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The Ore and the Dross.

The days around Epiphany offer perfect moments to trot out once again O. Henry's wonderful short story "The Gift of the Magi." Wouldn't it be a great read this evening, just before bed?

One of my high-school teachers visited me in New York last year. She had first introduced me to O. Henry's Epiphany magic years ago. In those days, when I was a high-school junior, I thought she was a quite elderly nun. I later learned she is just a handful of years older than I. Anyway, when she visited, I took her to Pete's Tavern on Irving Place near Gramercy Park, and we quaffed a light beer in the booth in which O. Henry composed his story. It was one of my favorite moments as a big-city tour guide. And then I went back to the books:

Father Fred Mertz, recently retired from the St. Paul and Minneapolis archdiocese, serves as something of a historian in The Ore and the Dross, a novel about priests (St. Paul: Rickshaw Publications, 324 pages, $10). Mertz insists that his characters are fictional but suspects that local readers will say otherwise. No individual characters, perhaps, but the Minnesota church and clergy and the travails of meeting the modern world are all there, as are types and reminiscences, mannerisms and incidents.

Mertz will win no prizes for fiction, grammar or artistry, but there is something strangely compelling about the tale he tells. The church as we have known it and changed it is there, plus the characters we have truly loved and piously loathed.

Every incident that could happen, every hurt, every infidelity and injustice to be suffered, happens to Father George Schwartz, theprotagonist, and his companions from the seminary and throughout their ministry. I found the book a page-turner and kept at it until almost 3 o'clock on a recent and frosty morning.

Those who believe these characters are fictional may get to sleep sooner. But those who knew the model for Monsignor Slovene, the seminary rector, will read with nostalgia or melancholy and know they are the stuff of which tales are made.
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Author:Graham, William C.
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Feb 5, 1993
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