NEW YORK -- The Rev. Patrick Moloney is by all accounts BTC frugal man: He sleeps in a room not much bigger than a closet. A friend and fellow priest cannot remember him ever buying new clothes.
All the money he collects, friends said, goes to the shelter he runs on Manhattan's Lower East Side for troubled teen-age youths or to feed the homeless in Tompkins Square Park or to reach out to prison inmates.
So friends said they were astonished yesterday to learn that Father Moloney -- with his white beard, gentle manner and Irish brogue -- was arrested in the fifth-largest armored car robbery ever in the United States, a $7.4 million theft in Rochester, N.Y., last January.
Father Moloney, 61, was arrested along with two other men on Friday night and charged in the robbery. All have connections with the Irish Republican Army, the authorities said.
In an attempt to make sense of it all, friends thought about Father Moloney's abiding passion for helping the poor and his well-known views on Northern Ireland separatism.
"He's got an incredible commitment to justice and the downtrodden underdog," said the Rev. Bruce Craig, pastor of Mary Help of Christians, and a longtime friend. "If there is a connection to the IRA, I imagine that's where it comes from -- a matter of injustice he is going to fight."
In several decades of work on the Lower East Side, Father Moloney -- known around the neighborhood as Father Pat -- has shown a talent for mixing both the idealistic and the practical, for backing up his convictions with action, friends and acquaintances say.
Joe Willie Lee, 53, a homeless man in Tompkins Square Park, remembers one incident last April.
"One day I asked him to pray for me because I was hungry," Mr. Lee remembered yesterday afternoon. "So he put his hand on my hand, bowed his head and prayed for me. Then he gave me $10 to buy something to eat.
"As far as I'm concerned, Father Moloney is beautiful people."
The other suspects arrested on Friday are Thomas F. O'Connor, 54, a retired Rochester, N.Y., police officer and Brink's armored car guard, who asserted at the time of the robbery that the robbers had abducted him, and Samuel Ignatius Millar, 38, who served six years in jail in Ireland for firearms and explosives offenses, police say.
Another man, C. M. McCormack, who rented an apartment on First Avenue where the authorities recovered millions of dollars, was also arrested, but he was released without charges yesterday.
The police had Father Moloney and Mr. Millar under surveillance at the Stuyvesant Town housing development on 330 First Ave., where Mr. McCormack rented an apartment on the 10th floor.
Rob Travers, 39, who has lived on the floor all his life, did not even know anyone had rented the apartment until the police began hauling hidden money from it on Friday.