Diary of a City Priest

“Diary of a City Priest” is a quiet, slow-paced film about a Catholic priest in an inner-city church. More a portrait than a story, it paints a picture of Father John McNamee (David Morse), who has preached sermons and ministered to the poor at St. Malachy’s Church for 24 years and who is very near burnt out.

Father Mac, as they call him, isn’t harried by major catastrophes; it’s the day-to-day things, like the endless parade of street folks who ask him for food, and having to help the repairman fix the church’s furnace, and all the adminstrative work that goes into running a parish. Like George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Father Mac has time and love for everyone else, while he keeps having to push his own desires aside. He is lonely (which he expected when he accepted the call) and sad (which he did not expect).

Buoying him up every now and then are visits from various saints. Their words of encouragement ring a little hollow to him, but it’s a nice thought, anyway.

There is not a major story line in the film; the point is to show us who a character is and watch him discover a little something about himself. David Morse plays the role extremely well, his friendly, weary eyes speaking volumes. Some of his scenes with church workers and parishioners are serene, pleasant and natural. One’s heart goes out to him instantly.

The movie, based on the diaries of the real-life Father Mac, picks up some subjects and puts them down again without really dealing with them. The idea of keeping a diary to help collect your thoughts is mentioned but not developed, and references to a parishioner who died two years earlier just sit there, motionless.

In the end, our journey has not been quite as compelling as Father Mac’s apparently was. But “Diary of a City Priest” is a good-hearted character study nonetheless.

B- (; PG, some very mild profanity.)