Confessions of a Penitent – Drac’ in the Box

That time when Dracula went to confession.

Confessions of a Penitent is a series of stories from some of my experiences at the sacrament of Confession. Fact, fiction, based on true events? You decide!

Saturday afternoon—time to head to confession.

It was summertime, 1982, and my parish had a visiting priest from some mysterious European country covering for our resident priests when they went on vacation. The priest’s name was “Fr. Stan”. 

I never liked calling priests by their first names. I still don’t. But Fr. Stan’s last name was odd and hard to pronounce, leaving us no alternative to calling him by his first name. 

Fr. Stan was the confessor “in the box” on this particular Saturday. When I got to the church, the usual fellow penitents were waiting in line. It was mostly an elderly crowd, but some younglings, like myself, and various adults who still had natural color to their hair. The confession lines were pretty long back then. It wasn’t unusual to wait 20 minutes or more before you had your turn in the box, and when you were done, plenty of people were still waiting in line behind you. 

Now I’m up. Show time!

I had taken time to examine my conscience while I was waiting in line. I can’t remember what I had on the list, but I wouldn’t share it with you anyway. But I’m pretty sure it was a standard confession for a ten-year-old. Or was I eleven? Anyway, there was nothing crazy or humiliating on the list of sins I had to confess. Still, I was apprehensive.

You see, I liked Fr. Stan, and he seemed to like me. He was a cool, mysterious foreigner, and on top of that, he was very kind to me and always made me feel like I mattered. I follow his example to this day, always trying my best to make others feel like they matter. I didn’t want to seem like a disappointment Fr. Stan, so I was feeling a little uncomfortable with the idea of pouring out my sins to him. What if he stopped liking me once he heard how wretched this ten (or eleven?) year old was? So after mulling over my sins, I came up with a master plan that I was now about to execute.

My plan was to disguise my voice so that Fr. Stan could never know that I was the one confessing these sins. But I had only two “voices” in my repertoire. One of them was Cookie Monster, and that one wouldn’t do. I’d have to go with the other one—Dracula

Activate the Bella Lugosi!

Bella Lugosi (Right) with other stars from the movie Abbott and Costello Meet the Monsters
Bella Lugosi (Right) with other stars from the movie Abbott and Costello Meet the Monsters

I had watched Bella in Abbott and Costello Meet the Monsters a dozen times and watched the movie Draculaat least twice. I knew how to render that voice just finely enough that it sounded just like Dracula without being so labored as to sound like Count Chocula. We’re talking real vocal skills here! So I was ready.

I walked into the confessional and closed the door behind me. Kneeling down in front of the wood partition that separated and concealed me from the confessor, a dimly lit crucifix in front of me, cheat sheet for the Act of Contrition on the wall to my right (Only an amateur would need that!) I started giving my confession in my finest Bella Lugosi!

“Blase me, Fah-there forrr eye half SINNNNED…”

So far, so good. Sounding great!

“Von veek it hest bean since lest cone-fay-shun….”

It seemed reflexive that the priest stopped me right there.

“My friend…” he said, “Where are you from?”

Awkward moment of chilling silence. I wasn’t sure what to say or whether to say anything. Maybe just pretend I didn’t hear him and keep going with my confession? Wait, would that be a sin if I pretended not to hear him?

“uhhh….” Formulating a response, “I am…Row-mah-neeya.”

Romania! Nice one. For a second, I was about to say “Tran-seel-vain-ya” but I thought that would be too suspicious. I mean, who comes from Transylvania? Is that even a real place? I came up with Romania at the last second. Brilliant! Fast as fast can be, you’ll never catch me, Father.

“Romania?” he asked.
“Yes, my friend. I am Row-mah-neeya.”  
“Ah, I see…” said Fr. Stan, as he then, with all pastoral consideration, began speaking friendly to me…in Romanian!

You kidding me?

Up I got. Out I went! Crashed through the door like a bat out of hell or a teenager half a second after the closing blessing at the end of mass.

Outta here! 

“I never thought much about his accent before. But I was now. Was that a Romanian accent? “

Two days later, after altar-boying the Monday morning mass, I was helping the sacristan put some vestments away. Fr. Stan was in the next room of the sacristy, and I could hear him talking to someone. In English. Before the confession debacle on Saturday, I never thought much about his accent. But I was now. Was that a Romanian accent? Russian? Polish? Helsinki? Is Helsinki a real place?

I wondered if Fr. Stan had figured out I was the fake Romanian in the confessional on Saturday. I mean, the guy knew what my voice sounded like. Maybe faking a Bella Lugosi accent wasn’t enough to cover up the tone of my real voice. Maybe he knew all along that it was me, and he was just ribbing me to teach me a lesson. Whatever the case, I could never openly admit that I was disguising my voice to give my confession. Whatever sins I was embarrassed to share with him, they’d pale in comparison to the offense of defrauding the church by disguising my voice in confession. Heck, the priest may already suspect it, but he doesn’t know. 

I asked the sacristan, “Where is Fr. Stan from?” 
“I dunno,” he said. “Somewhere in Europe.” 
I looked around, casing the room a bit, the way you do just before you tell someone a secret or a rude joke. “He’s not from Romania, is he?”
Thinking it over with a furrowed brow, the sacristan said, “I don’t really know.”

I wasn’t about to ask Fr. Stan where he was from. That would be as good as an admission of guilt. I’ll leave it alone. My secret is safe. Then the sacristan raised his voice, sounding like Charlton Heston’s Moses in the movie The Ten Commandments,

“Hey, Father, you’re not from Romania, are you? This young man would really like to know.”

Come on!

Fr. Stan turned and walked over to us, put his hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eyes, smiled, and said

“Yesss, my friend. I am…Row-mah-nee-ya!”

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