I regret that I can only give five stars to this outstanding book. This beautifully written, insightful and painful story reaches a level of honesty few memoirs ever achieve. At no point does Stephen H. Donnelly turn away or flinch from the thorough self-examination of his life. Not once does he try to ‘sugar coat’ his crimes or transgressions or attempt to paint them as misdemeanors. His courageous honesty makes this a compelling read.
Donnelly is acutely aware of the irony of his life. While he was an admired priest he was simultaneously an alcoholic, a drug addict, a thief and was involved in a long term relationship with a woman whom he eventually cheated on. As a devout, hardworking priest who genuinely cared for people, his acts of kindness towards his parishioners were sincere, touching and heartfelt. He was also cunning, deceitful and a master at rationalizing his ignoble behavior. One reason this book appealed to me was that I couldn’t imagine how anyone could reconcile a life of such schizophrenic proportions. But amazingly, he does exactly that.
Donnelly’s falls from grace were gradual but steady. His recoveries were of the one step forward, two steps back variety. Each transgression and humiliation provided a chance for introspection and self-knowledge. Admittedly, he hit bottom more than once and had to repeat some lessons many times to gain the insight necessary to alter his course.
His unblinking examination of his life extends to his faith and to the Catholic church. With insight he states,“God didn’t bring you this far to drop you off the cliff…, “ Did I believe that? By faith yes,; in reality, no!” While he openly discusses the politics, pedophilia and the cover ups of the Catholic Church, he points out the good works and the good people who also populate the church. One can’t help but draw the parallel between the dichotomous saint and sinner nature of both the church and Father Donnelly. Within each resides good and bad, humility and ego, kindness and cruelty, truth and lies.
You may never rise as high or fall as far as Stephen H. Donnelly, but you can benefit from the many life lessons in this book. He describes himself as, “… a symbol of … perfect imperfection”. Doesn’t that describe all of us?