• U.S.

Religion: A Campaign to Retire Father O’Malley

2 minute read

Roman Catholic priests, it seems, are bedeviled by false images in Gotham. According to Father George Thompson, vocations director of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, many New Yorkers see their priests in the Father O’Malley image made popular by Bing Crosby in Going My Way three decades ago—a genial sort of fellow who solves parish problems so deftly that he has plenty of time to write and croon catchy tunes. Others, whether Catholic themselves or not, view priests as troubled souls who may soon debark from the ministry to marry, or simply as the impresarios of weekly bingo games.

To elevate the priests’ public image, New York’s Terence Cardinal Cooke last week launched a $100,000 ad campaign under the eye-catching slogan THE NEW YORK PRIEST. GOD KNOWS WHAT HE DOES FOR A LIVING. Sample headline: FATHER JOHN O’LEARY. IF HE’S NOT IN CHURCH, HE’S PROBABLY IN JAIL. As it turns out, O’Leary is a chaplainat the Manhattan House of Detention, the infamous Tombs. Other ads show a black priest who runs a community center in Harlem, and a monsignor in Peekskill, N.Y., whose most important job, during a twelve-hour working day, “is to celebrate the Mass.”

In all, five different ads will appear over the next 13 weeks in selected New York metropolitan newspapers and regional editions of national magazines. Financed by special donations and created largely by volunteer talent, the campaign also amounts to a soft-sell for priestly vocations. For anyone interested in becoming a priest, the ads carry a special New York City telephone number, 774-3787, which, of course, can also be dialed: PRIESTS.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com