Parish fears loss of pastor

Father John Grange

The parishioners at St. Jerome Church at E. 138th Street and Alexander Avenue are not ready to say goodbye to their beloved Father John A. Grange, who has shepherded the flock for 30 years after having attended the church as a young boy. 

With the shifting of pastors around the archdiocese slated to be announced soon, the church community fears rumors of the priest’s reassignment are too strong not to be true. 

The archdiocese would not confirm or deny the rumors.

“Every June, the archdiocese reviews assignments,” said Joe Zwilling, communications director for the archdiocese. “I can’t comment until that process is completed within the next two weeks.”

In the meantime, a rally was held at the church on Sunday, June 1 with close to 100 residents showing up after a mass in support of keeping Grange. 

 “We just don’t want to let father go,” said Gracianna Castellanos, a longtime parishioner and secretary at St. Jerome, who organized the rally.  “We’re not questioning the Cardinal’s right, but we don’t think this is the right time or decision.”

Her opinion has been seconded by many in the community, including the Serrano’s, the first family of south Bronx politics, and longtime parishioners at the church.  

“I feel he’s capable of doing a great job at any parish, but right now he’s doing a great job here,” said Congressman Jose Serrano, whose grandson was recently baptized at the church.  “It would be a shame if he wasn’t around to see it through all he has started.”

Senator Jose Serrano, Jr., also felt the priest was a leader beyond the frock, known for defending his parishioners against drug dealers and in some circumstances, police. 

In recent times Grange even squared off against Cardinal Egan to make sure the facility was renovated and not closed, so it could continue to serve as a beacon of hope for the community. 

“We’ve always looked at Father Grange as one who did more than just provide religious council to the parish,” the senator said.  “He’s a advocate for social change and reform for the people who live in the area.”

After emigrating from Mexico at the age of 11, Castellanos felt the priest helped her family and other immigrants to feel at home in the church and the area.

“You come to mass for a few days, and next thing you know, he’s calling you by your first name.” Castellanos said.  “You feel at home, especially when you come into a country where no one knows you.”

The church has a long history as a haven for immigrant groups, serving mainly Irish and German newcomers in its early years around the turn of the century and well into the 40’s and 50’s when Grange was a young parishioner. 

The tradition continued in the postwar years, as Puerto Ricans arrived in large numbers.

Today, Mexican Americans like Castellanos have embraced the House of God and the fluent Spanish-speaking priest who has seen the parish through its many transformations, himself a 1952 graduate of the church’s parochial school.  

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