Dear Editor: The Tablet might find it interesting to note that the late Msgr. Austin Bennett and his ordination classmate, the late and great Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua, were both ordained on June 11, 1949. And both died on the same day in the month of January – Jan. 31 – five years apart. They remained close friends over the years and both were scholars.
In one of the last telephone conversations I had with Msgr. Bennett, he told me that the Diocese of Brooklyn was holding the thesis written by Cardinal Bevilacqua after he was ordained but while studying in Rome and before returning to the Diocese of Brooklyn in the late 1950s as an assistant chancellor. The thesis was written when he was living in Canterbury studying at the Gregorian College in Rome. The subject was ecumenism regarding the Church of England. I once saw the original typewritten manuscript. It was typed on parchment paper.
I was able to find out from Clavin Funeral Home the site of Msgr. Bennett’s burial plot in Holy Cross Cemetery in Brooklyn. I visit the burial plot at Holy Cross Cemetery of another former secretary of the Brooklyn Chancery Office by the name of Teresa M. Carney, twice a year at Christmas and Eastertime. Teresa Carney knew both Cardinal Bevilacqua and Msgr. Bennett during her years at The Chancery, and coincidentally, her date of birth was Jan. 31.
The Tablet ran a short article about her passing, which I clipped and mailed to Cardinal Bevilacqua in Philadelphia at that time. He called me a week or so after receiving the article inquiring about the circumstances of her death.
AMELIA C. PETAGNA
Dear Editor: On Tuesday, Jan. 31, I received the sad news that Msgr. Austin Bennett had passed away. He was a man of great faith and I know that he is with God now.
Msgr. Bennett said Mass in St. Rita’s Church in Long Island City for almost 60 years. He never “retired.” He would travel from Brooklyn where he was living to say Mass. Parishioners from St. Rita’s loved him dearly.
He was brilliant and knowledgeable about not only the Bible but also the languages of the early Church. Often in his sermons he would give a history lesson so that we could better understand the time of Jesus’ life. He was fluent in Latin, Hebrew and often translated Greek phrase to help us better understand the Word of God. His sermons were not only on point and current but also inspirational. We always left with a purpose for the coming week and a mission to better follow the path of Jesus. My son, Christopher, who died on Sept. 11, 2001, looked forward to listening to Msgr. Bennett. He always said he learned so much from him.
Msgr. Bennett was funny and humble and never seemed to age. He had a wonderful wit and was current in his remarks. We loved speaking with him and were always so happy that he was going to say Mass.
Even as he aged, his love of God was paramount. He knew in his heart that if you loved the Lord, you followed in His footsteps. You were good to others. You were a prayerful person. You helped whenever you could. You followed the Commandments to the letter of the law. You were not stingy. In contrast, you were generous with your time, talent and gifts. You did the best you could each day to make the world a little better. There was no grey in following the Lord. You either did or you didn’t. The message was simple, but very profound.
He travelled to St. Rita’s each Sunday until recently to spread his love and wisdom upon us.
Three of my grandsons learned how to become altar boys under his guidance. He was patient, kind and encouraged them. They felt special. They loved him. I loved him as well and so does my entire family.
Msgr. Bennett was my childhood priest. He came to St. Rita’s in 1958 when I was in elementary school. All my other childhood priests are gone with the Lord. He was the last one left. I shall remember so many things about this wonderful, holy, special man. He was part of my childhood and my adulthood. He and I spoke after Christopher’s death. He helped me always. I shall miss my friend, my priest, my spiritual advisor a lot.
May you rest in peace my dear Msgr. Bennett. I know you are in Heaven now with the Lord and he is smiling at all the wonderful things you accomplished helping everyone in your life. You will be in my heart forever.
Long Island City