Charles Mercier

Charles Mercier

Charles Mercier writes from Connecticut.

Articles by Charles Mercier

From Amenemope to St. Augustine - reflections for Holy Week

Apr 12, 2017 / 00:00 am

“As Christ laid down his life for us, so we too ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” The Office of Readings for Wednesday of Holy Week (April 12 this year) has us meditate on 1 John 3.16, as commented on by St. Augustine in his Tractates on John.  To this verse Augustine imaginatively applies Proverbs 23.1-2, as he knew it: “If you sit down to eat at the table of a ruler, observe carefully what is set before you; then stretch out your hand, knowing that you must provide the same kind of meal yourself.” If at the Lord’s Eucharistic table we receive as food the body and blood of him who laid down his life for us, we must reciprocate the dinner invitation and lay down our lives in return. The text of Proverbs that Augustine cites here, however, is different from what we read in our Bibles, including the Vulgate. To work through why that is so teaches us something about how deeply God has implicated himself with the realities of the human condition, not only in his suffering and dying but also in the revealing of his Word.        The story of these verses of Proverbs begins with the Egyptian wisdom writer Amenemope, who sometime in the period 1300-1000 BC wrote a book of Instruction, in which he says: Do not eat bread before a ruler  and lunge not with your mouth before a governor.  If you satisfy yourself with false chewings, they are a delight only to your spittle.  Look at the cup that is before you  and let that alone serve your needs. (chapter 23, translation Pritchard, changed) The teacher here recommends diplomatic and polite behavior at a banquet: eat cautiously what’s on your plate, not on someone else’s, and be content with what you’re served. But in this he also finds wider moral application: be at peace, untempted by luxuries above your station. The sacred author of the Biblical book of Proverbs in an inspired way adapted the Instruction of Amenemope for his Jewish audience, particularly in a stretch in chapters 22-24, something we have been able to know and consider only since the first publication of Amenemope in 1923. The Hebrew original of Proverbs 23.1-3, as represented by the translation of the Jewish Publication Society, goes: 1 When you sit down to eat with a ruler, consider well who is before you. 2 Thrust a knife into your gullet, if you have a large appetite. 3 Do not crave for his dainties. for they are counterfeit food. Proverbs here counsels us stick a knife in our throat before giving in to the gluttony that deceives, the appetites that cause us to overvalue the luxuries that the powerful enjoy. The wise do not envy sinners, but live rather in the fear of the Lord. Onward from the third century BC the Hebrew Scripture was turned into Greek for dispersed Jewish readers. A close translation of the Greek, Septuagint, version of Proverbs 23.1-3 goes: 1 If ever you sit to dine at the table of rulers, consider well the things placed before you 2 And cast your hand knowing that you must prepare such things. 3 And if you are insatiable, do not desire his food for these are held of a false life. The Septuagint translation of the Hebrew into Greek often diverges from literal accuracy. This is sometimes due to the translator’s lack of sufficient knowledge of language and style and sometimes the result of the translator’s feeling it responsible and proper to make creative adaptations necessary to convey the Hebrew original intelligibly to those of Greek language and culture. Here, perhaps for both reasons, the translator has not conveyed with perfect accuracy the meaning of the Hebrew original. Difficulty with verse two is understandable. It begins, “Thrust a sakin belo‘ekha.” Both sakin (‘knife,’ mistranslated as kheira, ‘hand’) and belo‘ekha (‘into your gullet,’ simply omitted) are rare words, occurring only here in the Old Testament, and together make an unusual metaphor: “thrust a knife in your gullet” means “decidedly restrain yourself from gluttony.” “Knowing that you must prepare such things” is an addition to the original.  In this way does the Septuagint both spare the Greek reader an unpleasantly blunt metaphor and emphasize, appropriately to a Greek culture in which hospitality and reciprocity were important social norms, the dangers of getting in over your head when accepting a dinner invitation too expensive, both monetarily and morally, to reciprocate, even if the food is tasty and the company glamorous. This is the version that Augustine knew around 400 AD and quoted, in a literal translation of the Greek Septuagint into Latin, verse two of which goes: “et sic pone manum tuam sciens quia talia te oportet praeparare.” (“and so place your hand, knowing that you must prepare such things.”). The regularized Vulgate would have a version closer to the original Hebrew, but that was not the text that Augustine used here. Augustine then allegorizes the text he received. Allegorical interpretation is, most broadly, to read something in a way other than literally and it was a mode of interpretation characteristic of his time. The original warning in Greek Proverbs had meant literally something like: “don’t involve yourself in the allurements of the king’s bread and banquet. They are a “counterfeit food,” (“panis mendacii” in the Vulgate), “of a false life,” because you will be ruined, indebted for reciprocity to the falsehoods of wealth and power.” Augustine here takes that out of context, creatively sets it next to the words “we too ought to lay down our lives” from 1 John, and reinterprets it in a positive way: “involve yourself most fully in the bread and banquet of the Holy Eucharist by the fullest reciprocity of the Lord’s gift of his life.” The rereading is so creative that Augustine has turned the verse into its opposite. Yet Augustine’s non-literal reading of a non-literal translation has paradoxically yielded an interpretation that is true and nourishing: “we in our turn ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” The chain that links Amenemope to inspired literary adaptation in Proverbs, to non-literal Greek translation in the Septuagint, to the Latin translation read by Augustine that literally translates the non-literalness, to Augustine’s allegorizing, to us who in 2017 are inspired by Augustine’s powerful words in modern English enshrined in the liturgy of Holy Week, is a rich example of the depth of God’s respect and love for humanity and the complexity of his providence in revealing himself. When he is lifted up Jesus draws all to himself, including Egyptian wisdom sayings. Linguistic contradiction, inevitably a part of translation, is assimilated by the one who has reconciled all things to himself, making peace through the blood of his cross. If we recognize that in all truth the word of God did not come to us antiseptically but through processes imbued with human limitation, we should not be disturbed, but keep in mind another saying of St. Augustine about the Lord’s passion, read in the church on Wednesday of the fifth week of Lent, that applies also to the way he reveals himself: “When something is said about the Lord Jesus Christ that seems to belong to a condition of lowliness unworthy of God, we must not hesitate to ascribe this condition to one who did not hesitate to unite himself to us.

Ordinations in Ankawa convey to Iraqi Christians hope for the future

Sep 19, 2016 / 00:00 am

Two young men were ordained Catholic priests last Friday in Ankawa, Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, for the Chaldean Catholic Church. Louis Raphaël I Sako, Patriarch of Babylon, Archbishop of Baghdad, performed the rite and for his church called it “a great sign of hope in a time of great crisis.”      The two are Joachim Sliwa and Martin Baani. Sliwa is in his late twenties, married with a young daughter, emigrated from Iraq to Germany ten years ago in his late teens, has served as a deacon in Munich, and is destined to serve dispersed Chaldean Catholics in Berlin.      Baani, 26, unmarried, became an internally displaced person when Karamles, his hometown several miles southeast of Mosul, fell to ISIS on August 6, 2014, escaping with only clothes, passport, and the Blessed Sacrament he rescued from his church.      Baani’s family emigrated to San Diego, and Martin was invited to stay with them and be ordained in the Chaldean diocese there. But he returned to Iraq and has become the face of Christian internally displaced persons who want to stay, not emigrate, and recover and rebuild their Christian communities. Baani will now spend time in Baghdad for further training with the Patriarch and then expects to be assigned to Dohuk. He would wish to be pastor in a liberated Karamles.      The ordinations, conducted entirely in Aramaic, took place at 10 a.m. on Friday September 9 in the fresh, new, monumental, air-conditioned church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ankawa. In attendance was a crowd of some 500, wearing clothing eastern and western. A youth choir of 20 in white sport shirts sang sacred songs to eastern melodies and rhythms, accompanied by synthesizer and oud. A group of 20 permanent deacons and acolytes of the archdiocese chanted liturgically. As the Patriarch presided, ecclesiastical dignitaries, bishops, cor bishops, Orthodox and Catholic, Chaldean and Syriac, populated the sanctuary, including Ramzi Garmou, Chaldean archbishop of Tehran; Nicodemus Sharaf, Orthodox Syriac Metropolitan, whose cathedral is in Mosul, himself an internally displaced person; and, of course, the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Ankawa, Bashar Warda. (I was visiting the archdiocese and attended the services as a guest of the archbishop.)      The rite of ordination took place at the beginning of the service. Sako, smiling, anointed the ordinands’ hands. They received new stoles and were vested. The two new priests kissed the altar, kissed the baptismal font, embraced each other and then their own and one another’s families, who were weeping with both joy and sorrow. The newly ordained Joachim kissed his wife, pregnant with another child, who, by Chaldean rite rule, had signed her assent to his ordination as part of the liturgy.      The Liturgy of the Word then began at a lectern from which hangs a banner of the Jubilee of Mercy logo in Aramaic script. A family member read from Isaiah 11, “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him.” Newly ordained Abouna Joachim chanted the Gospel from Luke 4, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”      Patriarch Sako preached, finding a sign of hope in these ordinations: we expect very soon, he said, the liberation of Mosul and the Nineveh plain. A priest gives up his life in service and these men are doing that, serving their church as their family. The bishop is a father and I offer the support of a father to you new priests.      Family members read petitions. The two new priests then concelebrated the Liturgy of the Eucharist with the patriarch and two other priests of the archdiocese and gave communion to the whole congregation.      Mass concluded, Abouna Martin spoke from the pulpit. He thanked God for the support of his family, the archdiocese of Mosul, and his spiritual mentor Abouna Thabet. We will return to a liberated Mosul, he said, and the church erupted in cheers and ululations. As the new priests processed out, people threw candy and confetti, applauded, cheered, most everyone weeping.      The Christians of Karamles fled together as a town and live together as a town in an internally displaced person encampment in Ankawa, which is where that night they held the celebration for Abouna Martin’s ordination. Food for hundreds was set on trestle tables in an open area; a band of young girls danced; a video slideshow of photographs of Martin’s life was projected on a big white wall; childhood friends wore photo t-shirts of Martin’s face. A scale model was built and displayed of the Karamles church of St. Barbara, making somehow present what internally displaced persons had left behind. The Christians of Karamles expect soon to move as a town into permanent housing, a new apartment building, McGivney House, now being built in the outskirts of Ankawa by the Knights of Columbus.      The church building of Our Lady of Perpetual Help is itself a statement of hope for permanent survival, consecrated two months ago, big enough for more than 600, brilliant in marble and other stones, with a dazzling icon of its patron on one side of the sanctuary, paired with one of Christ pantokrator. Its architect is Malik Kadifa, whose other recent projects for the Ankawa archdiocese are similarly gracious: the archdiocesan seminary St. Peter’s and the buildings of the nascent Catholic University in Erbil.      A cycle of huge mural paintings in the church of scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary includes the visit of the Magi, legendarily Chaldeans, and the finding of Jesus of the temple. Among the religious authorities Jesus teaches in that scene is a Catholic archbishop suspiciously similar in appearance to that of Ankawa.      The same church on the next night, Saturday, with Blessed Sacrament and altar removed, became a packed concert hall for Lebanese soprano Abeer Nehme, who sang sacred songs in Aramaic and Arabic in several Middle eastern styles as well as covering “I Believe” by the Bachelors in Aramaic. Ninety members of an archdiocesan young adult choir backed her for a few opening songs. Our faith is strong, we stand firm, she sang again and again. The crowd loved it. Archbishop Warda was proud.      Attending the ordination and concert was among the activities of a British delegation of officials from UK Aid to the Church in Need, which has decisively supported Iraqi Christians from the earliest, desperate moments of 2014, and from British Parliament, including three MPs. Nehme turned to them from onstage and said in English, remember that Jesus was born in this part of world and spoke Aramaic. He did not have green eyes and blond hair!      The signs of Christian life in Ankawa like the ordination, the concert, the 18 Chaldean Catholic seminarians at St. Peter’s themselves on the path to ordination, the colored lights and illuminated crosses displayed everywhere in preparation for the festivity of the Holy Cross on September 14, are surprisingly vibrant and alive. You would not immediately guess if you did not know that this community includes residents of internally displaced person camps and is only a few miles away from war and genocide.      A member of the delegation, Mark Menzies, a Tory MP for Fylde, a Catholic, told me he was humbled by his experience of Ankawa’s Christians and realized anew how much in the West we take for granted the freedom to practice religion. Humbled also felt Jim Shannon, Democratic Unionist MP from Strangford in Northern Ireland, who joined the delegation with the intention of supporting Iraqi Christians as Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief. A Baptist, he told me he was encouraged at the Catholic ordination by seeing so many young Iraqis on fire in the love of the Lord.      An American is Counsel for the Ankawa archdiocese and Vice Chancellor for external affairs for nascent Catholic University, Stephen Rasche, a multitasking aide to Archbishop Warda. He often confronts the notion that Iraqi Christians are a lost cause, dinosaurs on their way to extinction. To him, in spite of many reasons for pessimism, ordination day in Ankawa was one among many vivid indications of their survival and rebirth.  

The deep, winding roots of American Catholicism now on display at Knights of Columbus museum

Aug 16, 2016 / 00:00 am

Sébastien Racle, Sebastian Rale in America, a Jesuit missionary priest from the French-Swiss border, brought into the field with him as indispensable reference book for resolving questions of conscience an edition of Busenbaum's Medulla Theologiae Moralis (1645) when he came to New France in 1689. That now weathered volume, lent by the Maine Historical Society, is currently on view at the Knights of Columbus Museum in New Haven, Connecticut in “Mission of Faith: The Coming of the Gospel to America,” through September 18. Father Rale had volunteered to work in New France among the native Abenaki, in what is now eastern Quebec and Maine. As partisan of the Abenaki, whose language he learned well enough to compile a dictionary, and of French Catholic colonial claims, he was caught up in the fighting between French and British settlers in Maine and was killed aged 67 in 1724 in what became known as “Father Rale’s War.” To the French he was a martyr; to the British authorities who received his scalp in Boston he was one less danger to the security of settlers in Maine. So does the Museum’s show remind us of the complex interactions, from earliest times, between faith, inculturation, native rights, mission, colonialism, and the Catholicism of manuals of casuistry. With pins on a vast map and a series of representative brief biographies, “Mission of Faith” presents priests of New Spain, 1535-1821: Spanish Dominicans, Franciscans, and Jesuits, whose diverse missionary activity stretched from Santo Domingo to San Francisco. Objects from mission excavations in Florida are lent by its Division of Historical Resources: sherds of indigenous Altamaha/San Marcos pottery characteristic of the contact period, beads, a Spanish chisel, candlestick, locks and bolts, fragments of a bell. We also see French missionaries of New France, 1534-1763, following the river routes of North America from Nova Scotia to the upper peninsula of Michigan and to Louisiana: Ursulines, Capuchins, Recollects, Sulpicians, and Hospital Sisters. Speakers in a lecture series associated with the show have themselves embodied the encounter of native American culture and Catholic faith. Rev. Maurice Henry Sands will speak on August 20 about ongoing Christian witness and service among indigenous populations. He is a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit, Executive Director for the Black and Indian Mission Office of the USCCB, and a full-blooded native American, member of the Ojibway, Ottawa and Potawatomi tribes. Dr. Mary Soha spoke in June, a pediatrician and sports medicine specialist from Jacksonville, Florida. Herself of native American ancestry, she has been serving the canonization causes of native Americans, first as medical consultant for the commission for Mohawk Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680), canonized in 2012, and now as a vice postulator for the cause of the martyrs of La Florida, which opened last October in the diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee. Those martyrs are a diverse group of some 92 from the world of the Spanish missions in northern Florida, Dominican, Jesuit, Franciscan missionaries, and native laypersons, killed between 1549 and 1706, both by natives and by British colonists, many in the Apalachee massacre of 1704, conducted by British settlers of the Carolinas. They include Agustín Ponce De León, a native Floridian Franciscan priest, who would be the first native American priest-martyr, killed in British raids in 1705. If seventeenth century British settlers felt it necessary to massacre French and Spanish Catholic populations at the margins of their own, Dominican Father John Vidmar, professor at Providence College, spoke in May on the establishment in 1805 of the first American Dominican province from the English, not Irish, province. This was particularly the work of Dominican Edward Fenwick (1768-1832), who recognized opportunity in the new United States for the order, depopulated in England, France, and much of Europe. A Maryland native who had studied in Belgium, he obediently went west at the indication of Bishop John Carroll, made foundations in Kentucky and Ohio, and ended as the first bishop of Cincinnati. That Dominicans would found their own organized province and no longer work independently is indicative of the new circumstances in America. If one in four US Americans is now Catholic, the show suggests that this is an eventual heritage of the earliest colonial missionaries, together with so many Catholic institutions of health care and education. The claim underestimates the realities of nineteenth century immigration on that number, but the show ends with reference to the new kinds of missionary work necessary to staff parishes of immigrants in an American church reaching full institutional development in a modern democratic republic. The show presents Martin Spalding (1810-1872), bishop of Louisville and later Baltimore, who led the effort to found the American College in 1857 at Louvain, Belgium, so Europeans might train for the American missions and American seminarians might study in Europe. Exhibited by loan from the archives of Catholic University of America are liturgical objects associated with Eli W. J. Lindesmith (1827-1922), a diocesan priest of Ohio who spent 1880-91 as a military chaplain and missionary in Montana to the Crow, Sioux, and Cheyenne. These include the browned, faded altar cards he used at seminary and then for most of his life and a broken altar stone, “carried over many thousands of miles among whites, indians, soldiers, trappers, miners, explorers, and frontiersmen of every kind, on cars, boats, stages, and even muleback, and often afoot through almost impenetrable mountains, bluffs, coulees, rooks, canyons, forests, badlands, prairie and over rivers without bridge.” With Father Rale’s demise in mind, it is disconcerting to catch sight in the exhibition of a hairy piece of bear skin, but it is a relic of Charles John Seghers (1839-1886), together with his last diary notebook. Seghers was Belgian, studied for the American missions at the American College at Louvain, and became bishop of Vancouver Island and Oregon City and missionary to Juneau and Sitka, Alaska. There he was shot to death by a disturbed lay missionary companion, a story too confusing to be adverted to in the show’s labels. In God’s providence, one can lay down one’s life as a missionary in a complicated variety of ways. Joseph J. Williams (1875-1940), a Jesuit missionary priest and ethnographer, not unlike Father Rale, but with the benefit of developed academic and historical standards, worked in Jamaica and as anthropologist made an extensive ethnographic collection and studied Jamaican and African culture and religious roots. A manuscript leaf from his papers held by College of the Holy Cross is on view: “Lord’s prayer in the Indian tongue viz the Indians of Nawigawok and Penobscut in New England and Nova Scotia as it was framed and translated for their use by a French Jesuit and assented to by four of the Indian hostages in the presence of an interpreter at Boston 22d January 1720.” It reads: “Father ours, heaven sitting…” “Memmelunx’innaw spumkeeg abean…” We feel far from Jesus’ original Aramaic, or from Pater noster, in the language of Jesus’ imperial master, but “Mission of Faith” has brought us nearer to Jesus’ command that all human cultures, however unfamiliar, be evangelized.

What does Pope Francis' motto really mean?

Mar 8, 2016 / 00:00 am

A few times too often over the past three years I have heard people say, “Pope Francis’ motto means something like…” To observe the third anniversary of his election on March 13, in the Jubilee Year of Mercy, we can get it straight, though, unfortunately, understanding the motto accurately can dispense neither with knowledge of Latin nor the rebarbative word “hendiadys.” “Miserando atque eligendo” was chosen by Francis as motto for his papal coat of arms, already his episcopal motto. The phrase is drawn from a passage assigned in the Catholic Liturgy of the Hours to the Office of Readings for September 21, feast of St. Matthew, from a homily on Matthew by the Venerable Bede. Francis has identified with Jesus’ merciful call to Matthew: young Bergoglio felt the call of God on that day in 1953; maturing Bergoglio used to contemplate Caravaggio’s painting “The Call of Matthew” on visits to St. Louis of the French in Rome; Francis in his Jubilee prayer makes that moment exemplary: “Your loving gaze freed Zacchaeus and Matthew from being enslaved by money…” Both “miserando” and “eligendo” are gerunds, verbal nouns, in Latin, in the ablative case, which can express circumstance, means, manner. Translating the two words individually, here linked by “atque” (“and”), is not hard: “by feeling/showing mercy” and “by choosing.” But our work of interpretation is not done: we must take account of hendiadys. Hendiadys, which in Greek means “one through two,” is a literary figure in Greek and Latin in which one idea is broken into two parts, to freshen it and focus attention concretely on two of its individual aspects. Vergil says “pateris et auro” (“from libation bowls and gold”) and means “from golden libation bowls.” Cicero says “iudiciis periculisque” (“in trials and dangers”) and means “the legal hazards of standing trial.” AE Housman in a parody of Greek tragic diction says “with heels and speed” and means “with swift steps.” Hendiadys is not a figure appealing to modern English speakers, though common in Shakespeare and Milton (“with joy and tidings fraught…”). Venerable Bede (~673-735) had knowledge of Classical idiom and an appreciation that exegesis must apply that knowledge (see his “On the schemes and tropes of Sacred Scripture”). In his writing, Bede often pairs words and the pairings sometimes invite interpretation as hendiadys. Claudius takes Britain “without a bloody battle” (“sine ullo proelio ac sanguine,” rather than “without any battle and blood”). The Gospel crowd fed miraculously “hastens eagerly to rise” (“excitari atque assurgere festinant,” rather than “they hasten to stir themselves and rise”). Bede will use paired ablative gerunds without hendiadys, particularly in history writing and homilies: John the Baptist witnesses “by baptizing and preaching” (“baptizando ac praedicando”); Christ destroys death “by dying and rising” (“moriendo ac resurgendo”); Cuthbert battles spiritually “by praying and fasting” (“orando ac jejunando”). Yet, these parallels show that “miserando atque eligendo” is by comparison less smooth and conventional a pairing, as the difficulty of translating it in any obvious way has also already amply shown. The very infelicity suggests that we recognize a hendiadys. Accordingly, when Bede wrote “by showing mercy and by choosing,” by way of hendiadys he meant “by mercifully choosing” and that is how Francis’ motto can well be accurately translated. Bede’s sentence from which Francis drew the motto can be accurately translated: “He saw the publican and, because he saw him in an action of mercifully choosing him, he said to him, ‘Follow me.’” (“Vidit publicanum et, quia miserando atque eligendo vidit, ait illi: Sequere me.”) Some of Bede’s pairings of ablative gerunds are almost tautologous: Aidan conveys men to the priesthood “with teaching and instructing” (“erudiendo atque instituendo” (or better, as hendiadys, “with careful instruction”?)). The general public, with whatever excitement they hasten to rise, does not know how to approach perfection “by keeping and fulfilling” its counsels (“servando et implendo” (or better, “by diligently fulfilling”?)). If those parallels suggest that miserando and eligendo can be understood as linked closely in meaning, Bede makes an interesting point: Christ’s feeling mercy and his choosing can hardly be distinguished. Subtle hendiadys is sometimes only arguable, but literal translation that ignores idiom can be false. Let’s recognize hendiadys in “miserando atque eligendo,” especially as these words have been removed from grammatical context to function independently as a motto, and translate: “by mercifully choosing” or perhaps even “by God’s merciful choice.” The motto then takes us to the center of the concerns of Francis’ papacy and of his Jubilee Year. In Francis’ motto the grammatical coalesces with the spiritual: when the Lord calls Matthew, or the young Bergoglio, or all of us, his mercy is his choice and his choice is his mercy. 

Restored grave of early New Haven pastor recalls the pioneer urban Irish Catholics of Connecticut

Mar 18, 2015 / 00:00 am

A new gravestone in front of St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, Connecticut now reminds passersby that the pastor who completed the monumental building in 1874, Rev. Patrick A. Murphy, has for more than 130 years been buried there all along. Murphy came from the early generations of urban Irish Catholics in Connecticut whose hard work built the faith in a sometimes hostile environment and was himself an important formative influence on Venerable Servant of God Michael J. McGivney, who could become the first canonized American diocesan priest. Murphy died five years after dedicating the church, in May 1879, three weeks short of his 34th birthday. To honor his achievement, as reported in the diocesan Connecticut Catholic, “his remains…were interred in the yard in front of the church, which will ever be to his memory a perpetual monument.” Yet earth, weeds, and eventually pavement compromised the monument’s perpetuity.So earlier this winter, St. Mary’s current pastor, Rev. Joseph P. Allen, OP, finding opportunity in a repaving project, restored his predecessor’s grave. He commissioned and placed a replica of the original marker he had found in the church basement, with its inscription, now bright gold against black marble: “In your charity pray for Rev. P. A. Murphy. R.I.P.” A wrought iron gate again marks a small enclosure between the central and right stairways up to the church. “Even if there is only one grave, it is still a cemetery,” Allen says. “I wanted to recover the sense that this is holy ground.”St. Mary’s, New Haven has seen nearly 200 years of American history. The parish, formed as Christ Church in 1832, fourteen years after Congregationalism was disestablished as the Connecticut state religion, is the oldest Catholic congregation in New Haven and second oldest in Connecticut. The huge, High Victorian Gothic 1874 church was an Irish Catholic intrusion on Yankee Hillhouse Avenue, home to the city’s best society, including the Yale University president and other Yale officials. The New York Times in 1879 reported that an “aristocratic avenue” had been “blemished by a Roman Church edifice… an eye-sore, an annoyance and injury to the neighboring residents.”Servant of God Isaac Hecker, founder of the Paulists, supported the parish in its early days as missioner, fundraiser, and preacher at the cornerstone ceremony in September 1870. In 1991 Yale College sophomore Christian Prince died on St. Mary’s steps, his murder exacerbating racial tensions nationally. And in St. Mary’s basement in 1882, its assistant pastor, 29 year old Father McGivney, founded the Knights of Columbus. St. Mary’s had been McGivney’s first assignment after ordination and Murphy had been the pastor for whom McGivney served his first year as a priest 1878-9. He made a considerable impact on him, according to Rev. Gabriel O'Donnell, OP, postulator of McGivney’s cause. “They made a great team.” McGivney is now buried in the church, his tomb a site of prayer and pilgrimage. (I am a parishioner myself.)Who was this Father Murphy? We glimpse his life in archival fragments. He was born Patrick Aloysius, June 8, 1845 in Saggart, County Dublin in Ireland and baptized there nine days later. His father, Patrick, died about 1850 and in 1853 his mother, Margaret, with young Patrick and an older sister and younger brother, came to America and settled in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where her elder brother, John Flood, who had preceded them, took them into the house he owned.Bridgeport, via convenient steamboat from New York, was a natural choice for Irish emigres escaping the Hunger of those years and looking for factory employment, as Claire Puzarne of Ireland's Great Hunger Museum at Quinnipiac University, told me. The Museum opened in October 2012 in Hamden, Connecticut and tells the story of the Hunger in a state whose population was utterly transformed by the Irish immigrants who became the workforce for Connecticut’s development into an industrial powerhouse. John Flood in 1860 worked at a factory that made carriage springs and axles.Rev. Peter A. Smith was the family’s pastor at St. Mary’s, East Bridgeport, an industrial neighborhood of factories and tenements across the Pequonnock River from downtown. When he arrived in 1857 to become the first pastor, Smith also became a second father and mentor to twelve-year-old Patrick, training him as altar boy, taking him into his rectory to live, and arranging for a Classical education with one of the several school teachers in the city. Young Murphy had a talent for Greek and Latin (and would enjoy reading Classics the rest of his life) as well as mathematics.When Hartford Bishop Francis P. McFarland visited Bridgeport in May 1861 to confer Confirmation, Smith mentioned Murphy, now 16, to him as “a very promising boy” and wrote once in August and again in early September (facetiously fearing, during those first months of the Civil War, “that my letter must have fallen into the hands of some [abolitionist, pro-Union] “Vigilance Committee” who may have mistook it for some “Suspicious document.””) asking for a seminary place for young Murphy as schools opened that fall.“His teachers speak highly of him as possessing more than ordinary talents and his moral character is unimpeachable. He has a pretty fair knowledge of Latin together with a smattering of Greek,” Smith wrote. “I have done for him all that I could or can do. I now leave him to your discretion… He is the first presented by the Bridgeporters and they, having contributed their quota towards the “Seminary fund,” will naturally be expecting that their first candidate will be favorably considered.” McFarland agreed to accede to this friendly pressure and on October 8, 1861, Murphy entered St. Charles College, near what is now Ellicott City, Maryland, a college seminary conducted by the Sulpicians. He placed into the school’s fourth year and did the last three of the six year program. The Hartford archdiocesan archives still hold the quarterly accounts of his seminary expenses, a few dollars for books, clothes, sundries, and a draft of Murphy’s promise eventually to reimburse his bishop. Money mattered; to operate in Maryland during the Civil War was financially stressful, as letters to Bishop McFarland from seminary officials make clear. Nineteenth century Catholic seminaries created a world apart for their seminarians and Murphy studied Classics while Federal troops occupied Howard County, Maryland under President Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus there.Murphy’s final report from St. Charles graded him first in his class in all subjects in spring 1864. In the fall, he continued with the Sulpicians at St. Mary’s Theological Seminary in Baltimore for two years of philosophy and two of theology and training in priestly practicalities.For Patrick Murphy, if priesthood was a “sacrifice,” it was also a rich opportunity to escape manual labor and develop his intellectual gifts. His mother worked as a domestic the rest of her life and both older sister and younger brother worked for carriage and gun manufacturers in Bridgeport the rest of theirs. Even so, these siblings would live lives much longer than his.He remained a brilliant student, according to the annual reports of St. Mary’s vice-president, Joseph Paul Dubreul, SS. In June 1868, Dubreul wrote McFarland that Murphy was ready for ordination, with a dispensation as to age (he would be just 23; canon law formally required 25). “Mr. Murphy is in point of character, piety, and virtue, disposition, talents, and success, beyond exceptional. His much varied abilities, when developed and improved by experience, will qualify him for any office in the church, and will always be, I hope, enhanced by modesty. As a preacher, he will be conspicuous among both the remarkable and fruitful ones. I expect him to be an ornament in your diocese and honor to his “alma mater.”  Mr. Murphy was preparing to take a Master’s in Theology, but was advised to stop, lest it might affect seriously his health.” This was not fulsome praise, in the manner of public oratory of the time: the seminarian assessments are frank and often quite negative. Yet, if Murphy was seen as a future bishop, he was also recognized as potentially a sickly man. He was ordained in the chapel of St. Mary’s Seminary, June 30, 1868 by Baltimore Archbishop Martin Spalding for the diocese of Hartford. Murphy’s first assignment after ordination was to St. Mary’s, Norwalk, a city to the west of Bridgeport along the shore of Connecticut, and this reunited him with his mentor Father Smith, who had now been pastor since 1862. When Smith traveled to Europe in summer 1871 he left Murphy in charge. He wrote to Bishop McFarland in August 1871 from Lurgan, Ireland, on a trip to County Armagh whence his family had emigrated, as had McFarland’s. Previously on the trip he had seen the recent aftermath of the Commune: “I have been to Paris and saw some of the devastations caused by the infamous Communes and really think that unfortunate because the city has not yet seen the last of it.” He will return within two months, “when I hope to find my good people of Norwalk much improved under the judicious guidance of Father Murphy and his zealous Passionist assistant.”Murphy served in Norwalk until April 1872 when he was appointed, still 26, to the prestigious pastorate of St. Mary’s, New Haven. He found the construction of a new church at a standstill.The monumentality of St. Mary’s architecture was a statement. Rev. Edward J. O’Brien,  pastor for 21 years when Murphy succeeded him and someone who had done much to build Catholicism institutionally in the city, had wanted St. Mary’s to be New Haven’s finest church. But if Catholics were to build in a fine New Haven neighborhood, they felt pressure to build something worthy and show that they belonged. And that cost money and anxiety.William Downes suggested a lot on Hillhouse Avenue and fronted the purchase in June 1868 for O’Brien, who was tired of confronting opposition. Downes was well placed to mediate, as member of a prominent New Haven Catholic family, thought the only Catholic lawyer in the city at the time, a Yale Law graduate in 1862, and well respected as the city clerk, an office to which he had been repeatedly elected. This William was uncle to the Alfred Downes whose legal guardian Father McGivney famously volunteered in court to become when his financially ruined family faced breakup.The St. Mary’s building committee hired a prominent Irish-American architect from Providence, Rhode Island, James Murphy, who was beginning a distinguished career designing churches that would see him appointed Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1885.Aware of city opposition and parishioner misgivings, Bishop McFarland nevertheless agreed to the building of a church and budgeted it for $120,000, a huge project even scaled back a bit. But soon after the cornerstone was laid in September 1870, fundraising dried up. Father O’Brien’s piety “was not tinged with a commercial spirit, ” as Connecticut Catholic would later put it. Work on the church stopped and the pastorate became too much for O’Brien.When Murphy arrived in May 1872, he determined to finish the church and instituted planned giving campaigns to fund continued construction. The panic of 1873 and poor financial climate of the later 1870s did not deter him and St. Mary’s Church was dedicated in October 1874. He had completed a “Herculean” task, as the New Haven Evening Register would put it, though he would leave a debt of $165,000 for his successors.In seven years as pastor of St. Mary’s, Murphy was thought the best Classical scholar in the diocese as well as the best financier. He also took financial charge of St. Bernard’s Cemetery and St. Francis Orphan Asylum in New Haven. In his last years Murphy was serving as secretary of the diocesan synod and conferences and one of five members of the Bishop’s Council. When Hartford Bishop Thomas Galberry died in October 1878 and the seat remained vacant until a few days before Murphy’s death in May 1879, Murphy was a rumored successor.Father Murphy died in the St. Mary’s rectory on May 19, 1879, not yet 34. He had been ill with tuberculosis for two years, the disease priests so often shared with their immigrant congregations, but had been able to do priestly work up through the last two weeks of his life. At his deathbed were his mother and other family, together with many Connecticut priests. Toward the end, his curate Father McGivney read for him the Litany of the Dying.Three thousand mourners packed St. Mary’s for the funeral on Wednesday May 21, the vigil day of the Ascension. Father McGivney worked on planning the services and appointed Connecticut priests as the two masters of ceremonies. The social service and pious associations that flourished at St. Mary’s with Murphy’s support (as would soon the Knights of Columbus) attended in large groups, as did clergy from all over New England, including a number of his seminary classmates. His younger brother James was among the pall bearers. Bridgeport Catholics were grieved and proud of the first Catholic priest from their city. His boyhood mentor, Father Smith, was not there. He had died at 47 in December 1875.Murphy was laid in a handsome casket in purple vestments. It had been first thought to bury him below the altar in the chapel in the church basement. But on the morning of the funeral, diocesan administrator Rev. Thomas Walsh and chancellor and cathedral rector Rev. William Harty directed instead a slate and brick vault be constructed in front of the church for his tomb.Burial in the front of the church was an honor from parish and diocese characteristic of the time. But even then the trend was to clear unkempt graveyards from churches and move burials to rural parklike cemeteries. By restoring Murphy’s grave, Father Allen has reversed that loss of memory and feels a responsibility to preserve Catholic heritage in New Haven as well as that of his Dominican order, who have served at St. Mary’s since missions in the 1850s and officially as pastors since 1886. Allen is interested also in remains uncovered four years ago in 2011, during construction work at Yale-New Haven Hospital, at the site of the original St. Mary’s, Christ Church, on Davenport Street in another part of the city. The remains became by law the responsibility of Connecticut state archaeologist Nicholas Bellantoni (now emeritus) and are being studied by anthropologists.Bellantoni and twelve colleagues in physical anthropology will report their latest findings on the “Yale-New Haven Four” in St. Louis at the March 2015 meetings of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists. There are four adult skeletons of two older and two younger persons, recent immigrants to the US, with signs of the stresses of disease, trauma, low bone density, manual labor, and repetitive movement. Their lives witness Connecticut’s Industrial Revolution, the evidence of their bodies a new contribution to the history of New Haven. Buried when the cemetery was active 1833 to 1851, they were also among the earliest parishioners of St. Mary’s, who to be Catholics in Connecticut at the time faced Know-Nothing violence, arson, and anti-Irish hatred. When the remains are released from study and a final report completed, which Bellantoni expects to be this year, Father Allen would like to see them reburied ceremoniously in church ground not far from Father Murphy.In Father Patrick Murphy, God’s providence granted a brilliant talent and then asked it to be surrendered in a martyrdom of charity, rather than developed further. Of all the things he modeled for his curate Michael McGivney, perhaps the most valuable was how a young priest might accept death in his thirties of lung disease, an experience that so many others in all states of life also had to accept. The new old grave at St. Mary’s, New Haven calls back to our memory those urban Irish who built up Connecticut Catholicism, ancestors in the faith even to those of us who are not Irish.Father Allen feels a spiritual connection to his predecessors as St. Mary’s pastor, each of whom he feels made a contribution with a unique gift, and a particular fondness for Father Murphy, indifference to whose grave disturbed him. Meeting the challenge of successfully restoring that grave, he sometimes thought lightheartedly, might be the miracle that Father McGivney would need for his canonization. (A grateful acknowledgment to Stephanie Gold, Hartford archdiocesan archivist.)