The man arrested while carrying cans of gasoline and lighter fluid at New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral is a college professor from New Jersey who teaches a course on the existence of God and had previously been arrested at a New Jersey cathedral days earlier.

The man was arrested Wednesday after entering the church with the fuel as well as butane lighters. The arrest came just days after a fire destroyed Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.

Deputy New York Police Commissioner John Miller says 37-year-old Marc Lamparello, of Hasbrouck Heights, is facing charges including attempted arson and reckless endangerment for after his arrest Wednesday night at the New York City landmark.

Police said the man claimed that he had run out of gas but they said that was not true. Authorities were trying to figure out his intentions but said he was already known to police.

Before going to St. Patrick's on Wednesday, Miller said, Lamparello booked a $2,800 ticket on a 5:20 p.m. Thursday flight to Italy.

He had been arrested Monday at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, after he refused to leave at closing time, Miller said.

Maria Margiotta, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Newark, declined to comment on the specifics of Monday's arrest, citing the ongoing police investigation. Our "security is vigilant and ensures a safe environment for all those who visit," she said.

Lamparello is listed on the Brooklyn College website as a philosophy professor.

His most recent courses included Moral Issues of Business and Introduction to the Problems of Philosophy, which delves into "the nature and scope of knowledge, meaning and verification, the existence of God, determinism and free will, the mind-body problem, and the nature of moral judgments."

He also has taught philosophy at Lehman College and was a musical director at St. Joseph in East Rutherford.

Marc Lamparello was arrested Wednesday at St. Patrick's Cathedral. (Lehman College)
Marc Lamparello was arrested Wednesday at St. Patrick's Cathedral. (Lehman College)

His father told the Daily News that he was surprised by the arrest because his son is "brilliant."

"His writings — other professors can’t even understand his writings," his father was quoted as saying.

Police said a man had pulled up Wednesday night in a minivan on Fifth Avenue, walked around the area, then returned to his vehicle at 7:55 p.m. and retrieved the gasoline and lighter fluid.

"As he enters the cathedral he's confronted by a cathedral security officer who asks him where he's going and informs him he can't proceed into the cathedral carrying these things," NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller said. "At that point some gasoline apparently spills out onto the floor as he's turned around."

Security then notified officers from the counter-terrorism bureau who were standing outside, Miller said. The officers caught up to the man and arrested him after he was questioned.

"His basic story was he was cutting through the cathedral to get to Madison Avenue. That his car had run out of gas," Miller said. "We took a look at the vehicle. It was not out of gas and at that point he was taken into custody."

"It's hard to say exactly what his intentions were, but I think the totality of circumstances of an individual walking into an iconic location like St. Patrick's Cathedral carrying over four gallons of gasoline, two bottles of lighter fluid and lighters is something that we would have great concern over," Miller said. "His story is not consistent."

St. Patrick's Cathedral was built in 1878 and has installed a sprinkler-like system during recent renovations. Its wooden roof is also coated with fire retardant.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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