In Mysterious Ways

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In 1987, author Paul Wilkes decided to write a contemporary version of the spiritual classic THE DIARY OF A COUNTRY PRIEST (1937), by Georges Bernanos, which tells the story of a dying cleric. Wilkes chose, as his modern subject, Father Joe Greer, the fifty-five-year-old pastor of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Natick, Massachusetts. In 1987, Greer was in temporary remission from cancer of the bone marrow plasma cells—at that time considered inevitably fatal.

Besides facing his physical crisis, Greer also faced the crisis in the American Catholic Church. A priest for thirty years, he had survived the upheavals of the 1960’s and Vatican II. Now he was one of the increasingly fewer—and older—priests responsible for a growing number of Catholics, as well as a vast inventory of large, aging church properties.

Greer agreed to undergo an experimental cancer treatment on the slim chance that it would save his life. His doctors irradiated his cancerous bone marrow, then replaced it with uncontaminated cells. They literally killed him in their attempt to bring him back to life.

Wilkes’s portrait of Greer is deeply compelling. He paints the priest in a style that is both inspirational and intelligent. Wilkes’s recounting of Greer’s real-life drama is as vibrant and suspenseful as any adventure novel. In addition, IN MYSTERIOUS WAYS satisfies the curiosity of the average Catholic, for whom the everyday life of priests is a mystery.