By Ray O’Hanlon
The Feds might have you believe that Fr. Pat Moloney has a few million bucks stashed under the floorboards of his Lower East Side brownstone.
Well, if he ever had, they would appear to be long gone. They might well have been used the feed the fire in the grate, the only source of earthly heat in Bonitas House, Moloney’s home for many years minus almost four, the ones he spent in prison.
But the first really cold day in a New York December does little to deter Moloney from a routine he is only now putting back together since his release in October. As he is quick to point out, he grew up in Ireland without heat. You don’t need central heating to make a place truly warm, he says.
Moloney would appear to have reason to be cheerful this year regardless of his lack of funds to pay for heating oil. After all, he’s home for the Christmas.
But he’s a restless man. Stories and names tumble from his mind so rapidly that an hour in his presence can pass, seemingly in five minutes.
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"Last year my mind was in New York, with my community," the 66-year-old Melkite Catholic priest and native of Limerick told the Echo.
"But this year I’m thinking about the lads in prison."
The lads are the inhabitants of a federal facility in Pennsylvania where Moloney spent Christmas 1995, ’96 and ’97. In that time, Moloney said Mass for his captive parishioners more than 2,000 times. He reckons they might just be missing him a little this Dec. 25.
Not that he intends being idle. Moloney will be doing what he did every Christmas prior to his prison time.
"I will go to a nursing home in the morning to see some shut-ins," he said.
Shut-ins are his term for people who are confined to bed or a building, cut off from the outside world. He will deliver small gifts and exchange banter. The shut-ins are usually old friends. He believes that it vitally important to show respect for their dignity. That dignity suffers when the world avoids their door.
Later on Christmas Day, Bonitas House will open its doors to just about anyone in need of a Christmas dinner. The door will stay open until midnight if need be.
Puzzling Fr. Pat
To many, Fr. Pat Moloney is something of a puzzle. Priest, IRA gunrunner? Sinner, saint? One thing for sure, he has never been shy to speak out about what he feels is injustice in Ireland or the United States, his home since 1955.
"I came to the U.S. on April 17 and I was ordained on April 17, 1977. Both were Sundays," he said. He seems to suspect that there is something portentous in that.
Which is not surprising coming from a man who believes in miracles, especially at this time of year.
Right now, Fr. Pat needs a small one. His absence from Bonitas House — for years a shelter for runaway kids and the homeless — did little for its upkeep. Rest is rust and absence is dust. And then some.
"I’m working to revamp and revitalize Bonitas House," he said.
Donations, not surprisingly, slackened off while Moloney was counting the days in the can.
And don’t even bother asking him about the $5.2 million still missing from the January 1993 $7.4 million Brinks armored car robbery in Rochester, N.Y., the event that landed him in trouble with the Feds.
Moloney shrugs his shoulders and talks about what he believes was something of a culture clash between himself, investigators and prosecutors.
"I never got government money or city money and, no, I didn’t rob the Brinks," he said. "I have never been bound to the false god of the dollar."
He has long argued that the $168,000 discovered by investigators in his possession was the property of others and that the $2 million found in an apartment for which he had the keys was nothing to do with him either.
Some of the seized money, he is quick to add, is even now being returned by the courts, an acknowledgment, in his view, that he never strayed from the truth during trial and imprisonment.
Moloney says he has always been trusted by people, often illegal Irish immigrants, with money and documents. Even now he has a stash of passports, birth and baptismal certificates that he is eager to return to their owners, wherever they might be.
More than once he stresses his belief that all Irish illegals should be granted amnesty and made permanent residents, while all green card holders should become citizens as soon as possible.
The Feds might see a different man, but there’s no sign of money in Moloney’s daily life or his digs. The house is simply furnished and indeed very cold once you stand away from the log fire.
Off a small study at the rear is Moloney’s bedroom. He sleeps on a mattress placed atop a row of filing cabinets. The bedroom is about the size of a prison cell, or indeed a monk’s cell.
The house needs work now, and though Fr. Pat is still spry, he could do with a little help about the place.
"I could do with a little volunteer labor and material, throwaway stuff. And maybe some paint," he said. He laughs aloud at the suggestion that he’s a bit of a real life version of Bing Crosby in "The Bells of St. Mary’s.
Moloney, though he sounds like, and usually is, a man with hardly a minute — the phone does ring often — is patient. Fewer people might say it in today’s hectic and increasingly material world, but Fr. Pat has little hesitation. "The Lord always provides," he said.