Morte d’Urban (literally meaning “death of Urban”) describes the rise and fall of Father Urban Roche, a priest in the Chicago province of the Order of Saint Clement, an order dedicated to preaching and teaching. Urban became a Clementine after being inspired as a boy by one of their dynamic, outgoing preachers, Father Placidus. One of the Clementines’ leading preachers, he travels by train throughout the Midwest giving parish missions. Father Urban, however, considers the Clementines a mediocre group. They compete with the Dalmatian and Dolomite orders. The province head, Father Boniface, transfers him to a newly established retreat house in Duesterhaus, Minnesota, removing him from the mission circuit. Urban is accompanied by Jack Kelleher, a burned-out preacher who clings to tiresome Clementine devotional publications. Father Urban’s patron, Billy Cosgrove, is a wealthy yet shady character.
Arriving at the retreat house, Father Urban finds it a rambling complex, renovated in a happenstance manner. The rector is the parsimonious Father Wilfrid “Wilf” Bestudik, assisted by Brother Harold Peters, a jack of all trades. Father Urban retires to his sparse bedroom, underheated to reduce costs. In their first chapter meeting, they haggle over mundane matters such as the naming of their location (eventually St. Clement’s Hill), the design of a tedious brochure to attract retreatants, and squirrels and rats on the premises. A rivalry exists between Wilf and Urban. The former is a narrow-minded pinchpenny and the latter, indulgent and garrulous. The rector expects Urban to submit to drab routines, repressing his “star” power. Nonetheless, their petty arguments over how to set up a Nativity crib or expenses for using a phone or electric heater are usually won by Urban. Passive-aggressive resistance makes the rector submit.
Father Urban goes as a visiting parish priest to St. Monica’s in Great Plains, seat of the diocese....
(The entire section is 803 words.)