Death Defying Father Mike tells Hell Rider stories

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“You must not fear death, my lads; defy him, and you drive him into the enemy’s ranks.”
Napoleon Bonaparte

I’ve heard that scholars believe when Shakespeare wrote “All the world’s a stage” and “one man in his time plays many parts,” it may have already have been a well known saying.

That is because people already noticed life’s stages and that not a single role defined a whole life.

Father Michael Juran’s stage is full of characters and so many are him.

You might know him as the Human Battering Ram, the Flying Padre, stunt man in “Man with the Golden Arm,” Burt Reynolds stunt double in Smokey and the Bandit II and Father Mike.

I met Father Mike in the main bar at the headquarters of the International Independent Showmen’s Association in Gibsonton, Florida.

Bellied up to the bar, having a white wine with pals, he took time out to talk to me about his many roles in life.

Freak Show owner Chris Christ, left, and Father Michael Juran talk at the IISA Trade Show last month.

His life, he says, is part of a “traveling apostolate,” a mission sanctioned by the pope for itinerant workers.

When asked why he was both a priest and a stuntman in circuses and carnivals, he hints there may have been some “pompous asses” who didn’t understand.

“We have this Argentinian, (Pope) Francis, who says remember what Jesus did,” Father Mike said. “He’s popping the bubble of the pompous asses.”

At 65 years old, he’s retired but he’s been a priest for 40 years and a stuntman for 27 years.

He performed the “Human Battering Ram,” in which he is strapped to the front of a car as it crashed threw a burning wall.

He drove his car on two wheels at state fairs and racetracks. He flew over a bridge in the 1974 James Bond film, “The Man with the Golden Gun.” He drove stunts for Burt Reynolds in the 1980 movie “Smokey and the Bandit II.”

He slept in the trailer for Joie Chitwell Thrill Shows and performed priestly duties in his off hours. He heard confessions, performed baptisms “without the paperwork,” and performed carny weddings.

“Jesus didn’t do paperwork,” he’s fond of saying.

In a carny wedding, couples get on a carousel. Words are spoken. Blessings made. The carousel turns three times to symbolize the union.

When the end of the season comes or the end of the relationship, whichever comes first, the couple gets on the carousel which turns three backward three times signifying the carny divorce.

“None of its official,” Father Mike said, and probably all might get him in trouble in some church sectors.

Father Mike had their trust, he said, because he walked among them.

“They’d say, he’s one of us, he’s a performer too,” he said. “I’d say God loves you. I’m just like you.”

Confessions happened behind rides, walking along the midway, anyplace, he said.

“They’d say I want to talk about God’s forgiveness,” he said. ”

It was barroom banter and couldn’t last long as carnival workers came from every corner to shake his hand and share a story.

Father Mike has more stories to tell. A television company is making a documentary about priests that serve the itinerant people at carnivals, circuses, racetracks, rodeos, cruise lines and airports.

Christianity is a religion where the Messiah came from the common people and so it stresses that it is with the common people where the divine is to be found. It is also a death defying religion, one where the Messiah defies death and says followers can too.

Father Mike drove a fast car down those tracks and defied death, hell bent and heaven sent.

Last month I finished a year in carnivals, hitchhiking between shows. I crossed 36 states, Canada and Mexico on my way to racking up 20,000 miles on the road. Many stories were not written as they happened and are now being written as I write a book about the year.

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