The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matthew 26: 41) is the theme of this autobiography of a man whose calling to God and the Catholic church is the center of his life, yet, posed against this is the temptations faced by all men, which pull him away from his life’s mission. Stephen Donnelly, eventually “Father Stephen,” an enigmatic and “superstar priest,” traces his life from childhood on Long Island, significantly impacted by his alcoholic father, through the end of his ministry as a priest. In between, it raises many questions: the Catholic Church’s philosophy, past, present, and future; the life of priests; what they can and can’t do; what is the true meaning of good and evil, and what this means for priests and the church.
It is a story of his substance abuse; his efforts to conquer it; the impact of alcoholism on the family and his life; the spiritual beauty of God and Jesus Christ and how it called him from his “earthly” career; and the celibacy demanded of the priesthood, versus the natural relationship of a man with a woman.
These themes are both enticing and upsetting. On one hand, the reader is rooting for Father Stephen; on the other, its frustration, “why did you do that? The reader is taken up and down, presented with the good and the bad as the title implies, “the Sinner and the Saint.”
As Stephen deals with life on life’s terms, an AA term, he also has to accommodate the rigid moral code imposed by the church. As he saves his own life and so many others dealing with drug and alcohol abuse, and his charisma impacts so many in his ministry and community, eventually, he cannot escape his past. His ministry comes to an end…the justice of this result is best to be determined by the reader.