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Ken Hennelly, Creative Writing Award 2023/24

Winner: Adam Arthurs, 6th Year.


The ‘Ken Hennelly Creative Writing Award’ is presented annually at this time in memory of our colleague and teacher.  Ken was an inspiration to students and teachers alike, always encouraging creativity and debate in his students.  He is fondly remembered by past pupils of his as ‘Ken Hen’ and we are honoured to be in a position to remember his contribution to the College in this way.

Mr Ken Hennelly

We thank Ken’s family for the beautiful perpetual cup that was presented to Adam Arthurs, 6th Year, for his piece ‘Confession’. You can read Adam’s piece below or download it here.  We look forward to presenting this great award to more aspiring creative writers in the coming years.

Well done, Adam!

 


Confession

by Adam Arthurs.

 

Ken Hennelly 2024 – “Is silence golden?” 

 

The silence in the confession box was deafening. Then-  

“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”.  

“Amen”, comes the muffled reply. 

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.”  

 

A pause. Have I? Was I the one who committed a sin? Does it even matter at this stage? I continue.  

“It has been one week since my last confession.”  

“Indeed, Patrick”, says the priest. “You are one of my most loyal parishioners, a true child of God.” 

“Thank you, Father.” I’m suddenly very glad for the dividing wall between us. Without it, I very much doubt I could’ve looked into the eyes of the priest, the truer child of God between us, and tell him what I’ve come to say today.  

“Why don’t you start today by telling me how you’ve sinned?”  

I shift around uncomfortably. The confession box is always small, but I’ve never felt so claustrophobic in here before. Again, the silence is oppressive. But speaking seems just as terrifying. An intake of breath to speak, before exhaling as I realise I have no idea what to say.  

 

“Hesitation, Patrick? It’s not often I hear that from you.” 

 As he says it, I feel the atmosphere in the box change. I come to confession every week, whether I have sinned or not. I’m usually out of here after a quick chat and three Hail Marys. That’s not the case today, and the priest can sense it from my hesitation.  

His voice was always low in the confession box, but now he spoke with a deliberately softer tone.  

“Patrick. There is nothing to fear here. God will always have mercy on the repentant soul. You know this.”  

I do know this. And yet, my hands continue to tremble as they reach down beside my feet to pull a little book out of the bag that lies there. Not a book, actually. A diary. Leather-bound, about 150 pages. The soft, faded leather is warm after being in such close proximity to my body. I run my fingers across the inscription.  

It reads, “Diary of James Murphy – Do NOT Open”. Perhaps that was my first sin, invading his privacy. Or maybe, when the day of judgement comes, God will decide that my first sin was allowing all of this to happen in the first place.  

A pointed cough from the priest draws me out of my thoughts. I attempt to regain composure.  

“Sorry, Father. I became… distracted. This is the reason I wanted to talk to you today”. 

 

I push the diary through the gap at the top of the confession box. The priest makes a surprised noise as it drops down onto his side of the box, around his feet. I brace myself as I hear him pick it up.  

“You’ve come to confession today… to talk about your son’s diary? Your son, whom I haven’t seen at mass in over six months?” 

“Yes, Father. He’s been studying abroad in London for the last while. James is a very smart boy.” 

“So I remember. I also remember that he never had much time for his prayers, either.”  

I wince, involuntarily. I nod my head, even though I know he can’t see me. The priest continues.  

“So why have you brought me James’ diary, from two years ago?”  

He’s right. The first page of that diary is James’ account of January 1st 1973, two years ago, when he was still living at home with us, and still attending the local school. But it’s not the January 1st date I’m worried about.  

“I brought you James’ diary, Father, because I found it in his room last night. He must’ve forgotten to throw it out.”  

“Did you read it, Patrick?”  

It’s a straightforward enough question, yet I can’t seem to find a straightforward answer. Instead, I tell the priest to turn to the entry for April 5th 

“This feels like a betrayal of your son’s trust, Patrick.”  

“Forgive me, Father, but I believed that a better Catholic than I should read what’s written there.”  

 

This time, it’s the priest that hesitates.  

“Are you sure about this?”  

“Yes”, I reply, and I’m shocked by how strained my voice sounds.  

This time, there’s no response. Just a sigh, a flipping of pages, and then I’m left alone in the silence. 

I suddenly feel very cramped. Like the walls are closing in, and not just the walls of the confession box. What if this gets out?  

What would James’ grandparents think? What would I think? What would people think if they found out that- 

“It’s a poem”, says the priest.  

“Yes, Father”.  

“A love poem”. 

“Yes, Father”. 

“For… another boy who was in his class”.  

“Yes, Father”.  

“James is a hom-“ 

Yes, Father”. Don’t let him say the word. Anything but the word.  

He sighs again, slipping the diary back through to me.  

“You didn’t come here today to confess your sins, did you, Patrick? You came here to confess someone else’s.”  

 

The priest is a young man. Maybe fifteen or twenty years younger than I. People say he’s the youngest priest in the diocese, maybe even the youngest in the province. Come to think of it, he’s hardly more than five or ten years older than James.  

Yet there’s a wisdom about him. He always seems to know what to say.  

Eventually, I answer his question.  

“Yes, Father. I came here today to confess the sins of my son.”  

“And what are those sins?” 

“He… he turned against the will of God. Did he not?” 

I feel his eyes on me through the wooden divider as we speak.  

“In what way has he turned against the will of God, Patrick?”  

Don’t make me say the word. Don’t.  

“By… by… by being…” 

“Patrick, do you mean to tell me that you don’t believe a homosexual can love God and be loved by God in the same way you can? As you may expect, I’m relatively familiar with the Bible myself… I don’t remember that being mentioned.” 

There. He said it. That word that I’d refused to say since I read that poem last night. Even in my head. 

 

“Father… I believe… I believe whatever my faith tells me to believe.”  

“Ahh, Patrick. Blind faith is truly no faith at all. To believe something merely because you were told to believe it is the fool’s path. And that path often leads to true sin.”   

I find myself growing frustrated.  

“But, Father, the church has said on many occasions that-“ 

“Never mind what the church says for a moment. This is a matter of a father and a son, not of the Lord. And as James’ father, there is just one question you must ask yourself.” 

“And what’s that, Father?” 

“Do you love him?” 

I can’t think of what to say. I know what I should say, but I don’t know if that’s right either.  

He continues. 

“Do you love James Murphy, your only son, the child of your beloved wife?” 

I still can’t speak.  

“Patrick. One last time. Do you love your own son?” 

“… Yes. Yes, Father”.  

“Good. That’s all you need to know when deciding what to do next with that diary.” 

“It is?” 

“Yes, Patrick. It’s the only important thing. Now, if you have no sins to confess, I suggest you begin making your way home. It’s nearly Christmas, you really should be spending this time with your family, not cooped up in a little box in the parish church.” 

 

I stand up, feeling for the knob on the door. It clicks open.  

“Thank you, Father.” 

“You’re most welcome, Patrick. Have a lovely Christmas.” 

Stretching my back, I exit the confession box and head for the church doors. Outside, it’s bitterly cold.  

A few steps down the road, I take the diary out and flip to the April 5th entry. I wouldn’t know too much about this sort of thing, but the poem seems to be quite beautiful.  

It’s six lines long, and full of depth and humour and heart and soul and torment and indecision and ultimately, above all, love. I’m sad I didn’t see all this before. I’m sad I didn’t choose to look beyond the surface. And most of all, I’m sad I didn’t see my son for what he truly is.   

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