A Worldly Accomplishment Is Rewarded With a Heavenly One

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“A moment of solidarity, of accompaniment,” Mr. Cavadini said. “The Irish people have suffered, and we’re going to be out here in the rain with you for a while.”

The years came and went like the pilgrims to the shrine. Mr. Curry grew up and left Knock in search of work. According to a short biography written in 2009 by an Irishman of the same name (who identifies himself as Grandnephew of the Visionary), the young man eventually settled in New York, where he became an attendant at City Hospital on Welfare Island, now known as Roosevelt Island. A cousin who visited Mr. Curry later remembered him as a “good respectable little man,” with an undiluted brogue and a fondness for telling stories about the Knock of his youth.

In 1932, when he was about 58, the single Mr. Curry moved into a home for the older indigent run by the Little Sisters of the Poor at 213 East 70th Street. He helped with daily Mass and cleaned the dining room. He was also “very candid,” one of the sisters later wrote. “If he done anything wrong, he was the first one to tell you about it.”

After a few years, one of the sisters asked if he was from County Mayo and, if so, had he ever heard of Knock? Yes and yes, he answered. She then asked whether he knew the John Curry from Knock.

“I said yes,” he later recalled in a letter. “He is the J. Curry that serves mass for you in the Home every morning …”


Mr. Curry’s headstone is already up, his lifelong distinction chiseled in the blue-black granite: “Witness to the Apparition at Knock.” Credit Karsten Moran for The New York Times

Then came that ecclesiastical summons in 1937, requiring Mr. Curry’s presence in the old O.H.P. Belmont mansion at 477 Madison Avenue, then occupied by the archdiocese. Three “reverend judges,” representing a second Commission of Enquiry in Ireland, asked various questions that elicited extraordinary answers, including: “I seen the Blessed Virgin, St. Joseph and St. John the Evangelist on the gable of the church.”

Mr. Curry went into much deeper detail than he had when questioned as a boy a half-century earlier. He said he had seen an altar and a lamb, although he could not recall whether the lamb had been on the altar or in St. Joseph’s arms. St. Joseph had whiskers, he said, and St. John held a book. He also acknowledged having read the statements of two other witnesses just before coming into the hearing, but said: “What I gave you here was out of my head and not out of any book.”

When asked whether he had anything else to add, Mr. Curry said: “I have never been sick a day in my life. I have a great memory. Sister can tell you that. The only time I paid a doctor was to have a tooth pulled.”

The retired Irish laborer was then excused to melt back into the bustling Manhattan blur.

He died in 1943 at the age of 68, the last “official visionary” of Knock, and was buried without a headstone in a communal cemetery plot owned by the Little Sisters of the Poor in Farmingdale, on Long Island. Soon gone, too, were the home for the aged, the O.H.P. Belmont mansion and City Hospital.

But Knock lives on, thriving on what was said to have occurred in 1879. A continuing stream of pilgrims flows into a basilica, a shrine, a museum, the daily Masses and confessions, a campground, and a village chockablock with religious gift shops.


Msgr. Donald Sakano said thousands of people were expected at Saturday’s Mass and reburial, including the rector of Knock and 150 other visitors from Ireland. Credit Karsten Moran for The New York Times

In the summer of 2015, Cardinal Dolan and 180 other pilgrims from New York landed at Knock’s international airport, carved out of bog land three decades ago. During his visit he met the local rector, the Rev. Richard Gibbons, who informed him that the last Knock visionary was buried in an unmarked grave on Long Island. So began plans to disinter and reinter.

Among those involved in the planning is Msgr. Donald Sakano, 72, pastor of the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, at Mott and Prince Streets. Every time his cellphone rings in relation to last-minute details, it sounds like the chiming of bells.

“He’s with us now,” he said of Mr. Curry. “Disinterred.”

To demonstrate, Monsignor Sakano walked down to the catacombs beneath the 200-year-old church and opened the heavy black door to one of the crypts, revealing a dark-wood coffin freshly removed from Long Island soil. Then back upstairs and out to the cemetery he went, to point out the headstone awaiting its purpose.

Saturday’s Mass and reburial will be a glorious event, the monsignor said. Thousands are expected, including the rector of Knock and 150 other visitors from Ireland — all for an ordinary man, he said, of no worldly accomplishment.

Which is central to the beauty of the story, he said. “There’s hope for all of us ordinary people.”

Here, then, will rest an Irish immigrant, day laborer, hospital attendant and daily communicant who saw something when he was a boy of 5. John Curry. The Very.

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