30 December 2013


I had said to my children that they must all make their own decisions about becoming Catholics.  I think this was right.  By the end of 1995, Johnny was 20, Helen 18, Eddie 15, and Adele 13.  I did not and do not think it could have been right to impose my own choice on persons of those ages.

Nonetheless, it is certainly true that the younger ones were much more likely than the older to follow me into the Church, and they did.

Johnny did not.  Johnny had finished high school without a very clear idea of what he wanted to do.  At one point, in fact, he had thought of being a commercial pilot, but his vision requires spectacles and this would have limited his opportunities.  Pilot training is expensive as well, and although he could have got government student loans, they must be repaid.  In 1995 he was working as a cook in the Pukekohe Kentucky Fried Chicken takeaway.

And he was restless.  Living at home was of necessity oppressive to a young man of that age.  Sue's father lived in Seattle.  Johnny investigated, found that he could get a job at KFC in Seattle on the basis of his job here.  Short-term, he could live with Sue's father.

Johnny left Auckland in June, 1995.  I think that his siblings will never forget that occasion.  We said good-bye to him in the airport, walked out to our ancient yellow 'van, and drove home - weeping.  Johnny was in Seattle for two years and a half years - and the experience was absolutely necessary for him.  I have just finished discussing the time with him, trying to work up a bit of a timetable:

  • June, 1995 - he arrived in Seattle, staying for the first few months with Sue's father (he found an apartment to share with two other guys for the rest of his time there).  He worked for KFC at the corner of Aurora Avenue and 135th Street - perhaps with ironic appropriateness in the neighbourhood called Bitter Lake.  The work was hard; his life was not amusing.  12 July, 1995 was Johnny's 20th birthday, celebrated far from home.
  • Somewhere around the end of 1995 or the beginning of 1996, Johnny got a job at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Bellevue.  This was, I think, a real step up for him - and was the start of what must have been about five years' employment in the 'hospitality industry' for Johnny, working at several different hotels.
  • And somewhere in this time - late 1995 or early 1996 - Johnny contacted Mark Shea, and Father Michael Sweeney, OP - the latter a Dominican priest at Blessed Sacrament parish.  I believe it was Johnny's extreme good fortune - and God's loving providence - that led him to Father Michael.  Had it not been for that priest, now the president of the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley, California, I wonder whether Johnny would be a Catholic today.  Father Michael was a true father to Johnny when he needed it.  He was received into the Church at Easter vigil, Saturday 6 April, 1996.
  • And at the end of that year, lost his job at the Hyatt.  The matter was really only a technical one, and Johnny was permitted to resign.  He had parked someone's car.  Unfortunately, Johnny had no driver's licence.  (I confess to being interested to know that he could drive at all.  He had declined to learn to drive when he lived at home because he felt he wouldn't be seen dead in my series of jalopies :-)).
  • Things became very difficult for him now.  He had been working at poor jobs at low pay.  He now returned to KFC - lower pay than at the hotel.  He had to take a second job, working at what was then called the Aurora Seafair Inn (now called Days Inn).  Each evening, finishing at KFC, he rushed home to change out of his greasy KFC clothes and took the 'bus to the motel for the night shift.
One additional wonderful relation that grew during this time was his friendship with my brother Peter, Johnny's uncle.  Each year Johnny spent the Thanksgiving holiday at Peter's house.  Johnny now travels to the US from time to time.  When he does, Peter's is an obligatory stop.

Easter, 1997 he came home for a visit.  This, also, was a necessary part of growing up.  He had shown he could survive on his own - but also discovered, what, at times, you must leave home to do, that his mother and father love him.  In December, 1997 - before Christmas I think - he came home and almost immediately got a job working at the Stamford Plaza Hotel in Auckland.

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