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Murnane, Jay

March 28, 2004
Albany, New York

Beloved advocate for poor mourned
Ex-priest Jay Murnane, who co-founded The Ark, dies

Jay Murnane, who came to the city in 1971, then left the priesthood but not his ministry to the 's needy, died Sunday at home after a long illness. He was 59.

"Jay was simply a good man," said former Mayor Mark Pattison. "He was good to people. He cared about people."

Murnane and his wife, Mary Theresa Streck, were the co-founders of The Ark, an after-school program so called, they said, because their efforts were directed by God, much as Noah's were in the Old Testament.

They started the program in 1975, when he was still a priest and she was a sister of St. Joseph. After being released from their vows by the Catholic Church, they were married on May 28, 1984.

Three years ago, the couple were co-founders of The Ark Charter School, which, while it carries the same name, is separate from their after-school program.

And through the years, the couple also continued their activism. They celebrated their second anniversary in 1986 by being released from jail after serving a sentence for a protest at the federal office building in Albany.

Much of Murnane's efforts centered around the Taylor Apartments, a public housing high-rise complex on the riverbank near the Congress Street bridge.

When he first came to Troy in 1971, Murnane and another priest, the former Rev. Brian O'Shaughnessy, shared an apartment in the complex. When Murnane and Streck married, they continued to live in the same complex. Many of the children in The Ark program come from Taylor Apartments.

O'Shaughnessy said he and Murnane went to Catholic University seminary in Washington, D.C. Murnane finished four years in just over two, and petitioned the Albany Diocese to become a priest here.

He was a chaplain at RPI and helped out at St. Mary's Parish in South Troy, but, O'Shaughnessy said, his main concerns were "the minds and hearts of the people of Taylor Apartments."

The two men left the priesthood through "very separate decisions," and, despite spending nearly 15 years as roommates, never talked about it, O'Shaughnessy said. But leaving the priesthood did not slow down his work. It was almost as if he only took off the collar, he explained.

"He was the most generous, most loving person I've ever met," the former priest continued. "It was a generosity of his time. He was a brilliant man."

Bringing to mind the Lenten season, O'Shaughnessy said when Jesus came out of the desert, he knew his mission was to bring "good news to the poor and sight to the blind. For Jay, that's what he felt his mission and ministry was."

"There were no pretensions to him," Pattison said. "And more importantly, he walked the walk. He spent his day thinking about and helping out those who needed help."

By BRUCE A. SCRUTON, Staff writer
Times Union, Albany, New York, March 30, 2004