Bay Ridge beamed with Christmas spirit when neighbors and friends gathered at Visitation Monastery and Academy Dec. 4 to light an outdoor manger scene and honor late civic leader Larry Morrish.
Traditional Christmas hymns sung by the all-girls academy choir filled the cool evening air as locals stepped onto the monastery grounds for the ceremony. Academy families, faculty and the Visitation Sisters welcomed guests, and everyone’s excitement grew as they counted down to the lighting. Applause burst forth when every face was awash in the warm glow of thousands of holiday lights.
Msgr. Jamie Gigantiello, academy chaplain, blessed the life-size crèche and memorial evergreen trees donated by the community as a tribute to loved ones. A memorial stone was also dedicated to Morrish, a lifelong Bay Ridgite who died in February.
“May we, like Larry, be a light to our neighborhood and to our nation,” the monsignor prayed.
Well-known for helping establish Bay Ridge’s volunteer ambulance service and the local St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Morrish also co-founded the “Celebration of Light” initiative in Brooklyn. The goal was to spread the joy of Christ’s birth by helping churches fund outdoor displays for the Advent and Christmas seasons. The effort began at Visitation Monastery in 1995.
“We were trying to think of ways to get the community involved and keep Christ in Christmas,” recalled Mother Susan Marie Kasprzak, V.H.M., monastery superior.
“Larry came up with the idea with (State Senator) Marty Golden of having a live Nativity and they wanted us to keep the animals in the yard,” she said, laughing. “We settled on these life-sized statues and over the years it developed.” Today it is an academy event, supported by the Sisters.
“It was Larry that kept on as a motivating force, going from parish to parish and working with Maimonides” to continue and expand the program through the years, Senator Golden said.
This year, more than 30 churches in Brooklyn and Queens are participating in the Celebration of Light with financial assistance from Maimonides Medical Center and support from Senator Golden and Long and Delosa Construction Group.
Douglas Jablon, Maimonides’ senior vice president, attended the lighting at Visitation last Sunday along with Senator Golden, Brian Long, John Delosa and dozens of Morrish’s neighbors and friends.
Seeing so much love for her husband brought joy and some tears to Larry’s widow, Phillipa. Although she now lives in Florida, she said she couldn’t miss the dedication of the memorial on the monastery grounds.
“I am so thankful to the nuns that he loved. There are so many precious memories at this monastery,” Phillipa said. She noted that her husband developed a friendship with the Sisters, visiting them every weekend with his dog April, who liked to run in the yard.
“I had to come tonight to give you all thanks for all you have done: Maimonides Hospital, all of the churches, all of you. Thank you so very much for the role you played in Larry’s happiness.
“He was born in Bay Ridge and he loved this community. I love that there is a permanent memorial to him here,” she said.
“Larry was a character at times but Larry had a heart – big as anything you could imagine. Whenever anyone needed anything, or there was a cause, he was the first one to try to make a difference and never looking for any recognition himself. …
“We hear in Scripture, ‘Whatever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do for me.’ Everything Larry did was a sign of the presence of God’s love in our midst.”
That love could be seen as families offered prayers before the manger and gathered around the memorial evergreens. Vincent and Clare Carrubba, parents of fourth-grader Alexandria who sang in the choir, donated a tree in memory of Clare’s parents.
“It’s so beautiful, the lighting and everything. It makes you cry,” Clare said.
Joseph Duggan, president of Visitation’s Fathers’ Club, was proud to see so many people participate.
“It’s a celebration of our faith,” he said. “The reason we light trees at Christmas is to display our faith in Christ. It’s an important thing to do every year and the kids really love it too.”