|Father Chris Fitzgerald, friend to all|
I am not Catholic, in fact I'm a dyed-in-the-wool protestant. But for the past two decades, I've had my own priest.
Actually he wasn't exclusively mine, but I admired, loved, and respected him as if he were. But then everyone felt that way about Father Fitzgerald. He was that kind of guy.
Father Fitz was not just our neighbor for 5 years, he was a lovely, funny, godly man, and a true friend to a bunch of crazy protestants (many others besides me and my family).
Our relationship started out badly but grew to be a beautiful and unique thing.
The first time I met Father Fitz, I angrily presented him with a petition I had personally walked around my subdivision to attain signatures for, demanding that the brand new St. Francis of Assissi church install speed humps at the back entrance which bordered my property. For the ten years we'd lived there prior to the church being built, my house had been perched beside a nice, quiet dead end. When we bought our property, it was surrounded by orange groves. I was plenty torqued that urban sprawl had stolen my beautiful view.
At the time I had two wee children and a dog and was miffed that this church I knew nothing about had the nerve to install a gate and entrance road for whizzing cars that I perceived as an endangerment to my family.
I foolishly thought that since I was (strongly) of a different religious persuasion, Father Fitz wouldn't care. Boy was I wrong. He graciously accepted the petition, enveloped my hand warmly in both of his, and to my utmost surprise, invited my family to dinner.
That speed hump was already installed by the time our dinner engagement at Ben's Family Restaurant rolled around the following week and despite jokes back and forth about proselytizing each other, we became fast friends. The clincher was when this wonderful Catholic priest kept a (mostly) straight face when he asked my 4-year-old daughter if he could see her dolly (which she was holding tightly to her chest) and she replied, "Not right now. I'm milking her."
My husband began working out with Father Fitz at the gym and I even modeled one of the main characters in my first novel after him. There was no one else, really - it had to be a wise, kind, godly Irishman with a keen sense of humor.
Yep. Father Fitz. No one else would do.
When The Distant Shore released, I hand delivered a copy to him and explained that he was the inspiration for Captain Stone and why. He seemed puzzled at first, but then I saw tears come to his eyes and I knew that he finally understood how special he was to me and my family.
We moved away and finally lost touch, but I'll never, ever forget the Catholic priest who touched my life and those of the myriad of readers who came to know and love him through my books.
Father Fitz graduated to heaven this week. I felt my heart break when I heard the news. In fact, my eyes are leaking as I write this.
I have no doubt where Father Fitz is right now - in the Catholic section of the humongous heavenly sanctuary saving seats for all his protestant friends. But I can't help but feel that our world has a little less light without him in it.