By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T
It is in the nature of ministry. Priests, through the performance of their daily work, can profoundly influence lives, sometimes without even realizing it.
Take the case of Father Andrew Francis Klarmann. It was around 1928 in the Brooklyn Diocese. He visited an immigrant Italian Catholic couple struggling to raise 10 children with little money. Unaware of denominational differences in the United States, the mother had been attending a local Episcopal Church.
Father Klarmann introduced them to the local parish, and became a staunch friend of the family. Their little boy, Tony, especially loved him and wanted to be just like him. With Father Klarmann’s assistance, he attended the parish school, Catholic high schoo and ultimately the seminary.
His subsequent career was quite different than that of his mentor. He rose to become monsignor, bishop, archbishop and cardinal. Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua proudly tells the story of Father Klarmann, now deceased, who could not possibly have realized what he was setting in motion when he knocked on the door of the Bevilacqua family so many years ago.
Jesuit Father Edward Brady, a Louisiana native who died in Nairobi, Kenya in 2007, really lives on through the work of students he mentored at St. Joseph’s University in the 1970s. He ran the Faith and Justice Institute and “he helped me make the connection between Eucharist and feeding the poor,” said Anne Healy Ayella, who is an assistant director at archdiocesan Nutritional Development Services. “He mentored Sister Mary Scullion (cofounder of Project H.O.M.E.) and Maureen McCullough (director Catholic Relief Services, Northeast Regional Office) and I. The list goes on, almost everybody he mentored has stayed with the work,” Ayella said.
There is perhaps no sorrow more profound than the loss of a child, no matter the age. In 1990, Anita Galen of St. Leo Parish lost her youngest child, Billy, an adult son, under tragic circumstances. She was inconsolable. Her husband, Mike (since deceased) also grieved, but he internalized his pain. “My husband was a wonderful man but he couldn’t talk about it. He couldn’t express our grief,” she remembers.
The only person who could comfort her was Father John Lyons (now administrator of Queen of Peace Parish, Ardsley). He didn’t offer platitudes, or try to explain it away, he was there for her whenever she called.
“Father Lyons was just so compassionate. He just mostly listened to me and was comforting. I remember calling as early as 7 a.m. I don’t think I would be here myself if it weren’t for him,” Galen said.
The permanent church on Lehigh Avenue for St. Cecilia Parish wasn’t yet built in the mid-1870s. It was the middle of the night and Father Thomas Barry was asleep in his rectory when he was awakened by the persistent ringing of the bell. At his door were two young, very poorly dressed children who informed him a man was dying at nearby Episcopal Hospital and needed a priest. Father Barry hurriedly dressed, gathered the Eucharist and necessary items and went to the hospital. The surprised attendants told him there was a dying man, but no one at the hospital had sent for a priest. Father Barry hastened to the man, gave him the comfort of what was then known as Extreme Unction, and he died peacefully.
With no other explanation, Father Barry was convinced he had been summoned by celestial messengers, and in honor of this, the new church was placed under the patronage of Our Lady of the Visitation, not St. Cecilia. Maybe it should have been called St. Thomas in honor of Father Barry’s patron. After all, celestial messengers presumably need no rest; priests do. Because Father Barry gave up his sleep, a dying man was comforted and perhaps helped into heaven.
But as all of the above priests would say, “it’s all in a day’s (or a night’s) work.”
Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.