Fr. John Grange
October 29, 2009
1 hour, 51 minutes, 39 seconds
Ireland House Oral History Collection, Archives of Irish America, New York University
Fr. John Grange was born in 1940 along with twin brother, Joseph, to parents Margaret and Joseph. Fr. Grange’s parents both grew up on the West Side of Manhattan, but met on summer vacation in Rockaway Beach, Queens. Fr. Grange’s grandparents on his mother’s side emigrated from Ireland when they were very young. Fr. Grange grew up in the neighborhood of Mott Haven, South Bronx around Alexander Avenue, the “Irish Fifth Avenue.” He went to grammar school at St. Jerome’s, where he would later serve as pastor. Fr. Grange graduated from Cathedral Preparatory Seminary in Flushing, Queens and was ordained in 1966. Fr. Grange served at several different parishes, before returning to St. Jerome’s in 1976. Beginning in the early eighties, a large influx of Mexican immigrants began attending services at St. Jerome’s, bringing new life into the church. When the church was on the verge of being shut down, Fr. Grange persuaded the Archdiocese to secure funding for the renovation of St. Jerome’s, resulting in the creation of the Hand’s Community Center. In 2007, Fr. Grange was transferred to St. Athanasius Parish, where he still works today.
Excerpt No. 1
Experience in the SeminaryDisc 1: 36:18–37:54
Transcription of Excerpt No. 1
JG: Somewhere along the line, I decided to come a priest. And you know, I’ve never had a vision, I never had a voice, never had anybody tell me that’s something I should do. It’s just something I decided to do. It’s a strange thing. And so I went to, and my brother also, my twin brother, went to what was called minor seminary, Cathedral Preparatory Seminary, except you got off on Thursdays and you didn’t get off Fridays, so you didn’t go to dances. I think that was the reason. I can’t think of any other reason. But uh, the schooling there was quite classical.
JG: Latin, Greek, History. We weren’t too good in science or math. And I enjoyed myself there. It was a five-year program, no six-year program. Four years of high school, two years of semi-college. Then we went up to the seminary and had what was called two years of Philosophy. And after that my brother Joe left and I stayed and then you had first theology, second theology, third theology. And when I was in third Theology, I said, I don’t know what I’m doing here. You know, should I be this or that? So I left and taught in a school.
Excerpt No. 2
Learning SpanishDisc 1: 38:44–39:58
Transcription of Excerpt No. 2
JG: I was ordained in 1966. Now the one thing I haven’t mentioned in any of this was around 1950 there was a big, big infusion of Puerto Ricans in our neighborhood. And I got to know some of them, and the priests that I admired were working with them, you know and they went to learn Spanish and all this kind of stuff. So, I guess I kind of wanted to do that too in some way, but it wasn’t clear in my head. So when I was ordained, they sent me to Puerto Rico to learn Spanish where I did, sort of, for two months.
CO: Did you go to a language school?
JG: Yeah, in Ponce.
CO: In Ponce.
JG: And also, on the weekends, you went out to a parish.
CO: And worked with the…?
JG: Yeah, it was a good program.
LA: Immersion, I guess.
JG: Yeah, that was the idea. But you’d listen for like twenty minutes and you’d go, what the hell is this person was saying? It was even better hearing confessions.
Excerpt No. 3
Mexican Community at St. Jerome’sDisc 1: 45:05–48:54
Transcription of Excerpt No. 3
JG: So then when I landed at St. Jerome’s, it was a mix of things and it was a very poor parish, it was kind of run down and falling apart. And after two years, Pat Garney left and I was pastor then. I was pastor there with another priest, but that just didn’t work out. I guess you have to have just one person because well, I’ll tell my side of it. I was always… he was never there. He was always going on a trip here, and a trip there, and a trip there. It just didn’t work out, so I stayed there and he took another parish. And all of a sudden, one December twelfth, the doorbell would not stop ringing and in came in all these Mexican people to St. Our Lady of Guadalupe. And it was quite touching they had these copy books and they had the words written down in the copy books for the songs. And I’d say, at the first one we used to have the mass but no special stuff. And what happened was that, there was about a hundred the first year, about five hundred the second year, and then we got three… four very good nuns from Mexico came up, strangely enough from the order of St. Jerome’s. Yeah, things work out in strange ways. They were about five hundred years old. They came…
LA: The congregation?
JG: Yeah, not the sisters. And they came to Mexico and they were in a cloistered order. And I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of her, or seen the… she’s on the five dollar bill, Juana Inez de la Cruz? Have you ever heard of her? She was a poetess; she was considered the most intelligent woman and person in Mexico at the time. She was the daughter of a mixed-thing, so she almost had to become a nun, you know that crazy way of thinking. And she has some… I guess her most famous poem begins, “Hombres necios que piden a las mujeres por lo que ellas le condenan,” which means, “You stupid men who ask women for that by which you condemn them.” So that’s her prayer.
LA: That’s pretty interesting.
JG: Well, she’s a genius in her own way. And then toward the end of her life, the plague hit the convent and she gave up her studies and everything, and she got the plague and she died too. So these four women came up, and we did great things for ten years. We had about five thousand people at the last time we had a Guadalupe mass.
LA: By this time, there must be people coming from beyond the parish? Or was this all within the parish?
JG: Some from beyond, but also within the parish. Because, see this is something I never, I said where can people live around here? Because we had just gone through the burn outs. The Mexicans did it by living a family in a room. If they had five rooms, they had five families. Very, very hard-working people.
Excerpt No. 4
Irish IdentityDisc 2: 33:28–34:56
Transcription of Excerpt No. 4
CO: You know, you interact with your parishioners that are from a very different background from you and how does your Irish identity, your Irish American identity figure into that, or does it?
JG: I think I’ve lost my Irish identity.
JG: Yeah. At least consciously it never comes out to me, not through me. I’ve never had anybody say, you know, you’re the white boy on the block or things like that. As a matter of fact, a funny story, after the confirmation a couple of weeks… a couple of years ago, it was my last confirmation. We were going up with the two sisters and Bishop Jerry Walsh, he’s really a good guy. And as we get to the corner to go to this Spanish restaurant, this guy with all tattoos and no shirt on or anything, jumps all over me. And excuse the language; he says “It’s a fucking shame that they’re moving you out of this fucking parish father.” So that’s my identity, which I think is true; I’ve been with those people in jail and things like that.
CO: So you feel very close to them?
JG: Yes, yes, yes, yes.
Excerpt No. 5
Political InvolvementDisc 2: 38:51–41:17
Transcription of Excerpt No. 5
CO: Are you politically active at all?
JG: Not anymore.
CO: You used to be?
CO: Were you involved in protests or civil rights type stuff?
JG: We built, South Bronx Churches, we built over 2,000 houses, good houses for people.
LA: We being?
JG: We, the organization was South Bronx Churches. The two things the ecumenical council wanted us to do, and we never got any formal approval. Except at the end of the whole thing when O’Connor was leaving he said, “You know, you guys, you know I disagree with you all the time, but you usually turn out to be right at the end.” He never gave us a dime for the housing. That was all done by…
JG: And Episcopalians, Lutherans. Christian brothers.
LA: So it was an ecumenical thing?
JG: Yep, in fact the guy who blessed the thing was the Episcopalian bishop. So where am I going? Oh, involvement… and so that was I guess, the highest amount of involvement. We took on Lincoln Hospital, we took on Lincoln Hospital. We had a statue of the Blessed Mother in the back and while we were doing the demonstration, somebody chopped her hands off. They went into the church and robbed vestments, set them on fire and all that. I wrote a letter to O’Connor and I know he got it, but he never, never answered.
LA: Asking for help, or letting him know that this was going on?
JG: No, no. As a matter of fact, yeah letting him know. As a matter of fact, I said I’m not asking for you to do, I’m just want you to know what’s happening around here. So you know, I mean, I guess all through my life, I’ve been kinda’ thwarted by the Church, but so was Jesus, so was Paul…
LA: It’s institutional?
JG: And Jesus didn’t found an institution, for God’s sakes. Of course he didn’t.
- Caitlin O’Brien (CO)
- Linda Dowling Almeida (LA)