. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . IT'S NOT OVER UNTIL FATHER G COMES HOME TO ST LUCY'S...
Newark Star Ledger - April 20, 2009
by Columnist Bob Braun
Long-time Newark priest fights retirement from St. Lucy's Catholic Church
Lucy's Roman Catholic Church, an enduring fortress of tradition in a
changing Newark, will lose the priest who was its spiritual guide for a
half-century. But Monsignor Joseph Granato won't go without a fight --
a fight his supporters say will both maintain that tradition and keep
the cleric in the city.
Granato, with the parish since 1955, bowed to demands from the
Newark Archdiocese -- first made five years ago -- that he step down
from what had been the center of Italian-American heritage in the
city's old First Ward.
(Amanda Brown/The Star-Ledger) Monsignor
Joseph Granato, with St. Lucy's of Newark since 1955, will retire in
June. Some parishioners fear the longtime monsignor's retirement would
end the church's conservative practices.
"That battle is over," says
Anthony Rosamilia of Parsippany, a church trustee. "He will retire. The
only question now is what happens to him and to St. Lucy's."
Rosamilia says parishioners and other supporters feared Granato's
retirement in June would end the conservative practices of St. Lucy's,
whose priests still dispense Communion to devout kneeling at an altar
railing, offer Latin masses, reserve seats for old families and
encourage devotion to obscure, regionally known Italian saints whose
statues fill the church -- among other traditions now rejected by most
The pastor himself is under a gag order and cannot speak for
himself, Rosamilia says. At 80, however, he is fit and willing to
continue leading the parish.
"I can say nothing," is all he will say.
But parishioners themselves, led by Rosamilia and Michael
Genevrino, the executive director of the state Italian-American
Heritage Institute, began organizing a protest march from St. Lucy's to
the archdiocese's home church, the Sacred Heart Cathedral-Basilica,
blocks away. They also encouraged "friends of St. Lucy's" to inundate
the archdiocese with calls and letters.
"St. Lucy's is erupting," Genevrino declared. "It's a culture war."
"Save Saint Lucy's" posters went up in stores on Bloomfield Avenue
and other streets in what had been the Italian section of New Jersey's
Within days, Genevrino announced the archdiocese offered Granato
assurances he could continue to live in the parish rectory -- the
alternative was a home for retired priests -- and that his replacement
would respect the church's traditions.
Archbishop John Myers called Granato, Genevrino says, and told him
the church's traditions were "devotions he shared and would not want to
Jim Goodness, an archdiocese spokesman, confirmed Granato would
stay as pastor emeritus. He said he was unaware of the contents of the
call from the archbishop.
"I think too many people are jumping to conclusions about what
might happen at St. Lucy's," said Goodness. "No one has been named to
replace Monsignor Granato."
The archdiocese faces a problem by committing the next pastor in advance to maintaining all the church's traditions.
St. Lucy's was established in 1891 at the peak of Italian
immigration to Newark. From 1910 to 1920, priests at St. Lucy's
performed 10,694 baptisms and 1,495 marriages. Fifty years later, the
numbers have shrunk to a fraction of those rites.
It became more of a museum to the city's Italian past and old
traditions of worship than a true Italian-American parish -- the
parish's community center contains a museum, headed by Genevrino,
honoring the neighborhood that is no more.
Change is anathema to St. Lucy's Italian-American supporters, most
of whose families moved from Newark long ago but return for weddings,
baptisms and funerals.
"Not everyone embraces change," says Genevrino, who lives in Clark.
Many with roots in the neighborhood believe they were refugees
displaced by urban renewal and other government projects that,
beginning in the 1950s, destroyed their neighborhood -- Columbus Homes,
a low-income project since razed; the Colonnades, once a luxury
high-rise; Route 280 that sliced into the last viable section of the
In an earlier interview, Granato insisted Newark's Italians were
forced out of the city and did not flee the city because it became
predominantly African-American -- although the church almost closed in
the wake of the 1967 riots.
The priest kept in contact with the families whose children and
grandchildren -- many successful professionals -- now live in suburbs
throughout the state and country. They became a revenue source that
kept the church alive and in sparkling condition. He also raised nearly
$2 million to build an outdoor plaza and shrine to St. Gerard Maiella
-- an Italian saint considered a patron to motherhood -- as well as
nearby low-income housing.
"We stayed," Granato said in the earlier interview. "It's the deal we made with parishioners. We stay if they stay."
The scions of the old families also represent political and
financial power within the archdiocese -- and could account for why it
has failed in the past to persuade the monsignor to leave. It is almost
unheard of for priests -- normally rotated regularly throughout the
diocese every few years -- to remain as long as Granato stayed at St.
Genevrino insists the protest has only been "postponed," not canceled.