October 05, 2005

The Sins of the Father

Minneapolis City Pages


When Father Ryan Erickson celebrated Mass at St. Patrick's Church in Hudson, Wisconsin, the show was on and he was the star.

As he put it in an e-mail to his congregants, he liked his rituals "rich and mysterious"--a stark change from the "orgy of handshaking and hugs" to which they had become accustomed. The way Erickson hoisted the host over his head and held it aloft for a minute or more made a vivid contrast to the perfunctory elevation that the senior priests favored. Tears rolled down his cheeks during the ceremony. The monk's cassock he affected billowed theatrically, hiding the bulge at his waist from the pistol he always packed there.

Erickson's energetic performance got mixed reviews. The parishioners who were wowed by his histrionics became known as "kneelers," because they knelt during Consecration. The "standers" were either uncomfortable with his act or oblivious. Mostly they suffered in silence or opted to attend another church. The parish's spiritual life, they believed, was being hijacked by the born-agains, people they wearily referred to as "holy rollers," in reference to the way they demonstrated their fervor. Alternately, they called them "chirpers," after a retreat group that Father Ryan led named CRHP--Christ Renews His Parish.

Among the standers was 39-year-old Dan O'Connell, a member of one of Hudson's most prominent families and the owner of O'Connell Funeral Home. O'Connell was married and had two elementary school-aged children. Several generations of O'Connells had worshiped at St. Patrick's. Dan was no exception, but he wasn't very religious. O'Connell was also a Rotarian and a volunteer ambulance attendant. He served hot dogs at the annual North Hudson Pepper Fest and rode in the Dutch Days parade in nearby Baldwin. He was gregarious and sociable, and not much went on in Hudson that he didn't hear about. He saw the schism in his church firsthand every Sunday. He may have fretted about it privately, but people on both sides were buried out of his funeral home, and he had no interest in getting involved.

Posted by kshaw at October 5, 2005 09:16 AM