A leader through word and example

Five years ago Cardinal Seán O’Malley invited the Archdiocese of Boston to “help rebuild our Church.” It has been my privilege to work with others in support of his unwavering commitment to build up the Church in Boston and make real the Gospel message.

When Cardinal Seán began his service here, he had to face the painful process of re-configuration and parish closings. As he began to hear concerns expressed by parishes, he decided to appoint an independent committee to review the process of reconfiguration. He appointed me as co-chair of the committee with Peter Meade, approved the members we selected for the committee, and left us to conduct our analysis and meet directly with the parishes slated to be closed in the near future.

It was during this yearlong effort that I came to know Cardinal Seán as an attentive listener whose insight, candor, humor and love for the Church permeated our frequent meetings. When the committee recommended that he reverse the decisions to close several parishes, Cardinal Seán engaged with us, and then deliberated extensively on the recommendations. When he decided to accept our recommendations and keep open nearly a dozen parishes that had been slated for closure, he showed remarkable courage since these decisions were met with criticism by some people.

Cardinal Seán has a passion for education and the desire to provide an excellent education, especially for poor children, through the Catholic schools. When he asked me to chair the search for the new secretary of education and superintendent of schools, I said “yes” because I share his commitment to Catholic education and I knew from previous experience that he was open to hearing the advice of others. He followed the search with keen interest, through ups and downs, seeking opinions from the committee. When the committee recommended and Cardinal Seán appointed Mary Grassa O’Neill, Cardinal Seán filled the position with a prominent educational leader who shares his own passion for the mission of education through the Catholic schools.

Cardinal Seán loves young people. In meetings with the Catholic college presidents in the archdiocese, Cardinal Seán expresses the important role he sees for the mission of Catholic higher education, and its potential influence on the future of our Church. He has welcomed our initiatives to collaborate with the archdiocese, especially with programs to support the archdiocese’s schools. I recall how at home he seems on the Emmanuel College campus when he comes for meetings and especially when he celebrates liturgy with students and talks with them.

Cardinal Seán tells us how he sees his role as pastoral leader through symbols and images: living in the cathedral rectory in the South End; moving the chancery to a pastoral center; providing financial transparency; planning an opportunity for clergy sex abuse victims to speak directly with our Holy Father; spending time meeting with parishioners, students, and civic leaders; and collaborating with lay and clergy in decision making.

From my experience, I see Cardinal Seán as a man of prayer who cares deeply for the poor and what is just, and who is open and trusts others. He is a leader who calls us through word and example to live the Gospel, inspiring us to know, love and follow Jesus. I have great respect and affection for Cardinal Seán. I believe he is providing effective pastoral leadership in his energetic and faithful commitment to work with us to re-build the Church in the Archdiocese of Boston.

Sister Janet Eisner, SND, is the President of Emmanuel College