By Father James Sheehan Jr.
No memoir of a priest or Christian can truly touch on their journey without referring to some stories of their interaction with others “on the Way.”
My first story of Father Marty Geraghty, who crossed the thin space on Easter Sunday 2023, involves my Irish-American mother at my graduation from Cathedral College in the last century. Uniquely so, Marty had the charm and graciousness to help the laity feel comfortable with talking to the clergy.
In May 1975, my mother took the initiative and spoke freely to this Brooklyn priest. “Oh, congrats to you and the other teachers,” she said. “You tried to make the seminary in a new way. That will help us, as it’s obvious not many are signing up for the old way.”
Father Geraghty’s eyes softly twinkled, and he said: “Thanks so much, Mrs. Sheehan, you have just saved us years of faculty meetings.”
They both chuckled, as the figures in the Jewish Scriptures did with the birth of Issac, whose birth was laughed about as his parents were at a very advanced age when they had him. Marty’s positive view of seminary and parishes was that they were to give birth, not to retreat back to the allegedly “good old days.”
Certainly, Marty’s priesthood and life will be missed in the local life of the Church. His heart and mind were wide. That includes his parishes and his wide public commitment to working with the Jewish community.
Along with serious theological work for the future of the Church and his amazing perseverance in light of the sheer horrors of 9/11 and the crashing of American Airlines Flight 587 to the Dominican Republic near his beloved parish of Saint Francis de Sales, his ministry of progressive hope was rooted in the sense of prayerful wonder that real human beings could be intimate with the Lord. His academic side quoted to me once St. John Newman’s “Heart Speaks Unto Heart,” or as he humbly put it, “It sounds better in Latin; Cor Loquitur ad Cor.”
My favorite memory of Marty, and why I write this memoir, was he kept me from leaving the seminary.
In the interterm after the fall semester of my sophomore year at Douglaston, I wrote a paper on Theology of Liberation (remember that?) for his relatively boring course on Church.
Afterward I was determined to transfer to a secular college and had requested 97 information booklets from other schools that took transfer students.
I felt I had reached the level of saturation of my late adolescent frustration with any institution, let alone that of our Church.
Marty, catching on that I wanted to leave the seminary, met me after class one day and said casually: “Jim, could you do me a favor; I have been asked by the bishop to work with the talented men of the college and to find out how we can help the talented ones not to leave us!”
I assured him that I was angry enough to talk with him over a game of chess, which was his idea. I was honestly afraid of expending my anger on the Church, seminary, and Lord knows what else!
He assured me that honest communication was always okay, and it was the Christian and the manly way to do it.
We began: Three straight Tuesdays at 2 p.m. He heard me and understood me.
Fast forward … I stayed at Douglaston and graduated. For the last quarter of a century, I also have tried to provide a regular space for students and staff to vent to me as an ordained priest and campus minister in two bi-lingual community colleges in CUNY.
That is why I love Marty. The stories about him are worth telling.
What are yours?
Father James Coy Francis Sheehan, Jr. is a priest of the Archdiocese of New York. He was ordained in 1979 after studies at Cathedral College and North American College in Rome