The Jesuit's Escape is a fast-moving adventure that pits a young Jesuit priest against a corrupt political regime in l963 South Korea. The risk-prone novice missionary encounters a Vatican-based conspiracy to assassinate the "soft-on-Communism" JFK, involving a fanatical Virgin Mary devotee Army general. Deep changes within Roman Catholicism are the fascinating backdrop to this unusual story.
The book asks and answers. . .
. . .What was it like for a American priest on a Third World mission to fall in love with a Maryknoll nun?
. . .Could the assassination of Kennedy have been the work of a Vatican envoy, a fanatical devotee of the Virgin Mary?
Although it was getting dark, they were aware that they were observed by the people on the street. A little girl walked past them in the driving rain crying her eyes out and on her back an infant was crying as loudly as she. When they turned to help, clutching the umbrella together, the two children had disappeared into a candlelit store front. Their eyes met. Were those tears in Alice’s eyes, he wondered. So much laughter, so much rain, so much darkness: but he thought he saw tears. They walked the last few steps to the Cathedral yard. Alice swung the wrought iron gate open, then, leading with the umbrella, stepped off the path toward a large statue of Our Lady of Fatima located under a wide-spreading oak tree.
"Let’s say Good Night to Our Lady," she said, and for a moment they stood silently together in the pitch darkness, shoulders touching. Suddenly neither of them knew which part of the white glow was the Virgin Mary and which part was the little Josinta, Nina, or Jose, or where the ceramicite sheep had wondered off to—because Hugh and Alice were suddenly drowning in a swirl of mystery and surprise. Instinctively turning to each other, they kissed, a soft, instinctive, momentary encounter of her lips with his, and his with hers, just a brush, a greeting between deep parts of themselves they didn’t know were there. In a daze they turned back toward the convent and walked slowly out of the secluded shrine square, away from their sin, clutching the umbrella together against the softening rain.
"Goodnight, Alice," he said softly, shamefully, at the convent walk.
"Goodnight, Hugh," she replied in a whisper, then bolted up the steps and disappeared into a quickly opened and closed door.
The Jesuit priest stood in the darkness and whispered a soundless, "holy shit." He wiped his lips with a white handkerchief which was always in his right rear pocket. His left hand still gripped Alice’s forgotten umbrella. He felt his spine tremble. Where am I? Am I losing my mind? Is this Korea where I came to give my life?
Hugh Neary didn’t know himself this way. All through his years as a Jesuit, women had tried to break through his seriousness—but he had never slowed down enough to enjoy the attention. That was why at age 38 he was suddenly in such a frightening new world as he headed home, blinded by rushing thoughts, back through the church garden, out on to the busy Korean street, speeding up his walk to its professional pace, avoiding the stares of the tired shop women closing up their store fronts. Two women chestnut roasters, standing under tattered black umbrellas in the glow of their tiny fires, followed him with their eyes as he passed. They had to have seen him a few minutes before, laughing with Sister Alice. He hid behind Alice’s soaked blue umbrella and pulled up the elastic-cloth neck flap of his black athletic jacket to cover his Roman collar. Blue-uniformed High School students, paying no attention to the rain, suddenly seemed to be everywhere, returning from their twelve hour school day. He avoided their probing eyes as they streamed noisily past him.
He picked his way between the puddles and around people on the unpaved city street. His stunned mind pulsed: "Oh, my God! Oh, my God!" With every step the realization grew of what had happened. Good Christ, he had kissed Sister Alice! He had kissed a nun. And she had kissed him back, had been ready for it the instant he’d turned to her. There in the dark, how could she have known what was coming?
It was wrong. It was stupid. It was sophomoric. It was adolescent. Jesus, he was 38 years old, almost half his life a vowed Jesuit. How could he! Could he blame it on the beer? He’d had a couple at the Mardi Gras dinner earlier that night…..