The Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help welcomed its fellow Redemptorist brother and church leader Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R., to preside over Mass as part the parish’s continuing 125th anniversary celebrations July 7.
For the archbishop of Newark, N.J., the Brooklyn Diocese’s invitation to visit the Sunset Park church was more like a homecoming for him on many levels.
“I was really grateful to Bishop [Nicholas] DiMarzio for allowing me to come by and to share this great day,” Cardinal Tobin said.
As one of the nation’s 16 cardinals whose prominence includes being on the forefront as an advocate for immigrants, he opted for a subtle, pastoral tone in his homily. He shared his message in both Spanish and English, recalling joyful memories from his childhood about what it was like growing up in a working-class Detroit, Mich., neighborhood to a devout Irish-Catholic household.
The cardinal was one of 13 children, with eight of his siblings being girls, so when he lightened the mood with heartfelt and humble humor throughout the Mass, the congregation’s laughter echoed throughout the lower chapel.
He also shared how the Redemptorist religious order played a significant part of his upbringing, especially since his home parish, Holy Redeemer, was also run by the same order that conducts Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
“To be with my brothers is fabulous because since I was 14 years old, I prayed with Redemptorists, so it’s wonderful to be here,” Cardinal Tobin said.
“Secondly, this parish reminds me of the parish I grew up in Detroit, which was a large urban parish with lots of immigrants and different languages. Thirdly, I really appreciate the 125 years that the community’s been here.”
The diverse congregation sitting in the pews was reflected in the four languages that were spoken and sung as part of the eucharistic celebration: English, Spanish, Chinese and Vietnamese – a vibrant token of culture that the parish offers every weekend with 13 Masses in those four languages.
Concelebrants included Msgr. Kevin Noone from the neighboring parish of Our Lady of Angels, Bay Ridge, as well as Redemptorist Fathers James Gilmour, Peter Cao, Ruskin Piedra and John McKenna. Father McKenna helped oversee many events for the parish’s 125th anniversary year.
“For me, I wanted him to meet our good people and I wanted them to be able to see a good man like him,” said Father McKenna. “He’s a very important voice for many of our people, a lot of whom are undocumented, but good, good decent people and he has a platform and a voice and a heart for the poor so I’m sure he feels very much at home.”
Blessings and Embraces
After Mass, the celebration continued outside of the parish along Fifth Ave. as guests and parishioners flocked in line to ask Cardinal Tobin for a special blessing or to give him a hug as if the visiting cardinal was more like close family.
Unlike the notoriety of selfies that his friend Pope Francis usually gets bombarded with, Cardinal Tobin smiled as different groups and families asked for a photo together.
In her 71 years attending the church, retired parish secretary Mary Lawson said her admiration for the Redemptorist priests aligns with just how close she has been with them most of her life, much like the cardinal she was waiting to see for an opportunity to take a group photo.
“I grew up here,” Lawson said. “I was baptized by them. I received all my sacraments by them and then I worked for them for 17-and-a-half years as a secretary. I’m so happy that a Redemptorist became a cardinal. It’s a nice honor for them.”