About the Author
Gregory Alexander was born in New Orleans. Except for a brief few years in his early childhood when his father was stationed in San Diego with the Coast Guard, he has lived there all his life. When his family returned to New Orleans, they lived for a while with Greg’s maternal grandmother, Josephine Quaglino Foley, in half of a double off of Magazine Street in the Irish Channel, near the shop where his grandmother cut hair. The Channel is featured prominently in The Holy Mark as the site of “The Den,” the boarding house for needy high school boys.
The Den, the boardinghouse for poor high school boys where Father Tony spent eight of the happiest years of his priesthood, would have been located on a street like this in the blue collar “Irish Channel” section of New Orleans:
“The Channel before the war had been somewhat of New Orleans’ answer to Harlem but on a smaller scale—proud, working class, and ethnic. The name is somewhat of a misnomer: Even in its heyday, there were as many poor Italians who called it home as there were Irish. “
Greg’s grandmother was the third of six daughters. Her mother, Josephine Fazzio Quaglino, was the model for Mama Miggliore in the novel. As a child, Greg recalls many visits to his great-grandmother, who died at age 91, still unable to speak English.
After a year in the Irish Channel, Greg’s family moved to suburban Jefferson Parish, where Greg and his sister attended a Catholic grammar school staffed by Theresians, an order of Spanish nuns. Greg is grateful to the Thersian Sisters for the excellent education he received at their hands. Though they were obviously the models for the fictional “Theresitans” in Greg’s novel, the “Holy Gates” section is purely fictional. Besides, as Greg has pointed out, Theresa of Jesus was already a saint!
The grade school Greg attended near New Orleans was the physical model for the fictional Holy Gates, the newly ordained Father Tony’s first assignment:
“I’ll never forget the first time I saw Holy Gates Elementary. I thought it was a carpet warehouse or some sort of military storage facility. Only later did I realize that all of the schools built by the Church during that era looked like this. . . .Structurally I would compare them to a marine barracks with all the architectural panache of a terrarium.”
After attending a Catholic high school for boys, Greg entered the University of New Orleans and eventually earned an undergraduate degree in Psychology and a Masters in English with a concentration on American Literature. He taught for twelve years, predominantly at Cabrini and Jesuit, two prominent New Orleans Catholic high schools. At Cabrini, Greg worked with the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, who make a cameo appearance early in Chapter 7 of the novel.
While teaching, Greg began writing short fiction and submitting his stories to literary magazines across the country. After 168 rejections (“Yes, I counted them,” Greg laughs today), his first acceptance came for “The First Lady Barber in New Orleans,” a fine sketch of Greg’s grandmother Josephine, who was actually the second lady barber in the city. (Family lore claims that her cousin was the first!) The story appeared in the fall 1995 issue of ELM (Eureka Literary Magazine), Ronald Reagan’s alma mater in Illinois.
Over a dozen publications followed over the next decade, including “The Holy Mark,” the 6500-word genesis of Greg’s novel. The story was published in the Lullwater Review at Emory University in Atlanta. After seeing the story published, Greg determined to expand it into a full-length novel. After a year of research and two years of writing, the first draft of The Holy Mark was complete.
Greg left teaching behind in 1998 to take a training job in local government Human Resources. He is now a certified Human Resource Professional. In 2011 he and a good friend, the poet and flamenco artist/choreographer Charlene Roger, made their first trip to Rome, where Greg was able to see many of the sights that Father Tony was denied in the novel!