Peter was getting more and more agitated. He was desperate to speak. But, you couldn’t contradict a priest; especially not a parish priest! Peter lowered his head and took a few deep breaths.
“Here! Have you been listening to a single word I’ve been saying?” Father Kerr’s eyes seemed to bore straight through him.
Mr. O’Brien was surprised by the way the priest reacted.
"Me, Father?” Peter tried to keep the fear out of his voice. He grabbed hold of the desk seat with both hands, pressing down, trying to control his shaking.
“Yes, you boy! What’s your name, again?”
“Peter! And were you not given a surname?”
Mr. O’Brien smiled reassuringly at Peter; mouthing THOMSON.
Peter was relieved that Mr. O’Brien was on his side and he grew more confident. He knew what surname meant.
Mr. O’Brien picked up on the distaste in Father Kerr’s voice. God forgive me, but I can’t abide that man! Respect the priest that he is, but I have no time for the man that he is!
"And were you listening to a single word I said, Thomson?”
“You said, Father, that if a baby was not baptized that it would go to Limbo.”
Father Kerr was surprised. The boy, in spite of being the offspring of that Archie Thomson, was well spoken enough.
“And do you have anything to say on the matter?”
Peter decided that he had. If he got the belt for it then it was a price he was prepared to pay.
“I don’t believe it, Father!” There, he said it. His face was red and he knew that every set of eyes in the room were boring into him. He waited for the wrath that was about to descend on him.
Mr. O’Brien was delighted. Good for him!
“You don’t believe it!” Father Kerr was almost apoplectic.
Mr. O’Brien had given Father Kerr enough slack and was determined to protect his pupil.
“I would be most interested in hearing why not, Peter; if that’s okay with you, Father?” Mr. O’Brien sat on a desk just in front of Peter, partially screening him from the priest.
“Because it’s so unfair!”
“Unfair?!” Father Kerr was not pleased.
Before Father Kerr could say anything else Mr. O’Brien spoke. No way is that man going to pick on an innocent wean!
“Interesting! Well, class, would you like to hear what Peter has to say?”
“Yes, Mr. O’Brien,” the children chorused. Most of them now realised that something momentous was happening; and one or two had picked up on that Mr. O’Brien was backing Peter against the priest!
Father Kerr was furious but knew that he had better back off. Mr. O’Brien was not the type you messed with. He was a war hero, with a list of decorations as long as your arm and was absolutely dedicated to his pupils. Father Kerr knew that he had now thrown a protective cordon around Peter Thomson and that he had best keep his powder dry.
Mr. O’Brien smiled reassuringly and nodded to Peter to continue.
“If God is good… and we know that he is… then he wouldn’t pick on an innocent little baby!” Peter relaxed. The class was spellbound and he was actually enjoying having the platform.
“My Uncle Peter died when he was an infant. And my granny said that if the nurse hadn’t baptized him just before he died, he’d have gone to Limbo!”
Mr. O’Brien nodded his encouragement.
“But… I was thinking… I was thinking… why shouldn’t little babies… who haven’t done anything to anybody… why shouldn’t they go straight to heaven?”
“Well, Peter, you have certainly given us all something to think about. Mr O’Brien stood and clapped his hands, encouraging the class, but no encouragement was needed. David and Chris were standing and the rest of the class followed them.
“We learned a very valuable lesson from Peter today,” Mr. O’Brien said once Father Kerr had left. He knew that the priest had been furious. However, Mr. O’Brien also knew that Father Kerr was wrong. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing!
“Peter taught us not to be afraid to say what you think. Have the courage of your convictions and defend them… at all costs!”
Note: the names of some of the people in the story have been changed.