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An Unholy War

February 9, 2015


Last year I finished my memoir, The Kid in the Kaleidoscope. I’m still trying to figure out what to do with it, but this is one of the few stories I haven’t shared. I hope you enjoy it.




Many families in Killarney Park were Catholic, including mine, so it might seem strange that in 1960 my mom decided to do battle with the Holy Catholic Church. My mother was a child when her father fell off a steeple he’d climbed on a dare. I sometimes wonder if her lack of piety resulted from her holding the Church responsible. Nevertheless, in 1960 my mother declared war on a local padre named Father Hinklemeyer.


The brouhaha began when I was eight, six years after we’d moved to Killarney Park. Few people, including the nearby Archdiocese of San Francisco administering our area, had counted on the excessive fertility of post-war families. Killarney Park had been assigned to St. Justin Parish on the far side of town. For six years, Dad obligingly took us to church every Sunday. Rarely were we accompanied by my mother. When old enough, my older brother David donned a little white silk tie and made his first Holy Communion. All went smoothly, for awhile….



The Opening Salvo



One chilly February morning, a bulldozer arrived and the beautiful pear trees growing on the other side of our back fence came crashing down. A new parish went up in their place. My mother was no great defender of trees, but she was a great defender of the dollar, especially if it was hers. She had begrudgingly agreed to tithe three percent of our annual income to St. Justin’s. My mother didn’t give money for pious reasons. She considered the Church a charity, and she always insisted that charity began and ended at home. She tithed because, as someone with a high regard for herself, it allowed her to hold her head still higher. Families contributing this amount were known in the Catholic community by the prestigious title of “Three Percenters.”


So when Father Hinklemeyer came through the neighborhood one day, collecting money for the new church that rose behind our house like the enormous skeleton of a prehistoric Diplodocus (as opposed to modern-day diplodocuses) he was not well received at our house. Father Hinklemeyer, who was bald and wore thick black glasses like Sergeant Bilko on TV, gruffly introduced himself to me at the door. I ushered him into my mother’s presence.


Mother was, coincidentally, reading a fictionalized account of the life of Pope Joan, arguably the one and only female pope in Church history. She didn’t get up from her chair when we entered, and she didn’t seemed surprised to see him.


He started with, “I’m Father Hinklemeyer, your new pastor. I’m here to collect for the new parish being built in your neighborhood—St. Lawrence the Martyr Church.”


Mother didn’t say a word. He wasn’t offered a chair, and I wasn’t instructed to fetch refreshments. Father Hinklemeyer began fiddling with his collar. Finally, before he could say more, my mother asked, “What about St. Justin’s?”


The pastor cleared his throat, his smile beginning to fade. “Certainly you must have heard that St. Lawrence is being built right behind your house?” Like a clever salesman he sweetened the pie by adding, “God is building it for you.”


“God doesn’t need to build another church for me. I’m quite content with St. Justin’s,” she countered. “Besides, I was told when we moved into this neighborhood that St. Justin’s was to be our parish. We’ve tithed there for years.” Instead of being bothered with weekly donations, she’d written a check to pay for the year in advance. It was only February and we were already paid up for the next ten months.


Father Hinklemeyer didn’t appear to be enjoying his visit. “It’s good to know that you care enough about Mother Church to contribute to her welfare.”


My mother pressed on. “If I agree to tithe at your new church, will you give me a credit for what I’ve already laid out to St. Justin’s for the year?”


Father Hinklemeyer looked like he’d been hit by a bus. “That isn’t the way it works.”


“Will you arrange for St Justin’s to give me a refund?”


His thick glasses had slipped. He pushed them snug against the bridge of his sharp nose. “The Catholic Church isn’t in the habit of giving refunds.”


“Well, maybe it should,” she snapped. “I swear on my father’s grave this whole thing is a scam! You priests knew you were going to build this new church when you took my money for the old one.”


Father Hinklemeyer tried to avoid her Gorgon-like gaze as he asked, “So you’re not going to tithe?”


“Of course we are…to St. Justin’s!”


And that’s why we tithed to a parish we no longer attended. Eventually, the convenience of having a church practically in our backyard won out over the inconvenience of driving across town for Friday confessions and Sunday services. I attended mass at St. Lawrence with Dad and David. My mother stayed home.



Next time--Part II: A Skirmish




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They don't give refunds, huh? I rather feel sorry for that priest. He had no idea what he was walking into that day.
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on February 9, 2015
Yours is one of the few blogs I always read through (others I sometimes skim) because you tell great stories. Don't you love being Catholic? What a rich, rich amount of source material, huh?
By: Al Penwasser on February 9, 2015
Was he still the priest when you finally went? Not sure why your mother tithed if she did not attend, but I guess she figured it was a charity not a church as you said.
By: Tabor on February 9, 2015
I do like your mom, tough as she might be. Her generation took so much nonsense and at some point they (especially the ladies) just say "That;s it, I've had enough! And you've given me an idea for a post...thanks.
By: Cranky on February 9, 2015
Your mother was right. Religion (all religion) is a scam. The con artists make up stuff about a god that doesn't exist and bilk people out of money repeatedly. It's all based on fear, which reminds me of this story: "One day a man and wife heard a knock on his door. He opened it a couple of inches and blocked the door with his foot because he lived in a sketchy neighborhood. Out on the porch stood a man in a robe and beard. 'How can I help you?' the home owner asked. The man on the porch replied, 'I'm Jesus and you need to let me in right now.' The home owner turned to his wife and then said, 'Why should we let you into our home?' Then Jesus replied in a serious tone, 'Because you don't want to know what'll happen to you if you don't!'" This is exactly how I see religion. It is bullying and they force you to pay protection money.
By: Michael Offutt on February 9, 2015
i give props to your mom on this one. :)
By: TexWisGirl on February 9, 2015
The politics at the pastoral level of the church and its parishioners is a passionate affair that never ends. Glad your mother had the chutzpah to rebuke the priest.
By: Daniel LaFrance on February 9, 2015
Wouldn't the current tithing year have ended by the time the new church was completed? Also, I didn't know that the Catholic Church was keen on tithing.
By: Snowbrush on February 9, 2015
Great post! I'm voting for your Mom! Good on her for putting in her 2 cents. I have never quite grasped how any church (especially the Catholic church) could expect their members to give up 3% or more of their income by applying guilt if they didn't.... some how I don't think that is what Jesus would have done....just saying.
By: Kathe W. on February 9, 2015
Good for your Mom! Those money grubbers have taken far too much money (and gold in the old days) for glorifying themselves in their righteous temples. (Sorry. This gets under my skin.)
By: Catalyst on February 9, 2015
Amen! Amen! Amen!
By: ma on February 9, 2015
Amen! Amen! Amen! (#2)
By: fishducky on February 9, 2015
Probably some of the nastiest fights and divisions occur within religious denominations.
By: red on February 9, 2015
Never pay for services in advance unless you understand the refund policy!
By: mimi on February 9, 2015
Gotta love your Mom's toughness in the face of a turned around collar. Hope you all used up the tithe at St Justin's before switching. .
By: Akansas Patti on February 9, 2015
And the suspense builds.... :)
By: Scott Park on February 9, 2015
Hmmmm. I always enjoy stories about your mom. I'm kind of surprised that being a three percenter would be a big deal. The churches I've belonged to most recently want a ten percent commitment. I don't actually believe in tithing. I believe in giving when and where it seems to be needed the most. That priest would have been wise to get down on his knees and pucker up to kiss your mother you-know-where . . . her feet or the hem of her dress. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on February 9, 2015
Good thing you weren't Mormons...I think they believe in tithing ten percent!
By: Pixel Peeper on February 9, 2015
During my Baptist childhood, we just passed the collection plate.
By: Val on February 9, 2015
I like your Mother! I was raised Catholic and became disheartened over their constant money grubbing ways. I think I would have done what she did as well.
By: Bouncin Barb on February 9, 2015
That poor priest- it wasn't even a fair fight. I look forward to seeing how it unfolds~
By: Shelly on February 9, 2015
your mum = 1 the church = 0
By: Fran on February 9, 2015
Sorry to hear about the loss of the pear trees.
By: Tom Cochrun on February 9, 2015
I feel a little sorry for the poor fella. He didn't know what he was walking in to. :) I'm unfamiliar with Catholic tithing, but that sounds a bit strong arm to me to have priests show up on your front porch demanding your tithe. Kudos to your mom for sending him on his way.
By: Terri @ Coloring Outside the Lines on February 10, 2015
the church should never take on a feisty woman.
By: Ellen Abbott on February 10, 2015
A great story, it made me laugh.
By: John on February 10, 2015
Stephen: I had a good laugh at this post! I had to Google Sergeant Bilko. Hilarious!
By: Michael Manning on February 10, 2015
Whatever one's views about your mother, she is definitely a lady who will not be ignored!
By: Bryan Jones on February 14, 2015

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