“Would to heaven that all the faiths had men like you.”

Today marks the death of Father Sylvester Malone (1821-1899), an Irish-born priest who served in Brooklyn for 55 years. His one and only assignment was at Saints Peter and Paul in Williamsburg, a parish he founded a few weeks after his ordination in 1844. A strong abolitionist, Malone is believed to have aided the Underground Railroad. He saw slavery as “a blasphemous rebellion against the ordinance of God—to love one another—a radical injustice that in any other land and any other system of government than America might have endured for centuries.” Long before Vatican II, he insisted that Christianity and anti-Semitism were incompatible. Speaking at a Williamsburg Purim Ball in 1870, he told a Jewish audience that the true spirit of Christianity “was opposed to ignorant prejudices,” and he pledged himself to seeing that “persecution should not follow the Jewish race any longer.” For many years in Williamsburg, members of the Hebrew Benevolent Society were honored guests at St. Patrick’s Day, and the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick attended the annual Purim Ball. One Brooklyn Rabbi said of Malone that he “obliterated the lines of religious distinctions.” In the pulpit he reminded Irish parishioners that their own experience of religious persecution should make them sympathetic to their Jewish neighbors. Not long before his death, a Jewish friend wrote him: “Would to heaven that all the faiths had men like you; there would be less friction, less suffering, and more happiness.” The Brooklyn Eagle obituary called him “everybody’s friend. It made no difference to the venerable priest what the color, nationality or creed was in matters of charity or good will. He had a heart for mankind.”

About Pat McNamara

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