The Diocese of Albany is putting on a staged reading of “Murder in the Cathedral” by T.S. Eliot at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception this month and it was an idea that was hatched over dinner.

Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger was visiting Father George St. John, who has since died, and was joined in the meal by Father Francis O’Connor and Father Daniel Quinn, who at the time in late 2020 had just been named pastor of the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in Albany.

“We are sitting at dinner and Father Francis O’Connor and (the Bishop) are going on about English poets … so they kept going, they started talking and they started quoting things, things they memorized as kids when they were in school,” said Father Quinn. “I knew some of it but they had a much different education when they were kids then when I was a kid. (Bishop Ed) said wouldn’t it be great if we put on ‘Murder in the Cathedral’ in our Cathedral?

“The bishop threw it out there and said (to me), ‘You used to work in theater.’ I said, ‘Yeah, sure,’ ” Father Quinn added. “In mid-March I sent him a message and I said, ‘Listen, I have been thinking about this and I think it is doable.’ ”

And just like that, and after numerous rehearsals, the Diocese of Albany will present a free, staged reading of “Murder in the Cathedral” — with Bishop Scharfenberger in the lead role of Archbishop Thomas Becket — on June 30 at 7:30 p.m. Brian Gurley, director of Music and Organist for the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, will provide the music, Father Quinn will play one of the three priests, Father Anthony Barratt, diocesan director of Prayer and Worship and pastor of Holy Trinity parish in Hudson, will play a tempter and one of the knights, and Father Anthony Ligato, Vicar for Vocations and pastor St. Michael the Archangel in Troy and the Church of St. Jude the Apostle in Wynantskill, will play another knight.

The rest of the cast will be filled out by parishioners throughout the Diocese and others.

Father Quinn added, “We are all not trying to memorize everything. This is not the highest form of theater here but the Cathedral itself functions as the Cathedral. … It doesn’t need to be emotive inasmuch as it needs to be clearly spoken so that the audience can have time to absorb the words, process them and move on.”

Father Quinn added the content of the verse drama, which depicts the martyrdom of Archbishop Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral during the reign of Henry II in 1170 — is the important part. The play was published in 1935 and performed in the same year at Canterbury Cathedral and deals with issues of faith and politics and to whom we should show allegiance to.

Father Quinn said it is really about “the conflict of the bishop on behalf of the Church (against) the king and his soldiers, and the bishop being told, ‘You owe this to the king, you must do this, you must do that.’ And the Bishop saying, ‘No, I don’t.’ 

“So it is this conflict between earthly power, divine power and in a big sense, God’s power versus the power we like to exert over things. ... And we find ourselves in conflict with this all the time and not just the government but any political party; they don’t all match what we have received from God, what we have received from Jesus.”

And that is why, Father Quinn added, Bishop Scharfenberger wanted to put on the drama.

“The point, I think that the Bishop wanted to make by doing this was to get people to start thinking to whom do we owe allegiances to ultimately,” Father Quinn said. “Not that we don’t belong to our government, not that we refuse to pay our taxes, no, but there are things that sometime seem to be requested or required of us by culture, by governmental leaders or people in the parish that we don’t actually owe and in fact the higher duty that we have is to God. And that choice will perhaps make us martyrs and perhaps saints as it did with Archbishop Becket.”