Jeremiah Keane was enigmatic, charming, and very witty. Wearing his Cosby sweater, Air Jordan IV sneakers, New York Knicks cap, and the gold Rolex, he was hip and trendy. A young white middle-aged pastor that had quickly developed a following in Yonkers New York. Yonkers was his town. With so many mixed cultures, and lost souls who were missing home, he had found a niche as this charismatic spokesperson, to pedal his outrageous brand of religion. To the Arabs, Jews, Irish, Polish; especially those Polish girls, who called Yonkers home, he made them all feel welcomed. They were all simply customers as far as he was concerned. His brand reflected the times, yet appealed to tradition, but the traditionalists would publicly argue that he was what was wrong with the church.
Jeremiah had started pedaling his brand of street religion, not far from the steps of the Sacred Heart Monastery on Convent Avenue at the tender age of ten. The monks at the monastery had looked after him when his hedonistic mother had died. Perhaps they felt they owed it to him, as she had perished with a needle in her veins less than a block away from their doorstep. She had been regular at the Sacred Heart Church every Saturday morning for mass, and after she had died, they had ensured that he did not fall prey to the chaos of the streets. But he was used to it. His mother’s blood ran through his veins and so he hustled as much as he could. He would sell little statuettes of angels holding Celtic crosses by the hundreds, to the faithful Irish parishioners attending Sunday Mass. To the Jews on the other side of Yonkers, his biggest seller, outside of the ‘genuine gold’ star of David, was a faux ivory Shofar that the young Jewish men seemed to enjoy wasting their money on. The trinkets he sold, and Jeremiah sold anything, made it possible for him to rent out a spot behind an old Irish pub to open his first worship hall.
That was the mid nineteen eighties. He was a tough street hustler that had survived in the underbelly of Yonkers for a merciless fifteen years. That was where he had met his lovely Louisa; the rugged Irish immigrant who fought him for his affections and saw right through his meticulously cultivated street hustle. Sexy, vivacious, and outspoken, she had captivated him with her smile and the Irish lilt that sold his claim of Irish ancestry to the community. Louisa was the beauty to his brawn and brains. She had given him a lovely daughter and she managed to give him a level of respectability, that was befitting a man of his rising stature.
Within three years his reputation as this enigmatic preacher, was earning him interviews and television appearances and tickets to watch Michael Jordan be harassed by Spike Lee at the Garden. It was a fame that brought along the misguided, talented, broken, rejected orphans of Mother Europe, all looking for a hero to worship or better yet, a spiritual leader. Jeremiah styled himself a prophet; claiming direct lineage from the biblical Jeremiah, a tale laughable even to him, but one that piqued enough curiosity in the young and impressionable for him to build a larger congregation. To the Yonkers community, he was what was good about all that was wrong. He was an activist, a willing and very public philanthropist, an eloquent speaker, and motivator for the young vibrant community. He frequented the pubs, pool halls and even the drug dens, proselytizing with his eccentric personality. ‘Jesus was castigated for cavorting with sinners and publicans’ was the defensive stance he took. It was not long before his very public life was inviting very private scrutiny.
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