The story of the ‘real’ first public Mass Under the radar

BROCKTON — Like most events relating to the arrival of Boston’s new archbishop, everyone expected Archbishop Seán O’Malley’s first public Mass following his installation to be covered extensively by the media. So, when photographers and representatives from all manner of media outlets — including The Pilot -- descended on St. Patrick Church in Lawrence on Aug. 3 to cover the event, it was no surprise.

Except that we all got it wrong.

On Saturday, Aug. 2 the day before the alleged “first public Mass,” Archbishop O’Malley celebrated his first public Mass as archbishop of Boston at the parish of St. Colman of Cloyne in Brockton — unbeknownst to everyone but the parishioners of St. Colman.

Father David O’Donnell, the pastor, was notified of the archbishop’s desire to celebrate the Mass at his parish the day after Archbishop O’Malley’s installation.

"I was flattered, excited on behalf of the parish, and honored," Father O'Donnell recalled.

“I was asked to keep it media-free,” he continued. “I was told he wanted to simply visit the parish, without pomp or circumstance. He only wanted to come and celebrate the vigil Mass with the parish.”

"They wanted to keep it under the radar, and they really succeeded -- no one even knew about it," declared Dennis Eaniri, Brockton School Committee member and parishioner from St. Colman, who serves on both the Parish and Finance Councils .

Respecting the archbishop’s desire to keep the Mass low-key, Father O’Donnell admits he did not publicize the event. Rather, he told the congregation during the daily Mass the following day and sent out “a few e-mails” to parishioners in both the St. Colman community and the Sacred Heart community, where Father O’Donnell also serves as administrator.

In the end, close to 300 people attended the vigil Mass. “It was a wonderful Mass — very moving and inspirational,” said Eaniri. “There’s no doubt that in his sermon he was laying out the mission he is about to face.”

"Both parish communities tried to spread the word," said Father O'Donnell, although to many people attending the vigil Mass the archbishop's visit came as a complete surprise.

Claire Toomey, the lector who was scheduled to read at the Mass, was one of those people. She did not know the archbishop was the principal celebrant until she arrived at the church. “I walked in and saw him and said ‘O my God!’”

Toomey was very moved by the archbishop’s “humility and gentleness,” as well as by the fact that “he waited after Mass and greeted every single person.”

According to Toomey, the archbishop received two standing ovations “that just went on and on and on.”

“As much as we welcomed Archbishop Seán, he was just as welcoming to us,” said Marguerite Lamond, the parish secretary who also attended the Mass. “In the end, I said to Father [O’Donnell] that I very much appreciated that he did not tell the media that Archbishop Seán was going to be here. I think it made it much more focused on what’s important — coming together to worship.”

"I think it speaks very highly of Archbishop Seán that he wanted to come here without the media attention," she concluded.

In the end, Father O’Donnell believes that his parishioners “were thrilled” that the archbishop chose St. Colman to celebrate his first public Mass — even if no one else knew about it.

"It was also exciting for me -- as far as Archbishop Seán's visit is concerned -- to see that our parish did nothing different than we would on any given Sunday," he said. "The Mass felt very comfortable. I was very proud of my parishioners."