Reader's Retrospective: John Garrity

This article appears in the Reader's Retrospective feature series. View the full series.

Editor's note: Introducing NCRonline's blog series "Reader's Retrospective": A special project that commemorates NCR's 50th anniversary by telling the stories of readers who have been faithfully subscribing to the National Catholic Reporter since its beginning. ​Read about the project's origins here.​

John Garrity first encountered the National Catholic Reporter as a Norbertine novice at St. Norbert Abbey in De Pere, Wis. Taking the name "Frater Patrick," he was one of roughly 20 men who entered the ancient religious order in 1965.

The oldest of five children raised in Great Falls and Helena, Mont., Garrity would be shaped, in part, by the interests and choices of his parents, both American-Irish Catholics. His mother was a nurse with an interest in psychiatry, and his father spent several years as a Norbertine brother before joining the Army during World War II. Other important figures in childhood included a favorite teacher, Providence Sr. Grace Sullivan, and Spokane, Wash., Bishop Bernard Topel.

After leaving the monastery in 1966, Garrity enlisted in the Army for the medical field. He was sent to basic training at Fort Polk in Louisiana, where, according to Garrity, "all went to church on Sunday by orders, and the NCR was in a big pile at the doors of the theater where Catholic Mass was held ... some of the only reading material allowed along with the Bible."

Sent to a MASH-like medical company in the 25th Infantry Division northwest of Saigon, Vietnam, Garrity served as a psychiatric specialist whose duties also involved driving ambulances, and running litters of injured and dead to and from medevac helicopters. Working under frequent rocket and mortar attacks among heavy American casualties, Garrity recalled occasions when severely wounded soldiers in triage were "piled on dead or dying soldiers ... [and left unattended] in the hope that others could be saved."

Moving in 1969 to Missoula, Mont. (where he still lives with his wife, Jean Thorstenson), Garrity earned degrees in sociology and Christian ethics from the University of Montana and the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, Calif., respectively. A self-described "American-Irish Catholic [albeit non-institutional] Unitarian Universalist non-theistic humanist" who regularly attends a United Church of Christ church and continues to look to NCR as his "moral compass," Garrity maintains that he did not leave the Catholic church, but, instead, found it necessary to move beyond an institution "that couldn't keep up with the moral complexity of my world."

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