malaysia and Britain, I often come across his novels and think of his comment. He can relax and realize he is still working the crowds.

  • Francis X Lawlor

    Dear Fr. Greeley;
    Of all the priests I have ever known, you have been a hero to me since I first read some of your commentary about 40 years ago.
    Your passion for people, your thirst for justice and truth saying in the face of power, your nuanced grasp of what Faith is all about, your deeply insightful sociological research with a fine grasp of what scientific method can reveal about the relationships between the Church and the People of God, your ability to translate your sociology, your Faith, and your amazing way of making deep connections with teenagers, the people in the pews – all of this extraordinary talent and achievement makes you a towering figure in American Catholic History in the twentieth century.
    Your priesthood has been briliantly expressed in parish ministry, in University level scholarship, a ministry explored through story telling, revealing Abba, our Father in the tradition of Jesus, the story teller of all ages; in your influence as an inspiring teacher in so many hours of classroom teaching and mentoring.
    It will take a man of great wisdom and heart to provide the next generation with a biography worthy of your amazing life.
    Thank you for being around and for being such a feisty Irishman in times when all of these qualities of life were extremely rare in our Church and so sorely needed by so many of us, by your fellow priests, by your fellow Catholics, by your fellow pilgrims stumbling through a sometimes hostile world.
    I hope that you can somehow sense the ocean of gratitude that flows to you from all of us who needed you and for whom you were there.
    God bless!

    Frank, a distant but loyal friend.

  • JUDE ONEY

    WHEN I WAS DIAGNOSED 11 YEARS AGO WITH M.S. YOU PRAYED FOR ME AND GAVE ME COURAGE. I LEARNED TO ACCEPT SUFFERING AND OFFER IT UP TO GOD FOR THE SALVATION OF OTHERS. I WANT TO THANK YOU FOR YOUR PRAYERS AND YOUR KINDNESS TO ME.
    JUDE ONEY

  • Kearney

    I tried to contact his family to tell them about the hyperbaric oxygen treatment available in nearby Bollinbrooke. Took my nephew there 22 years after he suffered TBI and it did help him some even after all of those years. It could still help Andy.

  • sheila

    As a Britsh Methodist local(or lay)preacher I would like Fr. Greeley to know how much I have appreciated his novels and the extent to which they have impressed me with his love of God and his understanding of ordinary people’s under standing of their faith, It does seem to me that , whatever our denominational attachments and traditions we are one in God’s sight and that His love knows no labels .Fr Greeley’s accident was not reported her as far as I know and I had feared that he had died without my having ever expressed my appreciation of what his novels have taught me .Thankfully this is not so and I offer him the heartfelt thanks of a U.K. Methodist along with my prayers for him and his family.

  • Veronica Grover

    Fr. Greeley,
    For generations I have enjoyed your work..beginning with “Letters to Nancy”. Your novels I have often seen as parables on justice, mercy and love in humanity. “Blackie” …I consider a friend… in the type of leader we need in the church. Our world desperately needs church leaders with insights into FAITH, and honesty.

    May our Lord be with you and your loved ones as you teach us the way to find joy in suffering. I appreciate the remarkable gifts you have shared with a huge population of believers on the mystery of the love of our Lord despite our weaknesses and lack of humility in Gods presence.
    Peace…VAGB

  • Kathy F

    Father Greeley I know,will never stop growing! His “voice” is not gone. It’s just different now. He will ever be a blessing to us no matter what!
    Love from a former parishioner at CK

  • Tricia

    Dear Fr.Greeley,
    I just came across this article about your injury and am SO sorry you were hurt. Your characters and stories have many times re=connected me to the faith when i was not so interested or disillusioned. Thank you. It makes me sad that you can’t speak or get around as you would like. My Dad had Alzheimer’s and he became progressively unable to talk or move. He still could “feel” and :touch others. I believe that from Heaven he does still. I pray that you have peace today and forever. You are a wonderful priest!!!
    Love, and Prayers,
    Tricia

  • Deb

    I guess I started reading Fr. Greeley’s books in my late teens (my parents didn’t censor my reading). I continued to read his books through the army. I found solaced in his words, and I also grew in my faith. He helped me find my way and gave voice to the feelings I didn’t always recognized that I had. He made me think, well, why not! I pray that he will continue to grace us with his presence and blessings. In many ways he helped me grow up. I was not shocked by his stories, I found them to be parables, lessons in God’s unending love for us. God bless and keep you and your family.
    Love from one of your devoted readers, Deb

  • In Peace, Linda

    Father Greeley brought enormous healing to me personally, but my greatest admiration is for his willingness to be a voice crying out in a wilderness reminding us of the wholeness of God and that she has no gender and prefers no people, place or sect, but is truly One. Andrew Greeley has expressed the hope of generations and the voice of conscience and a message of what it means to walk the path God has prepared, but most of all that Love is.