My newest aspiration is to become the Mother Drexel of the 21st
century. She’s that dead socialite-turned-philanthropist from
Philadelphia recently named a saint — St. Katherine — despite
apparently never performing any miracles during her lifetime. Celebrated
by the Catholic Church for her “heroic virtue,” St. Katherine is just
one of four Americans ever canonized, and the second from this diocese,
along with St. John Neumann — and not counting Mayor John Street. No,
he is not in the running. While St. Katherine certainly sounds like a
wonderful woman, she’s officially credited with only two miracles — the
measly minimum — which allegedly occurred posthumously through her
intercession in healing-type situations. Though, to be fair, she did
give away a huge inheritance, something like $20 or $30 million from her
family’s fortune, to various good causes, setting up nunneries and many
schools and training centers for the disadvantaged, with a special
interest in “destitute blacks and Native Americans.” Essentially,
however — if you don’t count the 1922 thunderbolt that killed a
Klansman threatening to dynamite her new school for blacks, and the
4,000 or so undocumented cases of folks claiming “cures and divine
favors” after praying to her — she squeaked by into
sainthood in part for her ability to spend money.
Charge! I can do that.
Though I promise you I am not and have never been a debutante, you could call me not a socialite, but a socialist-turned-philanthropist, since I, too, like St. Katherine,
gave away a hefty chunk, proportionately speaking, of my family money, hoping to improve the human condition. In 1992, check with my accountant because this is absolutely true, I dispersed more than $50,000 of my dead brother’s estate to various AIDS-related charities and needy individuals, including cutting-edge scientific investigations of a
cure as well as a dog-walking and pet-care service for the desperately ill, in the naïve belief that if money cannot buy happiness at least it can make the world a better place.
I know, I know, if I had invested that cash in the stock market instead, today I’d probably be a
There’s a word for that (no, not foolish):
And get this — already, during my lifetime, I have at least one miracle to my credit: I can change wine to water. Watch me gargle the
Pouilly-Fuisse sometime and you may be astounded at the results. Yes, I confess, I dilute. But still.
Unlike St. Katherine I did not grow up with money. She was connected to the Drexels and the Bouviers and the Biddles. I was connected to the Shumskys and the Rosenthals and the Edelsons. Her father was a wealthy financier and banker. Mine was a brilliant high-school dropout, Navy veteran, and radio repairman who became an electronics engineer. She came from privilege. My allowance was $5 a week. As too many of you might already know, I’m a Jersey girl, from a small town, where I tooled around on a Purple English Racer bike, wrote poetry in my attic convinced I was channeling the words of
Dickinson, and worked after high school and college as a check-out clerk in a supermarket where most of our customers were either from the nearby college or the racetrack — so millions of dollars of other people’s money passed through my hands.
So I guess I’m more of a
saint. Certainly I’d be the first from New Jersey. They could use one, just ask Christie Whitman. Even before I was a teen-ager, I developed a strong interest in Catholicism. How could I not? We were the only Jews in our whole neighborhood, of Fulton, Girard, and Cooper Avenues, just ask my best friends of that era, Lauren Skeuse and Jeanne Dunne. I’d read the
Catechism while babysitting for my Catholic next door neighbors’ two little girls, Nancy and Joanie, absorbing that spellbinding collection of religious do’s and dont’s including the difference between mortal and venial sins. When I had the measles at 13, I read
“The Song of
Bernadette” through twice, and wanted to become the first Jewish nun. Or so I thought, not knowing there had been many others, as I later learned.
Oh, and I was baptized Catholic at Rusty Johnson’s party, by my friend Patience Merriman who seemed to know what she was doing. Plus, I own several rosaries, if you don’t count the aqua glass-bead one with a whistle on the end that my old Irish Catholic boyfriend — the late and sometimes very late, Annson Kenney, that crazy performance artist — gave me. And I know most of the words to various useful Catholic prayers, like “Bless me father for I have sinned,” and the “Hail Mary.”
Like Mother Drexel, I am not married, though I was, for 10 minutes, long ago. They say one sure sign of sainthood is staying very friendly with your ex-spouse, and I have done that. While I can’t say I have “rejected marriage” completely, as she did, I feel that
celibacy is more my style rather than the mindless dating, sexual licentiousness and irresponsible coupling so prevalent during the millennium. Yes, celibacy. Of prolonged duration. It’s an option like any other, and no, we are not covered under the Americans With Disabilities Act. Yet. “Are you still living the life of a nun?” one of my friends recently e-mailed me, which I much prefer to the snarky admonition, “Use it or lose it.”
Back during my celebrity journalist days, I interviewed John Cardinal Krol for my former magazine job. He was a much-feared, powerful “prince of the Church.” But I thought he was nice as pie. Too bad he’s passed away, or I’d ask him for a reference in my quest for sainthood. He told me the scars on his knuckles came from working at a butcher-shop in his youth. When I confided how I had wanted to be a nun as a teen-ager, he replied, “Now’s a good a time as any. You’re ripe.”
I confess I no longer have my religious-martyr art collection, which means I de-accessioned that spectacular velvet portrait of Jesus where the eyes follow you across the room. Other than that, I believe I would be a good candidate for sainthood. I try to help people whenever I can. While I know sainthood is as remote a possibility as wanting to get a MacArthur “Genius” grant — don’t call them, they call you — I can wait. I know I have the potential. Besides, I just came back from seeing that incredible movie,
Betty, where an ordinary girl from Kansas escapes her humdrum life after witnessing the horrid murder of her car-salesman husband by pursuing her fantasies of marrying a doctor on her favorite soap opera.
Hey, this is America, where anything, anything at all — even
Ralph Nader getting kicked out of watching the presidential debates — is possible. And for my second miracle, how about a presidential election with an array of fully qualified candidates, decent, honest, astute, dignified, truly responsive to the will of the people, candidates capable, not just of leading our nation, but of restoring America to its
Now, that really would be a miracle, wouldn’t it?