Gate of Heaven celebrates double anniversary

On the occasion of the 140th anniversary of the founding of Gate of Heaven Parish in South Boston and the 125th anniversary of the parish school, Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley came to the church on the evening of Nov. 6 to offer a Mass of Thanksgiving. Prior to the entrance procession of the Mass, a group of children in their school uniforms lined up in front of the sanctuary to sing “Standing On The Shoulders.” Music for the Mass was led by a guest choir from Holy Family Parish in Amesbury.

Welcoming all to the anniversary Mass and Archbishop O’Malley was Father Robert Casey, current pastor of Gate of Heaven Parish. Among the many priests in the sanctuary was Father Gilbert Phinn, pastor from 1983 to 1994 and to the delight of many, Father A. Paul White who now resides at nearby Marian Manor. For his homily, Archbishop O’Malley climbed the steps of the pulpit and expressed his best wishes to all on the occasion of the anniversary of the parish and school. Following the Mass, parishioners boarded buses in front of the church for a ride to the new Boston Convention and Exhibition Center for an evening of dinner and dancing. Awards were presented to Sister Joan Duffy and Sister Prudence McCarthy, representing the Sisters of St. Joseph, and Father Paul White for his many years of CYO work in South Boston and with the present day students of Gate of Heaven Grammar School. Boston College professor Thomas O’Connor, a “Gatey” alumnus, delivered a historical review of the parish.

Planning for the anniversary celebration got underway over the summer after Gate of Heaven Parish received word last May that the parish would not be suppressed as part of the overall reconfiguration of parishes throughout the archdiocese. The theme of the anniversary was a “Faithful Past and a Faith-Filled Future.” Many volunteers met over the summer to plan the celebration chaired by honorary chairman, state Sen. Jack Hart.

Gate of Heaven Parish began as an offshoot of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish during the Civil War years, under the pastorate of Father Patrick F. Lyndon. The cornerstone of the first church was laid on May 1, 1862. The church was dedicated on Mach 19, 1863. The first pastor, Father James F. Sullivan took charge on Jan. 11, 1865. In 1879, Father Michael F. Higgins, pastor from 1873 to 1886, erected a convent at the corner of I and East Fifth Streets for a group of Sisters of St. Joseph. That same year, the Sisters opened St. Agnes School in September with an enrollment of 375 girls, establishing a school that exists to this day and has provided a fine education to generations of Catholic youth in South Boston. The present school building was built in 1922 during the pastorate of Father George A. Lyons (1916-1932). The present Gate of Heaven Church was built during the pastorate of Father Robert J. Johnson (1890-1916). The lower church opened in June 1900 and was greatly needed to meet the needs of a growing Catholic population. The upper church was dedicated on May 12, 1912 by Cardinal O’Connell. Gate of Heaven Church is a magnificent building of French Gothic architecture.

After the departure of Father Alexander Keenan, pastor from 1994 to 2002, Father Robert Casey was appointed administrator of Gate of Heaven, while remaining pastor of St. Brigid Parish. The two parishes have begun collaborating in sharing resources and programs. As announced at the dinner dance, Gate of Heaven Parish has begun a $2.5 million capital campaign to refurbish the interior of the church.