The Story Behind the Story
Dreams Deferred is inspired by the true story of my great-grandfather and great-grandmother. Father Frances Matthew Halbedl grew up in the European Austrian Empire and followed the tradition in which the oldest son became a priest in his family’s Catholic faith. After being ordained in Moravia, he immigrated to the United States in 1866 to serve in a parish in the state of Louisiana.
My aunt and mother always told the story of how one Sunday while saying mass, Father Matthew spotted a young teen, much younger than my heroine, Mary Louise. He waited several years for her to grow up then stepped down from the priesthood to marry her. I wish I knew some of those rich details of their courtship, but since I don’t, I fictionalized their romance.
They later moved to San Antonio, Texas and had five children, three girls and two boys—Ida, Mamie, Alice, Roy, and Clifton, who was my grandfather.
Mathew taught music both in the public school and privately. Later he became the first principal of a high school in San Antonio.
I’ve always wanted to write a book inspired by Mary Louise and Matthew’s story. I finally saw the opportunity when my editor gave a callout for contemporary romances where a pastor falls in love. I asked her what she thought about a Catholic priest falling in love. I’m sure she must’ve scratched her head, but when I told her it was based on a true story, she liked the idea.
Though I set the story in contemporary times, I used elements from the real story. My Matthew went into the priesthood at the urging of his father. He had a great love of music and wound up in San Antonio, Texas after he married Mary Louise. Father Matthew falls in love with Mary Louise from almost the first moment he sees her in mass one Sunday morning. All of these things are based on Matthew’s real-life story.
I fictionalized most of the rest of the story, basically because I don’t know many details of Matthew and Mary Louise’s lives. If I’ve learned anything from writing this book, I wish I’d probed for more information when my mother and aunt were still alive, but I’m grateful for what I do know.
As I got into the book, I realized that this is probably the most romantic story I’ve written. Mary Louise and Matt fall in love, but even a casual kiss is taboo. When they finally do sneak a kiss in the garden at the church grounds, they take the risk of being discovered, yet their love for each other spurs them on.
I believe Dreams Deferred is a story both Catholics and Protestants will enjoy. It was likely my most favorite to write.