Nevermind Those Bowery Hotels: the Real Starwatching Is at Maryhouse

Screen shot 2012-06-27 at 10.25.49 AMFelton Davis Joanne Kennedy gives a quick astronomy lesson.

If it were up to him, Felton Davis would install a 75-foot dome atop the communal shelter where he has lived for 25 years. But the Catholic Worker doesn’t have that kind of money, so he uses a simple telescope to show his fellow Maryhouse residents the wonders of the universe.

Mr. Davis hosts informal viewings on the rooftop of the Catholic-anarchist hospitality house, but on a half dozen occasions, he’s taken his planet parties to the street. Saturday night, he took his Orion telescope and wide-angle Q70 lens to the corner of East Third Street and Second Avenue to give over a hundred passersby an intimate view of Saturn. Positioned next to a bright star in the Virgo constellation, the planet is imminently visible during these summer months.

“This is something that intrudes on people’s consciousness in very strange ways. It’s out of this world,” Mr. Davis told The Local. “People were surprised they could see Saturn from the city streets.”

Screen shot 2012-06-27 at 10.25.13 AMFelton Davis Esther Kennedy-Finger, 4, has a look.

From 8:30 p.m., when the planet emerged from behind an apartment building on the corner, to 11 p.m., when it disappeared into street lights, pedestrians each took turns viewing Saturn’s rings for the minute during which it passed across the telescope’s lens.

“Some didn’t want to quit,” said Mr. Davis. “They wanted to stay there.” Joanne Kennedy, another Maryhouse resident and an editor of the Catholic Worker newspaper, sent those people to the back of the line before they could get a second look.

IMG_2877Stephen Rex Brown Maryhouse

Mr. Davis caught the astronomy bug last fall when he and a few of his fellow residents went to a star party in Central Park, organized by the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York. He found that the hobby clicked with life at Maryhouse, which asks its residents to live a life of poverty and share chores such as answering the phone, unloading trucks, and serving food to the needy. “People are walking around surrounded to multitudinous gadgets,” he said. “The telescope has no connection to the internet or anything – it’s just a mirror and a collection of lenses.”

The stargazer has since hosted about a dozen parties of his own, most of them for his fellow residents. “One of the most satisfying things for me is when a homeless person drags themselves up to our roof and looks at the moon or a planet and I think to myself, ‘This is available to the poorest people there are,’” said Mr. Davis.

At the next party, on July 3, Mr. Davis’s telescope will be trained on the full moon. He’ll be back on the rooftop of Maryhouse for that one, but all are invited to attend. For more details, call the residence at (212) 777-9617.