WOOD-RIDGE, N.J. – Last fall, Brian Cullinane, pastor of Assumption of Our Blessed Lady Church here, determined that the basement of his church desperately needed a face lift, not only for the sake of his parish but for the use of the local community as well.
During his tenure as pastor, he had often been reminded of the inspiring leadership of Patrick Morris, who served as pastor from 1982 to 1993, and who had been a friend over the years. Brian soon decided what to do: renovate the basement and dedicate it to the revered memory of his fellow friar.
That dream came true, after a year of planning and outstanding cooperation from parish volunteers, on the early evening of March 18. After celebrating and preaching at the 5:30 Mass, Brian led his flock downstairs to the surprise of a beautiful new parish hall and kitchen.
Green plaid drapes hung from the sixteen windows. Round tables, replacing old elongated tables, were adorned with bright green covers in the spirit of Pat’s and Brian’s own ancestry. Banners symbolic of Ireland hung high on the walls. On each of the pillars in the room were rectangular flags of the Emerald Isle. Parishioners blinked in astonishment at the transformed room.
But perhaps the highlight was a green awning in front of the renovated kitchen area. Large letters, flanked by shamrocks, spelled out the room’s new name: “Fr. Patrick Morris Hall.”
During his opening remarks to the gathering of some 200 for the occasion, Brian drew their attention to the wall beneath the awning. A covering was withdrawn, and there appeared a plaque in memory of Pat with the highlights of his ministry emblazoned in gold lettering. A bottom line summarized his life in Holy Name Province: “Friar, Educator, Pastor, Friend.” Jack Nagel, program master of ceremonies, and his wife Audrey sponsored the plaque.
Nagel shared with the gathering a joint New Jersey legislative resolution by Senator Sarlo and Assemblymen Scalera and Schaer paying tribute “to all those whose efforts have contributed to this praiseworthy endeavor.”
In his follow-up remarks, Brian also acknowledged the many volunteers and others who contributed to the success of the project, “who gave their time, talents and treasures,” he said. These included Phil Bucaro, who put together new cabinets for the kitchen and did many other behind-the-scenes carpentry work, and his wife Rosie, a parish office volunteer, who had spent countless hours ironing each of the drapes.
Among those attending were Pat’s sister, Mrs. Beatrice Casey of Nanuet, N.Y., and other members of his family: Mrs. Eleanor Morris, Nicholas J. Morris and his wife Kim, Danny Casey and his daughter Kelly; and Suzie Morris.
Also taking part in the celebration were Kevin Mullen,Theodore Lehr and John Pierce, former parish associates;J. Patrick Kelly, whose residence is in the parish’s former convent; and present associates Paul Sinnema and myself.
Memories were recalled and some tears shed during the viewing of a 10-minute video of highlights of Pat’s pastorate. John Podesta of Kohler Funeral Home here produced the film and DVDs were made available.
Kevin contributed a lively karaoke sing-a-long for the party. Anthony Liguori provided the production equipment and continued the spirit of the party with additional music until closing time. Pot luck salads and a vast variety of other homecooked foods and desserts kept everyone well fed.
In his closing talk, Brian drew attention to the Province’s globalization efforts, and in that spirit invited everyone to contribute flags of their own family backgrounds to adorn the hall’s walls along with the present Irish flags. He also invited other suggestions for the use of the hall.
“We are thankful for our past,” Brian said, “and we hope to continue building for our future.”