I believe that God speaks through His little ones. When I was a would-be porn actor, I got to meet the masculine movie-star hero of my childhood dreams, but he turned out to be far shorter than I imagined; the man I regarded as larger-than-life, was just a man. During my first encounter with Fr. John Harvey, I thought to myself, “That’s him?” He was extremely aged, small framed, and incredibly thin. I first saw him sitting at a kitchen table quietly eating his meager supper. A local priest, who was also in charge of the San Francisco chapter of Courage, invited some of the members to his rectory in order to meet Fr. Harvey. Later, I learned that Fr. Harvey had just flown to California from the Far East where he was attempting to open other Courage apostolates. His flight was laid-over in San Francisco for the night. He would fly back home to New York City the next morning. You never would have known this at the time. When he got up from the table, he met all of us in the parlor where we waited anxiously for him to finish his meal. We converged in a large circle and there was a single empty chair waiting for Father. When he sat down, about two spots away from me, there was a different person in front of us. The old man hunched over his food was now sitting alert and attentive, the wrinkles on his face filled out, and his skin took on a pure white translucent color.
He smiled at all of us and then the love began to pour out from this diminutive priest to a room filled with overly-experienced and world-weary homosexuals. It was late and most of us had worked that day, but we all wanted to be with him and he wanted to be with us. From this insignificant and tiny mortal soul, we drew spiritual power. He was not handsome or muscular, but he was mighty. Like his Gaelic-Irish surname, he reminded me of the Irish monks protecting the depositories of Catholic truth against the marauding Vikings. He was fearless. The Holy Spirit filled the room. He said little. Each man took their turn asking Father a question. His answers were brief, but concise. This simple brevity repetitively appeared wherever I found the Truth of Christ. The Words of Jesus are simple, and he speaks through simple people. Over the years, we corresponded through the mail. His letters were fatherly in their sort of masculine consistency – I never found him to be chatty, but he always included some words of encouragement. He was a good listener. And, he genuinely cared about you as an individual. Confidence and strength accompanied by compassion, falling out of the hell I just barely survived – that was what I needed. Yet, God bestowed this Grace upon me through the unlikeliest of messengers. Since I was a boy, I always thought a big strapping man would save me; I looked for him in every porn theater, gay bar and bathhouse in the Castro…and I never found him. That night, we all would have spent hours with him, but the other priest ended the visit for the sake of Father who deserved some rest after his strenuous travels. Just like the Good Shepherd, Father had walked through the world seeking the lost. But unlike Jesus in Heaven, he was still subject to the frailty of our human condition. Once he stood to leave, we momentarily huddled about him. For a time, his work was done here. The willful lambs were back in the fold.
The last time I would see Fr. Harvey was a few years later at a special day of recollection organized by the Philadelphia chapter of Courage. His presentation took place in the basement of a church in a somewhat seedy part of the city. Those who truly answer the commands of Our Lord are not enthroned in grand halls. But toil like St. Joseph, in the humblest corners of anonymity. When I entered the bunker-like room, that was built partially below ground, the lack of attendance surprised me. When Father walked in, he appeared weaker than the last time we met. Although he had good reason to interject his own work, hardships, and sufferings into the conversation, his focus always remained on all of us who looked towards him for strength and guidance. His love was truly Christ-centered, as it was a completely self-giving affection that looked for nothing in return. Albeit I never had this discussion with Father, I always got the feeling that this ministry would not have been his chosen charism. But the Lord gave him a job, and just as our Glorious Joseph, he silently put his head down and went to work in the service of Jesus Christ and His Church. Looking back, his attention to the truth is remarkable, particularly during the 1970s and 80s, he meticulously refuted every false supposition put forth by “gay” Catholic dissidents from Fr. Charles Curran to John J. McNeill, S.J. He understood the fundamental importance of the truth, because without it, those who were most vulnerable would slip back into the brutal darkness of confusion. When I heard that Father died, I thought, Oh God, please welcome our dear little priest. Then I smiled a little, “Farewell and thank you to the unlikely patron Saint of homosexuals.”