Title: Begin With Me
Author: Mike Ryan
Published in by Whiskey Creek Press
ISBN: 978-1-59374-356-7, paperback
ISBN: 978-1-59374-355-0, ebook
In a matter of days, Matthew Phillip Druker’s well ordered life ends. His girlfriend of four years breaks off their relationship because he cannot make a commitment. His best friend and ex-business partner sells him out during a strategic company buyout, leaving Matt without a job. However, not having taken a vacation in the last three years, he marvels at the feel of no responsibilities. Matt enjoys this freedom by taking his mountain bike on scenic rides throughout the community. It is during one such leisure ride that an idea emerges. After attending mass in a local Catholic Church, Matt hears of their desperate need for more parish priests - he wonders, can he impersonate a priest?
Monsignor Pierre Leclerc, an elderly man, fatigues from solely handling St. Theresa’s daily masses, burial services, and baptisms. Since the extensive media attention, surrounding clergy sexual abuses, the church experiences an enrollment decline into the vocation, including decrease tithing and fund raising contributions from its parishioners. The Catholic people have not lost their faith in God, proven by their continued church attendance, just in the church’s hierarchy. Yet, when reading the Cardinal’s campaigned to enlist help from Ireland, recruiting some of their ordained men to work in the Boston parishes, Father Leclerc is hopeful that one, or two, of them will come to his aid. God answers prayers in the most unusual way.
As Matt undertakes his new profession, Begin With Me, becomes quite engaging, intriguing even mixed with some humor. His first week as an unemployed game programmer, Matt comes up with an idea that renews his belief in God, although discovers his own shortcomings. The plot thickens as Matt, concealed behind the clean-shaven, eyeglass wearing Father Phillip McCarty aligns with the daily church activities of being a parish priest; delivering an invigorating sermon that increases tithing, which in turn sparks the attention of the Archdiocese.
Seeing the financial struggles the Church endures, Matt vows to help St. Theresa secure a proposal for expansion, but his deceiving the parishioners he has come to care about begins to weigh heavy. One such parishioner is ten-year-old Nicholas Fabizano who, like Matt, lost his father at a young age. Matt teaches the boy baseball, so he can join the Little League but develops an empathetic bond with the boy. Another parishioner confides in him about cheating on his wife; Matt’s advisement is brutal since coming from a priest but the trusting parishioner heeds it saving his marriage. Then having suffered many losses during his formative years, Matt believes that “the best ones always leave”, and his vowing never let himself or anyone else get close. Still, when living in the rectory with Father Leclerc and his live-in housekeeper, Mrs. Clancy and then his growing friendship with deacon, Bill Victor, Matt begins to open up to nurturing those kinds of relationships, without fear. Yet as these relationships bond tighter, guilt weighs heavy as he feels he is betraying their kindness and trust by hiding behind the disguise of Father McCarty. Matt’s deceit begins to unravel when the Cardinal’s ambitious news reporter nephew starts to piece together his fraud.
A 2007 Eppie winner for inspirational fiction, Mr. Ryan’s story captivates the reader, giving them a glimpse into the Catholic Church’s inner workings; recovering from derogatory media coverage, lack of available priests to its constant financial woes. Clearly, running a church is more than delivering daily sermons but a business that survives through kind offerings of its attending flock and other charitable donations. This story possesses additional characters making for a more interesting read. Mrs. Clancy suspicions that Matt’s story is false but cannot collect enough information to form concrete proof. Bill Victor gives valuable insight as a recovering alcoholic, loving life and living it to its fullest. Then Matt’s growing attraction for Angela Fabizano, Nick’s mother, adds some romantic intrigue as he hides it.
Begin With Me is a relaxing contemporary story about a man’s struggle in rediscovering himself, shedding issues that placed material things as important to make way for new that focuses on people. A delightful read that I will enjoy sharing, and re-reading.
A Dedicated Reader,