Father Francis P. Duffy, the New York National Guard World War I hero and chaplain of the renowned "Fighting 69th," stands once again as the centerpiece of the Square named in his honor in the heart of Times Square. Current and former members of the New York Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment, New York City’s famous "Fighting 69th" joined hundreds of supporters, including New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Bishop Dennis Sullivan of the New York Archdiocese, the Coalition for Father Duffy, the Times Square Alliance and the Theatre Development Fund at a ribbon cutting ceremony October 16 for the new, renovated Duffy Square unveiling.
Father Duffy, an ordained Catholic priest, served during World War I as Chaplain of one of the most famous regiments in United States Army history, the 69th New York Infantry, proudly called the "Fighting 69th." He is the most highly decorated cleric in US Army history. The enlarged and enhanced Square features Father Duffy’s monument silhouetted against a striking amphitheatre-style staircase constructed of red glass — 27 steps high, offering seating room for more than 500 people. The state-of-the-art slip-resistant glass steps are lit from below with advanced LED technology and utilize unique geothermal-based heating and cooling technology. The project also includes a newly designed, futuristic TKTS booth, where half-price theatre tickets are available on a daily basis.
Bruce Meyerson, Chairman of the Coalition for Father Duffy said, "This renovation restores a true sense of glory to Father Francis Patrick Duffy and rightly features him as the centerpiece of this place of reverence, remembrance and reflection. The site acknowledges the accomplishments of this American hero both at home and abroad. With the re-dedication of the Square, we celebrate his courage and compassion in WWI as Chaplin of the 69th where he supported the spiritual and emotional needs of the soldiers during intense trench warfare."
Armed only with his faith, Father (Lt. Col.) Duffy was known to "trench hop" during intense bombings and bloody battles in France – carrying wounded soldiers from the battlefield, hearing their confessions and giving last rites. When artillery was quiet, Father Duffy was a soothing influence in the barracks. He listened to a soldier’s fears with compassionate understanding and often quelled those fears with his uniquely Irish sense of humor.
After the War, Father Duffy returned to New York City where he administered to area’s factory workers, including print men from the New York Times, and employees of the theatre district, at Holy Cross Church in the heart of Times Square. Meyerson added, "Today, we also recall Duffy’s caring and charity as pastor at Holy Cross Church. It is only fitting, then, that at the Crossroads of the World, the monument in his honor symbolically stands watch over the neighborhood he once served."
Today members of the 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry, a New York Army National Guard Unit, carry on the Regiment’s proud traditions and commitment to country. Called to duty for the Iraq War, they were responsible for securing and defending the main roadway between the capital and the airport. Through their courage and commitment to mission, this critical roadway was secured and was the main artery used by military and civilians alike.
Most recently the 69th supplied a company-size contingent in support of our nation’s efforts in Afghanistan. These men have been assigned to the 101st Calvary Squadron and are presently disbursed throughout companies in that command.
In closing Meyerson added, "Today, we also remember Joe Healey – my friend and mentor, and the former Commanding Officer of the 69th Infantry, who ten years ago took up the fight to ensure that the new square ‘respected Father Duffy.’ Joe died in December 2005 after a long and hard-fought battle with cancer. His passion for life, his love for his country and his unyielding dedication to the Coalition for Father Duffy inspired all of us who were lucky enough to have known him. I am proud to have been able to see this project through to its completion. It is a fitting final tribute."
The renovation of Duffy Square grew out of an international design competition sponsored by the Theatre Development Fund and run by the Van Alen Institute as a project for NYC 2000, The Mayor’s Office for the Millennium. The competition garnered 683 entries from 31 countries.
The design of the booth and floating red glass amphitheater is by Perkins Eastman, one of the nation’s largest architecture and design firms. It was inspired by the winner of the international ideas competition, Australian-based architectural firm Choi Ropiha. Williams Fellows, a New York-based architect with PKSB Architects, an award-winning architecture and interior design firm, designed the surrounding plaza.