Services at the Roman Catholic Church St. Charles Borromeo/Resurrection Chapel in Harlem are always special, but last Sunday was particularly festive, as there was a sense of pageantry with the installation of its new pastor, the Rev. Gregory C. Chisholm, SJ.
It was an occasion of worship and praise as indicated by Brother Tyrone Davis, who, amid a rousing Baptist-like processional and a church redolent with incense, surrendered the officiating duties to New York’s Archdiocese Vicar General Dennis J. Sullivan, DD.
The usual order of the mass, including the Liturgy of the Word, gave way expediently to the installation and the homily delivered with great passion and enthusiasm by the Rev. George Quickley, SJ.
Contrary to his name, the good reverend spent more than half an hour extolling the virtues of Chisholm, someone he said he has known “for years and years.” Most rewarding was his animated story of an African king and queen without an heir who searched the land to find one who loved God and his neighbors fervently enough to be the new king.
At the end of the engrossing story, the man chosen not only loved God and his neighbors but was blessed with charity, love, faith, purity and grace. In other words, Quickley concluded, “he led by example” in giving the wealth he had to a poor beggar.
“A good pastor,” Quickley repeated several times, “is blessed with the gift of purity.” Chisholm, he stressed, was like the African king, endowed with exemplary speech, conduct, love, truth and purity.
Even more than these high -quality virtues and values, Chisholm, 60, is the first pastor from a religious order and the church’s 13th pastor. His resume is abundantly impressive, with a doctoral degree from MIT in mechanical engineering and a licentiate in sacred theology from Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass.
Most recently, among the numerous prestigious appointments for the Harlem native-he was born in New York City but raised in Harlem-was his yearlong tenure in 2010 at the Archdiocese of New York by the Society of Jesus. In 2005, Chisholm became pastor at St. Patrick Church in Oakland, Calif. There was also a stint teaching in Nairobi, Kenya, at the Jesuit-run Hekima College.
Earlier this year in January, Chisholm spoke at the inauguration of Dr. Gilbert Rochon, president of Tuskegee University in Alabama. He told the audience: “I live among the abandoned, and I know the degree of their isolation from every institution in the country, including Black institutions…Their abandonment is structured by neighborhoods and poverty and joblessness and obesity and parentlessness and drugs and prison and ignorance and violence and police and distance from community. There seems no way out.”
Despite the seemingly endless misery index, Chisholm said he believed that Rochon possessed a sense of community that “runs deep and true within him. I believe that the sense of community within him includes an identity, understanding, affection and purpose that will not allow the abandoned to remain abandoned.”
That same mission, that same sense of community dwells in Chisholm, if Quickley is a good witness, and Harlem can use all the goodwill and good pastors it can find.