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

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

November 23, 2010


Most things are well here at the O'Connor Clergy Residence. Twenty-eight priests and two bishops are moving into Shakespeare's "lean and slippered pantaloon" with assorted pill boxes to stave off the inevitable. The green trees of summer have blocked our views of the nearby Hudson River. But now that the pelting rain and strong winds of November have stripped the trees bare, the river and the dramatic Palisades can be seen. Looking to the south at night, the George Washington bridge and its lights show the connection to New Jersey. The bridge is a metaphor for a different kind of bridge on which we make our way. And New Jersey is not to where it leads!

The residents here represent a mix of ministries that we, New Yorkers, have followed over the years: parish priests, educators, ecclesiastic bureaucrats, hospital, Army, and Air Force chaplains. These men have many stories and accounts of adventures that are, frequently, more than twice told. But that works out well. Fluid seating at meals provides the hope that at least one at the table has not heard your own colorful and fascinating stories.

As you drive in through the gates, a shrine to Our Lady provides an appropriate welcome. Shrubs and flowers are well maintained. Kitchen and dining room provide excellent food and service. An exercise room with treadmills and bicycles is at hand. We have a small library; a local public library is a few blocks away; a major library is a few miles away at St. Joseph's Seminary. Finally and importantly, there are three settings for our prayers.

A small chapel , the first of our three prayer settings, is the locale for concelebrated Masses each day at 7:15, 9, and 11. The intimacy of the small space is an excellent theater for private prayer. The concelebrated Masses suggest the fellowship of the priesthood that binds us together in our approach to Jesus. The rich colors of the stained glass windows give a dramatic dimension to the figures of Jesus and the eleven apostles, as at the table they are engaged in what we do centuries later at the altar. Together at the daily Mass, we are also part of a history that goes back twenty-one centuries, essentially bound in to the substance of what Jesus bequeathed to us, but ready to move ahead with new methods of communication, distribution, and structure and with new attitudes towards relationships.

A second chapel
furnishes us with a somewhat different stage for our prayer. It is larger than our Mass chapel, with about 120 seats as contrasted to 25 for the other. It is used when our residents come together for a joint exercise, as in administering the Sacraments of the Sick, spiritual retreat exercises, and special instructional matters. The larger size is suggestive of a parish church, similar to those in which most of us have served. It suggests the wider community envisioned by Vatican Council II, in which the defining characteristic is Baptism in the Lord. That is the basis of this new community in which lay people participate and feel part of the enterprise and essential to its flourishing. All are made one by baptism as St. Paul proclaimed - men and women, married and divorced, gay and straight; the basic qualification is one's humanity. Business corporations, universities and colleges and wherever people management is a component seek transparancy, flow of information to all, and to make all feel that they are truly part of the body organic.

A third theater or stage for our prayer at the residence is not a chapel, but a cathedral. I open a door in my suite and step out on to a deck. The dome is the sky above, sprinkled with diamonds at night and with hundreds of cloud sculptures and paintings by day. Here is where, in solitude, mystery is encountered. The river and the Palisades to the west remind us of how those cliffs were carved in paleolithic times by ice, water, and wind. In that time sequence, we are a mere blip. Even the Hubell telescope could not find us, a tiny dot in the infinite reaches of space. Does it go on and on and on? Is there an edge, a wall, then what? This is the mystery, at the edge of which we pray!

After sixty-five years as a priest of New York, the O'Connor Residence is a great harbor into which come many interesting colleagues. One of us has said, "In the years I have been here, I have never heard a harsh word from residents or from staff." Despite a troubled world and a Church in crisis, we each try to put the pieces together in our own personal jig-saw puzzle. We are thankful that we have here three places to pray before a host of mysteries - a Mass chapel, a parish-like church, and a cathedral not built with hands!