Among the apropos revelations at a gathering of local Catholics and Lutherans last week were the Lutheran roots of Auxiliary Bishop John J. O’Hara of the archdiocese and the Catholic roots of Bishop Robert Rimbo of the Metropolitan New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Each shared his story in remarks delivered during an ecumenical prayer service both prelates led at the Sheen Center in Lower Manhattan on Oct. 31.
The service followed a livestream of another ecumenical prayer service, in Lund, Sweden, where Pope Francis and leaders of the Lutheran World Federation launched a year of activities to mark the 500th anniversary in 2017 of Martin Luther’s efforts to reform the Church.
The same day, Pope Francis also participated in a public symposium in Malmo, Sweden. That, too, was livestreamed at the Sheen Center.
Thomas Carroll, a Catholic who is a retired judge, was among those who attended the prayer service at the Sheen Center. “I think it’s a critical issue,” said Carroll, who attends Epiphany parish in Manhattan.
“I think I watched 500 years of history being transitioned,” he added. “I feel honored and privileged to have had the opportunity to watch all of this and, frankly, to be an active participant in it.”
Bishop O’Hara, in his remarks, explained that his great-grandmother, who was Lutheran, approached the local Lutheran Session with another Lutheran and said, ‘We need a Lutheran church...and you are going to allow us to do it.’
“My great-grandmother died when I was about 3 or 4 years of age but I remember that she was a very strong woman who got her way,” Bishop O’Hara said.
In his family archives, Bishop O’Hara went on to say, “There is a picture (of her) in boots up to here, with her foot on the spade, turning the earth for that church, which still is there today.
“We had ecumenism in our family from day one,” he said, adding, “My dad always was fond of saying that, ‘It’s not the pew you kneel in, but the kind of person that you are.’
“I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to be a part of this, knowing my grandmother and great-grandmother were of the Lutheran tradition,” he added.
“There’s a whole Lutheran side of my family that rejoices on another shore and in a greater light that I am sure thrilled with all that has happened in Sweden, and all that is happening here at the Sheen Center and all that will happen in this great City of New York, in the days that lie ahead,” Bishop O’Hara said.
Bishop Rimbo, in his remarks, shared that his grandfather, whose first name was Stanislaus, “was a devout Roman Catholic who walked to Mass every day in Lemont, Illinois, a town just south of Chicago.”
The bishop was 16 years old when his grandfather died in 1966, he said. “I remember going to his Funeral Mass, and the major feeling I had at that Mass was jealousy. It was jealousy because I was not one of those altar boys at St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in Lemont, Illinois. But it was also jealousy because I could not go to the meal.
“Since then,” Bishop Rimbo continued, “I have been praying for this day, and what it might lead us to—toward full communion, toward the celebration of the visible unity of the one church, and sharing in the Lord’s Supper at the Holy Table of Christ.”
After the Catholic-Lutheran Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification was released in 1999, Bishop Rimbo delivered an address at the University of Notre Dame.
“I said, as a Lutheran, I really don’t see much that can prevent us from that full, visible unity. I want to say to you, sisters and brothers, I see even less today that will prevent us from working together….
“So I pray with you today, that the Holy Spirit will lead us soon, to a new day, in which soon we will be together at Christ’s Table.’”
He and Bishop O’Hara then led the faithful in praying the Apostles’ Creed.