Mgr. Brooklyn’s champion of the poor and oppressed John Powis dies at 87


“He is known to generations of Latinos who often only survive because of his ability to catch people who are starting to wander in despair and bring them back to try again and hope with him,” Jimmy Breslin wrote in “The Church That” Forgot Christ “(2004). .

In 1963 he was appointed parish priest of Notre Dame, where he joined protests against the city’s plans to remove street fire alarm boxes and appeared in housing court on behalf of residents. to avoid evictions. He allowed some of the expelled to stay in the presbytery.

Michael Gecan, who was the chief Brooklyn organizer for the Industrial Areas Foundation, a national community organizing group and a central figure in Project Nehemiah, said Father Powis was a follower of “something we call “Public love” – a deep connection with parishioners and neighbors, an unwavering commitment to them, and a spirit of hope and possibility that others feel and respond to.

People didn’t always react that way. One morning in 1972, JoAnne Chesimard and two other members of the Black Liberation Army forced him at gunpoint to open a safe and give up $ 1,800 in bingo money. When he struggled with the suit, one said, “We usually just pop white males’ heads off,” he told the Village Voice in 2009. “I guess that I was lucky.”

He later became active in a progressive priesthood organization called the Voice of the Ordained.

“He was a trusted shoulder to cry on for so many people,” said Fran Barrett, state coordinator for nonprofit agencies. “And yet he found joy and love in life, and the spirit of trying to do good in everyone,” she added. (Father Powis presided over her marriage to Wayne Barrett, the journalist and author.)

Combustible about social injustice and consoling in personal crises, Father Powis straddled his civic and ecclesiastical roles, often wearing a non-threatening flannel shirt over his office attire. He saw his parishes as a church without walls, caring for anyone in need on the streets and those who stood in line at night waiting for him to alleviate their woes, if only by listening without wearing of judgment.

“We are trying to relate religion to real life,” Father Powis told The Times in 2000. “Religion is not an opiate. You need to get involved and make a change in the community.


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