Monsignor Harry J. Byrne, JCD * * * Comment/

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Location: 3103 Arlington Avenue,, Bronx, NY 10463, United States

July 4, 2009


The recent closing of my apartment on Manhattan's Upper East Side resulted in an outpouring of photos, letters, clippings, and memorabilia from the past. My most recent blog post took me back to my long friendship with Ilah MacDermot, my visit to the Inner Hebrides, and my meeting, via his personal journal, with Father Allan MacDonald, parish priest in the Outer Hebrides in the last half of the nineteenth century. Remembrances of other significant personalities in my life tumbled out of closets and desk drawers. Each had significant influence on my thinking and vision.

There was Edith Spivak, one of the first woman lawyers in New York and one of the first to be employed by the city, was a dear friend. She died in August 2005 at the age of 95, having been the the city's longest serving employee. She entered the NYC Corporation Counsel's office in 1934. Fiorello LaGuardia was mayor, the first of ten mayors under whom she served and under twenty three Corporation Counsels as well. She was a fiesty and articulate individual, with views she was never reluctant to voice, except when she knew they were seriously at odds with those of the listener. I had lunch at her invitation many times at the annual luncheon of the NY County Women's Bar Assosciation. Wearing the Roman collar in that crowd, I felt like I was waving a British flag at a St. Patick's Day dinner. But I assured Edith that I was pro-parental-choice when it came to government support of parochial schools! She was happy to remind me that she had handled the city's appeal in the landmark Walz case before the US Supreme Court. Walz had sued, alleging that the city violated church-state separation by granting real estate tax exemption to religious institutions. Edith was proud that she was part of the city's victory in the high court's 1970 vindication of the city's position.

I had come to know Edith through her husband, Bernie Goldstein. They had met at Columbia Law School and married in 1933. Bernie was a prominent real estate lawyer, author of the Encyclopedia Britannica's article on real estate law, and co-author of a text book with Patrick J. Rohan, then Dean of St. John's Law School. We had met as members of the Advisory Committee of the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development. Bernie, a gentle person, more laid back than Edith, was known for his well-written legal documents. He had an adversion to "legalese". Our mutual liking for good writing was an element that had brought us together. Bernie and Edith hosted small dinner parties at the Princeton Club, where judges and city officials provided interesting insights into this slice of our city's life. When Bernie died in 1998, I was priviledged to be one of the speakers at his memorial service, together with Paul A. Crotty, parishioner of Epiphany from which I had retired in 1996.

Paul, now a Federal judge since 2005,had been the city's Commissioner of Finance and then Commissioner of Housing Preservation and Development under Mayor Ed Koch. In 1994, he was appointed Corporation Counsel by Mayor Rudy Guiliani. On leaving city government in 1997, he became president of Verizon. While I have titled this post as "Friends from the Past", Paul is very much a friend of the present.His wife Jane, has been a prominent community figure. Their sons graduated from The Epiphany School, another indication of the family's active role in Epiphany Parish. A U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1985 had declared unconstitutional the then existing practice of the city supplying public school teachers in reading, math, and guidance to parochial schools. In 1997, the high court reversed that earlier decision and restored those public school teachers to the parochial schools. It was Paul Crotty, who represented the city in successfully arguing the case before the court. Paul has also written and lectured on the church-state aspects of the First Amendment.

These are some of the friends, who have been an influence in my vision of governance, politics,society, and religion. To be continued.


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