By Michael Rizzo
Parishioners at American Martyrs in Bayside have a new way to remember their former parochial vicar as the corner of Bell Blvd. and Union Turnpike has been renamed Father John J. Murray Way.
A new street sign, right outside the church’s main steps, was unveiled in a ceremony after the parish’s 10:30 a.m. Mass on Sunday, Sept. 17.
“Father Murray was someone who always wanted to help,” said Anne Caruso, an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion at the parish, who attended the unveiling.
“He was always smiling,” she added, and mentioned that she and husband Steven were married by Father Murray. “He told me he wouldn’t give me Communion unless I was smiling too. He inspired us to be active in the church. He was goodness personified.”
Father Murray served at American Martyrs from 1993 until 2007. He passed away several months later, after illness forced a move to the Immaculate Conception Center, Douglaston.
The process to get the street corner re-named after him began five years ago and was finalized with the support of New York City Councilman Barry Grodenchik. The parish had previously honored its former priest by designating a meeting space in the rectory as the Murray Center.
“He had a tremendous dedication to helping those struggling with alcoholism and substance abuse,” American Martyrs’ pastor Father Frank Schwarz said.
“He wasn’t afraid to confront people and tell them they needed to get help.” He added that Father Murray, himself a recovering alcoholic, arranged for Alcoholics Anonymous to have regular meetings at the parish.
“This is the recognition of a man who served in this community for decades,” Grodenchik said. He was joined at the event by local Assemblyman David Weprin who said Father Murray worked not just with members of the parish, but was involved in interfaith dialogue as well.
In his prepared remarks, Grodenchik referred to Psalm 121 of looking to the hills for help from God and related it to the street re-naming.
“We may not have hills here,” he said, “but we can look up to the sign and remember this man and it can be a blessing and inspire us.”
As rays of sunshine broke through clouds that were left over from morning fog, Grodenchik told the assembled crowd that the approval for “Murray Way” came unanimously from local civic and governmental agencies as well as other religious institutions in the area. The measure was passed by the City Council on May 24.
Michael Shoule, the Grand Knight of the parish’s Father John J. Murray Knights of Columbus Council No. 14666 said the Council pushed for the street naming with the help of Robert Liatto, a parishioner, Knight and member of Community Board 11. The Knights added Father Murray’s name to their Council title when it was formed in 2008.
“When I walk up to this sign,” Shoule said, “I’m reminded not just of the name but who he was and to live a life like his: down to earth, outgoing and accepting of people as they are. Strive to be closer to God, that’s his legacy.”
Father Murray’s lighter side was embodied by his nickname “Murray in a hurry” for his speedy Masses. He was also known for dressing smartly even down to changing his fedoras with each season.
“He truly was a priest,” American Martyrs’ Deacon Stan Galazin said after the ceremony as he remembered Father Murray instituting Lenten Stations of the Cross at the parish. “He was always available whether it was for the sacraments or something else. His motto to me was always be kind to people. God doesn’t expect us to be perfect but to be faithful.”