Parish of St. Vincent Ferrer and St. Catherine of Siena

A Parish of the Archdiocese of New York served by the Dominican Friars

September 16, 2017

Living in the Economy of Gift – Pastor’s Reflection (September 18, 2017)

It has been said that we begin to worship when we realize that we have received as gifts what we could never buy, earn, take, or make.  Once begun, the life of worship intensifies this very awareness.  We begin to recognize the gifts of the elements, then the nurture and beauty that flow from them.  I am quick to recognize sun, air, and water as gifts, then I realize that even though I paid for my bread, that loaf has origins in what has been freely bestowed.  Next, I realize that you are a gift, for you supply what lacks in me.  Most slowly I perceive the gift of my life, not only in general but in particular.

Christian worship, as established by Jesus in his own humanity, has at its roots an intense gratitude for the works of God, and this comes from souls who have received themselves as one of those works.  When I accept how the divine artisanship has molded my individuality, then I can be free from the spirit of comparison that stifles so much of our real thriving. Grateful for myself, I come to the Mass as a response of thanksgiving to God’s initiatives and so fulfill the commission given to me in my baptism. This, more than hearing a sermon, or singing a hymn, comprises the essential work of those who attend Mass. This posture is more than prayerful.  Grateful people live differently.

If I receive myself as a gift, I give myself as a gift. If I recognize the gift of God in me then I perceive myself as a living surplus.  This outlook marks the People of God. If the Eucharist is the food of the Church then self-donation is the strength it nourishes. Christian women and men have cheerfully given their lives away as martyrs, missionaries, and as every kind of religious.  They have done the same as Christian spouses, and this same spirit impels many professionals to take less pay and work for the Church.  Self-reception and self-donation sets in motion the phalanx of volunteers, without which the life of the Church cannot be imagined, and without which the life of our parish simply is not possible.

In coming days, the parish will present you with opportunities to make a donation of your time, your talent, and your energy.  God invites each of us to fulfillment through self-donation, but His call comes to each of us in His time and in His way.  The parish needs you to help, but even more it needs you to discern the ways in which you are called to help.

Any self-giving brings us full circle. Having recognized abundance we become part of abundance.  I perceive that I live because of gifts more than because of earnings and makings, and that perception impels me to become part of the giftedness of others.  As I survey our parish I perceive that it thrives on an array of services it could never pay for, and by that it testifies to the God who has gathered it.

Next Sunday, September 24th, please come with open ears and an open heart to consider what growth God has readied you for.

Fr. Walter

September 09, 2017

Religious Education

Dear Families,

As summer fades to fall and your children are beginning their new school year, we are finalizing preparations for another exciting year of religious education in St. Vincent Ferrer and St. Catherine of Siena Parish. I have spent the summer participating in additional training for Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS), creating new materials, and planning for our Ignite Middle School Program and new High School Youth group. I’m looking forward to welcoming your children back for another year of learning and growing in our relationships with Christ.

For the upcoming school year, we will once again offer CGS Levels 1, 2, and 3 for children from 3-years-old to 6th grade. Level 1 serves children from 3-years-old through Kindergarten. Level 2 serves 1st through 3rd grades. Level 3 serves 4th through 6th grades. In addition to CGS, we’ll also continue to offer our Graded Program at St. Vincent Ferrer for 4th, 5th, and 6th graders. I will facilitate our CGS sessions, while our familiar and dedicated team of catechists will lead our Graded Program. I will also facilitate the Ignite Middle School Youth Ministry program for 7th and 8th graders and our new High School Youth group. Sessions will begin the week of September 17th and run through the first week of June. The fee for religious education at any level is $250 per child. The Graded Program will be held at St. Vincent Ferrer. CGS, Ignite, and the High School Program will be held at St. Catherine of Siena.

CGS was developed by two Catholic laywomen in the 1950’s in Rome, guided by the principles of Dr. Maria
Montessori. CGS religious education materials are based on the Bible, Catholic Liturgy and Sacraments, Tradition, and Church teachings. The program fosters a hands-on, experiential learning environment in which children can grow in their relationship with Christ and His Church. CGS sessions are limited to twelve children each and are held in the Atrium, a sacred space designated for catechetical sessions intended to help children fully engage in their religious
education, to develop their religious potential, and to facilitate their participation in the life of the Church. Preparation for First Confession and First Holy Communion occurs within Level 2. If you’d like more information about CGS, please visit If you’d like to visit the Atrium and see a demonstration presentation of CGS materials, please contact me. All are welcome!

4th, 5th, and 6th Graded Program
The graded program is a more traditional religious education program than CGS. This program utilizes textbooks rather than hands-on materials. It is ideal for children who thrive in a more structured learning environment.

Ignite Middle School Youth and High School Youth
Our Ignite Middle School Youth Ministry program serves as continuing religious education, as well as formation for youth who have not yet been confirmed. We cover the Old Testament, the New Testament and Life of Jesus, the Human Person, the Sacraments, Morality, Prayer, Church History and other relevant topics. Students also have social and service opportunities. Our newly formed High School Program will meet every other week and will be centered on fellowship, service, and Bible study.

CGS Level 1 (3-years-old  – Kindergarten) – Sundays at 10:00 – 11:15 am (During the 10:00 am Mass),
Thursdays at 3:00 – 4:00 pm

CGS Level 2 (1st grade – 3rd grade) – Sundays at 11:15 AM – 12:45 pm (Following the 10:00 am Mass),
Sundays at 3:30 – 5:00 pm (Preceding the 5:00 pm Mass), Wednesdays at 3:30 – 5:00 pm, Thursdays at 4:00 – 5:30 pm

CGS Level 3 (4th grade – 6th grade) – Sundays at 11:15 AM – 12:45 pm (Following the 10:00 am Mass),
Mondays at 3:30 – 5:00 pm, Wednesdays at 5:00 – 6:30 pm

4th/5th/6th Graded Program (at St. Vincent Ferrer) – Tuesdays at 3:30 – 5:00 pm

Ignite Youth (7th and 8th grades) – Sundays at 5:00 – 6:30 pm, Mondays at 5:00 – 6:30 pm

High School Youth – Every other Tuesday at 5:30 – 7:00 pm

I will be at each one of the Sunday Masses at both of our churches this weekend, September 10th, to say hello and register your children for religious education. Please stop by! If you have any questions or need additional information, please contact me at 212-988-8300, x186 or I’m looking forward to a wonderful year!

Yours in Christ,
Lisa Harrelson
Coordinator of Religious Education

September 02, 2017

Breaking the Cycle – Pastor’s Reflection (September 3, 2017)

On Labor Day we honor laborers everywhere, but we also contemplate our own labor as we resume the ordinary rhythms of life. “Labor” here refers not only to the job we do but to the range of commitments that structure life.Hopefully summer’s reprieve shows us how much “ordinary time” fulfills us, even as it directs our life within a channel of discipline.

Of course, everyone else will be picking up the thread of their routine, and they will be in our face. Up-close living and dealing have returned to elicit a whole range of virtues from us. People make up a huge portion of our labor. Consider that UN week now hovers on the horizon, and naturally we will want to be the face of tolerance amid the traffic congestion and security tension. That week reveals New York City on steroids, and highlights the challenges that make the city very great and very difficult.  What a crush of cultures and politics, events and anxieties. These elements combine to disclose a global city, which will provide a fruitful, very timely object of contemplation.

What makes such an assembly possible?
What makes such a city possible?
What makes our routine of life in this city possible?
What is the assiduous practice of tolerance?

But as we come back together over coffee or cocktails, on the corner, at intermission or after mass, we will speak of recent intolerance and we will rehearse that words and actions of hate that have shocked us. Yet if I chronicle the bigotry of another I do not get very far because I lack the ability to make another person become tolerant. What I can do is refuse to let the sights and sounds of intolerance form me. If I become intolerant of those I deem intolerant, then what has happened to me?  I face rather the difficult paradox of virtue. As the climate of tolerance weakens I must pledge to become more tolerant, just as my only successful response to the secular age can be to become more Christian.

In my life as a confessor, as a brother in community, as a pastor in a parish, I have discerned that there is a “how” to tolerance. Some lives are not ruled by prejudice, and that freedom has roots in a clear spiritual practice.

First, tolerant people have appropriate self-esteem. The tolerant person accepts his or her own makeup as a coming together of gifts and deficits and so enters freely into the interdependence natural to human living. This positive self-regard means that competition and comparison no longer need be the source of validation. When tolerant people also possess the gift of faith they may also perceive themselves as a work of God, so that their validation lies in the fact of His creative artistry. If I may delight to be myself in all my incompleteness, then I have room in my life to be delighted by your gifts and recognize the ways in which they complete me.

The second prerequisite of tolerance flows from the first. Tolerant people recognize that they live in a personal and collective history, in which time is experienced as a movement. Culture, technology, taste, and social patterns develop with great blessings, but also at great cost. Persons of Faith recognize that in the mystery of the Lord’s Incarnation, God incorporated this aspect of human life into His plan, so that the Church herself develops in history, both happily and painfully. Thus, tolerant people recognize that they live within the movement of time, which belongs to God and is moving toward Him.

Where people grasp this they can transcend the instinct to blame. If I realize that things are in movement I can stop looking for someone to hold responsible when my history, or our history, causes me pain. The gifts of technology amaze me, but they also take me aback with the disruption they cause.  I look at all the empty storefronts in our neighborhood and I am saddened by the unfurnished environment they create and I am more saddened by the loss of jobs they betoken. I am seeing the evidence of technological and market forces far beyond us, and yet I would like to find a person or group of persons to blame for changing so much of my world. If change has scrambled the local patterns of life, the political scene shows the same effect writ large.

I see individuals and groups trying to assign personal blame for systemic dislocation. The economic loss and sense of exclusion caused by swift change bring understandable anxiety and frustration. Nevertheless, people searching for a scapegoat are ugly, whether they are a crowd, or an individual manipulating that crowd. My own danger lies in making the scapegoaters, my scapegoats. If all I do is place my anxieties on their heads, I get nowhere. I become ugly, suspicious, and coarse.

Think of the Lord’s Passion. Christ placed himself on the receiving end of scapegoating and refused to look for someone to blame, “Father, forgive them…” He made Himself the scapegoat, so that in the light of His victory, His followers would no longer resort to scapegoating. You and I are equipped by His constant gift of sacraments to pass through great tension and frustration and not take it out on anyone. The Cross of Jesus broke the cycle of human violence because of his fidelity to His God and Himself. He positions us in the world as breakers of the same cycle. The power of the Crucified and Risen Lord now lodges in us so that we might face human complexity in light of our
destination in God.

If our end is real to us, then it will be real to others as we welcome them on the same blessed path.

End-of-Summer Peace!
Fr. Walter

August 30, 2017

Mass for St. Cecilia’s Day (November 22, 2017)

In honor of the feast of St. Cecilia and in commemoration of the centenary of the birth of Lou Harrison (1917-2003), the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer will offer a Solemn Mass for the Feast of St. Cecilia. The Propers and Ordinary of Lou Harrison’s “Mass for St. Cecilia’s Day” (1986) will be sung by the Schola Cantorum of St. Vincent Ferrer under the direction of Mr. James Wetzel.


August 27, 2017

Parish Study – Fall 2017: The Arts as Paths to God

The Arts as Paths to God: Secular and Sacred Art and the Spiritual Life

“Created ‘in the image of God,’ man also expresses the truth of his relationship with God the Creator by the beauty of his artistic works” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, §2501). Led by Fr. Innocent Smith, O.P., this course will explore the ways in which the visual and performing arts can lead us to encounter the Truth, Goodness, and Beauty of God.

September 19: Introduction
September 26: Dance
October 3: Music
October 10: Sculpture
October 17: Poetry
October 24: Architecture
November 7: Painting
November 14: Literature
November 22 at 6 pm: Mass for the Feast of St. Cecilia

Tuesday evenings from 6:45-7:45 pm

St. Vincent Ferrer Parish Hall
869 Lexington Ave, New York, NY

Vermeer Allegory of the Catholic Faith

Johannes Vermeer, Allegory of the Catholic Faith, ca. 1670–72 (Metropolitan Museum of Art)


August 26, 2017

Mission Trip to Peru – Fr. Innocent Smith (August 27, 2017)

In early August, the Frassati Fellowship of Young Adults organized a ten-day mission trip to Peru. Fr. Dominic Bump and I served as chaplains for the trip, along with two Franciscan friars and a diocesan priest from New York. Fr. Walter asked me to share with you some of the experiences of the trip.

The main part of the trip was spent in Laderas, a poor suburb outside of Lima, where thousands of people live in makeshift houses. The purpose of our visit was two-fold: to help with the material needs of the people of Laderas by building new homes for families without adequate housing, and to see to their spiritual needs by visiting families, offering house blessings, and giving the opportunity for people to go to confession and receive the sacrament of the anointing of the sick. Each day, most of the thirty young adults worked on the houses under the direction of a local contractor, while the priests were led from house to house under the direction of women from the parish of Laderas. During these visits, the young adults rotated so as to get the experience of visiting the families, while at the same time not overwhelming those we visited with too many people! While several of the priests spoke Spanish fluently, Fr. Dominic and I were able to receive the assistance of members of our group who served as translators, even assisting (under the seal!) with the sacrament of reconciliation.

For me, the visit afforded many opportunities to see the grace of God at work in our chance encounters. At one point, my group climbed to the top of one of the tall hills surrounding the main part of the village to visit a woman who was very sick. For some reason we weren’t able to see her, but on the way up we met a man walking his bicycle up the hill, and he invited us to bless his home. This led to us then being invited to bless a series of other homes on the ridge. It was a reminder that sometimes failing at what we set out to do can lead to other opportunities to do God’s will. On another occasion, I noticed two beautiful cats on a door step, so I stopped to take a picture. While I was doing this, a woman opened the door, either by chance or to see what was going on. This led to us being invited in to do a house blessing. A reminder of the apostolic efficacy of a love of cats!

Some of our home visits revealed a distressing aspect of life in this community. It is characteristic for homes to have at least three generations living together, but unfortunately this is often because the men of the second generation have abandoned their wives or partners. There’s a tragic cycle of infidelity and
abandonment that seems to keep repeating itself. And yet at the same time one could sense joy and faith in the midst of the pain and suffering. It was a reminder for me of the importance of working to encourage growth in the virtues that make healthy and happy families possible.

The trip was also a chance to encounter anew my own Dominican heritage. On August 8, the feast of
St. Dominic, we celebrated Mass in a makeshift chapel on the top of one of the tall hills of Laderas in an open air area illuminated by a few flashlights. I preached, assisted by a translator, about how St. Dominic would climb the mountain of Fanjeaux during the ten years he spent at the first Dominican nuns’ monastery of Prouille in southern France, a mountain of similar dimensions to that which we were on. At the end of the trip, our group had the chance to spend a day in Lima, visiting the shrines of St. Rose of Lima, St. Martin de Porres, and St. Juan Macias, three great 16th century Dominican saints from Lima. Encountering these saints was a wonderful chance to be renewed in the spirit of St. Dominic – now I’ll have a new sense of connection with them when I look at their icons in our Guadalupe triptych at St. Vincent Ferrer!

Yours in Christ,
Fr. Innocent Smith, o.p.

August 19, 2017

The Holy Preaching: Pondering 150 Years of Dominican Parish Life – Pastor’s Reflection (August 20, 2017)

The Dominican Friars have exercised parish ministry in this area since 1867.  We were joined by our Sisters in 1880s and since then primary and secondary education have formed part of the ministry here.  As the hospital complex emerged along York Avenue, tending the sick came to be a signature work of the Dominicans.  Today, our parish holds two Dominican churches, two communities of Friars, two communities of Sisters, two high schools, and a hospital chaplaincy.  It also contains an administrative center for the Order. But what has shaped the whole enterprise over these generations is the common life the Brothers and Sisters share at home.

Today, if you walk into the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer or the Church of St. Catherine of Siena you will find outstanding architecture, and you will find paintings, carvings, and stained glass deployed in beautiful and evangelical ways.  But these elements serve a purpose beyond pleasing the eye and informing the mind.  The agenda of our churches, and hence of our parish, comes clear in a paradox you can see played out all day long.  On the one hand St. Catherine’s and St. Vincent’s are places of great grandeur and they accommodate crowds gathered for solemn worship.  On the other hand, someone can walk off the street into either church, for the first time, stand alone in it, and feel instantly at home.

Put simply, the churches preach. They proclaim to you the all-powerful and all-knowing God, and they make you at home with Him.  Neither part of this paradox compromises the other.  God is awesome, and close enough to sit with for a good cry. Our buildings convey this perception of God to you, because the life of our Order conveys it to us.

By St. Dominic’s design, dating from 1216, the men and women of the Order live an intense life in common.  We pray together, and we place our income at the disposal of the Community.  We share our working lives in ministry and our leisure hours at the end of the day. We all receive training in a very ancient way of life, and each community shares the task of applying that tradition in our time and place.  Most religious orders could claim this list of traits, but St. Dominic added to them the work of study.  Every Dominican accepts study as his or her manual labor, and so we should study assiduously even when there is nothing to prepare.  Here is the intimacy of the Order; the Dominican, the book, and God.  Here we learn to be in awe before Him and to befriend Him at the same time.

This common life, especially study, ordered the environment in which you pray, as it continues to order the preaching you hear on Sunday and the education our students receive on Monday.  It gives shape to the way we form the faith of adults and children: it molds the way we steward resources, and collaborate with staff and volunteers.

In the ancient days of our Order, our houses were often referred to as a “Holy Preaching,” not just because the Dominicans gave sermons but because their way of life proclaimed the Gospel to their contemporaries.  Our hope is that this parish will preach by what we say and sing, by how we invest our resources, by how we treat our elders and our young, members of long-standing and those who just joined.

If we take this mission seriously then we can set about deepening our own life of faith, and we can present that faith to those who have left its practice, or who know nothing of Christ and His Gospel.  The key to all preaching, whether individual or communal, is recognizing that we have wealth to share.

Summer Peace!
Fr. Walter

August 14, 2017

Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary


August 14, 2017

Giving Thanks – Pastor’s Reflection (August 13, 2017)

When you think of “prayer,” what comes to mind?  I think for most of us prayer consists in asking: asking for help, asking for a favor, asking for forgiveness. We tend to start praying when we reach the borders of our self-sufficiency.  I ask for help when I cannot do for myself.  We never admit this, but that makes prayer vaguely uncomfortable, like having to ask a relative for a loan because I am overdrawn at the bank.  How much more satisfying to look upon my possessions, my body, and even my relationships, and be able to say, “Look what I did.”  But the truth of our efforts always runs up against the truth of limits and we are back to prayer, and we are still sheepish in God’s presence.  I am praying because I have failed, or someone else has failed, or nature has failed me.

But take a second look; human nature is designed with limits.  We live within boundaries of longevity and strength, understanding and communication.  So we might ask whether the One who crafted our nature intended us to be uncomfortable within its confines.  That Christ assumed this nature testifies to the contrary.  His Gospel represents an invitation to embrace it, with all its limitations, as our way to God, and so the Scriptures and the Sacraments intimate a deep transformation of how we see our humanity and our prayer.  In the light of faith we come to see our limits not as frustrations but as openings to the personal experience of God’s goodness.

Humanly we know this truth.  When I fall in love I recognize someone who supplies for what I like, who complements my own real but limited gifts.  God acts in Christ to widen this realization to include the whole of life.  So He invites us to befriend the deepest truth of ourselves, and to do this by recognizing how much we have received that we could never have received by toil, ingenuity, or merit.  This is not putting us in our place, but helping us see how privileged is our place from the very beginning.

So I ask you: how is your own life shaped by the truth of favor, for favor tells the truth of you and me.  If we have received Christ in the Eucharist, then unqualified love has entered the very heart of us as a consolation and liberation, as a summons to change and a gift of understanding.  When we “taste and see that the Lord is good,” we remember that Jesus made a banquet of his blood for us in the past, and that we savor it in the present moment as a real pledge of life beyond the limits that now define me.

This perspective grows each time we make a practice of gratitude.  Here is the real conscious work of remembering and recognizing. When I set my mind to it I recognize that for all the time I spend with my problems, the deepest truth of me is gift.  It has been good to live, and to live as myself.  It has been good to share life with those confided to me, and with those to whom I have been confided.  I also wonder what my very struggles with handicap and circumstance have taught me about the reality of life.

At the height of summer there is an opportunity for gratitude for the gifts at the foundation of our lives.  Its practice will give us the wherewithal to keep growing through another winter.

Fr. Walter

July 29, 2017



Cooperator Brother, Jubilarian

Born: July 10, 1938
Professed: July 25, 1961
Died: July 15, 2017

Brother Martin Michael Downey, O.P., died peacefully in the morning of July 15, 2017, at Rosary Hill Home, Hawthorne, NY at the age of 79.   For over fifty years, Br. Downey served the province and the Church, ministering for considerable time at both the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC, and the provincial headquarters in New York City.  He is survived by his sister Theresa Striker, his nephews Robert, Ken, Justin, Sidney, Joal, and his niece Rebecca.

Brother Downey was born on July 10, 1938, in Gloucester, NJ, to Joseph John and Veronica Imelda (née Manion) Downey, and named Martin William. He attended St. Mary’s Grammar School and Gloucester Catholic High School, both in Gloucester, NJ.

He entered the Dominican Novitiate on July 24, 1960, at St. Joseph Priory in Somerset, OH, and received the religious name Michael. He made his first profession there on July 25, 1961.  After profession, he was assigned to the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC. In 1963, he was assigned to St. Catherine of Siena Priory in New York City. In February 1967, he was assigned to St. Stephen’s Priory in Dover, MA, where he made his solemn profession on July 25, 1967.  While at Stephen’s Priory, he taught CCD and helped with youth retreats in addition to assisting with maintenance of the priory.

On July 5, 1971, Brother Downey was assigned again to the Dominican House of Studies where he served as Registrar and Secretary of Studies for the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception (PFIC).  While there, he earned a BA (1973) and an MA (1977) in Religious Studies from Providence College, taking classes during the summers and during a brief leave of absence from his duties at the PFIC.  In 1975, he was appointed Assistant to the Student Master for Cooperator Brothers. In 1977, he began serving as Guest Master of the Dominican Villa in Sea Bright, NJ, during the summers.

He was assigned to Sacred Heart Priory in Jersey City, NJ, on May 12, 1980, and then reassigned on November 21, 1980, to St. Vincent Ferrer Priory in New York City, where he was appointed as Assistant Director of the St. Martin de Porres Guild and the St. Jude Dominican Missions.  In 1983, he was appointed Mission Secretary for the Province, and in 1988 Director of the St. Jude Dominican Missions.

On June 8, 1994, he was assigned to the Dominican House of Studies, where he served as Economic Administrator for three terms.  He also served on the Vocation Council and Joint Formation Council.

On August 2, 2002, he was assigned to St. Vincent Ferrer Priory in New York City and appointed Assistant Provincial Economic Administrator.  After nine years, he concluded his service in 2011.  He remained active in the community serving as Guest Master as he had done during many other assignments as well.

In April of 2017, Brother Downey was diagnosed with stomach cancer.  In May, he moved to Rosary Hill Home to receive palliative care from the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne.

Brother Downey’s body was received at St. Vincent Ferrer Church on July 19, 2017 at 6:45 pm. The Office of the Dead was celebrated that evening. Very Rev. Kenneth Letoile, O.P., Prior Provincial, was the principal celebrant and preacher at the Mass of Christian Burial celebrated at 10:00 am the next day at St. Vincent Ferrer Church. Interment followed at All Souls Cemetery, Pleasantville, NY.