Vandal damages crucifix outside Cathedral of the Holy Cross

BRAINTREE -- The 150-year-old crucifix outside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston was damaged in a dramatic act of vandalism on the night of Oct. 24.

Cell phone video posted online shows a man identified by police as 37-year-old Michael Patzelt of Attleboro swinging from the feet of Christ, apparently attempting to remove him from the cross. Christ's arms, torn from the torso, hang from the cross as onlookers react in horror. The vandal caused an estimated $20,000 in damage.

Boston Police arrested Patzelt on the scene. Sgt. John Boyle told The Pilot on Oct. 25 that Patzelt has been charged with assault and malicious destruction of property, and will be arraigned in Boston Municipal Court.

Msgr. Kevin O'Leary, rector of the cathedral, first heard of the vandalism when police arrived at around 6 p.m. that night.

"People were concerned about it," he said Oct. 25. "I was really scared."

Msgr. O'Leary said that he forgives the perpetrator, who he described as "a suffering man" vandalizing an image of "the suffering Jesus."

"A mentally ill, emotionally-deranged man hanging from the feet of Jesus," Msgr. O'Leary added. "It was very sad seeing humanity in that light."

He said that the suspect was "in a very bad emotional state" and did not resist arrest when police came.

"It was heartbreaking," he said.

For many years, the crucifix belonged to the family of Father Kevin Deeley, pastor of St. Michael Parish in North Andover, and his brother, Bishop Robert Deeley of the Diocese of Portland, Maine. The Deeley family then donated the crucifix to the Little Sisters of the Poor in Somerville. When the Sisters left Somerville in 2020, they donated the crucifix to the cathedral. It was refurbished by the Folan Waterproofing and Construction Company of South Easton and placed on the cathedral lawn in 2021.

"We are very pleased to have this remembrance of the more than century of service given by the Little Sisters of the Poor in Boston," Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley wrote in a blog post at the time, "and, of course, being the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, it is very appropriate to have this beautiful crucifix outside for all to see as they enter."

Speaking to The Pilot on Oct. 25, Father Deeley expressed sadness that "something that represents the love of Christ could be damaged."

The Folan Company is once again restoring the crucifix. Msgr. O'Leary is hoping that insurance will pay for the restoration but said that the insurance money might not cover the cost entirely. He thanked parishioners and community members for their support and offers of help.

"The phone has rung off the hook with condolences and best wishes," he said.