RIP Paul Sloan: 1942 -2022
… an Irish seanchaí with a heart of gold
The eyes of the Boy Scouts were wide on the warm summer night in Western Pa., and they reflected the fright that they felt. The words expressed by the young man were ominous, told in an excitable, yet resonant, voice,
Remember what they tell you about the coffins in St. Matthew’s Cemetery being sealed? Don’t believe it. I heard those shrill sounds in my bedroom right below the cemetery, so I snuck out of the house and walked toward that horrible moaning sound that woke me up in the middle of the night.
Then I saw it!
There it was!
I could just barely see this because of the full moon. Right at the top of the hill, I viewed it clearly: This red, bloody hand was coming up out of the ground, and it was reaching toward the heavens — though in reality, from the screaming, it was more likely coming from down below — the place where the devil spent his time.
The eyes of the scouts were reflected because of the blazing fire on this quiet, May evening. This added to the eerie atmosphere of the narrative.
Their mouths of the eight and nine-year-olds were wide open, hanging on every word.
This was a recollection of a master story-teller, one of the best in my life, and he was weaving a yarn that even the Irish would be proud of.
That spinmeister was nicknamed Paulie Sloan, and he never lost that innate Irish story master. I heard him in a different context about 11 years ago, and he had not lost his touch.
Paulie passed away last week, taking all of those yarns with him.
However, in 2010, I ran into Paulie for the first time in decades.
John Paul II Manor
In July of 2010, my brother, Father Jim, was in the late stages of a cancer known as soft-tissue sarcoma. He would no longer serve his parish, so he discovered the confines of a home in Cresson run by an order of Catholic nuns. It was called John Paul Manor, and we were a little antsy as to how he would adapt to that setting.
So, on his first full day there, I completed teaching my college classes and the drove to Cresson. It was just about lunch time, and they said that I could join him in their lunch room.
My brother was decidedly morose — until that lunch. However, after , I realized that he was going to love it there, and the reason was because Paulie Sloan was working there after his retirement to help the nuns with their maintenance duties.
My brother was seated at a table with just two other people when Paulie sat down to eat. By the end of that luncheon, my brother was laughing so hard that he could hardly contain himself.
Splitting a gut, I would say.
Wonderful therapy, free of charge.
Paulie was telling hilarious story after story after story — I realized then that he had never lost that skill that he had exhibited as a young Boy Scout.
However, what I also saw at that time was that the big heart that had always been a part of his persona from the days of the boys scouts had also never left him.
One of the joys of living in the Barkertown and Dutchtown areas of Lilly, Pa. in the 1950s were the woods that surround those cemeteries in the area that would eventually serve as home to Lilly-Washington High School. I remember that Paulie and Tommy Hite and a few others had made a little camp with some unique skills. They had put together some tree houses and other interesting things, and all it cost to enter was a dime.
And Paulie was the master salesman, explaining why all of us little eight-year-olds would want to spend that dime so that we could enjoy what they had built inside.
This area was right behind St. Brigid’s Cemetery, and Paulie was employed there in high school as a grave digger. So, he had credibility and skill when he related those yarns.
Our fabulous biology teacher, Paul Tickerhoof, whose father was the mortician in Lilly, once said, “I never saw anyone who could square off a grave like Paulie Sloan.”
Yes, every grave at that time had to be dug by hand, and that area was often rocky. Still, as a young boy, he demonstrated that work ethic by going out in all kinds of weather and digging those graves.
The Sloan Marine tradition
After graduating from Lilly-Washington in 1960, Paulie followed the tradition of everyone in his family from his father John to all of his brothers and entered the United States Marine Corps. This was during the Vietnam War, and Paul demonstrated his leadership skills by eventually becoming a sergeant.
He later worked in the Maryland/D.C. area as a mechanic and then auto body specialist, finally forming his own business.
I wrote a newspaper story about him after his brother P.J. told me that Paul was being honored by the Washington Archdiocese for his service over the years. I talked with him for that interview via phone, so I did not have a chance to hear any yarns.
Finally, what I saw in the three months that my brother was at JPII Manor was that Paulie’s heart was tremendous, and in that environment, it was essential. He did everything for the people there. When my brother’s suitcases and other materials arrived, Paulie was the one who unloaded them. He did the cleaning and driving and everything else to keep the place running.
That compassion was important for all of the people, and he reflected it so well. He was very active in the Catholic Church, belonging to the K of C and other groups.
So, farewell, Paulie Sloan, that Irish seanchaí [storyteller]who shared so much with so many.
My sympathy to his daughter, Paula, and her family, along with his brothers, P.J. and Bob, and sisters Flo and Judy, along with the extended family.