In my previous blog post I wrote about how Father Sylvester Malone helped build a Catholic community in Williamsburg. Father Patrick.F O’Hare, the famous pastor of St. Anthony of Padua in Greenpoint is similar to Malone in many ways, yet O’Hare was far more intolerant and confrontational than Fr. Malone. However intolerant O’Hare may have been, his influence on Saint Anthony of Padua church was huge and he can rightly be credited with building a strong parish there.
Like Malone, O’Hare was Irish born. He was born in 1848 at Newry in Co. Down, but came to America at age three. He later returned to Ireland where he completed primary school. O’Hare returned to the United States and became a priest in 1872. He served in other parishes before being named pastor of St. Anthony of Padua in 1883.
in 1883 Saint Anthony of Padua was a church mired in financial woes. The church had a huge debt and there was talk that the parish would not be able to pay back what it owed. With the intense drive for which he was noted, he took over a parish in poor condition and transformed it by clearing its debt, building a school , a convent for the Sisters and a friary for the Franciscan Brothers. Perhaps he was able to accomplish so much because of positive numbers. The Catholic population in Greenpoint was growing rapidly both in numbers and economic clout as Irish immigrants flocked to the area for its factory jobs.
Many of the most beautiful interior features of the church are a result of the works of O’Hare. He got the frescoes painted and had the stained glass windows installed. It was his work that brought in both the organ and the marble alters. The bells and the carillon are also another one of his legacies.
O’Hare had ten thousand parishioners and a huge amount of power that he was not afraid to use in the community. He was a vigorous opponent of drinking. He personally visited saloons and told them they dare not open on Sunday. He preached against the evils of drink from the pulpit, but also organized a powerful temperance movement in Greenpoint. When children were confirmed they had to pledge not to drink.
O’Hare believed that he had every right to intervene in Greenpoint and he became a morality policeman. He threatened to have his parishioners boycott shops that used obscene pictures in advertising. He toured the local Vaudeville shows and acted as a censor. Acts he considered lewd were bounced. Theater owners were so afraid of O’Hare that they did not protest.
He was also very involved in political questions. When he learned that the area Congressman supported free trade legislation that would put many of his parishioners out of work he pressured the local Congressman who quickly changed his stance. However, he could also take radical stances. In 1895 when there was a huge violent strike by street car operators, many of whom were his parishioners. The Brooklyn Eagle reported that Father O’Hare was actively encouraging the strikers, many of whom were part of his flock. When interviewed about the extent of his involvement in the strike O’Hare said little.
He also engaged in a nasty and very public dispute with the Pastor of St. James Lutheran Church on Milton Street just down a few houses from his parish. When Reverend Frank Oswald praised Martin Luther as a model for the German family O’Hare published a scorching attack on Luther in the parish circular. It was titled “Luther and his Immoral Life” and stated that saying that Luther taught the German nation morality was “A gross slander.” He unkindly alluded to Rev. Oswald by writing in the circular that “Moral Leprosy is spread from the pulpit.” So inflammatory were his remarks that the New York TImes reported the story and asked rhetorically if O’Hare’s comments would not cause friction between the two churches.
O Hare ruled the huge parish with an Iron fist for forty-three years. Politicians, business owners and parishioners all feared him. He passed away in 1926 and thousands came to his wake. They realized that an era had passed. His words and his actions have become legend and history among Greenpointers.