By Michael Rizzo
You may not know the name of architect John J. O’Malley but you may have sat in one of the churches he designed in the Diocese of Brooklyn. His family recently gathered in Queens to see his handiwork and celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birth.
About 40 of O’Malley’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren came from as far away as Texas and Utah to tour the Immaculate Conception Center (ICC) in Douglaston on October 11. O’Malley designed the facility as the Diocese’s Cathedral College in the late 1960s. His work garnered him a Queens Chamber of Commerce architectural award.
“It’s a way to do something special with the family and remember him,” said Michael O’Malley, the eighth of O’Malley’s 14 children. Michael gave credit to his sister Therese and brother Colm for organizing the visit.
John J. O’Malley was born in Brooklyn in November, 1915 and lived there for all but the last two months of his life. His wife Eileen and their children lived in Holy Innocents parish in Flatbush. He even designed the extension of the Holy Innocents School. He died in 1970 at the age of 54 shortly after moving to a new family home he designed himself in Nassau County.
At ICC, the O’Malley family saw his circular chapel that is surrounded by 20 foot high stained glass windows and viewed some of the building’s meeting rooms that recalled its full-time college days. They also visited the Bishops’ Chapel and its crypt with the remains of deceased leaders of the diocese.
“We knew all the bishops buried here,” family members said and recounted how the late Bishop Joseph P. Denning gave the O’Malley’s their first dog and Bishop Charles R. Mulrooney, who died in 1989, was the celebrant at their father’s funeral.
“There were always priests in our house,” said John O’Malley, the architect’s oldest child. “They became friends and not just my father’s clients.”
“He was a prayerful man,” John added about his father. “His churches were places to go to for prayer, to feel the comfort and closeness to God. People still come to his churches because of their beauty.”
American Martyrs and St. Robert Bellarmine, both in Bayside, are among the churches where the senior O’Malley applied his architectural skills. So is St. Michael’s in Flushing. The family visited those three churches before stopping by the Immaculate Conception Center.
“A big part of his design came from Vatican II,” Brendan O’Malley, number 10 on the family tree, said. “He designed altars so the priest could turn around and embrace with the people, he planned churches without central columns that could obstruct views and he kept people close with churches in the round like American Martyrs where there are no more than 13 pews to the altar.”
A Wikipedia webpage created by the family (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_J._O%27Malley) about the churches, schools, rectories and other buildings their father worked on lists 57 projects for the Diocese of Brooklyn alone.
Liam O’Malley is the architect’s 19-year-old grandson studying engineering and visiting ICC for the first time.
“I knew he built churches,” he said of the grandfather he never met and work he never saw in person before. “They are cool because they are so architecturally beautiful”
Liam’s 13-year-old cousin Thomas, son of O’Malley’s youngest daughter Miriam, said he got to see how creative his grandfather was.
“It inspires me,” he said. “Seeing what he’s done, you think about what you can do.”
In the main chapel at ICC, the family gathered around the altar that they knew immediately was a green slab of Connemara marble from western Ireland. They said a model of the altar and illustrations about it had been in their house when their father was designing the space some 50 years ago.
“When my father died, I remember a priest saying my father left monuments in Flushing made of stone,” James O’Malley, child number 11, said referring to his father’s buildings.
And don’t be surprised if you see the O’Malley clan checking out those monuments in the future. Therese O’Malley said this first family road trip went so well they’re considering two or three more visits a year, especially to their father’s early design work in Brooklyn. It’s something one weekend in October can’t accommodate.
“There are so many,” she said.