St. Malachy’s Church; Home to The “Actor’s Chapel” an Oasis of Catholicism in the Heart of the Broadway Theater District

St. Malachy’s Church (Actor’s Chapel) NYC                          wikipedia.org

By Larry Peterson

I was in New York City recently (my hometown), and I was blessed by being able to attend 9 A.M. Sunday Mass at St. Malachy’s Church. Located on W 49th Street between Broadway and 8th Avenue, this is the very heart of the Broadway theater district. This area of midtown Manhattan is just a few blocks from Times Square and is known around the world.

This church opened in 1902 and stepping into it is like a step back in time. The church is small in comparison to many others, but the gothic architecture is magnificent, and the white marble altar crowns the sanctuary with a pronounced transcendental presence. It is stunning to look at.

When the church opened, it was an average parish church tending to the needs of the local Catholics and their growing families. But shortly before 1920 things began to change. The section of Manhattan began to transform into the area known for theater. Soon it became known as the “theater district.”

The priests and the active parishioners of the day realized that they would have to adapt to the changing parish population. The area was becoming filled with actors, actresses, musicians, dancers, stagehands, craftsmen, and all the other personnel that were required to make entertainment possible. Masses were rescheduled and rearranged to accommodate the theater and nightclub workers. Scheduling a Mass at 4 A.M., required permission from the Vatican because church law did not allow Masses at that hour.

Toward the end of 1920, the “Actor’s Chapel” was completed below the main church. St. Malachy’s quickly became known as the center of worship for the entertainment industry. Celebrities who attended Mass at the church included George M. Cohan (who donated the altar rail for the chapel), Perry Como, Spencer Tracy, Jimmy Cagney, Bob Hope, and Rudolph Valentino, to name a few. Some of the actors who served Mass were Pat O’Brien, Jimmy Durante, and Don Ameche.

Someone not mentioned so far but who needs mentioning is the patron of the parish, the man the church is named after, St.Malachy. Who was he and where did he come from? Let’s find out.

We must travel back to Ireland in the year 1094. A baby was born and was baptized with the name Mael Maedoc which translated into Malchus in Latin and finally Malachy in English. His surname was Ua Morgair  making his full name, Mael Maedoc Ua Morgair.  That translates into the simple Irish name of Malachy O’More.

Malachy was the son of a teacher, and after his parents passed away, he entered the religious life. He was ordained a priest in 1119 by Bishop Cellach, who would become St. Cellach. Much of what we know about Malachy comes from the writings of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who wrote a biography of Malachy and was with him when he died. He wrote of Malachy’s great preaching ability and his determination to reform abuses in the Irish church, including strict rules on celibacy.

Malachy was promoted to the position of Abbott, and a few years later, at the age of 30, was consecrated as the Bishop of Connor. He became a staunch supporter of Pope Gregory VII instituting the reforms that the Holy Father had initiated. This included introducing the Roman Liturgy into Ireland. He became a well-known miracle worker and healer where he reportedly cured people just by laying hands on them.

It is reported that Malachy was gifted with the gift of prophecy. While he was in Rome, in 1139, he had a vision of all the Popes from that day until the end of time. He wrote descriptions and poems about each of the future popes and eventually presented the manuscript to Pope Innocent II. It was apparently put to the side and did not resurface until the year 1590, a period of over 450 years. Ever since that time heated debates have arisen over its authenticity. The manuscript ends with the last pope being the one after Pope Benedict XVI.

For the most part these prophecies have been debunked. Accurate up until 1590 they get quite vague and inaccurate from that point on. Today, most scholars consider them a hoax. Thomas J. Reese S. J., of Georgetown University said, “St. Malachy’s prophecy is nonsense.” We can leave it there. But Malachy’s church leadership, reforms, and the many miracles attributed to him are unquestioned.

Malachy O/More died on November 2, 1148. He was canonized a saint by Pope Clement III in 1190.

St. Malachy, please pray for us.

P.S. If you ever have the chance go to the Sunday, 11 A.M. Solemn High Mass. The choir consists of professional singers from the Broadway stage. There is NO Charge

copyright©Larry Peterson 2019

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.