Memory of cathedral architect Keely honored at Mass

At a St. Patrick’s Day Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, descendants of the Irish Catholic architect Patrick C. Keely, who designed the cathedral, were presented with a replica of the original Laetare Medal, which Keely was awarded in 1884. Members of the Keely Society requested that a replica be made and given to the family because the original medal had been lost over time.

The Laetare Medal, which was established at the University of Notre Dame in 1883, is one of the most prestigious awards given to Catholics in the United States. According to Notre Dame, the Laetare Medal began as the American equivalent of the Golden Rose, a papal honor established before the 11th century. The medal has been awarded annually at Notre Dame to a Catholic “whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the Church and enriched the heritage of humanity.”

On behalf of Teresa Roberts, great-granddaughter of Keely, Edward H. Furey, President of the Keely Society, set out to pursue a replacement from the Laetare Committee at Notre Dame. The committee agreed that a new solid gold replacement could be struck. The gold medal carries the original inscription, “Fiat par in virtutibus tuis et abundantia  in turribus tuis”— May virtue be in your strength and abundance in your towers.

The presentation of the award was made by Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley, who was assisted by the rector of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Msgr. Frederick J. Murphy, vice president and chaplain of the Keely Society. The Laetare Medal will be held in trust by the cathedral and the Keely Society and will be available to parishes who observe anniversaries of their Keely structures in the archdiocese. The medal will also be available for other Irish exhibits and events.

Keely, who immigrated to America from Thurles, Ireland, in 1842, made an indelible mark on the Catholic Church in America. Among his most monumental accomplishments as an architect was the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.

Keely had first viewed the site in June 1861; however, the Civil War interrupted the building process and the cathedral was not completed until 1875. The Cathedral of the Holy Cross ranks with the greatest cathedrals in the world. Its name in Latin, “Santa Crux,” is listed in marble on the floor of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome before St. Patrick Cathedral in New York, as its nave is longer.

The first annual Laetare Medal was awarded to the eminent American historian, John Gilmary Shea. It is through Shea’s insistent persuasion that the second honor went to Keely. Keely received the Laetare Medal nine years after the completion of the cathedral.

At that time, he had also completed numerous other churches and ecclesiastical buildings in the Archdiocese of Boston. Keely’s Church of the Immaculate Conception  and St. James the Greater Church on Harrison Ave., Holy Trinity German Church on Shawmut Ave. and Our Lady of Victories Church on Isabella Street are all within close walking distance of the cathedral. St. Augustine Parish, the original Gate of Heaven Church, now a parish hall, and St. Vincent de Paul Parish are also by Keely, as were 1839 interior renovations in the former Sts. Peter and Paul Parish. Keely’s designs, mostly built by an immigrant Irish population, abound throughout the archdiocese and can be found from Nova Scotia to New Orleans.

The Laetare Medal takes its name from the tradition that the annual recipient is announced around the fourth Sunday in Lent — Laetare Sunday. On March 21, Notre Dame released a statement announcing that Father J. Bryan Hehir, president of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of Boston, will be awarded the Laetare Medal for 2004 at the university’s commencement May 16.

“Father Hehir has been exemplary in ministry, scholarship and administration alike,” said Notre Dame’s president, Father Edward A. Malloy, CSC. “In honoring him and his service, we wish to refresh our vision of and renew our commitment to a just and compassionate society rooted in the dignity of all people.”

Father Hehir will join a long and distinguished list of former Laetare Medal recipients including: Civil War General William Rosecrans, former President John F. Kennedy, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement Dorothy Day, novelist Walker Percy, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin and death penalty abolitionist Sister Helen Prejean, CSJ.