Cheverus profiles: Betty Lydon -- St. Mary Parish in Waltham

WALTHAM -- In Betty Lydon's experience, the Blood of Christ is truly life-giving.

As a sacristan at St. Mary Parish in Waltham, Betty Lydon is responsible for cleaning the purificators, the cloths that wipe the rim of the chalice containing the Precious Blood. She takes the purificators home and rinses them in a hidden bucket, which no one else in the home is allowed to touch. She then pours the rinsings in her garden. Wherever the water mixed with Precious Blood is poured, she said, the flowers grow taller.

"I don't know if it's because it's holy," Lydon, 67, told The Pilot in a Jan. 30 interview. "I could suggest that, but that spot in my garden . . . Pshoo!"

She threw her hands in the air to represent the flowers' growth.

"No matter what I put there, woah!" She continued. "And so, it makes you wonder."

For her service to St. Mary's, Lydon was one of 151 people who received Cheverus Awards in 2023. The archdiocesan awards annually honor those who have dedicated their lives to serving the Catholic Church in Boston.

"She has shown over many years her love for the Lord," Father Michael Nolan, pastor of St. Mary's, told The Pilot in a Jan. 30 interview.

Father Nolan, who nominated Lydon to receive the Cheverus Award, has known her for 18 years. He described her as a "gentle, accommodating, and welcoming" woman.

"Most people don't know all the things she does for our parish," he said. "She's one of the many behind-the-scenes people who keep parishes going and fulfilling their mission, without drawing attention to herself."

Lydon has been volunteering at St. Mary's since the early 1990s, starting as a minister of communion. She never expected to become a sacristan, but "it just kind of evolved into that."

"My husband says I don't know how to say no," she joked.

She serves as a sacristan during the noon Mass almost every day. She has dressed hundreds of priests from around the world, each with his own sartorial preferences.

"It's been such an honor to know these men," she said. "And I have four brothers, so I'm kind of used to being around men."

She is also responsible for washing the priests' garments. She brings them home to wash in her machine -- never in the same load as her own family's clothes.

"Everything's kept separate," she said, "and I use as little soap as humanly possible."

The purificators, she explained, "are a different story." Since they contain the Blood of Christ, they cannot simply be washed in a machine.

"I have to be considerate of the Precious Blood," she said.

She cleans the priests' garments, the sacristy, and the sacred vessels, and makes sure that there is enough hosts and wine for Mass each day. When Mass is over, she puts out the candles and makes sure everything is back in its proper place.

"My aim here is to be respectful to everything, and everything I do," she said. "Even cleaning the vessels, there's a way. It's not like doing the dishes."

She spends about 20 hours every week volunteering. It is a religious experience for her.

"It's a part of who I am," she said. "It's part of me."

Lydon believes that, through her work as a sacristan, the Holy Spirit has given her abilities that she did not previously possess. Despite never sewing before, she managed to transform a 100-year-old Italian curtain into a frontal cloth for the tabernacle. That being said, Lydon doesn't see herself as "anything really special."

"I'm just a child of God," she said.

Lydon grew up in West Newton, in a family "steeped in religious tradition" thanks to her mother, grandmother, and aunts. When she was a little girl, her aunts would pray the rosary while working in their garden. They entrusted Lydon with holding the beads so they wouldn't get dirty.

Lydon has been attending St. Mary's since she was a little girl. It was the place where she and her husband were married, and where her children were confirmed and had their First Communions. When it came time to enroll her son in religious education at the parish, she was unsure if they could meet his needs. He was autistic and his speech was delayed, to the point that he could not have conversations until he was seven.

"What I was afraid of was that they wouldn't understand him," she said. "He was just kind of different from all the other kids, and I didn't want him to become a problem, which he wasn't."

She asked the parish if they had any special education teachers.

"They kind of looked at me funny," she recalled. "So I ended up being a teacher."

She taught her son in religious education, which improved his speech. He later became a lector.

"It was such a blessing, the first time he got up there to read," she said.

The religious education of her children was one step in the "evolution" of her becoming a sacristan.

"My faith was what kept me going every single day," she said, "teaching him how to say the Hail Mary, and teaching my daughter how to say the Hail Mary and the Our Father."

When she received the Cheverus Award, her first reaction was simply "Wow."

"Oh my goodness," she said. "That was just like the pinnacle for me. Just to receive it."

She always considered herself "the quiet one," never thinking she would be recognized with such an honor.

"And when I got it," she said, "boy, oh boy."