By Peter McDermott
“When my father came to America, he had a lot to learn,” said Connor Harding in a eulogy at St. Brigid’s Church in Manhattan’s East Village last Tuesday afternoon.
Indeed, Peter Harding was just 18 in 1964. But when the Dún Laoghaire, Co. Dublin, native gained the American knowledge and education he needed, he was always ready to pass it on.
And the architect Harding was the first person to call if there was a problem. “If you wanted business handled, you went to Dad,” Connor Harding said.
Officiating priest at the funeral Mass, the Rev. Peter Meehan, said afterwards: “Peter was the voice of reason during the St. Brigid’s crisis.”
Edwin Torres, chairman of the local Committee to Save St. Brigid’s Church, said: “We will be forever grateful to Peter. It was his knowledge of Building Department laws that gave us our big break.”
After the New York archdiocese proposed to demolish the church completed in 1849, Harding became one of the most active members of Torres’s group. “Many people gave up hope,” Torres said. “Peter didn’t.”
“Those people [the Committee to Save St. Brigid’s Church] really deserve a lot of respect,” said Meehan, a pastor at Church of Our Lady of the Rosary in Downtown Manhattan.
The priest said that clergy, frustrated at the late Cardinal Egan’s “intransigence,” passed on information to Harding during the long stand-off over the church. (An anonymous donation of $20 million saved St. Brigid’s and it reopened in early 2013.)
Not that the Irishman was an active churchgoer. “He was like my immigrant parents,” said Fr. Meehan. “They never darkened the door of a church. But they knew and respected the traditions. They had faith.”
Harding informed Meehan last year that he wanted his funeral Mass to take place at St. Brigid’s. “I said: ‘You better tell somebody else,’” the priest recalled. He was concerned that such a wish could get lost if only one priest in another parish knew about it.
Last September, the architect moved from a New York hospice to be with his elder son Connor and daughter-in-law Heather in North Carolina. “I spoke to him every four weeks or so after he moved,” Meehan said.
Harding died in Hope Mills, N.C., on July 2, and was cremated. Connor Harding traveled with his wife and younger brother Niall Harding, who is a Washington DC resident, for the Mass at St. Brigid’s Church five days later.
Torres heard about the death of his friend just before he flew out of New York on vacation. “I’m heartbroken,” he said upon his return yesterday. Several committee members spent a day with Harding at the hospice last year, Torres remembered.
Extended family joined the Hardings at the St. Brigid’s Mass, as did friends and colleagues from Alcoholics Anonymous. Harding was centrally involved with the World Trade Center group for many years. “He was a well-respected, quiet leader,” Meehan said, adding that Harding did a lot of pro bono work for homeless shelters and addiction centers over the years.
“He wasn’t a perfect man,” Connor Harding said. “But he was a good man.”