The janitor boy was never sure whether he’d tell this story. Smith’s parents have never heard it and probably have no idea how it happened.
Father George Tribou was the rector of Catholic High School for Boys in Little Rock where he was acutely aware that once his boys would turn eighteen, they were called men whether they were or weren’t. With graying hair, thinning drastically on the top, he kept it short or not at all. His six-foot tall moderate frame hinted that he was an athlete many years ago, but the janitor boy didn’t know the whole story about how Father Tribou came to Catholic High except that Father Tribou grew up in south Philadelphia where his crowning achievement before becoming a priest was a Golden Gloves Boxing Champion.
As if Father Tribou were in the ring, he remained busy and was always business wearing black and a collar. He moved briskly from one thing to the next, meeting each head-on, and moving to the next quietly over the spartan marble tile floor in shoes that made little sound. He would never accept excuses because worldly decisions were moral or immoral nor would he would ever seem to allow himself an excuse. In the old days, if two young men had a dispute, it would be addressed appropriately with gloves in a ring before a crowd. They had to learn reconciliation even if it hurt.
But Father Tribou had a tell which disguised itself as a warning. Despite never hearing or seeing him, students and teachers alike knew he was coming. The pungent smell of a stout cigars foretold that he was coming, and he smoked them as frequently as he wished. He might be headed your direction. Were you ready?
Some knew Father Tribou better than the janitor boy did, but many didn’t. The janitor boy wasn’t sure how the good priest went about finding those to whom he was close. On Friday evenings and afternoon on Saturdays, the janitor boy would be told of those to expect but never why. Maybe that was the reason he got the job. He was loyal and kept to himself. Other than these persons, he wasn’t to describe the doors to go through to get to Father Tribou’s apartment.
Father needed time to himself and needed time to prepare for his Sunday sermon at local churches.
During the school days those that appeared on the weekend were treated like everyone else who was up to something, but on special occasions, they were given perks to the exclusion of those who had more than they could ever use because they had their own behind-the-scenes understanding.
As with any private school, Father Tribou knew the school needed money to move forward. When working late on Friday or approaching dinner time on Saturdays, no one would be around when the janitor boy would see influence come and go. Business leaders and people from the Governor’s staff would come to the school frequently. There was a Hollywood star or two. When Dallas Cowboys vice-president Stephen Jones came to high school at Catholic High, Father Tribou frequently met with his father Jerry. There was no doubt that the friendship between Mr. Jones and Father Tribou progressed.
The janitor boy learned that after much cajoling over time, Father Tribou eventually accepted Mr. Jones’s offer to fly with the Dallas Cowboys to the game in his Philadelphia home despite the appearance for Father Tribou. It was not modest and did not fit with the example he set. For Mr. Jones, he usually hated the trip because Eagle Fans frequently greeted the team with snowballs and jeers as they went from place to place, but his kind and generous invitation had a quite unintended side effect. On this occasion, as Jerry Jones and others exited the bus in front of a throng of rabid Philly Fans, the snowballs and slurs tapered off. With his cigar in hand and walking briskly in his all-business way, Father Tribou exited the bus with Mr. Jones. Philly Fans were in disbelief. “He brought his own priest” could be heard on more than one occasion. Despite making that trip every year, Father Tribou remained in his cramped quarters at the school.
Smith had already come and gone from Catholic High. He was a few years older than the janitor boy, but they knew each other from grade school. Smith’s family moved to the old parish after many of his classmates had been there for six years already. Really, he came to the school after many families had been there for decades. Smith was an athlete, a quarterback with some skill. The janitor boy was not much of either. Neither remembered where, when or why they got along. They just did.
No matter how far at one end of the school or the other, whether mopping the dank basement weight room or vacuuming carpet next to stacks of obscure books in the library, whoever wanted Father Tribou homed in on the janitor boy. On this Saturday, Smith found the janitor boy with a long gym dust mop in the middle of a cloud of debris sweeping the stairway leading down to the boys’ locker rooms. Smith stood at the top and said, “Is Father Tribou around?” to which the janitor boy responded without looking up, “He really doesn’t like to be disturbed on Saturday.” When the janitor boy saw Smith, he remembered the friendship and said, “If you need to talk to him, he’s in his apartment. Go up the stairs by the office and into the faculty lounge on the left. You’ll see more doors at the back of the lounge. Go through those doors into the hallway. Find the third short hallway and door on the right. Knock on the door and give him a minute to answer. You can tell him that I told you where to find him. He’ll know anyway.” “Thanks, man. I appreciate it,” Smith said.
After more Saturday work, the janitor boy found himself wet mopping the same rank stairway, but this time he sensed Father Tribou standing at the top of the stairs. No stogie bellowed, and Father Tribou stood humbled without his usual demeanor of control. “Did you know Smith?” he asked the janitor boy. The question didn’t escape the janitor boy. “Yes,” the boy replied, but before he could speak further, Father Tribou continued, “I’ve never felt so used by God. I just got a call. Smith was on his way to play golf when his vehicle was struck at a train crossing. The accident happened directly after he left here. Just a short time ago Smith found me, and I heard his confession. He’s dead. You know, God has a plan for us.”
The priest stopped just before he started to walk briskly away, “He used you, too, you know.”