Arthur Caliandro, Minister at Marble Collegiate, Dies at 79
The Rev. Arthur Caliandro delivered his last sermon at Marble Collegiate Church in 2009.
The Rev. Arthur Caliandro, who had the daunting task of following the popular Rev. Norman Vincent Peale to the venerable pulpit of Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan and then used it to reach out to people of other faiths, low-income children, women and gay congregants, died on Sunday at a rehabilitation center in the Bronx. He was 79.
Dr. Caliandro had undergone two heart operations in recent months and was receiving treatment for Parkinson’s disease, his wife, Sandra, said. He lived in Manhattan.
Dr. Caliandro was the 46th minister of the Collegiate Church, one of the oldest and most prominent Protestant congregations in North America. Part of the Reformed Church in America, it was founded by Dutch settlers in 1628. He took over the pulpit at Marble Collegiate from Dr. Peale, his mentor, in 1984 and served as senior minister until 2009.
Dr. Peale, the renowned author of the seminal self-help book “The Power of Positive Thinking,” had led the congregation for 52 years. He died in 1993 at age 95.
Dr. Caliandro “treasured and honored the legacy of Dr. Peale,” but shifted the congregation toward “a seven-day-a-week, program-oriented community” to address local needs, the Rev. Michael B. Brown, who is now senior minister, said Wednesday. “Before, it was a nationally known worship center, geared to the fame and incredible abilities of Dr. Peale.”
Among his many initiatives, Dr. Caliandro founded an interfaith discussion group with leading rabbis and imams. He created a program for sixth graders at a school in Harlem that eventually paid the college tuition for more than 100 of those students. He appointed women to the church board for the first time, and, in the mid-1990s, he provided a meeting space at the church for gay members — prompting about 150 congregants to resign in protest.
“The church is now strongly of the opinion that he did the right thing,” Dr. Brown said.
Dr. Caliandro also created a war memorial to those who were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, hanging a gold ribbon on the church’s fence for each American soldier killed and blue ribbons for the hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties.
Until his retirement, Dr. Caliandro continued the Sunday sermons that Dr. Peale had given on the radio station WOR since 1962. And from 1999 to 2005, his sermons, under the title “Simple Faith With Dr. Caliandro,” were broadcast nationally on what initially was the Odyssey network and is now the Hallmark Channel.
Marble Collegiate, which since 1854 has been housed in a grand structure with soaring stained glass windows on Fifth Avenue at 29th Street (the church is named for the marble blocks used in its construction), has maintained a membership of more than 2,000 people since Dr. Caliandro took over from Dr. Peale. Dr. Caliandro was the sixth to serve it at its present location.
Born in Portland, Me., on Aug. 10, 1933, Dr. Caliandro was one of three sons of Thomaso and Francesca Caliandro, immigrants from Italy. His father was a Protestant minister, a calling all three of his sons followed.
After graduating from Ohio Wesleyan University and Union Theological Seminary, Dr. Caliandro first preached in rural churches in Ohio and later at a church in Brooklyn, New York. In 1967, he came to the attention of Dr. Peale, who asked him to become associate minister at Marble Collegiate. At his death he was senior minister emeritus.
Dr. Caliandro’s first two marriages ended in divorce, something he spoke about to his congregants. Besides his third wife, the former Sandra Graham, whom he married in 2007, he is survived by a son from his first marriage, Paul, and five grandchildren. “He made a point of letting people know his weaknesses and mistakes, in order to let them know he was human,” his wife said. “He talked to his congregation, not down to the congregation.”
In his last sermon before retiring, Dr. Caliandro said: “Really, what it is all about is love. That which every human being, every one of us, needs and wants more than anything else is to be in a relationship, or in relationships, where we feel safe.” Relationships, he added, “where we are understood, accepted, affirmed and forgiven.”