WILMINGTON, N.C. -- St. Mary is a majestic, historic parish church, on its 100th anniversary designated a basilica, and for this funeral Mass on a weekday in late June, every pew was filled. Mourners stood in the aisles, at the rear, spilling over into the vestibule. A beloved pastor, a saintly nun, a community leader -- who had commanded this outpouring of respect, the largest funeral Mass at St. Mary that even the oldest parishioners among us could remember?
No, it was Clifton.
In parish life that many of us knew, Clifton Lively would have been called the janitor; custodian might have been a more dignified title. In Catholic folklore the custodian was a shadowy figure, never to be found when you needed him, a set of keys jangling at his belt, wearing dingy trousers, his breath with the sour smell of last night's beverage, or sweeter, after a needed quick nip throughout the working day.