Fr. Ferro had not been sent to Helena to interview the little girl. He had been sent to evaluate a problem that had received national attention, to advise the Bishop, and to make a report back in Washington to the Nuncio. So he and everyone else were surprised when he discovered that the little girl had arranged for him to meet her and talk with her. Arranged was not quite the right word but she had certainly taken it for granted that she and Fr. Ferro would talk, had suggested the location (Fr. Hugh’s office at Carroll), and had charmed Fr. Ferro into agreeing to the plan.
He felt an exhilaration when he was around Catie Jo Harrington of Helena , Montana, that he had not felt since he was a seminarian in the years of Vatican II. That exhilaration of grace and new hope had turned into trudging years of service to an often embattled and defensive Church. He had to reconnect in daily prayer to the optimism and energy he had felt when he began his work as a counselor and aide to the American hierarchy. He had been faithful to the work he chose, and he had become a fixture behind the scenes of most major activities between Rome and the American bishops. He was trusted to be fair, honest, hardworking, and in the end a “company man.” That was a term he despised, but one he finally had to accept. It had been his father’s term and in the month’s before his father died, they had discussed both of their lives and how they had both made the same choice to be company men, he to the Church, his father to Bell Telephone. They also both accepted that they lived secure and privileged lives, but lives that had not been able to tap into the source of joy. When his father had died in the summer before his trip to Helena, Fr. Ferro had been at his side. Before the death, he had felt the closing presence of Heaven and he watched the growing wonderment in his father’s eyes. His father’s last words to him were, “Don’t wait so long.” Fr. Ferro knew what he meant.
So when this little girl spoke of a coming explosion in his life, he was both intrigued and curious about what she meant and what she seemed to know about him and his world. He set an appointment with her on a Saturday morning. Catie Jo had suggested Saturday because Saturday mornings were a good time to think about things and to take time for prayer because they were “Mary’s mornings” as her grandmother had told her when she was little. In fact, she had first met her friends on a Saturday when she was younger. Fr. Ferro had found himself saying that was interesting and he would love to meet her on Saturday.
When he mentioned he was seeing her the Bishop turned very red, much redder than normal, and choked out the word, “Why?” Fr. Ferro had attempted to voice some reasonable explanation, but he knew he had not convinced him. The Bishop couldn’t believe that he was wasting any time talking to the little pest. The more the Bishop stammered on about the meeting, the more Fr. Ferro became convinced that he wanted to talk to the girl and discover how she had so easily infuriated the Bishop.
He knew the Bishop had come to Helena filled with a sense of the right to authority. Many of the new bishops were like Bishop Harrington. They had played the game of aligning with the conservative forces that now controlled Rome. They had a certainty that they had regained control of history and that they were appointed by right of God and the Church to demand the acceptance of the faithful. That demand was not being met with much acceptance by the majority of American Catholics. Fr. Ferro‘s job lately had brought him to dioceses across the country to help these bishops understand the need for a more pastoral response to opposition. Rome wanted them to succeed and Fr. Ferro had been given the task of trying to accomplish Rome’s will. It hadn’t been easy trying to educate these headstrong new appointees because the natures that made them likely servants of the hierarchy had also made them obstinate. None of them however had been driven to the edge of stammering rage that this Bishop had, and certainly none of them had found an 11-year girl as the source of their opposition.
Fr. Ferro had received a call from the Nuncio soon after his meeting with the Bishop. The Nuncio had calmly asked him, “What is going on in Helena?” It was a multi-layered question, but Fr. Ferro knew part of the question was asking what he was doing. The Nuncio trusted him but was wary of the changing spirit he felt occurring in Fr. Ferro. He had not so subtlety let Fr. Ferro know he was aware of his re-evaluation. Before Fr. Ferro left for Helena, the Nuncio had said to him, “Conversion is good for the soul, but it is disastrous for diplomacy.” That statement had been a warning that Fr. Ferro might need to find a new job. He felt the same warning in his skeptical superior’s voice when they discussed his reasons for meeting with Catie Jo. The fact that several reporters and writers seemed to continue to be interested in the little girl pushed the Nuncio to a limited agreement with Fr. Ferro’s plan.
On the next Saturday morning, he found himself waiting for Catie Jo to arrive at Fr. Hugh’s office. Hugh had given him a key and laughed. “She’s got your number, Ferro,” Hugh had said. “I’m glad to know it is still possible.” Hugh had shaken his hand and in a moment an old friendship, distanced by time and many choices, had been renewed.
Catie Jo arrived looking very serious and determined. “I guess it’s time for in the quizzes,” she said. Fr. asked her what she meant. She told him, “Joan told me I’d have to go in the quizzes and answer questions. Both she and Catherine have had plenty of ideas of what the quizzes would be about. They both laughed when they told me at least it wouldn’t be as bad as being in the Spanish quizzes.”
“Here we go,” Fr. Ferro thought to himself.