Lord, Send Us More Like Father Kram

The world is in desperate need of more fellows like Father Tom Kram. He arrived at my childhood parish, St. Germaine’s, in 1967, one year before I began the first grade. The old neighborhood was booming then because of the church.

Families wanted their children to master solid values and receive an excellent education. And Father Kram was the man tasked with making it happen.

He stood 6'1″ and sauntered about the church and school grounds like a restless general. When he wasn't directing contracting crews on how he wanted the boiler repaired or the parking lot patched, he was handing out report cards, demanding that we do better.

One summer day, I rode my bike up to the baseball field on the hill high above the church. Some kid was tearing around the field on a dirt bike. Suddenly, a green Crown Victoria came roaring up the narrow dirt road, causing the motorcyclist to flee.

Father rolled down his window. “Who was that on the motorcycle?”

“I don't know, Father.”

“You see him tearing up our field again, you tell him his next ride's going to be in the back seat of a cop car.”

I had my own unfortunate run-in with Father Kram when I was 17. To avoid a red light, I raced through the church parking lot — at the same time he was racing out of the parking lot. It's a miracle we didn't collide.

As I sped onto Baptist Road, I was horrified to see, in my rear view mirror, that Father had turned around — and was in hot pursuit. You have no idea what the meaning of “stress” is until you try to elude your parish priest — while obeying the traffic laws.

He caught up with me a few miles later, recorded my license plate number, tracked down my name from the police, then let me have it on the way into Mass the following Sunday.

Though he ran our parish like a precision manufacturing operation, he enjoyed life and loved to laugh. Somewhere along the way, he learned that my childhood nickname, given to me as a joke, was “Budja.” This proved to be a source of great amusement to him over the years.

One day before Easter, we were taken to the confessional to cleanse our sins. There was nothing less pleasant for a kid than telling Father what he'd been up to. Since a screen separated the confessor from the priest, the trick was to disguise your voice.

I recited my list of sins using a low voice and exaggerated dialect — a 10-year-old Jimmy Cagney, see. After I received my penance, I said, “Thank you, Father,” and he said, “God bless you, Budja.”

I've been mighty wistful about Father Tom Kram, having got word that he died recently at 82. I'm especially sad that so few children today are being shaped by such towering figures.

During the 20 years he served at our parish, he helped hundreds of families celebrate life at its best — weddings, new babies, graduation parties. He counseled us in times of crisis and grief, and consoled us when someone in our family was touched by illness or death.

He had a powerful grasp of the battle between good and evil — the daily civil war that takes place in every human heart and every society — and he hammered home his simple clarity through his actions and words.

I'm 44 now, and Father Kram's clarity is still influencing my life. I'm certainly a flawed person, but I still try to live in a way that would make the old priest proud. I certainly don't cut through church parking lots any more.

In any event, as the world gets more confused every day — as we lose our grasp of right and wrong and debate whether such concepts even exist — we need more towering figures to set us right.

Like I said, we're in desperate need of more fellows like Father Tom Kram.

Tom Purcell's weekly political humor column runs in newspapers and Web sites across America. His email address is TomPurcell@aol.com; his web address is www.TomPurcell.com.

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    I do not agree