|STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. Bishop Patrick V. Ahern, a former episcopal vicar of Staten Island,
was hailed by fellow clergy and parishioners as a compassionate, humorous and community-minded innovator.
Bishop Ahern died Saturday at the Mary Manning Walsh Home in Manhattan at the age of 92 the 41st
anniversary of his ordination.
A former episcopal vicar of Staten Island who also served as pastor of Blessed Sacrament R.C. Church in
West Brighton, Bishop Ahern grew up in a seven-room walkup on 66th Street in Manhattan. He was first
inspired to enter the priesthood at St. Agnes High School, when he saw a priest celebrate mass.
"Seeing the priest offer mass lit in my heart the desire to be a priest myself," Bishop Ahern told the
Advance in 1994. "Because the Eucharist, after all, is the principal work of a priest."
After attending Manhattan College, Cathedral College and St. Joseph's Seminary, Bishop Ahern
was ordained as a priest in 1945. He served as an associate pastor of St. Helena's Church in the
Bronx and at St. Patrick's Cathedral. Bishop Ahern was also a member of the Apostolate Mission
Band for eight years, taught at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y., for three years and served
for nine years as secretary to the late Cardinal Francis Spellman. He also served as a private chamberlain
to Pope John XXIII, and was described by fellow clergy as a friend and confidant of Cardinals Terence
Cooke, John Joseph O'Connor, and Edward Egan. "He was so connected to the history of the diocese,"
said Joseph Zwilling, director of communication for the Archdiocese of New York. "When you look at the
church of New York during the second part of the 20th century, Bishop Ahern was a very important
character. In 1970, Bishop Ahern was named a bishop while pastor at Our Lady of Angels R.C. Church
in the Bronx, and from that time, served as the cardinal's vicar in the Bronx. Bishop Ahern later became
pastor of Blessed Sacrament Church in 1980, as well as co-episcopal vicar of Staten Island serving
alongside Monsignor Paul M. Andrews, pastor of St. Rita's R.C. Church, Meiers Corners.
On Staten Island, Bishop Ahern's sense of humor, commitment to the Catholic Church and serving those in
need made an indelible mark. "I admired him a great deal because he was a very faithful man and a happy
man," said Monsignor Peter G. Finn, a pastor who succeeded the bishop as pastor of Blessed Sacrament
R.C. Church and co-episcopal vicar of Staten Island who described Bishop Ahern as "the clergy equivalent
of Governor Al Smith, the happy warrior." Added Monsignor Finn: "He was rarely without a smile on his face,
and that smile emanated from his heart. It was genuine and real." In 1986, Bishop Ahern founded The
Seton Foundation for Learning, based out of Immaculate Conception R.C. Church, Stapleton. The
non-profit organization was Staten Island's first Catholic special education program. Bishop Patrick Ahern
High School, an extension of the Seton school, opened in 2000 at Moore Catholic High School. "He was a
very compassionate person, and he valued people with disability, which was extremely important to the
parents," said Gail Checkett, a parishioner of Blessed Sacrament who worked with the bishop on
establishing the Seton Foundation on behalf of her daughter, Lynn, who has down syndrome. "He
treated them with the utmost respect, and their parents are eternally grateful for all that he did for our
children." While on the Island, Bishop Ahern also founded Project Hospitality's Carpenter Shelter in
Stapleton to help the Island's homeless. "Bishop Ahern's compassion for the homeless and hungry
and his commitment to their care, gave birth to an interfaith network of churches who have followed
in his footsteps and have opened wide their door to welcome in the homeless poor," said Project
Hospitality executive director Reverend Terry Troia. "His faith in action for the poor set the bar for
how religious leaders should and can embrace their brother and sister poor."
In addition, he was a member of the Archdiocesan Liturgical Commission, the Priest's Personnel Board and
the Archbishop's Board of Consultors. "He was a fellow professor of mine in the seminary," said Monsignor
James Dorney, co-episcopal vicar of Staten Island. "I'll always be grateful to him for his priesthood and his
episcopacy." In 1990, Bishop Ahern left Staten Island and was appointed vicar for development for the
Archdiocese. He retired from the position in 1994, at the age of 75. After half a century dedicated to the
priesthood, he hoped to pursue his lifelong interest in the late 19th-century French nun, St. Therese of
Lisieux, who died of tuberculosis at age 24. According to many close to the Bishop, St. Therese was an
inspiration for much of the Bishop's religious life. "In 1939 when I entered the seminary, I read her
autobiography, and it seemed to me to hold the answers to all my questions," he said upon retirement.
One of Bishop Ahern's first "missions" after his official retirement was to travel to Lisieux in France for a few
months to improve his French language skills to help him translate works from French authors on St.
Therese. He then began traveling and speaking on St. Therese, while also reworking a book he already
has drafted about her. The book is not a biography, he said, but more an explanation of St. Therese's
relationship with a young French seminarian named Maurice Belliere, with whom she exchanged 22 letters
and developed a deep spiritual relationship.
Another longtime interest of Bishop Ahern was singing, and many described his abilities as extraordinary.
Returning from a peace mission to Northern Ireland, he reportedly broke into song with Irish Tenor Frank
Patterson. He also had the opportunity to sing for actor Bob Hope in
Vietnam. The two were waiting with
Cardinal Spellman for a delayed flight out of a Saigon airport one hot morning in 1966.
Bishop Ahern, well-known among New Yorkers for his beautiful singing voice, wowed Hope
with an off-the-cuff rendition of "Can I Forget You?" The comedian, who was visiting U.S. troops in
Vietnam, described the bishop as having a "fine Irish" baritone.
Friends said the bishop would be remembered for bringing humor and compassion to all situations of faith
and otherwise. "He just had a very personal impact on everyone he met," said Monsignor Finn. "He was
welcoming, generous, and open person."
A funeral mass is tentatively scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan, to be
celebrated by Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan. Other funeral arrangements are pending.