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Down and out in Hollywood

NCR Staff
North Hollywood, Calif.

Fr. David Garrick’s most recent job was as a Pinkerton security guard for “The Tonight Show.” It paid $6.60 an hour.

Now he’s unemployed, $15,000 in debt and on the brink of losing his apartment.

Two years ago, things were better. Garrick was a member of the Congregation of the Holy Cross and an assistant drama professor at the University of Notre Dame. That was before he resigned -- first from the university, and then from the religious order. Garrick left the university in 1998, saying he’d become the victim of discrimination by his religious order after he announced he was gay.

On this mid-November night, at the Performance Space in North Hollywood, actors have beckoned the priest to join them. In a cowboy hat but dress shoes, and with thumbs up, he shyly stands alongside them as they receive their well-earned applause.

It’s the last night of Garrick’s play, “A Difficult Patient.” It recounts the insider struggles that led to the American Psychological Association’s 1973 decision to remove homosexuality from its catalogue of illnesses.

Garrick wrote the play under the pen name David Ste. Croix -- David Holy Cross, for the order he left last year. Woven through it is the personal trauma of a gay young man attempting to distance himself from an oppressive psychiatrist who is anti-gay.

Lack of attendance

The performance was packed. All 36 folding chairs and the six-person pew were occupied in the theater space in St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church. The trouble was, after a 10-night run, the play was closing eight days early for lack of attendance. Some nights saw only three people in the seats. The play’s knell was sounded when the Los Angeles Times and the gay weekly Frontiers both slammed it. Garrick’s $15,000 debt came from mounting the production.

As we talked, pre-play, at Toni’s Italian restaurant, Garrick was alternately nervous and distracted, and at one point close to tears. Producer, director and his own gofer, he was also exhausted, a man attempting to find a handhold in a vortex.

A decade ago, when Garrick was at New York University, working toward his doctorate in performance arts, the situation he finds himself in today was far from what he had in mind. But the decade held two dramatic surprises for the priest. One was a revelation, inspired by the Merchant Ivory movie version of E.M. Forster’s novel Maurice. The second was what happened after he opposed Notre Dame’s decision to ban the student gay and lesbian group from meeting on campus in 1995.

Garrick saw “Maurice” in 1990. It was the first time the priest had ever seen gays portrayed with understanding on the screen, homosexuals whose lives he could identify with. “It was life-changing for me,” he said. “I’d been lied to all my life. On the subway heading back to Queens, I really thanked God for showing me what the truth was.”

Born in Chicago, raised in Tulsa, Okla., Garrick was the eldest of five boys. When he was 14, his father, an entrepreneur in the oil world, died in the crash of a private plane. That was the same year that Garrick discovered he was gay.

“I regarded the discovery as the most tremendous disaster imaginable and decided it was a cross God was giving me,” he said. “It was a cross all right. It’s bad enough for heterosexuals going through all the horrors of adolescence. For homosexuals it’s just appalling.

“When sexuality manifests itself finally in its adult status it’s like becoming a different person in a way. That’s true for every human being, and for homosexuals it is just overwhelming.”

In the play, Garrick’s difficult patient is a young man confounded by his love for another man.

Getting through adolescence

Garrick continued, “I got through adolescence by prayer and believing in Jesus. I just kept it to myself. I never attempted to make any sexual contacts. I was completely intimidated by the whole thing and upset.”

He attended Cascia Hall in Tulsa, and Brophy Prep in Phoenix before going to Notre Dame for undergraduate work in theater studies. He’d been writing plays and poetry as a teen.

Garrick graduated from Notre Dame in 1966 and was ordained by Archbishop Joseph Bernardin 10 years later. Along the way, he spent two years in the U.S. Army and wrote more plays.

He found he wanted to teach. He looked at the teaching orders, and Holy Cross “seemed to click.” He liked the Holy Cross life, despite the difficulties of entering the novitiate at 35. But, he said, “things changed, first at the top of the church, and then in the Holy Cross order. The papal administration became more and more intrusive, more and more fearful.

“We began to see a loss of nerve at the university after Fr. Hesburgh left,” Garrick said, referring to Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, who served as Notre Dame’s president for 35 years, until his retirement in 1987. “As things tightened up at the Vatican, the Notre Dame administration tightened up with it.”

Garrick taught in the program of liberal studies, the Great Books seminars, until the late 1980s, when he asked to go for a doctorate in performance studies. He began teaching drama at Notre Dame in 1992, completing his dissertation for New York University that year. During this period, Garrick told his superior he was gay and celibate.

“After that, I noticed straight away when I came back from New York, I was no longer on the list of confessors,” said Garrick, who was serving as chaplain to the Notre Dame’s gay and lesbian community at the time.

An open letter

In 1995, Notre Dame barred a gay and lesbian group from meeting on campus, provoking an uproar. An ad hoc committee was appointed to review the situation and make recommendations. A year later, when the committee recommended the group be permitted to meet on campus and the university leadership said no, Garrick publicly, through an open letter in the school newspaper, revealed he was gay.

Garrick resigned as assistant professor of communication and theater effective May 1998. Because he was gay, he said, he was not allowed to hear confessions or celebrate Mass at Sacred Heart Basilica on campus. Garrick’s Holy Cross superiors denied at the time that Garrick had been barred from priestly ministries.

“People in the [Holy Cross] community were not unkind, they just presumed I was going to crash,” said Garrick. “It became a self-fulfilling prophecy. They would say, ‘David’s not going to last, there’s no point in building relationships with him or investing in David anymore.’ And the prophecy fulfilled itself.”

Where gay Catholic priests are concerned, Garrick has his own prophecy. “In the 1960s,” he said, “the straight priests -- and it was part of the crisis -- realized, and it is hard to say exactly what they realized, realized that getting married would not be a step down. So many said, ‘I need to be married, I ought to be married, I want to be married.’ The church had given them a false choice,” be celibate or leave. “It wasn’t God’s idea, and they realized it. So a large number of priests left.

“When gay priests realize it is perfectly OK for them to be married, that there is a life commitment, even a sacramental commitment gay people can make to each other, the same thing is going to happen,” Garrick said. “Then the problem of the gay priesthood will have solved itself. There won’t be any priests left at all, except for the few, the very few, straight and gay, who have a vocation to celibacy.”

After Garrick put principle before security and resigned, leaders of his order were upset. “They couldn’t think what to do with me,” he said. He suggested Los Angeles where he could live in a Holy Cross rectory and work as a volunteer in AIDS ministry. The order agreed but said that within 10 months after his arrival in November 1998, he’d have to find a salaried position somewhere.

Professorial lifestyle

“There were unpleasantries,” said Garrick, “and I’m sure from their point of view it wasn’t pleasant, either.” He provoked some unpleasantness by continuing to live a professorial lifestyle, buying books and taking a $2,000 trip to complete an epic poem. “They were quite angry,” he said. He had begun writing “A Difficult Patient.”

After 18 years as a Holy Cross priest, Garrick left the order in June 1999 with $5,000 and an 8-year-old car. He’ll get no pension at 65. By November 1999, while furiously job-hunting, he had finished the first draft of his play.

“Colleges don’t want you when you’re 54,” he said. To move out of the rectory and get a roof over his head, he took the Pinkerton job. “It would have made more sense financially to take a computer job someplace. Or I could put on this damn play.”

In June the local chapter of Dignity, an organization for gay and lesbian Catholics, agreed to sponsor the play. Garrick celebrates Mass for Dignity members, though he has not sought clerical privileges in the Los Angeles archdiocese.

The play’s nonprofit status meant the union would agree to Equity actors and managers working in the play for $7 a night, showcasing their talents. Garrick advertised, held auditions and, through workshops, playwright and players fashioned “A Difficult Patient” into a 2-hour and 5-minute play with one intermission.

It opened with an agreeable Los Angeles Times feature story but was ravaged by the reviews, and closed after 10 nights. During closing night intermission, theatergoers were telling Garrick he was closing too soon, that the word -- despite the reviews -- was getting out. But the sparsely attended performances meant the money -- the credit, really -- had already run out.

Garrick’s play is set in the early 1970s, in the months preceding the American Psychiatric Association’s vote to remove homosexuality from its catalogue of illnesses. It explores the effect of power wielded by a fearful person on someone who is vulnerable. The power wielder in the play is Dr. Rothwax, an anti-gay psychiatrist; his patient -- effectively his victim -- is Lysses, a young man attempting to come to terms with his homosexuality.

The play’s minor chord is the thin, searching root of a seedling -- the need to love and be loved -- on a rocky hillside. Gays and lesbians, tentatively beginning to form a movement in the early ’70s, became corporate victims, in effect, of the psychiatric association, and particularly of key anti-gay or behavior modification psychotherapists. But Lysses’ love for a gay activist finds a space in which to grow, and its growth later cracks the rock and breaks free. Lysses breaks free of Rothwax, though he is not unscarred.

In the restaurant over coffee, Garrick talked about his own vulnerability.

“I’m not laid back,” he said. “I’m extremely concerned about my financial collapse, about not having a job. Just today I sent out four job applications, this time including the fact I had produced and directed an Equity production of my own play. That’s a bit more on the resumé. I’ve got about seven more to send out.”

But faced with closing night, he admitted, “It’s easy to have faith when we’re set, comfortable, OK. It gets hard when there really isn’t enough money and you could get evicted.” He added philosophically, “God wanted me to have a minimum wage job so I would learn how impossible it is for people to live on minimum wage. Humbling. I’m too proud.”

Two-and-a-half hours later, in a performance space marked only by black curtains and spotlight stands, Garrick stood alongside the cast to take his bow. The applause was as thunderous as 42 people can make it.

Arthur Jones’ e-mail address is ajones96@aol.com

National Catholic Reporter, January 12, 2001