Bishop John A. Dooher: A life trusting in God’s providence
By Donis Tracy
Father Dooher was assigned to St. Francis Xavier Parish, Weymouth, from 1969-1974.
Bishop-elect John A. Dooher has always trusted in God’s providence to guide his ministry. And he is determined to continue relying on God in his new role as auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Boston -- a role he never imagined he would be called to fulfill.
In early October, when the bishop received a late-night phone call from Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley, asking him to go to the cathedral, he had no idea what to expect.
Nevertheless, he immediately set out to the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.
“It was about 10 p.m. when I got there,” he recalled. Cardinal O’Malley met him with a “simple statement that said ‘The Holy Father has appointed you auxiliary bishop of Boston.’”
“You just kind of gulp and start going through reasons why he should have picked someone else,” he said.
That evening, he didn’t sleep a wink.
“I truly didn’t have a clue about this,” he said.
Armed with an optimism he credits to his mother, who always taught her children, “not to be afraid to say, ‘yes, let’s try it,’” Bishop-elect Dooher began looking forward to his new role as bishop of the south region of the archdiocese.
A few days later during a family dinner, the bishop shared the news of his appointment.
“There was great excitement, confusion, laughter, some tears, and you know, reminiscing about family and all things that give us our particular uniqueness as a family,” he recalled.
Bishop-elect John Anthony Dooher was born May 3, 1943 in Dorchester. He is the second son of Anthony and Brigid (Patsy) Dooher, both Irish-born Catholics who met and married after emigrating to Massachusetts.
Throughout his childhood, he attended St. Peter Parish in Dorchester, which he described as a “secure carefree environment for children to grow up in with tons of children your own age running around the streets.”
He attended his parish school where he was taught by the Sisters of Charity of Halifax.
Although he has two brothers, Francis Xavier and Terence, and a sister, Kathleen, the bishop described his family as “a little bit of an accordion” because of his particular closeness to his first cousins, Maura, Jack and Joan. Their mother, Bishop-elect Dooher’s aunt, died at an early age orphaning the cousins, then ages 7, 5 and 2.
“We consider ourselves complete when all seven of us are together,” he said.
However, the Doohers did not formally adopt the children, said the bishop-elect.
“My mother was physically unable to take everybody in because just some months before she was not expected to live,” he recounted. “She had three little boys in diapers...because we were all very close in age, and my mother was very seriously ill at St. Margaret’s Hospital.”
Bishop-elect Dooher explained that the illness was so severe, his mother was not expected to survive.
“So, the Sisters of Charity at the hospital began a novena. Pinned to her dressing gown at the hospital was a relic of Elizabeth Ann Seton and on the ninth day of the novena, it all broke and she survived.”
Because of her seemingly miraculous healing, the bishop-elect’s mother always had a special devotion to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, and “anytime anything important happened to one of us growing up, that little relic would wind up in our pocket,” he said with a smile.
Growing up, Bishop-elect Dooher always had a profound respect for the role of the priest and the significance it holds for the faithful.
At the same time, his family instilled in him a desire to serve.
“There was something about that in our clan -- this sense that we’ve been given much... to those who were given much, they should give back.”
That feeling, coupled with a familiarity with priests -- there are a number of priests and religious in his family -- and his own experience as an altar boy at his parish led him to consider a vocation to the priesthood.
“No one ever pushed me” into the priesthood, he said. “It was just something I was drawn to.”
“In my family you were allowed to feel where you were being called,” he continued. “My parents were very proud of me, but they never said, ‘you must’ or ‘you should.’”
Bishop-elect Dooher attended St. John’s Seminary and was ordained to the priesthood in 1969.
The newly-ordained Father Dooher was assigned to St. Francis Xavier Parish in Weymouth, a bustling parish with nearly 3,000 families. He was one of three priests who not only served the parish, but also served as chaplains at South Shore Hospital and the now-closed South Weymouth Naval Air Station.
“I did things in the first two weeks that some of my classmates didn’t get the chance to do for months,” he said.
“I had some of my most profound experiences at the hospital because it was one of the busiest hospitals south of Boston...and one of the major accident centers for the Expressway,” recalled Bishop-elect Dooher. “You saw some very difficult things, but they were great moments to be with people.”
During his five years at St. Francis Xavier, Bishop-elect Dooher developed a great appreciation for the lay people within his parish, particularly those who helped run the “excellent religious education program.”
“It was a great experience for a young man,” he recalled. “I was 26 years old and just raring to go. It was a wonderful time to be there.”
In 1974, five years after his ordination, Bishop-elect Dooher was asked to go to St. Augustine Parish in South Boston. “If I remember correctly,” he recalled, “the quote was ‘Cardinal Medeiros wants someone who’s been happy in his work’ -- and that fit the bill -- ‘who was ordained five years and would be willing to go into the inner city,’” he said.
“I grew up in St. Peter’s Dorchester, in the inner city. My parents were married at St. Augustine, which makes it more interesting, and I was ordained five years and had been very happy,” he said.
For the next 17 years, Bishop-elect Dooher was stationed at St. Augustine Parish.
“St. Augustine’s turned out to be one of the most wonderful experiences anybody could have,” he declared.
“It was a difficult time in the city,” continued the bishop-elect. “It was a painful time for parents, and difficult for priests. Sometimes we were not always in agreement on things, but we kept working together. The Eucharist kept us together. We baptized their children; we buried their parents. We were there for the sacraments and they were there for us.”
Bishop-elect Dooher remembered his days at St. Augustine with fondness.
“One of the things that was special about South Boston is that there was a certain amount of people who were very fragile emotionally and economically, and they could survive there. People would kind of watch out for them there. South Boston was always considered a tough community, but within it wasn’t,” he said.
Father Arthur Calter, who was one of the pastors of St. Augustine during Bishop-elect Dooher’s time there, recalled, “Those were heavy days, very heavy days.”
Today, Father Calter is a senior priest at St. Ann Church in Quincy.
“I always thought he would be a bishop,” Father Calter said. “People have always recognized [Bishop-elect Dooher] as a leader.”
“He’s kind of an amazing guy really,” he continued, calling the bishop-elect “a renaissance man” with an interest in literature and a talent for playing several musical instruments, “as well as an amazing wisdom and compassion for others.”
“He is a great gift to the archdiocese,” Father Calter said. “He loves the Church and he loves people -- and he knows how to speak to people.”
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