Book celebrates two centuries of faith in Boston

CHESTNUT HILL -- “We come here today to celebrate two centuries of the archdiocese, two centuries of the Catholic community in Boston,” said Boston College President Father William P. Leahy during an April 21 reception for the official release of the book, “Two Centuries of Faith: The Influence of Catholicism on Boston: 1808-2008,” at Boston College.

“Whether in terms of cultural distinctiveness, religious influence, or social controversy, the Archdiocese of Boston has been one of the great centers of Catholic life for 200 years,” he said.

Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley joined the university president and dozens of Boston’s Catholic scholars, politicians and religious for what was likely the final commemoration of the archdiocese’s bicentennial.

“Two Centuries of Faith” was conceived of as “a scholarly gesture of congratulations,” from Boston College to Cardinal O’Malley on the occasion of the archdiocese’s 200th anniversary, said Thomas H. O’Connor, the volume’s editor and BC’s University Historian.

The commemorative volume provides a thematic retrospective on the reciprocal influence of Boston and the Catholic Church over the past two hundred years. Its nine essays trace the evolution of the archdiocese from its inception in 1808 to the present day, exploring a variety of themes including: Church-state relations, multiculturalism in Catholic education, the changing patterns of parish life, the role of women in the archdiocese and Boston’s bishops.

Contributors to the volume include Father J. Bryan Hehir, the archdiocese’s Secretary for Health and Social Services; Francois Gauthier, general consul of France in Boston; James O’Toole, BC’s Clough Millennium Professor of History; and Father Joseph O’Keefe, SJ, dean of the college’s Lynch School of Education.

O’Connor led the majority of the reception with a discussion of the book and its contributing essays.

“In the course of 200 years, there have been enormous changes--in politics, economics and technology,” said O’Connor in his introductory remarks. “These essays show the incredible ability for the Church in Boston to adjust and move forward without abandoning its faith.”

“The 200th anniversary of the Archdiocese of Boston is a truly historic occasion that is deserving of serious reflection as well as joyous celebration,” he said.

Father Leahy spoke on the importance of the volume as a tool to remember the past and understand the present.

“This book reminds us of so much about our heritage and tells us who we are,” he said as he presented to book to Cardinal O’Malley. “So it is with our Church. We need to recall our roots, our heritage.”

“We have this opportunity to be here and acknowledge 200 years of the Archdiocese of Boston and all the good things that have gone on and all of the ways in which this whole region has been blessed by the activities of the archdiocese, its leaders, its parishioners,” said Father Leahy.

Receiving the gift, Cardinal O’Malley used a metaphor to describe the history of the archdiocese as “a long rosary.”

“We have our Joyful Mysteries and our Sorrowful Mysteries,” he said. “But today as we look back over 200 years, our hearts are filled with gratitude for all it has been and also for our future and the mission that the Lord has entrusted to us,” he said.

Following the presentation ceremony, BC’s Clough Millennium Professor of History and “Two Centuries of Faith” essayist James M. O’Toole spoke to The Pilot on the relevance of such a historically-minded volume.

O’Toole suggested that the archdiocese seems to have come full circle over the past 200 years and is now experiencing some of the same challenges it did in the early 19th century.

Today, as then, the Church in Boston wields little political influence and faces a secular culture hostile to its moral values. Further, in the wake of the sexual abuse scandals, the close nature of Church-state relations upon which it has relied for over half a century has been damaged, leaving the Church in Boston to face financial difficulties and weakened levels of trust.

The bicentennial is a good occasion for the archdiocese to reflect on its history, he said

“There’s an old saying that ‘those who don’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it,’” said O’Toole. “By looking at all the challenges of the past that we have met and overcome, we can face those of today with some confidence.”