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Tony Rossi

Radio Host/Producer

Faith, Attitude, and the Works
January 11, 2015

The United States owes a moral and spiritual debt to the Catholics who first settled in this country. That much is clear if you read my last column about Pat McNamara’s book “New York Catholics: Faith, Attitude, and the Works.” Our religious ancestors did a great deal to help the poor, fight racism, encourage religious tolerance, and welcome the immigrant. But McNamara’s book isn’t just about the past. He also profiles many modern Catholics who are influencing the Church and society today.

I was honored to be featured in the book because McNamara admires the Christopher mission to light a candle rather than curse the darkness, to celebrate what’s good about our culture instead of complaining about what’s bad. It’s about building bridges, which is a quality the author also sees in the Church’s outreach to new immigrants—an outreach he’s seen firsthand.  Both in and around his home parish in Queens, New York, there are large Mexican and Central American populations. And a nearby church holds masses in five different languages: Czech, Vietnamese, Italian, Spanish, and English.

How do so many different ethnic enclaves function under the big tent of Catholicism? During an interview on “Christopher Closeup,” McNamara said, “Remember the word ‘Catholic’ in its original Greek [means] ‘universal.’ While we celebrate the diversity of our Catholics, we also celebrate our unity. And what we have in common is a lot stronger than what keeps us apart.”

The same holds true for the many contemporary figures McNamara profiles. For instance, there’s Sister Tesa Fitzgerald, who founded the program Hour Children which offers help and hope to incarcerated women and their children; Sister Margaret McCabe, who has served as a chaplain to inmates at Rikers Island for 30 years; and Mother Agnes Mary Donovan who founded the Sisters of Life. The one thing all these people have in common beyond their Catholicism is their love of their work. Perhaps one of the best examples of that kind of dedication is Msgr. Gerald Ryan of St. Luke’s Church in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx.

Though he passed away at age 93 shortly before the publication of “New York Catholics,” Msgr. Ryan was a priest who shunned the idea of retirement because he loved his ministry of serving God’s people. McNamara recalled the day he went to interview Msgr. Ryan: “I was sitting in the rectory with a line of people waiting to see him on a Friday morning. I remember talking to the secretary, Madeline, and I said to her, ‘Have you known him long?’ And she said, ‘Oh yes, since we moved into the parish. He’s like my dad.’ And he was like a father figure, a friend, a brother to the people of Mott Haven. Stats show that priests and women religious tend to be very happy people. Research has [also] shown that people who keep themselves going doing meaningful work into their later years of their life, have a happier and fuller, more meaningful existence.”

One final note: though McNamara’s book is called “New York Catholics,” he believes it transcends location: “I think when we celebrate one area, we celebrate all areas. This is not a chauvinistic book. It’s just showing the good that’s being done in one particular place. And you know what? If somebody wanted to write a book ‘Chicago Catholics,’ or ‘San Francisco Catholics,’ they could because there are so many good things going on right under our noses that we don’t always know about, that doesn’t always get publicity.”



For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, SIMPLIFYING YOUR LIFE, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: