Wayland parish receives gift of saints' relics

WAYLAND -- Before he became pastor of Good Shepherd Parish in Wayland, Father David O'Leary was a chaplain and professor of comparative religion at Tufts University. While there, he noticed that his non-Catholic students were confused by the role of saints in the Catholic Church.

"Why do you guys worship statues?" They would ask him.

In response, he would ask them: "Do you have pictures of your grandparents at home?"

When they inevitably said yes, he would say: "Why do you have those pictures? They came over to this country with nothing, and they made it. That's how we look at saints."

In a Nov. 17 interview, Father O'Leary told The Pilot that saints are "people like you and me who've made it. They're one with God. We don't see saints as gods, we see saints as what we want to become."

That is why Father O'Leary was so awestruck to receive a donation of seven saintly relics from an anonymous parishioner in October. While clearing out her mother's belongings, the parishioner discovered relics belonging to St. Francis, St. Anne, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Maria Goretti, St. Gabriel Possenti, and St. Julia of Carthage.

"It seems that she traveled to Europe way back when," Father O'Leary said of the parishioner's mother.

Very little is known about the relics, their origins, or how the parishioner's mother came to possess them. They are so small that Father O'Leary is unsure whether they are first or second-class. The relic of St. Maria Goretti came with a certificate from the Vatican confirming its authenticity. The rest are marked with lead Vatican seals.

"They looked real enough to me," Father O'Leary said.

The relics of St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Maria Goretti, St. Gabriel Possenti, and St. Julia of Carthage are on display in St. Zepherin Church in Wayland, in a chapel dedicated to the church's namesake. On All Saints' Day, they were displayed in front of the altar of the church. Now, they are permanently mounted on the chapel wall in a wooden case.

"It's very humbling," he said. "It is amazing, some of the dates."

The earliest relic belongs to St. Julia of Carthage, who was martyred in the fifth century A.D.

"I'm in awe to think that they lived the lives that they did," Father O'Leary said of the saints.

The relics of St. Francis and St. Anne are housed in St. Ann Church, located two miles north. The relics are kept in brass reliquaries and on All Saints' Day, Father O'Leary blessed the faithful with the relics.

He said that parishioners were "thrilled" that the church was now home to a relic of its namesake.

He has noticed that after Mass, the faithful will get close to the relics to venerate them.

"Anything that helps people on their spiritual journey," he said. "To be close to relics reminds people that they long to be close to God, too."