NAME: Marion Gural OCCUPATION: Roman Catholic priest, Greater New York INCOME: $5,200 a year, plus room and board at the parish rectory PLEASURES: His work COMPLAINT: Replacement costs for his aging car, threadbare overcoat OUTLOOK: Personally upbeat, but worried about parishioners
The Rev. Marion Gural will be sending out fewer Christmas cards this year. At 15 cents a stamp and around 20 cents a card, Christmas greetings have become one of Gural's sacrifices to inflation.
Gural, 50, is an assistant pastor in Maspet, Queens, one of the Pockets of Small-town life that lie off (and sometimes under) New York's expressways. It is dotted with Roman Catholic churches, each of them the center of a group of hyphenated Americans. Gural's flock at Holy Cross is Polish-American. The Italians and the Lithuanians are down the block and around the corner.
"I find it hard," the priest says when he talks about making ends meet. He earns about $100 a week and gets his room and board free at the rectory.
Gural's 1969 car is wearing out and he wonders how he will replace it. "What do I do? Buy a scooter?" The soft-spoken priest asks.
The car can wait, but Gural needs a new overcoat now. About 15 years ago, he says, he bought a long, heavy model made from pea-jacket material for under $100. He speaks of it with affection -- and he wants another one just like it. Recently, he called the manufacturer and learned that the same coat costs $225 this year.
"So now I agonize over whether to buy a coat," he says with a chuckle in his office at the rectory.
Inflation has forced Gural to adopt a new clothing strategy. He owns three suits, but he isn't buying suits any longer. Instead, he says, "I buy black jackets and pants and make up a combination. It's cheaper."
Gural says he and other priests wait for the sales at Wallachs to buy their clothes. Then he can get a black jacket for between $50 and $60 and knit slacks for about $15.
His cassocks are ready-to-wear at about $75 each. A tailor-made cassock would cost about $175. The black shirts he wears with his Roman collar are about $10. "You can't just pick up a shirt for $5 if you're a priest," he says.
Gural is acutely aware that no matter what happens to the economy, he need not worry about food or shelter. The parish and the archdiocese will always come through.
"Sometimes I wonder how people earning $10,000 or $15,000 with four kids manage," he says. But Gural reports that his parishioners haven't been crushed by inflation. He says, "They feel they can handle it. People are concerned, but not despondent."
The church collection is holding steady and there has been no increase in the number of people unable to pay tuition at the church school, the priest says.
Just the same, Maspeth is hurting.
"People have always held second and even third jobs here," Gural says. "Maybe in the past the second job was for a luxury -- a vacation or a big color TV -- but now its more needed for normal expenses."
Reductions in spending are common, and so is worry over the cost of heating oil.
He has not noticed any deterioration of his parish's modest but cherished homes, the priest says. People are still putting whatever is needed into their upkeep.
There is a lot of talk about inflation in Maspeth, but people aren't sure if there are any villians, and few can think of solutions.
"What people are saying is pretty much what they hear on TV," Gural says.
He is skeptical about TV news and what he reads about inflation in the newspapers. He says, "A reliable source in the Vatican . . . is a big joke around here." And he adds: "I'd like to believe what I read."
"They are people who value a dollar," the priest says.
But for a small number of recent immigrants, life is too fast and too hard here and they go back to Poland, where the state will prop them up.
"Here you have to make the dollar to enjoy life," Gural says. "There all you have to do is keep breathing."