Father Roland

(creator: Rev William L Doty)

Rev L Doty
Father Roland had been a priest for over 30 years when, as the result of a heart attack, he had time to write his memoirs. Looking back, he reflects that his time in the seminary had been "a sort of purgatory on earth with all the qualities that purgatory implies: pain, yet pain willingly accepted; confidence of final happiness, yet confidence badly tainted with patience; joy in the assurance that God was near, yet vexation that God was not near enough and might not become so for a longer time than one expected." His career then takes him from one church job to another until, like the author, he ends up as a monsignor.

He is very traditional in his views: "All off the Pontiff's pronouncements on faith and morals are binding upon all Catholics in virtue of his teaching authority and we must accept them as authoritative, infallible or not." But he is very honest about his own limitations. So when asked to organise parish youth work, he admits, "My chief weaknesses were inexperience and a desire to be liked by the boys with whom I was dealing. This last tendency can be almost fatal. Boys, as someone once said, are peculiar people. If you treat them rather roughly yet justly, and once in a while give them a smile and a word of encouragement, they'll probably worship you - if you happen to be a priest. But if you coddle them, and crack too many jokes, and go out of your way too often to be nice to them, they will become either familiar or insolent and probably end by despising you." All this sounds like the author writing from his own experience.

Father Roland shows considerable courage and dedication whether confronting teenage gangs or aggressive opponents. At one point he is asked which of his many assignments he liked best. He simply replies, "I'd plunged into whatever I had and I was quite happy everywhere". But on thinking it over, "Perhaps I should have given my questioner a waggish answer, 'I've been equally miserable whatever my assignment.' " He comes across as a very convincing priest.

Father William L(odewick) Doty (1919 - 1979) was the Roman Catholic chaplain of the College of New Rochelle in New York, who became a Monsignor and was the author of 19 books, most of them devotional and mostly published between 1952 and 1973 by The Bruce Publishing Company of Milwaukee. He died of cancer after a long illness.

The Rise of Father Roland (1961)
The Rise of Father Roland reads very much like the memoirs of a real priest, as when he describes what it is like to be "on house duty" as a parish priest, when you have to cope with "a large number of persons to arrange Masses for the deceased; several individuals with religious articles to be blessed; a few people to 'make a special confession'; three or four bums looking for a handout; a certain number of poor souls with difficult problems of conscience to be thrashed out with the priest; several women having difficulty either with (a) their husbands, (b) their daughters, (c) their sons, or (d) neighbours and relatives; a convert or someone poorly instructed in the faith seeking greater enlightenment; an alcoholic determined to take the pledge; an undertaker to arrange a funeral; some members of your parish social group to discuss plans for the next dance; and a mother, on relief, seeking funds to tide her over until the arrival of the next government check; a young man looking for a recommendation for a job; a sick call; numerous requests for information both by telephone and in person; a couple or two seeking to dissolve their marriage; and a couple ought to seeking to make arrangements to marry."

The author is obviously writing from first-hand experience, and you cannot help wondering how much of the book is autobiographical. Certainly, Roland's reflections seem to reflect the author's, as when he comments, "There is no automatic, mechanical means of making others do good and avoid evil. We must be the best possible occasions of grace by teaching and by example, but even so the object of our attention is not forced. Even God's grace is subject to refusal."

Father Roland explains, "In this book I am trying to record just a few high points of interest, events which have interest value even apart from the fact that the priest was involved in them." He also says that, "I will not burden this account with details of my spiritual life, such as it is, or was. I can only shamefully confess that in the seminary I was, for a time at least, convinced that I would be a saint, and that now, after more than 30 years in the priesthood, I feel less close to attaining this ideal than I felt then." Altogether, he is a much more convincing priest than many of the other clerical detectives.

But is he a detective at all? In the earlier episodes, he puzzles out mysteries, and enjoys his investigative role, even if the mysteries do not usually involve violent deaths or dramatic crimes. In the most memorable stories, at the end of the book, when he involves us in his work as an army chaplain in Italy in the Second World War, and subsequently in his efforts to defend his traditional beliefs, there is really no detection at all, yet these are the most interesting parts of all. The story of his wounding in battle is particularly moving.

The book reads like a collection of short stories, taking him from one high spot of his career to another. While at the city parish of St Bedes, he had got involved in a kidnap case involving a young boy, a story told in a gritty, realistic way with no artificial happy ending. And death is always just around the corner. Even the young man Joey, who he had helped to live "a fairly good Catholic life" ended up by dying manfully at Anzio.

Another interesting episode is when a young woman, accompanied by an older man whom Roland immediately distrusts, asks if they can be married on the next Saturday afternoon. Roland goes to immense trouble to find out more about the man's past, and finds that he has deliberately lied to him, but even so is taken aback by the way that things eventually turn out.

Later he joins the staff of the cathedral, and "there were those in the diocese who said that the bishop has confused me with another priest of the same name". Roland meditates on "the strange role, or rather roles, of the modern priest .... You were called on to place people in new apartments, to assist them in getting jobs, and urged them not to jump off window ledges, to help their children gain admission to sometimes reluctant colleges, to advise them on the national and international situation, to help them win a strike or to lift the standard of wages, to recommend to them a psychiatrist, to join their civic committees, to give lectures on Egyptian pottery, etc., etc., - and all this in addition to what was once considered normal priestly work." But he does not flinch from doing his best, even when people succeed in deceiving him.

Some of Roland's experiences are entertaining and some are tragic, but all of them are interesting. Recommended.

There is hardly anything about the author on the web.

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The Rise of Father Roland cover
The no-nonsense cover sets the tone. It often reads more like an interesting autobiography than a novel.
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