Heard on Another View: The Story Of An Unlikely Love Affair Between A Black Priest And White Nun
- Written by Sam Turken
- Category: Featured - Radio
- Published: 19 June 2020
William Grau was a black Catholic priest. Sophie Legocki was a white Polish-American nun.
In the segregated 1950s, they defied the Catholic Church by striking up a passionate secret love affair that lasted nearly a decade. They produced one birth son, Joe Steele.
'Forbidden Love' by Lisa Jones Gentry recounts their relationship and how they met.
Jones Gentry and Steele appeared on WHRV’s Another View Thursday. They told host Barbara Ham Lee more about Grau and Legocki and their unlikely relationship at the time.
You can listen to the interview here:
Barbara Hamm Lee: So Lisa, how did this love story start?
Lisa Jones Gentry: So the love story sarted really very, very soon after Father Grau arrived at this little teeny tiny parish in Lackawanna, New York. His real desire from the time that he was actually in the Vatican and had met some African-Americans in Paris, when he was there on a brief trip was to be in Harlem because he felt like that was the Mecca. That's where he can make a contribution. But unfortunately, there were no openings at the time. So the only opening was at this tiny parish in Lackawanna, New York. And shortly after he got there, he happened to just be walking one early morning on his, you know, probably early morning constitutional. And he noticed this nun, Sister Sophie, who was shoveling snow. And so it was about six a.m. in the morning. He's like, 'Wow, that's a lot of that's a lot of work for one person.'
And as the youngest nun, she was thirty-seven at the time. It was her job to shovel the path every morning so that the older sisters wouldn't slip and fall on the way to Mass. So she was busy out there in the cold and the snow doing her job and he's like, 'You know, what can I help in?' She had noticed him because he had given one sermon. And she was curious, as I mean, you know, the African-American priest. You didn't see them too much, but they'd never had any conversation. And so she said yes. And so what happened was through the winter, they ended up shoveling snow together every day. And so they became very close. And that opportunity for them to be alone, which frankly, they probably would not have had, because I don't know how much alone time a priest and a nun would normally have in the course of their day. But because they had this time every single morning for the whole winter. And if you know Buffalo, that's a long time. It's not like a California winter. So they had this time to get to know each other as people, not just as he's the priest and she's a nun, but as she's Sophie and he's Billy.
And so it was after that that I think that the curiosity started becoming aroused. And at that point, they both realized there was something going on, and then it just sort of moved from there.
BHL: So I think they dated for two years secretly, obviously, before she got pregnant.
LJG: So what happened is once they both kind of acknowledged that there was something going on and she was, as luck would have it, she was planning to go to Buffalo to visit her father, who was sick. Lackawanna is just outside of Buffalo, and he offered to give her a ride. And it was on that trip that they actually had their first kiss. And he suggested that they then meet on Tuesdays and they would go to Canada. So they would drive to Niagara Falls — the Canadian side.
And that's significant because in Canada at that time, it was much more liberal. They could go to a motel together, which they did. They could go out to restaurants. They could actually have a life together as a couple, which they really couldn't do because remember in 1955, when the relationship started, a mixed marriage was against the law in many states. So they could actually have gone to jail, as some couples had, for having their relationship even beyond the priest and nun thing. So he would pick her up on Tuesdays in Buffalo. She was helping with her father so she'd go back and forth between the convent and her parents home. He'd pick her up in the, quote, colored section of town, because it would be less obvious than if a black man is in the white section of town. And then they would drive to Niagara Falls and they had, you know, a very much normal kind of relationship. They would go out to dinner. They would go places. They would laugh. They would make love, obviously. And two years later, she ends up pregnant. And she was shocked. He was shocked. But, you know, they were able to get through that period. And Joe was born in Cincinnati and he was adopted by an incredible family, which we talk about in the book.
But at that point, sort of what happened. And he decides, well, 'I can't live without you.' She decides, 'I can't live without you.' He had gotten a promotion and was now the head parish priest, and he had the opportunity to have a live-in housekeeper. So he asked her if she would come live with him as his housekeeper. And so she did. And they lived together essentially as husband and wife until he died in 1964.