I live in Our Lady of Angels parish in Bay Ridge, but unlike many people in the neighborhood, I was not born there and I did not go to the parish school.
This past year, OLA – as everyone refers to it – has been marking the 125th anniversary of its founding. Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio was there last Sunday to close the jubilee year that has been packed with anniversary events.
Over the weekend, the City even put up a new street sign proclaiming the corner outside the church as Our Lady of Angels Way.
No one is a bigger booster of Our Lady of Angels than its pastor, Msgr. Kevin Noone, who is a native son and a 1958 graduate of the parish school. No one is prouder of the rich history and legacy of the parish. In fact, he credits his own vocation to the priests of the parish, especially Father Bob Ecker, now retired and living in California. “He was the one who visited the school the most,” recalls Msgr. Noone. “He had the most influence on me.”
Being pastor during this jubilee year is a source of great pride to Msgr. Noone. Even though there are many people of different ethnicities coming to the parish, he says parishioners have been welcoming of the newcomers.
Most people who have been around OLA for some time continue to talk about the great priests who served there. Names like Fathers Frank Labita, Tom Campbell, Robert Ecker, Jim Haggerty, James McKenna, and James Sullivan roll off their lips.
“They were a great bunch of priests that we had here,” recalls Bill Sullivan, Class of 1948, who met Kitty, his wife of 61 years, at the school. He recalls how the priests used to play ball with the boys and organized boat rides to Rye Beach. He fondly recalls the Friday night dances with a live band. It’s where he and Kitty’s relationship blossomed and grew – like so many others at OLA.
He mentions Bishop Edmund J. Reilly, pastor for 12 years, as a “really vibrant man.”
“He had a great voice,” recalled Bill as we chatted during the reception following the anniversary liturgy.
“Bishop Reilly was the kind of priest who was open to everybody. He could ask for money for a parish project and you would be glad to give it to him.”
Pam Hume has also been around OLA for many years. In fact, she was in the same grade, but different section as Msgr. Noone.
“He was my Confirmation partner,” she says.
Pam has seen the changes in the parish, the smaller numbers and the changing ethnicities and she has embraced them for creating “a better sense of community.”
“You can be very involved in the parish. You’re not just part of a large crowd coming to church,” she explains. “You get to meet people you wouldn’t ordinarily get to know.”
Pam, who is part of the parish’s planning committee, says she has been impressed by the “love for the Church” that so many of the newcomers bring.
She also works with the parish’s religious education coordinator, Anne O’Brien, in the ARISE program and is impressed in how many families are participating.
Msgr. John O’Brien, who works now with senior priests in the diocese, was at the reception looking for any classmates from 1946. He wasn’t having too much luck. Just a sign of the changing face of Our Lady of Angels.