Ordinary times started today. The priest wore green, not white. No more Christmas. We’re back to the time of the Liturgical year when we do “what we ordinarily do.” For me, I don’t know what the “return to ordinary” is exactly, since every day is an adventure. Although I will say, if today was an ordinary day on pilgrimage, I might go on spiritual overload.
For over half of my life, I have studied and performed Broadway musicals, not actually on Broadway, but you know… the actors life is lived in satellite theaters throughout America. Here I am at the center of the American theatrical life and I find a church that fits right in with the heart of the American theatrical life. I visited St. Malachy’s parish. A church known as “The Actor’s Chapel.”
The parish has a special history in serving the artists of New York, especially actors. This tradition began in the 1920’s when the parish offered midnight mass every night for the actors on Broadway who would finish the evening show and want to go to Mass.
It later became a parish where theatergoers would come to Mass after seeing a Broadway show, being that the parish is located in the middle of the theater district. Other late night workers around the city led to other night time Masses being offered at 2:00 AM and at 4:00 AM (when the bars closed). After a while, St. Malachy’s was only offering Mass at night, just steps off of Times Square.
When the downturn of Times Square came, the parish needed to refocus itself. It did a lot of work caring for the needs of the downtrodden and fighting the overpowering influence of massage parlors and prostitution.
In recent years it has returned to a ministry which focuses on the needs of Catholics who are part of the theater and artistic community of New York. The New York Catholic Actor’s Guild found a home at St. Malachy’s, and now on any typical Sunday, a large number of the assembly are persons who earn their living acting, singing, and dancing on Broadway. (Find out more about St. Malachy’s by visiting their website. www.actorschapel.org)
For a person such as myself, who is so entrenched in both theater and faith, this Church was like paradise. What made it even better was the fact that the pastor, Fr. Richard Baker, was a classmate of mine from THE Catholic University of America. We studied choral conducting together 10 years ago. It was unbelievable to me! Here I am at the center of the art form I appreciate the most, talking to the man whose responsibility it is to minister to those who do what inspires me the most (at least secularly).
I know there are actors with whom I have worked who read these blogs. We’ve often had discussions about how can I, or anyone, balance the “theater world” and the world of organized religion. If you ever get the chance, I encourage you to come to St. Malachy’s. The parish finds that balance, and as they do, they base the work off of a letter to artists written by the late Pope John Paul II entitled “The Way of Beauty.” Click on the link to read the letter.
They say there is a light bulb for every broken heart on Broadway. At St. Malachy’s, there are candles lit by actors who are hoping and praying they’ll get a break at the next audition. The parish is illuminated by hope, not broken hearts. It is amazing to witness, and not only because of the niche St. Malachy’s and Fr. Baker have found, but because they have chosen something so simple yet so important in the life of the Church, to engage the world in which they live. This is what the Church is supposed to do. This is… well… ordinary. Not necessarily because it is done all the time, but because this is what the Church is supposed to do.
to see the pictures of St. Malachy’s parish. The Google Earth satellite photo isn’t the greatest because other buildings cover up the footprint of St. Malachy’s, but it is right off of Times Square.