Every now and then, the New York Times covers stories about ordinary people in New York City and even life inside ordinary religious communities in New York City.
Whenever this happens, the odds are pretty good that the stories will be high-quality and very interesting -- especially if they don't have anything to do with trendy issues linked to sexuality and hot-button cultural issues that kick things into Kellerism territory. A year or two ago, I was actually worried that we were praising the Times metro desk too much and might get people there into trouble.
This brings me to a feature that ran the other day with this headline: "A Bronx Church’s O’Reilly Factor."
Let me note that this story is part of a series by Pulitzer Prize winner Jim Dwyer that runs under the heading "About New York." Since I read the Gray Lady online -- even when I am in New York City (two-plus months a year) teaching -- I do not know if this series is presented to readers as a column, as a form of commentary. That question will matter later on, so hold that thought.
Anyway, this feature is a perfect example of a reporter finding a valid, people-driven local sidebar to a big story that is currently grabbing headlines from coast to coast. In this case, the big story is the fall of Fox News superstar Bill O'Reilly, in the latest of many waves of sexual harassment accusations during his media career.
On the air, O'Reilly has ocassionally mentioned that he is Catholic, even though his worldview appears to be rooted in a kind of country-club GOP radical individualism. Then there was that timely handshake with Pope Francis. I was shocked and strangely pleased to learn that this is a subject GetReligion readers care nothing about, based on the near silence in response to my appeals for input here: "Our Fox News question remains: Was there any real religion factor in career of Bill O'Reilly?"
But, lo, the Dwyer piece found an interesting O'Reilly connection to a local parish. Here is the overture:
In late morning, a murmur of prayers rose from the front pews of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in the Bronx, a soft cloud of Spanish words that floated toward the soaring vaults of the nave.
Santa María, Madre de Dios …
At the back of the church, a plaque commemorates scores of donors whose might and money restored the church a half-century ago: Toscanos and Fioritos and Giantasios, a roster of the Italian families who lived in this parish for much of the 20th century, when it became known as the Bronx incarnation -- and by far the most authentic -- of New York’s Little Italies.
Stacked on a table were leaflets inviting people to contribute their thoughts on the restoration of the church for the 100th anniversary in September of its first Mass. The pastor of Mount Carmel, the Rev. Jonathan Morris, says the parish plans to spend $1.6 million on brick-and-mortar repairs, and on expanding its services to a community of immigrants -- many of them Mexican, and quite a few of those living without legal authority to be in the country.
Ah, so there is a Donald Trump-era immigration hook to this, only we are talking about restoring church walls, not building a vast you-know-what on the Mexico border.
What does this have to do with O'Reilly, a frequent supporter of the political gospel according to Trump?