Brooklyn to get (another) saint?

There was a fine story in the New York Times the other day about Brooklyn, the Catholic Church and sainthood. Here’s the opening:

Brooklyn, the borough of churches and trees, Walt Whitman and Woody Allen, Barbra Streisand and Mike Tyson, has never lacked for people of distinction — except perhaps in one category.

Nobody from Brooklyn has ever been made a saint.

But at a special church service … Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn opened what is known as a “canonical inquiry” into the cause of sainthood for a Brooklyn priest, Msgr. Bernard J. Quinn.

Monsignor Quinn, who died in 1940 at age 52, championed racial equality at a time when discrimination against blacks was ubiquitous in America, even inside the Catholic Church. In the Depression-era heyday of the anti-Semitic, pro-Fascist radio broadcasts of the Rev. Charles E. Coughlin, Monsignor Quinn encountered sharp resistance from some fellow priests when he proposed ministering to Brooklyn’s growing population of blacks, many of them fleeing the Jim Crow South or migrating from the poor Caribbean countries.

It’s quite a story. A few GetReligion readers, including one who said it felt strange to praise the Times, sent me the URL and asked for a positive post about this feature.

Glad to do so. However, I must first mention one very basic problem, one linked to that sentence that states the news hook: “Nobody from Brooklyn has ever been made a saint.”

That sentence should have read: “Nobody from Brooklyn has ever been proclaimed a saint by the Catholic Church.”

You see, because of its sheer size and importance in American and the West, in general, many journalists have a tendency to see religion news through the lens of Rome (and to a lesser extent, Canterbury). When people in newsrooms think about saints, to the degree that they ever do so, they tend to think about Catholic saints.

The problem is that this does not take into account the second-largest body of Christian believers on the global scene — the churches of Eastern Orthodoxy. Thus, the Times team has overlooked the existence of St. Raphael of Brooklyn, who is a very important figure for the Orthodox here in North America, especially for those who are yearn for the creation of one, unified, pan-Orthodox expression of the faith in this land.

Back in 2000, at the time that this missionary bishop was proclaimed a saint, I wrote the following in a column for Scripps Howard:

Raphael Hawaweeny was born in 1840, while Christians were being slaughtered in the streets of Damascus. His family briefly fled to Lebanon after the martyrdom of their parish priest, St. Joseph of Damascus. … The young Raphael became a monk, but had to leave home to receive an education equal to his abilities. First, he studied with the Greeks at the School of Theology in Halki and he later did graduate studies in Kiev, Russia. Raphael spent nearly a decade in Russia, leading the Arab parish in Moscow. But it was his fierce advocacy of the rights of Arab Christians back home in the ancient church of Antioch that led to clashes with some bishops and, at one point, to his suspension from ministry as a priest.

Then he received an 1895 invitation to lead an Arab mission in yet another strange land — Brooklyn. By this point, Raphael knew Latin, classical Greek and Old Church Slavonic, while speaking Arabic, Turkish, Greek, Russian, French and English.

The missionary traveled from Montreal to Mexico City and founded 30 parishes. As his fame grew, Raphael had numerous opportunities to return home. The Antiochian synod offered him positions as a bishop in Beirut, Tripoli, Tyre, Sidon and elsewhere. But he remained with his flock, becoming a bishop in a 1904 rite in Brooklyn that made him the first Orthodox bishop consecrated in North America. He died in 1915.

So, it is simply inaccurate to say that Brooklyn doesn’t have a saint to call its own. It is accurate to say that, in the future, it may have its first saint that has received that honor from the Catholic Church.

This error would be easy to correct. I must also stress that, by raising this point, I honestly don’t want to diminish the importance of this story by the Times or the cause of those seeking canonization for Monsignor Quinn. In particular, the story does a fine job of noting the rich heritage of Catholicism in New York City. Thus, we read:

The process of canonization can take a long time. The inquiry on behalf of another New Yorker, Cardinal Terence J. Cooke, has been going on since 1984. Pierre Toussaint, the 19th-century Haitian abolitionist, former slave and devout Catholic — who, like Cooke, has been championed by the Archdiocese of New York — has been in line since 1943.

The archdiocese, which includes the Bronx, Manhattan, Staten Island and several upstate counties, can lay claim to a few saints: Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini, Elizabeth Ann Seton, the Rev. Isaac Jogues and several of his fellow martyred missionaries. It has taken up the causes of another dozen potential saints, including Dorothy Day and Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen.

Brooklyn has some connection to at least two other candidates: Bishop Francis X. Ford, a Maryknoll missionary who was born in Brooklyn and died in Chinese custody in 1952; and the Rev. Felix Varela, an early-19th-century human rights advocate born in Cuba who worked in Brooklyn when it was still part of the New York Archdiocese.

But the inquiry on behalf of Monsignor Quinn is the first the Brooklyn diocese, which encompasses that borough and Queens, has started since its creation in 1853, according to the diocese’s spokesman, Msgr. Kieran E. Harrington.

By all means, read it all. This was, indeed, a man whose ministry of justice and equality was — well — quite miraculous.

Still, a small correction would be helpful, as a nod to St. Raphael of, yes, Brooklyn.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Mollie

    I really liked this story, too. Great lede that set the tone for the whole piece.

  • tmatt

    Come on folks. We are talking about an actual error OF FACT.

    Is there anyone out there who believes that FACTS are important to mainstream reporting?

  • Bobby

    Is there anyone out there who believes that FACTS are important to mainstream reporting?

    Preach it, brother. I believe!

  • Jon in the Nati

    Sure, facts are important. But let’s face it: we’re talking about a recently glorified (the Orthodox term for canonized) saint who is only venerated in a church body whose presence in America is just barely on the radar screen, even for religion reporters. And to be fair, St. Raphael was not “from” Brooklyn; he was “from” Syria.

    So, sure, the reporter missed that. But it is not terribly relevant to the focus of the story, and I’d guess that no one outside of knowledgeable Orthodox Christians would notice or care.

    Please understand, I say this as an Orthodox Christian with a particular devotion to St. Raphael and other North American missionary saints.

  • Jen G.

    True, but my take is that if you can find the information on the first page of a google search of the words ‘saint brooklyn’ then it isn’t obscure ‘Orthodox only info a journalist should be excused for not finding’

  • Rachel

    “And to be fair, St. Raphael was not “from” Brooklyn; he was “from” Syria.”

    I thought of that too and considered commenting on it; but reading the story, it sounds as though Monsignor Quinn wasn’t born or raised in Brooklyn either, but simply did ministry there, same as St. Raphael. So it sounds as though St. Raphael is as much from Brooklyn as Monsignor Quinn.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Here’s an angle to saint stories that will send any reporter into knots.
    I sometimes attend a Melkite Byzantine Catholic Church. (It is an Eastern Catholic Church in communion with Rome and centered in the Middle East.)
    And according to what a Melkite priest told me their Church has officially recognized all Orthodox saints who have been properly canonized (glorified) by any Orthodox Church.
    In turn Rome has officially recognized all saints officially recognized by the Melkite Church–including the Orthodox saints. Thus, Catholics can give, for example, Saint Seraphim of Sarov and Saint John of Kronstadt (a married parish priest–although it is believed he followed the discipline of celibacy) the same veneration and respect they give to St. Anthony of Padua or St. Teresa of Avila.

  • John Pack Lambert

    It appears Deacon John’s comment supports tmatt’s objetion even more. It appears that due to the Melkite connection St. Raphael may be recognizable as a saint in Catholicism.

    I am wondering do the Byzantine Catholics with origins in places like Ukrain follow the same process of recognizing Eastern Saints as the Melkites? There are even more Eastern Rite Catholics in Metro-Detroit than Orthodox Christians. My high school was chalk full of Chaledans, Melkits, Marrionites, Bysantine Catholics with origins in Eatern Europe and maybe even a few Copts of the Coptic Church in communion with Rome. If not those, we had some Copts who were part of the Coptic Church, which arguably is more seperated from Rome and Constantinople than those two religious traditions are seperated from each other.

    I assume Copts also do cannonization. Have they canonized any residents of America. Since the center of American Copticism is northern New Jersey, a Brooklyn connected saint aamong them may not be far off.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    John P.–I only know about Eastern Catholic saint issues what I put in my comment. However, since you apparently grew up in metro-Detroit your comment on all the Eastern Catholics there confirms for me what I have been telling people for years–far more of the Middle Eastern refugees in this country are Christian than most people realize. The media tends to paint ALL such refugees as Moslem. Yet millions of Christians are fleeing the Middle East to save their lives.
    Most of those Catholic groups you mentioned as filling your schools are NOT from Eastern Europe (unless they stopped there on the way here). Chaldeans are Catholics from Iraq. Melkites are Catholics mostly from Israel and Syria. Maronites are Catholics from Lebanon. Coptic Catholics are from Egypt.
    And many, many others fleeing Moslem terrorism in the Middle East are Coptic Orthodox or Arab Orthodox, and many other types of Christians.
    Yet all we hear in the media is the Islamization of Detroit. It would be more accurate to say the Middle Easternization of the Detroit area. But noone in the media seems to care one whit about the millions of Christians being terrorized to flee their native lands. (These lands were native Christian centuries before invading Arab Moslems showed up–and that NEVER gets mentioned in America’s media).

  • John Pack Lambert

    At least where I live in the northern-suburbs of Detroit the Pakistani and Indian Muslims far outnumber Arab Muslims. The Chaldeans are more numerous than the Arab Christians, but Arab Christians, especially Lebanese Christians, have a high rate of inter-marriage with non-Arabs.

    In high school I knew people who were part Lebanese and part Italian. This was in many ways not an “inter-marriage” though because their parents were both Catholics.

    Many Arab Christians in metro-Detroit attend Western Churches. In the LDS Ward I attend (which only has about 50 people) we have one man who is Chaldean. In high school I knew multiple Palestinian Christians who attended Western-rite Catholic Churches, and I also knew some Indian (from India) Catholics who attended a Catholic Church that did at least some of its masses in Polish.

    From 1994-2000 Spencer Abraham, an Eastern Orthodox Christian of Lebanese descent, who was attacked by one campaign ad that tried to say he was like bin Laden, was a US Senator from Michigan.

    Another issue that the media avoids even more than non-Muslim immigrants from the Middle East is persecuted Muslim minorities. A noticable number of Muslims in the US are Amadiyah Muslims. There is an Amadiyah Mosque in Rochester Hill, Michigan. There is another one in southern California that met in an LDS Church while they were remodeling their mosque. The Deseret News article on the later did not explain the full or even really any story of the Amadiyah. I am not even sure if they made clear that the Amadiyah are a distinct group of Muslims.

    The Amadiyah are legally denied the right to claim being Muslims in Pakistan. They have suffered many forms of persecution from the central government and have recently been the victims of violence propagated by anti-government forces as well.

    It would probably do a lot to foster good relationships between Amadiyah and other Americans if the news media ran stories that compared their plight and flight from their home lands to the stories of the Pilgrims, Hugenots, Amish, Mennonites and arguably even the religious Catholic refugees who came to the US as the anti-clerical revolutions played out across Europe in 1848.