'Amen,' Bishop Joe

It was January 1979 and Massachusetts voters had elected Democratic Governor Ed King. We were at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Boston's West End sitting quietly in the Church and listening to Bishop Joseph Maguire ask for God's blessing on our new governor.

Bishop Maguire and I were talking about that day recently in his rectory in Springfield. A finer priest and man you can never meet, but the once vibrant 95 year old Boston College alumnus was weak, and anxious to talk about the old days when he was secretary to Cardinal Richard Cushing.

Yes, we talked about sports, politics and Boston's neighborhoods, but he also spent time talking to my 8-year-old grandson Braeden, who is a special needs child. Braeden saw the rosary beads that the retired bishop was holding in his hand and proceeded to make the sign of the cross. Bishop Joe went on to lead us in prayer.

Forward to a week later, November 2014, and here were Kathy and myself once again, and this time Braeden, sitting in a packed Grace Church of All Nations in Four Corners in Dorchester, with Massachusetts' governor-elect, listening to preacher Bishop A. Livingston Foxworth deliver one of his patented firebrand sermons. People were standing, raising their hands, clapping and shouting "Alleluia" and "Amen" throughout his 20-minute talk. He reminded everybody in attendance several times, including the Governor-elect Charlie Baker and his wife Lauren, that "I'm not going to tell you who I voted for, because I vote for the person who's best for the people." That line drew the biggest "Amen" and "Alleluia." In the overflowing black church, I saw grandmothers, grandfathers, mothers and fathers, hardworking and respectful citizens all. The area has certainly had its share of tragedy over the years and person after person who I talked to at the pre-service reception at the church hall, mentioned to me that their biggest concerns were poor education, drugs and jobs. "If only our new mayor and governor could do something about them," one young mother of three teenaged children said to me.

Next it was a short drive over to South Boston to the L Street Tavern where we had been invited to stop by to greet the governor-elect. It was an appreciation stop to thank all the volunteers who helped during the campaign. No barnburner sermons from preachers here, but I did notice that many of the people were also decent and caring parents who are working hard to provide for their families and helping out with the various youth athletic teams in the neighborhood.

Baker won this traditional Democratic neighborhood by a pretty wide margin. I personally had never seen this kind of unique political coalition before in the town of long-time residents and young professional newcomers. It was a credit to the type of "inclusive" campaign that Baker ran. He had the support of many respected black and Hispanic leaders, including religious leaders. Already the first appointment to his new cabinet was a leading Democratic municipal manager.

But something else happened on Sunday in the Grace Church of All Nations and the L Street Tavern. Bishop Foxworth shouted out to the gathering, "Do I hear an Amen?" For the very first time, Braeden, said for all to hear around us, "Amen" and raised his hands in the air. People were delighted in hearing him. Later, when the governor-elect and his wife walked over to us at the L Street Tavern, Braeden pointed his finger in his direction and once again clearly said for all to hear, "Amen."

Now "amen" is a word that has come down from the Hebrew to Aramaic, to Greek then Latin and English. It's a declaration of affirmation, recognition of truth, an agreement with the content of what is being said, but most of all a belief that something will be done about it. I choose to believe that Braeden saying "Amen" qualifies as a miracle in the best sense of the word. Just saying the word was an extraordinary accomplishment, but I know that Braeden was saying he believes that positive thing will be done to bring very welcome consequences.

I do know that in the Catholic Church, a miracle requires the testimony of two unimpeachable and separate sources. Well this one had a congregation in a black church in Dorchester and a gathering of good people in a neighborhood pub in South Boston. I can't tell if my former colleagues at the Vatican would consider this an official miracle or if they might start hearing the chant, "Santo subito," or "Sainthood now!" But I do know that Braeden performed a miracle that night by saying "Amen" to the spirited people of Grace Church and "Amen" to our new governor who has shown he wants to find solutions. By the way, I think I'll let the Vatican know that Bishop Joe Maguire gave his blessing to Braeden's miracle.

On Nov. 23, Governor Baker and I greeted a couple of hundred of Boston's homeless and served them a hot delicious turkey dinner at the Boston Rescue Mission. A couple of hours later, I received a sad call from Springfield informing me that Bishop Maguire had passed away.


- Raymond L. Flynn is the former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See and Mayor of Boston.