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Cardinal O’Connell’s presence loomed large in his day


Cardinal William O’Connell Pilot file photo

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During a 1908 sermon commemorating the centennial of the founding of his beloved Archdiocese of Boston, Cardinal William Henry O’Connell famously stated, “The Puritan has passed; the Catholic remains.”

From one point of view, his statement indicated a turning point in New England history -- the social, cultural, and political events of the time hinted that the steadfast Yankee tradition that had defined the character of New England since exiled English Protestants, or Puritans, set foot on Massachusetts soil in the 1600s, was now losing its grip on the region. In its place, a uniquely Catholic culture had firmly established itself here and had given the Boston area a completely new identity. Boston’s shepherd, accordingly, wanted his flock to feel comfortable in their newly-gained position. By uttering those seven words, he was revealing the strong-willed leader he would become.

“On the one hand, you can read it as a challenge,” said Boston College history professor Thomas O’Connor.

“I think he himself would regard it as a statement of history. He was saying they had their day. Now, the Catholic was in the ascendancy,” he said.

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