Life & Culture
Premium Irish Circle
Working in Ireland
Irish Name Register
Advice & Resources
Music & Songs
History & Archaeology
Heritage & Culture
News & Politics
Enter your e-mail address to receive our weekly e-Newsletter:
Sidewalks with Tom Deignan
A Godfather to Be Proud Of
October 15, 2008
Sidewalks by Tom Deignan
IT is one of the most famous scenes in movie history –- the conclusion of The Godfather. By the end of the film, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) has transformed himself from an all-American war hero to the ruthless boss of the Corleone crime family.
The setting is an ornate stone Catholic church with cardinal red doors. Michael’s son is about to be baptized.
But as he stands there, telling the priest that he will indeed “reject Satan,” we also learn that Michael has ordered the execution of all of his enemies.
Talk about the sacred and the profane.
You could imagine, then, why I felt a little strange this past weekend when I found myself standing by the very same cardinal red doors, before stepping inside for my daughter Rose’s own baptism.
For a moment, on this beautiful sun-drenched day, I was waiting for someone to make me an offer I couldn’t refuse.
Instead, I got to thinking about the looming marble statue before the church, an imposing man hovering over two desperate children.
It got me to thinking about just how Irish this scene was. This, despite the so-called “Godfather church.”
And the many other children being christened alongside my daughter, whose names ended in vowels. Why, even my daughter’s own godfather was my brother-in-law, with the decidedly non-Hibernian name of Jim DeSantis. (Hey, give me a break, it’s Staten Island!)
The famous Godfather scene was filmed at a church located on the vast Mount Loretto estate at the southern end of Staten Island. My first three children had all been baptized at Our Lady Star of the Sea, my parish church, but that structure has been completely flattened so as to build a new and improved church. Baptisms have been relocated to the “Godfather church.”
It’s unfortunate, then, that one ultra-famous, ultra-bloody movie scene can make us forget the deeply inspiring and very Irish roots of this slice of rural paradise in New York City.
Furthermore, when we think of what a godfather truly is — one who guides and protects children, nurtures their faith -– then Don Corleone is not the man we should associate with this
John C. Drumgoole was born in Co. Longford in 1816, before moving to Manhattan. He worked as a shoemaker to care for his ailing mother.
The city at this time was rife with poverty, and particularly disturbing to anyone who would have strolled New York’s muddy streets were the desperate children.
Irish children, of course, were among this destitute population, particularly in and around the notorious Five Points, a few blocks northwest of today’s City Hall.
Drumgoole entered the seminary around 1863 –- the same year the gruesome Draft Riots exploded in downtown Manhattan — and found that he had a knack for working with wayward youth.
Drumgoole eventually helped establish a thriving mission at Great Jones Street and Lafayette Street.
This, of course, was helpful to Manhattan’s needy children, but it was still located close to the very temptations and diseases which plagued the kids in the first place.
So Drumgoole and others envisioned a place where city kids could truly get away from urban vice. But where? South Dakota? Nebraska?
How about Staten Island, a few geographic miles from the Five Points, but seemingly a world away.
Even today, driving past the Mount Loretto campus, with rolling green hills on your right, and green brush and sandy beaches on your left, it’s hard not to think of certain regions of Ireland.
Perhaps that’s what Drumgoole loved about it.
Either way, for decades, Drumgoole’s Mount Loretto was “Boy’s Town” in New York City, serving thousands of inner city kids. Its mission continues today, with schools and a wide range of youth-oriented social services available on the campus.
This is the kind of charitable vision a true godfather sets forth, and one I will proudly tell my little Rose about someday.
However, I will also prepare myself this response: “Wasn’t The Godfather filmed there?”
(Contact Tom at
Share this story:
Add to del.icio.us
Email a friend
© IrishAbroad.com 2009
Terms of Service
Add To My Site
| Bookmark us! (CTRL-D)
Use the code snippet below to link back to this page:
<a href="http://www.irishabroad.com/news/irish-voice/sidewalks/Articles/godfather-new-york151008.aspx">A Godfather to Be Proud Of</a>