After tearful farewell in North Philadelphia, an obedient priest moves to suburban parish

The Rev. Ed Hallinan saying his last Mass on June 19 after 14 years atSt. Martin de Porres, which serves a neighborhood with many needs.
The Rev. Ed Hallinan saying his last Mass on June 19 after 14 years atSt. Martin de Porres, which serves a neighborhood with many needs. (MICHAEL VITEZ / Staff)
Posted: July 18, 2011

When Ed Hallinan became a priest, he took a vow of obedience.

In the last few weeks, he's come to appreciate "a whole new meaning" to that word.

For the last 14 years, Father Ed dedicated himself to the city's poorest and neediest as pastor at St. Martin de Porres Catholic Church at 23d Street and Lehigh Avenue in North Philadelphia.

"I was always ecstatic, and I was always thrilled, and sometimes, being ecstatic and being thrilled, I talked to you for 40 minutes," Father Ed said in his final homily, on Father's Day. "The Lord was whispering in my ear, 'Ed, sit down. Let the poor people go.'

"But it was always such a joy to be with you, and as I walk around the church, there is a story or many stories behind every person that's here in the church. I was blessed that you invited me into the inner sanctum of your lives."

Danielle Pryor, 13, sang "When I Look at You" for Father Ed at the Mass. When she won a scholarship to Settlement Music School, Father Ed persuaded a friend in Cherry Hill to donate a piano and deliver it to her home so she could practice.

Father Ed provided spiritual and emotional comfort to Kevin Gray after he nearly died in a motorcycle accident. Gray became deeply involved in St. Martin de Porres after that, and saw that Father Ed, a white man, really did care about people regardless of their skin color.

Gray, 43, spoke at the farewell Mass. "Every young man in here, black, white, brown, whatever color, this is what you need to aspire to. Right here."

He pointed at Father Ed.

Crystal Brown sat near the front, crying. A victim of sexual abuse, she has two children with a genetic disease. Father Ed found a benefactor on the Main Line to donate $50,000 for a wheelchair-accessible van so Brown could drive her children to the hospital.

Father Ed has supported Brown in her bleakest, loneliest moments.

"He changed my life," she said. "He made me believe that all men are not bad."

Perhaps Father Ed's biggest contribution is what he did for the parish school. He teamed with Sister Nancy Fitzgerald, the principal, and created a refuge. He helped raise more than a half-million dollars a year to put the school on an independent financial footing, building up an endowment and a board of committed supporters. Sister Nancy knows he often shelled out tuition from his own pocket rather than turn a child away.

"Where some other schools are closing," Sister Nancy said, "we should have been one of them. Because of the vision and the people who were captured by the vision, it endured, and it's thriving at the moment. We're in the middle of something extremely special, and I know his fingerprints are all over that. That's his greatest legacy.

"Where others might find it too overwhelming, the challenge seems to grab something extra of Father Ed."

Maybe that's what happened. The archdiocese needed something extra.

He has been moved to a Montgomery County church, one hit by the sexual-abuse scandal involving Catholic priests. There are too few priests to begin with, fewer still with his sensitivity and ability to help heal. His church called, and he obeyed.

A good man is replacing him at St. Martin de Porres. And knowing the school is stable and so well-supported made it easier in Father Ed's mind to obey.

But he did not expect how much it would hurt.

How he would miss it.

The other day, Father Ed was in the rectory at St. John of the Cross, his new parish in Roslyn. One room was filled with boxes, his life. In another, he took a moment, finally, to read farewell cards.

Their tenderness brought him to tears.

He stepped outside.

He was surrounded by homes, lawns, so much green.

"I do feel like a part of me has been amputated," he said. "Listen how quiet it is out here -."

Father Ed will hurt, but he will adapt, and love the people wherever he finds them.

"He won't hold himself back," Sister Nancy said. "He'll get immersed wherever he goes."

When Father Ed celebrated his first Mass at St. John of the Cross, he told a little about himself and his time at St. Martin de Porres. "My homilies were 20 to 30 minutes," he said. He was being playful, knowing how shocking that would sound in a suburban parish, where Mass is typically an hour, half that at St. Martin de Porres.

"But I'm really working on seven to 12 minutes!"

He noted that St. John of the Cross had five vestibules, or exits, "and I love a church with only one, so people can get in and out only one way."

Every Mass he planned to pick a different doorway so he could meet everyone in time.

They gave him a big applause.

It was a start.

As Father Ed said later, "When Jesus calls one to follow him, he doesn't say where . . . so I, as a priest, have faith that Jesus knows what he is doing when he says, 'Follow me.' "

Contact staff writer Michael Vitez at 215-854-5639,, or @michaelvitez on Twitter.

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