Duffy Square To Get Facelift
By Bridget English, Contributor
June / July 2006
Hidden in the shadows of a TKTS booth amidst the bright lights and flashing signs that overpower the north end of Times Square stands a statue of Father Francis Duffy – the most celebrated U.S. Army chaplain in history. In any other place the bronze statue, backed by a 17-foot-high Celtic Cross made of granite, would be hard to ignore. But here, the only statue of a clergyman in New York City overlooks planters filled with trash and homeless people sleeping nearby. But all that is about to change. After seven years of hard work and collaboration, the Coalition for Father Duffy and its partners, Theater Development Fund (TDF) and The Times Square Alliance, in cooperation with the City of New York, are close to realizing their dream of refurbishing Duffy Square. Wider pedestrian pathways, new lighting, and a new TKTS booth designed with a dramatic red cascading glass edifice, will serve as a backdrop to the monument, and bring Father Duffy back into the light. Father Francis Patrick Duffy, who came to New York by way of Canada, was regimental captain of the predominately Irish “Fighting 69th” regiment that became part of the 42nd Division during WWI. Father Duffy achieved legendary status by his “ministry of presence.” He visited the front lines, hearing confessions, saying mass, and counseling soldiers. His decorations included the Distinguished Service Cross and the Distinguished Service Medal. After the war, Father Duffy returned to New York City. He served as pastor of the Holy Cross Church on 42nd Street, just off Broadway, the “actors’ church.” In 1919, he wrote the best-selling book, Father Duffy’s Story, which chronicled his experiences during the war. The story was featured in the 1940 James Cagney film classic, The Fighting 69th, which starred Pat O’Brien as Duffy. Father Duffy passed away in 1932, and five years later, New York City Mayor LaGuardia, renamed a part of Times Square in his honor. Leading the Coalition for Father Duffy project is Bruce Meyerson, who takes over from his colleague and friend of almost four decades, the late Major General Joseph A. Healey. Meyerson, who served in the 69th Regiment for more than thirteen years, accepted his position at the late general’s request. “General Healey’s dream was that one day New York City would reaffirm its respect for Fr. Francis Patrick Duffy, a man who calls to mind a quiet heroism that made our country great,” said Meyerson. “Joe [General Healy] hoped that this square would once again become a place of respite in the heart of Times Square, where Americans could reflect on the meaning of heroism, patriotism and duty.” Construction on the new Duffy Square is expected to begin this summer. The renovations promise not only to dignify a part of the city emblazoned by commercial advertising but it will also revive the legend of Father Duffy, a hero who was in danger of being forgotten.