SALVATION OF A SERIAL CELIBATE is a memoir of the faith journey of Greg McAllister. The story begins in the safe cocoon of a Catholic parish in Northern California to the present day where he has come to rest in the scenic mountains of Vermont. While this sounds like an idyllic story, in actuality it winds through a seminary, Haight Ashberry during the Summer of Love, jail, menial work and a scene in a biker bar for good measure. Like many of his faith, young Greg began his life as a devout Catholic but left the church because of the dichotomy of The Scriptures versus Cannon Law. With little more than a belief in Christ’s teaching and in human decency, Greg works his way toward adulthood attempting to find truth from many disparate opinions thrown at him.
Greg seems to be at the epicenter of change during the milestones in his life. Following his call to the seminary, he settles in just in time for the division in the church that occurred during the Second Vatican Council. The rift between proponents of a more modern church and the Jansenist “pay, pray and obey” faculty causes Greg to leave after much soul searching. The commotion within the church at the seminary level is something rarely seen by the lay Catholic and it is covered quite well in the book. Likewise, the insouciant years in San Francisco give a personal view of how one coped during the reign of available drugs and casual sex. Greg marries and the effect of his past, his present classroom struggles and an uncertain future takes its toll on his wife and child. After a brush with the law and a divorce, he travels across the country living in hobo camps and flophouses. It would have been interesting if there were a bit more description of this phase in his life but this is a minor flaw in a well-written memoir. The most moving scene in the book is near the end, at his mother’s funeral. The men he studied with at the seminary attend the funeral and form a choir. Out of deference to the older Catholics, they sing the mass in the old Gregorian chant. As Greg looks at them, he realizes that most of his former classmates are not priests but social workers, teachers and therapists. Evidently, many of these men made a similar journey.
SALVATION OF A SERIAL CELIBATE is a deeply absorbing study of morality versus institutionalism. Its humanity is nonsectarian and its humor, its vulnerability and ability to reach beyond one’s self provides a vivid account of one man’s struggle to find his faith.