Those special priests, II
Father Russell Banner, associate pastor, St Martha, Akron OH, early to mid 1970's
A couple of years after we moved into Akron, a new associate came to our parish. He was ex-career-military. He had a name that wasn't a saint's name, people said he was a convert. He came to us from a year of monastic retreat --- a whole year! Before that, he had helped run a place for unwanted kids called Parmadale, and there had been a financial and church-political type disaster and scandal, after which he had spent a year with the Trappists putting his soul and spirit back together again, then he came to us.
Now St Martha's, like most parishes in Akron at that time, had seen its share of characters. We had an associate who habitually picketed the local newspaper, and another who ran away one night, got married, and opened a Jesus People coffeehouse. The pastor, "Monsignor," whose last name I don't remember anymore, was a virtual recluse who we only saw at his Sunday Mass; after I left for college, I've been told, he also ran off one night, leaving behind an empty parish checking account and a set of overcooked books. But Father Banner was the good kind of character. Outspoken, yes, which may have been part of his trouble at Parmadale and what got him reassigned to Akron, but also humble, wise, solidly common-sensical, and absolutely convinced that he could be wrong and somebody else right.
In my first year of high school, I rode in a particular car pool one night that turned into a spiritual disaster ---- Fr. Banner was the priest who helped put Humpty-Dumpty back together again afterwards. He was the one who put me to work when I turned 16, taught me about liturgy and rubrics, encouraged me to learn manuscript illumination and calligraphy, and gave me my first copy of the complete Documents of the Second Vatican Council. And I still have a painting of his that was a present when I got my BA in Theology, "....and a little child shall lead them."
I settled in Milwaukee and lost contact with him; he went on to pastor several parishes in Cleveland Diocese. This past summer his name came back into my life --- as a designated pariah on Cleveland's Scarlet List, one of the pastors who was removed after the Dallas bishops' meeting for having been at some time accused. It's mostly for him that I composed the Prayer for Priest-penitents. I will always owe him a great debt, my soul's healing after That Horrid Night. Please pray for him, and for all the exiled ones.