By Joseph Turco, Esq.
Due to the way architectural heritage and preservation have developed in the West Village, it is not difficult to picture certain streetscapes a hundred years ago, when priests, lawyers, and writers, among others, scurried about this neighborhood, tending to their vocations.
So, last week, George Capsis, Dusty Berke, and I took a short walk from George’s “Sinclair Lewis” house at 69 Charles Street, to the Friary on Waverly Place, to visit my old friend, Reverend James Loughran, SA.
Publisher George Capsis and Reverend Jim Loughran had never met, despite both residing in large and important houses in the same neighborhood for decades. We were welcomed into a plain, yet elegant, sitting room, befitting the comfortable modesty these hospitable Friars project.
After fixing us drinks, Father Jim sat beside a large fireplace to answer some questions from Our Dear Publisher. Here’s what we learned:
The Society of the Atonement, also known as the “Graymoor Friars,” because of their legendary (and open to all) Graymoor Mountain in upstate Garrison, NY, purchased the West Village property from St. Joseph’s in 1956. The rectory, originally built in 1850 and designed by James Renwick, served St. Joseph’s for 106 years. These days, one can sit at Joe’s and have coffee, while admiring this gothic gem from across the street.
For the 61 years the old Order of Franciscans have had the Waverly House, they have served the community in several ways. The special role the Graymoor Friars play is of ecumenical diplomats. As Father Jim explained, the entire order was Episcopalian, but converted en masse to Roman Catholicism in 1909. (See the New York Times article entitled “The Monastery That Converted,” from 1909.) Because of this unique history, the Vatican charged the Friars’ Society of the Atonement with helping “reunite the faith of all Christians and reunite the humanity of all non-Christians” around the world. This notion of reunification, starting with Anglicans and Roman Catholics, is known as the “Oxford Movement,” and there is no better embodiment of it today than the Waverly Place Friars. Father Jim Loughran has the ear of the Cardinal on these important matters of reunification and, my guess is, he can pull a string or two at the Vatican as well.
The “Junkie Priest”
Some old time Villagers may remember a charming old Graymoor priest named Daniel Egan who lived at the Friary. Father Egan founded the Village Haven in 1962, which is a halfway house for women in Greenwich Village addicted to drugs—one of the first such facilities ever specifically devoted to this issue. The saintly old Irish priest especially focused on women just released from jail. “These women face a crisis the moment they are freed”, he told the New York Times in 1963, which rings true today. The Reverend Daniel Egan, SA passed away in 2000, but is still warmly remembered in this Village.
Father Jim gave us a real scoop toward the end of the interview and WestView News is here with the exclusive.
It turns out that the founder of this special order of Franciscans, Reverend Paul Wattson, SA, who lived from 1863 to 1940, has been formally placed into consideration for sainthood. It’s a three-step process, according to Father Jim. First, he is named a “Servant of God” and his “life and writings closely examined by the Archbishop.” The second step is “beatification,” where his miracles are investigated. The third and final step is sainthood. So, there you have it Villagers; among all your distinguished neighbors, you may soon have a saint among you. Stay tuned.
After the interview, George took us all out to dinner on Bleecker Street. I had to leave early to prepare for a court hearing the next day. But, when I left, the priest and the writer were deep in conversation. The last thing I heard George say to Father Jim was, “Define miracle.” Then I stepped out into the old street, in this little Village of ours.