Father Michael Sequiera never thought he would write a book. Nor did he think he would do appearances to publicize it, autograph copies or talk to reporters about being an author.Now, he has done all that. The reason: his recently published book, Stories of An Outstanding Cat.
The book is the tale of Father Michael’s adventures with a stray cat that he first saw in the parking lot of St. Mary’s Church in Clinton in late August l999. Father Michael served as priest at St. Mary’s for more than 25 years. He has also conducted services at a number of other shoreline churches, among them Essex, Old Saybrook, Westbrook, and Madison.
At first Father Michael brought food to the cat outside. After several days, the animal followed him to the house. Father Michael hadn’t planned on a pet. He already had an extremely full schedule, saying mass every week not only in English but also in Spanish and Portuguese for his multi-lingual congregation.
Still, after the cat’s arrival, he found a theological principle to welcome the stray feline. Pope John Paul II had proclaimed the year 2,000 as the Great Jubilee Year, a time of reconciliation and forgiveness. Under those circumstances, Father Michael thought he could welcome the cat inside for one night. He named his new companion Roman Catholic.
Roman Catholic quickly signaled that he had no plans to leave, however. That first night, Father Michael felt wetness of his cheek and something touching his face. He thought it might be a snake. He turned on the light. The snake was Roman Catholic’s paw; the moisture was the cat licking his cheek. In rapid order, the priest and the pet became a team. Father Michael often illustrated his homilies with stories about Roman Catholic.
Even Father Michael’s retirement five years ago could not separate them. Roman Catholic came with him to the mobile home park where he had purchased a unit. After a month, he learned that pets were not allowed outside, just indoors, and Roman Catholic was a confirmed outdoor cat.
“That was in the fine print,” he says.
Father Michael did what he had to. He sold his mobile home, taking at a loss on his investment, and moved into an apartment where Roman Catholic could have free range of the surrounding grounds.
And so it went until 2015. Father Michael had just returned from a week in Guatemala to brush up his Spanish, when he heard Roman Catholic crying. His landlady, who had looked after the cat in his absence, said Roman Catholic had cried for a week and was clearly ill and in great pain. The veterinarian confirmed the diagnosis. The cat had a big mass pressing on his internal organs.
Roman Catholic died that night. Essex resident Maryanne Watson, who was one of the cat’s caregivers and has helped Father Michael with the editing and publicity of his book, has an explanation for the timing of the Roman Catholic’s passing.
“He really just waited for Father Michael to get home,” she explains.
Father Michael grieved the loss.
“For three months after his death, sometimes I would look up and I would almost see him,” he says.
The priest decided to collect some of the stories he had written about Roman Catholic as a Christmas present for a few friends who knew and loved the cat. They urged him to expand his reminiscences into a book. Somewhat to his own surprise, Father Michael did.
He contacted Michael Vogel, a publisher in Madison, about how much it would cost to print 2,000 copies of his volume. Vogel was skeptical. He suggested a print run of 250 to 500, estimating those numbers represented a realistic assessment of how many books would sell.
Father Michael, however, had different ideas He ordered a print run of 2,000. Dianne Coyle did illustrations for the book. Vogel’s wife Beth took care of social media, creating a web page and a Facebook site for the book. With all expenses, the project so far has cost Father Michael some $17,000.
The books are selling for $15.95, tax included—and they are indeed selling, some 1,200 books in two months’ time. Often the purchasers are return customers who want additional copies to give to friends. Father Michael said he just sold a book to a man who had already bought seven of them.
Father Michael asked pastors of the churches where he once said Mass if he could sell the book in their houses of worship.
“I was hesitant about doing it, but almost all the priests have allowed me,” he says.
Father Michael and Watson are aiming for more sales at Christmas fairs in churches at the holiday season. Watson has even suggested an additional print run of 1,000 books.
Once Father Michael has covered expenses, the remainder will not be profit in the bank. He will spend the money, as he spends his extra funds at the moment: buying food for those in need.
This would be an unexpected story for any first-time author, but all the more so for one who had started life as the son of an impoverished rice farmer in the southern Indian state of Kamataka. Father Michael went to a Roman Catholic high school and there decided upon a career in the priesthood. He completed seminary in India and then went to study for a year in Rome. Later in his career, he also spent a year studying at Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.
Father Michael served in Jamaica for 13 years before coming to St. Mary’s in Clinton. During his tenure, he led several pastoral missions, more than 200 people in all, to Cuzco, Peru. Now retired, he regularly serves as a substitute pastor in local churches along the shoreline as well as in Hamden.
There is also a new cat—Francis. Father Michael first heard him crying in a tree. He wouldn’t come down for more than a week. The Clinton Fire Department, willing to help, couldn’t get its truck close enough to bring the cat down. Finally Father Michael hired a professional tree climber for the rescue.
A new cat, yes, but a new book about Francis the cat, no. Father Michael still can’t believe the reception of his first volume.
“It was so much work,” he says, “and I never imagined it would turn into all this.”
To order copies of Stories of an Outstanding Cat, visit outstandingcat.com.