Sunday morning, spring semester: sun melting the frost on courtyard grass, light streaming in through stained glass. Sacristans swishing about in cassock and surplice, counting out wafers, stacking charcoal bricks in thuribles; MCs flipping through lectionaries and Mass books, directing stumbling candle-bearers around the sanctuary. Mary Kennedy, Queen of the Seminarians, entering the chapel and smiling at the small choir, switching on the electric bellows and waiting for her instrument to warm up, the choir looking sheepishly on as she frees her stockinged feet from her heels and slips them into a pair of special organ shoes she has pulled from her handbag. In the third floor chapel, Father Hecht is bent double in prayer; in the second floor common room, a group of guys dressed in pajamas are taking an online quiz that will map their personality traits onto the traditional medieval humors and inform them that every single one of them is “melancholic-choleric.” Showers running, seminarians rolling out of bed. Two of them throw their cigarettes into the gravel on the roof and just kind of squint at the searing bright blue of the sky.

“You seen Carlos this morning?” says Frank.

Collins shakes his head and spits.

“We should make sure he’s up. Wouldn’t want him to get kicked out, y’know?”

Collins nods and kicks away the rock propping open the emergency exit, catching the door before it closes all the way. Together, they descend the stairs and knock at a door in a carpeted hallway one flight down.

“Carlos,” says Frank. “Carlito. Open up. It’s us.”

There’s no response. Frank looks at Collins and Collins turns the knob; they proceed cautiously inside, poking their heads in first before opening the door wider. Frank goes to inspect the cylindrical shape tangled up in sheets on the bed and Collins releases the drawn blind, flooding the room with light. The shape on the bed recoils from the stimulus, rolling over until it comes to rest against the wall.

“Carlos,” says Frank. “Wake up.”

Collins kicks at the metal leg of the bed. “It smells like shit in here. You puke?”

“Yeah,” says Carlos.

“We can tell,” says Frank. “You should get this place cleaned up in case anyone comes to check on you. You should go to Mass so no one has to.”

“I’ll say I’m sick.”

“Except someone’s still gonna come up and check on you, genius,” says Collins. He kicks the leg again, lighter this time, and looks around at the dirty laundry and empty bottles strewn across the floor. “And you have all this shit lying around.”

“It’s Sunday,” says Frank. “If you miss Mass, it’s a mortal sin.”

“I don’t care,” says Carlos.

“Hey,” says Collins. “Watch it.”

“Didn’t Hecht say he’d kick you out if you missed again?” says Frank.

“He won’t,” says Carlos.

“I dunno, Carlito. He hasn’t exactly been shy about kicking people out lately.”

Collins shoves the window open to let in some air and then lights a cigarette, holding his hand outside the window and watching the smoke curl gently back inside.

“Dietrich,” he says. “Saavedra. Petrillo. All our best fuckin’ guys. All the guys who made this place worth it.”

“If you skip today, you’re gonna miss it,” says Frank. “Collins’s big exit.”

Finally, there’s some motion on the bed: Carlos turning over again and pulling the sheet from his head. “What exit.”

“Fuck this place,” says Collins. “If Hecht has it out for me anyway, I’m gonna at least go out with a bang.”

“‘You can’t fire me, I quit,'” says Frank.

“What’re you gonna do?” says Carlos.

Collins shrugs and flicks the ash from his cigarette.

“He’s gonna ask Mary Kennedy to marry him,” says Frank.

Carlos, on hearing this, groans and plants his face in his pillow. “Mary Kennedy is busted,” he says.

“She ain’t bad,” says Collins.

Carlos just shakes his head. “Come on, man.”

“Stay locked up in here for four more years. Then maybe you’ll see.”

Frank takes out his cigarettes and holds them up to Carlos. “Want one? Might make you feel better.”

“No,” says Carlos, burying his face again in his pillow.

“Drink some water. Eat something.”

“He can’t,” says Collins. “He has to keep his fast if he wants to go to Mass.”

“I’m not going to Mass,” says Carlos.

Frank sidles up at the windowsill next to Collins and lights a cigarette. “If both of you guys get kicked out,” he says, “I’m gonna be all out of friends.”

Carlos doesn’t answer. A wisp of smoke floats over his head and disappears into the air. Slowly he raises himself up on his elbows and blinks his bloodshot eyes, as if only now coming awake.

“So,” he says. “What’re you gonna do?”

“I dunno.” Collins blows twin streams of smoke from his nostrils and turns around to throw the butt out the window. “I’m still tryin’ to figure that out.”


Sunday Mass at the seminary: white vestments, Easter season. Kids tripping on the long skirts of their cassocks, altar servers missing their cues, lectors swallowing their words, Carlos and the other hungover freshmen nodding off in the front row. A resident priest, semi-retired, mumbling his way through the prayers, Father Hecht sitting in the sanctuary rhythmically tapping a rolled-up program against his concelebrating vestments. Mary Kennedy moving her plain black organ shoes deftly over the pedals, only her glasses and her long pointed nose and the bun of hair piled atop her head visible from behind the triple-tiered console; only her voice audible among the wavering choir, piercing high and clear through the fog of incense and sleeplessness; through the doubts and despairs harbored in the hearts of the congregation, the philosophers they don’t want to read, the classmates they don’t want to talk to, the girls they don’t want to think about, the chores they don’t want to do before they can get the next week started. Mary Kennedy’s voice is the only thing they hear; Mary Kennedy’s voice is the only thing they know, all other thoughts pushed out by the clarity of its tone. They line up to receive the Lord and then return to their places, leaning forward on the kneelers for a long time with their eyes shut tight because they’re too tired to lift themselves back up. The organ falls silent, the Communion hymn has ended, and the seminarians shift the weight upon their sore knees, awaiting the end of Mass and the customary singing of the Regina Caeli. The main celebrant looks to Father Hecht and Father Hecht nods back, rising slowly to his feet, smoothing his concelebrating vestments, approaching the ambo with unhurried steps, still clutching the rolled-up program in his hand like a weapon. He taps it a few times against the wings of the bronze eagle mounted on the front of the podium, and then he begins to speak.

“Word always travels fast in places like this,” he says, “so I assume you already know. But just in case you missed the memo, the following men will be leaving formation: Mark Dietrich. Joachim Saavedra. Dominick Petrillo. We wish them the best in their future discernment and we assure them of our continued prayers. Per house custom, now is the time for someone to say something if anyone has anything to say.”

Everyone sits back in their pews. Other than that, no one stirs. They’re so used to hearing it, they’re so used to going through the motions. All the stock phrases and canned sentiments have been used by now; there’s nothing left to say. All is silent, everyone waiting for the tension to break.

Impossible to say who notices first, impossible to pinpoint the moment when all eyes are on him. But soon, that’s where all eyes are: on Collins, getting up from his pew in cassock and surplice and moving slowly down the aisle. Uncertainly, like he’s sleepwalking; reluctantly, as if under the influence of some kind of malicious suggestion. Yet he hits all his marks without faltering or stumbling: stepping without incident onto the raised sanctuary platform, pausing to reverence the altar. Father Hecht turns to watch him go, but doesn’t otherwise react. He’s seen it all at this point, and there isn’t much that can surprise him anymore. Unless he is about to be surprised, unless he can feel it, too, and maybe that’s why he’s doing nothing to stop it from happening.

Whatever’s happening: Collins approaching the organ console behind the sanctuary, where Mary Kennedy, still oblivious, keeps her long pointed nose raised in the air, flipping through her sheet music. She’s the only one who doesn’t see it: Tim Collins drawing up next to her, mouth slightly open as if he’s about to say something, hands poised tentatively in front of him. Like he’s about to drop down on one knee or take her glasses off and look deep into her eyes or sweep her up in his arms and carry her out of the chapel; like he’s moments away, seconds, half-seconds, everyone watching with breaths held and eyes shining to see what’s about to happen: Carlos and all the hungover freshmen, Frank and all the jaded seniors, everyone in between, the sacristans and choir boys, the doubtful and the overconfident, the traditionalists and the modernists, the desperate and the hopeful, the heartbroken and the happy.

Timothy Michael Collins, 21 years old, fourth-year college seminarian for the Archdiocese of ———, takes one more step closer to the organ, and then he’s within breathing distance of Mary Kennedy, Queen of the Seminarians. In her peripheral vision, surely, but she still seems to be the only one who doesn’t see him. And that’s when she stands up.

And puts her back to him, facing instead the statue in its niche to the right of the sanctuary, intoning in her high clear perfect voice:

“Regina caeli, laetare, alleluia.”

But no one picks up the melody, and she, unperturbed, continues alone to the next verse:

“Quia quem meruisti portare, alleluia.”

And still no one joins her, but she closes her eyes and keeps going as if she doesn’t notice, though maybe she truly doesn’t, maybe she has truly lost herself completely in the hymn:

“Resurrexit, sicut dixit, alleluia.”

And by the time Father Hecht and a few others have got it into their heads to start singing, it’s already over:

“Ora pro nobis Deum, alleluia.”

And she opens her eyes, and with her gaze still fixed upon the image in the niche, she chants the closing versicle:

“Gaude et laetare, Virgo Maria, alleluia.” 

A silence falls over the chapel; this is the only part where the rest of them have to sing, the only part she can’t cover for them. Her voice lingers a moment and then dissipates completely into the vaulted ceiling. 40 or so young men and two aging priests draw shallow breath, as if a great collective impact has sucked the air from their breasts. Finally, the sound emanates, or so it seems, from the air around them, unattached to any human agency. Certainly not from Collins, who’s still standing motionlessly behind Mary Kennedy, though his lips can be seen to move soundlessly along with the words:

“Quia surrexit Dominus vere, alleluia.”


Sunday evening, spring semester: sung Vespers before dinner, hard steroidal chicken under some sort of white sauce. Overdone pasta, steamed vegetables: everyone looking tired and ugly under fluorescent refectory lighting. Father Hecht pushing his food around moodily and stepping out early to wander the parking lot with a cigar. Carlos, still sickly pale, struggling to swallow some rolls with butter. Gradually, the students filter out past the buffet line and the uniformed food service workers, some headed back to the chapel, some to shower and study, some for pool and decade-old video games in the student lounge. Three of them climb four sets of stairs to the emergency exit, lighting cigarettes once they get to the roof, standing silently for a few moments because they’re still catching their breath.

“You want one?” says Frank.

Carlos shakes his head. “No. I still feel sick.”

“So why’d you come up,” says Collins.

“I dunno. Just to hang out.”

Frank strolls to the edge of the roof and puts one foot up on the ledge. “Check it out,” he says.

In the parking lot, there’s a silhouette standing in place, and staring up at them, arms hanging limply at his side, the red dot of a lit cigar hovering at his right hand.

“Shit,” says Carlos dropping down to hide behind the little ledge.

“I thought you didn’t care if you got kicked out,” says Collins.

He takes a few steps forward and joins Frank on the ledge. Together, they lift their cigarettes and draw on them; Father Hecht raises his cigar to his face and makes it glow brighter; and for a minute or so they remain like this, sending silent semaphores of light back and forth from the seminary roof to the seminary parking lot.

“You think he sees us?” says Carlos, still crouching.

“Of course he sees us,” says Frank.

“We’re not supposed to be up here.”

“Who cares. He has better things to kick people out for.”

“I don’t think he can tell it’s us, anyway,” says Collins.

“Give him a wave,” says Frank.

“No. You do it.”

“I’m not the one who’s trying to get kicked out. You do it.”

Collins raises his non-smoking hand and waves it lazily side to side over his head. Father Hecht just stares back.

“Tell him to get bent,” says Frank.


“Do it.”

“If I shout, he’ll know it’s me.”

“So what. You wanted to get kicked out this morning.”

“That was different.”

“Different how?”

Collins waves down at Father Hecht again; Father Hecht just places his cigar in his mouth and shuffles again into motion, moving in unhurried circles around the rows of sensible Japanese sedans and borrowed family hatchbacks populating the parking lot.

“Pussy,” says Frank.

“Yeah,” says Collins.


Collins takes one last drag and casts his butt to the gravel. “Watch it.”

“You’re not gonna get kicked out. You don’t have the guts.”

“Don’t tempt me.”

Slowly, Carlos rises back to his feet; halfway through the motion he pauses to peek over the ledge, then follows through when he sees that the coast is clear.

“What were you going to do this morning,” he says. “When you reached Mary Kennedy.”

Collins stares pensively down at his feet for a few seconds. But slowly, a small, private smile spreads over his face.

Somewhere downstairs, toilets are flushing. Seminarians are brewing coffee, preparing to stay up all night writing papers; nodding off in front of metaphysics textbooks; thinking about calling ex-girlfriends; playing Dungeons and Dragons; getting drunk behind locked doors in groups of three and four, laughing and talking shit about people who aren’t there. And the red sanctuary lamps are still burning in the chapels on the first and third floor.