""Blackwood, there's trouble in the old neighborhood! Murder in the sanctuary of the Church!""The church in question is St. Lucy's, a humble edifice at the heart of a venerable Chicago neighborhood now suffering the throes of gentrification. St. Lucy's has long stood as a bulwark against evil and change, which some in the community have often seen as much the same thing.Now three dead bodies have been left in the sanctuary, stripped, mutilated, and shot through the head, execution-style. A warning to those who would remake the neighborhood---or to St. Lucy's charismatic monsignor, who has made a few enemies of his own?Dispatched by his cardinal to investigate, Bishop ""Blackie"" Ryan fears that the atrocious murders are only the beginning of a campaign of terror directed at this particular church. But to solve the mystery, and to banish the evil gathering over the community, Blackie will need an unexpected assist from his own long-dead father, as well as the help of Declan O'Donnell, a savvy young cop with a touch of the second sight, and of Camilla Datilo, a radiant assistant state's attorney of Sicilian origins.The Bishop in the Old Neighborhood is another charming and compelling page-turner by bestselling author Andrew M. Greeley. At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.
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November 01, 2006
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Excerpt from The Bishop In The Old Neighborhood by Andrew M. Greeley
"Blackwood, there's trouble in the old neighborhood! Murder in the sanctuary of the church!"
I glanced away from my computer and remarked again to myself that as he grew older, Sean Cardinal Cronin had come to look like a very High Church Anglican cleric, save for the scarlet shirts the latter affected. Tall, handsome, trim, broad-shouldered, white hair, immaculately groomed, perfectly tailored, and with a large ruby ring, a bejeweled pectoral cross, and only a touch of red at the edge of his Roman collar, he was much too presentable to be one of ours. Generally our kind look like tired and corrupt old men in funny dresses. Or dumpy little men in jeans and Chicago sports jackets like me.
The Anglican illusion faded when one saw the wild Celtic blue eyes---a gallowglass mercenary warrior disguised as a prelate.
"I have heard no alarms from St. Praxides," I said, referring to my own neighborhood of origin.
"I meant the West Side, of course," He said impatiently. "A locked church murder at St. Lucy's! Three bodies!"
"Deplorable," I sighed.
"Mick Woljy wants the place reconsecrated right away and I'm off to Rome to pick up some heavy markers. So you'd better see to it!"
"Markers" are part of a Chicago theory of economic exchange, though the theory originates not at The University but at City Hall. Suppose you ask me for a "personal favor." I respond, "Name it and you got it." Then I hold your marker, which entitles you a similar exchange, no questions asked.
"They don't believe in markers over there."
A wicked grin crossed his face. The return of the gallowglass.
"They'll believe in mine...Look, do you know Mick Woljy?"
He put down his suitcase and the garment bag carrying his cardinalatial finery, shoved aside a stack of precious computer output, and sat on the edge of my easy chair, a pilgrim ready with his staff in hand and his loins girded.
"Mikal Wolodyjowski," I spoke his name with a proper Polish pronunciation, "by the length of his name and his demeanor a cultivated member of the Polish nobility. We Irish don't have any such."
As best as I can transliterate the name is pronounced Volodyovaski.
"He's a great priest," Milord Cronin repeated the defensive clerical clich?. "He's held that parish together for years, long after we should have closed it. Now it's gentrifying he has everyone on his side, Blacks, whites, Hispanics, old-timers in the parish, and the yuppie newcomers. He says that the superstitions in the neighborhood are multicultural. He wants the church reconsecrated today---as soon as the cops get out. The school opens again next week. He'll probably have to build a new and bigger one next year...So get out there and reconsecrate the church."
Milord did not perceive the contradiction. They should have closed the schools years ago, but now there would be yet another new school. I sighed mentally. I had not been able to exorcise those who proclaimed themselves city planners for the Archdiocese.
"I doubt that we can do that," I replied with my loudest sigh of protest. "It is after all a temporary basement church, even if it is almost a century old. It was never consecrated in the first place."
The Poles and the Germans built beautiful churches when they arrived in America. We put up parochial schools and used the basement "school hall" for a church until we could build a "new" church. In some places for reasons of hard times, poverty, or pastoral indolence, the dream of the new church faded away.
Milord Cronin frowned. He did not like liturgical rules to interfere with his plans. He leaned back in the chair, loins still girded but staff on the floor.
"Mickey and I went through the seminary, then on to Rome for graduate school. We were never exactly close friends---hard to break through that Polish formality. Still we got along all right. He's an extraordinary guy, brilliant, cultivated, knows everything. The people out in the neighborhood seem to adore his European aristocratic style..."
He shut his eyes as if to blot out an unhappy memory.
"Every Polish priest in the city thinks that he ought to have my job. And they're right, Blackwood. He should be in this room talking to you, not me...Only reason he doesn't have it is that he's Polish. In those days they were afraid to take that risk."
"I doubt that I would be in this room if Pan Mikal was in the room at the other end of the corridor."
"He's never said a word to me about it, Blackwood, nor as far as I know to anyone else. Totally loyal, though he is incapable of anything else. Yet it must bother him."
"Arguably he prefers reviving St. Lucy's to dealing with the Curia Romana."
"I owe him, Blackwood." He bounded out of the chair, metaphorical staff back in hand. "He needs help out there. I won't tolerate murders in one of my churches. See to it!"
He disappeared out the door of my office, a night train rushing through the darkness. His trip to Rome boded no good for anyone. The subject of his markers doubtless pertained to his approaching seventy-fifth birthday. He would be expected to submit his resignation. It would not be accepted, because the Curia lived in mortal fear of Sean Cronin. They knew full well over there that he did not give a damn about them and their increasingly empty power. A resigned Sean Cronin would be an even looser cannon. He might insist, even demand that his resignation be accepted. Or he might impose conditions for staying in power that would push them into a corner.
Nor were they likely to find consolation in appearances of declining health. Nora Cronin, his foster sister and sister-in-law (and one time long ago, as he had admitted to me, his temporary lover), had participated in a makeover aided and abetted by a certain all-seeing little auxiliary bishop---one cup of coffee every morning, one small glass of Bushmill's every evening, exercise every day, proper meals (of the sort I would never eat), a day off every week, a limited schedule of confirmation and anniversary appointments in the parishes, and a cap on the number of staff meetings a week. This remake had permitted the Cronin genes to reassert themselves and he would appear in Rome as indestructible.
The good Nora had not, however, been able to constrain his manic gallowglass moods. I doubt that she wanted to.
I called my friend Mike Casey---aka Mike the Cop---for the lay of the land out in St. Lucy's.
"It's the Lake Street L," Mike assured me, "Developers have finally figured out that it's twenty minutes to downtown inside Chicago just as it is across Austin Boulevard in Oak Park. So there's a boom between Central and Austin for six blocks from West End to Race. The old stock is prime for rehab, just like Ravenswood. The homes on West End are as elegant as any in the city. And the new town houses in close to the L are designed for prosperous Yuppies. Cops are cleaning up drug action against the south end of the tracks. There's St. Lucy's and St. Catherine's grade schools and Fenwick and Trinity High Schools. Too bad they closed Sienna. Anyway, Austin is ready for rebirth and as a native of Austin like Sean Cronin I say it's high time."
I wondered to myself what would happen when the poor were exiled from the city to suburbs and the city, like Paris, became a bastion of the white upper middle class. Again. Many of the neighborhoods of the city had been resegregated as Blacks pushing for living space had moved into white neighborhoods and whites, panicked by real estate brokers called "blockbusters," fled farther out in the city's rings and into the suburbs. Then these neighborhoods deteriorated as the black middle class itself fled, pushed by street gangs, drug dealers, and the neighborhoods deteriorated physically. The next phase was the rediscovery of the possibility of the neighborhoods by the new urban professional class in search of good transportation routes back downtown. In a suburb like Oak Park, just across Austin Boulevard, the blockbusters had been foiled by property value insurance which protected home owners from panic. So now Austin was creeping towards emergence as a multiracial, multiclass community---a hard journey to rebirth.
"The three murders will delay that rebirth?"
"For a while maybe. The change, now that it's started, is too powerful to stop. It's dawning on people, then on developers, that transportation is the driving force in this city."
How did we ever forget that, I wondered.
"And the local cops?"
"Fifteenth Precinct---Austin. Over on Chicago Avenue near Laramie. Lieutenant Dawn Collins is the head of Homicide there. Area Five Homicide may try to take over but only if they want a fight with Dawn. She's a real stand-up cop. I'll tell her you'll be out there. She's African-American and Catholic."
"Aren't they all?"
I sighed loudly. There ought not to be violent crimes, much less in a church during the glorious fading days of August.