Lay associates appointed directors of Seaport Shrine
SOUTH BOSTON -- Since its opening in 2017, Our Lady of Good Voyage Seaport Shrine has been led by a series of priests staying for a short period of time. But this summer, two lay staff members, evangelization associates Susan Abbott and Kathy Stebbins, were appointed the new co-directors of the shrine, becoming the first laypeople to have such leadership roles in the Archdiocese of Boston.
The original shrine was built on Northern Avenue in the 1950s, under the direction of Cardinal Richard Cushing, to minister to the fishermen, dockworkers, military personnel, and other workers in the seaport district who could not go to their home parishes to receive the sacraments.
"He built that and staffed it, and that was great for that time. But the Seaport District has changed considerably over the years, and it was great that this new shrine could be built," Stebbins said in a Sept. 27 interview.
When the new shrine opened at its present location in 2017, Abbott and Stebbins were invited to join the staff as part-time evangelization associates. This involved greeting visitors, giving tours, setting up for Mass, and generally being a presence in the shrine.
"Part of the charism of a shrine is that there's someone to welcome people from all over. And we certainly have our stories to attest to that fact. So, it's been a great experience all along," Stebbins said.
The shrine draws people of all ages -- college students and young professionals, families with children and elderly using walkers. On Sundays, Abbott said, the vestibule is like a parking lot of strollers. Many older visitors say they went to the original Our Lady of Good Voyage when they were young.
Abbott said now that travel is more open, more conventions are being held in Boston, drawing people from different states and countries to the shrine. Parents accompany their children while scouting for colleges. But people also come from close by, some just down the street. Workers come during their lunch breaks, seeking out the Bread of Life for their sustenance.
Father Paul Soper, the archdiocese's secretary for evangelization and discipleship, described the shrine as "a place that's full of direct and face-to-face opportunities for evangelization."
"The open doors as people are walking past give numerous opportunities for us to have contact with people we might not ever have contact with under any other circumstances. It helps us to have a very active presence there," he said Sept. 27.
He said that because Abbott and Stebbins have been involved with the shrine since its inception, they have "a very solid understanding of what makes it a beautiful place."
"They've been out there meeting people at the door for the last five years. And therefore, they know and understand the shrine's mission from very deep down. So, they're good choices for the leadership position," Father Soper said.
The shrine offers daily Mass and confessions Monday through Friday. There are three Sunday Masses, including one at 7 p.m. as an homage to the original shrine, one of the few Boston churches that held a Sunday evening Mass.
In the absence of priests on the shrine's staff, Abbott and Stebbins have been inviting various priests to celebrate Mass and hear confessions throughout the week. These have included parish priests, missionaries, priests who work for archdiocesan offices, and retired residents of Regina Cleri.
"We've been blessed to have priests from all over, all different ages, that have said 'yes' to our request," Stebbins said.
Abbott explained that they hope to create stability in their schedule, having the same priests come on certain days of the week. She said they also would like to create opportunities for enrichment, such as hosting guest speakers or special prayer services.
The new co-directors both praised the other members of the shrine's staff. Kathleen Crozier serves as music director, Joanne Meehan is the wedding coordinator, and Deacon Paul Kline celebrates baptisms and weddings.
Stebbins explained that as lay leaders, she and Abbott have pastoral and operational responsibilities, but not the sacramental responsibilities that priests and administrators have.
On the other hand, she said, they were reminded that pastoral leadership is a charism shared by the laity, not only the ordained.
"We remind ourselves that God has put us here, at this time and this place, for a reason, and we're going to do the best we can for as long as we can," Stebbins said.
Abbott echoed her sentiment and said that this model "could be a game-changer for how parishes are staffed," particularly in light of shortages of priests.
"We're praying for priests, but what are we going to do next month? Those prayers take a while to come to fruition," she said.
Abbott and Stebbins' appointment officially went into effect on Aug. 15. A shrine bulletin dated Aug. 28 announced this change and included statements from them as well as from Father Soper, who said that Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley "fully supports this decision and is grateful for their willingness to serve in this capacity."
Stebbins told The Pilot that she and Abbott feel "absolutely blessed."
"This is breaking new ground. This is a new model for parishes and shrines. We're blessed to be part of this," she said.
More information about Our Lady of Good Voyage Seaport Shrine can be found at www.seaportshrine.org.