For Boston Catholics, elevation of archbishop seen as sign of hope

BOSTON — Catholics throughout the Archdiocese of Boston reacted to the news that their archbishop would be elevated to join the College of Cardinals with excitement and hope for the future. Many saw it as an affirmation of Pope Benedict XVI’s faith in Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley as well as the archdiocese.

Cardinal-designate O’Malley has served the archdiocese during difficult times, they said.

“It shows that people have had confidence in him [as] he has tried to steer the place in a very clear way. It has been very difficult,” said Father Kevin J. O’Leary, pastor at St. Peter Parish in Cambridge. “I am very happy for him.”

Father O’Leary added that many of his parishioners are excited for the cardinal-designate.

Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino said that the archbishop’s elevation recognized his “tireless leadership during difficult and trying times.”

“I am pleased to see the elevation of a religious leader who has devoted much of his life to working with new immigrant populations that mean so much to the future of the Church and our city,” he added.

Ray Flynn, former Boston mayor and ambassador to the Vatican, agreed “It’s a personal tribute to Archbishop Seán O’Malley who came into Boston with a difficult job to do. I think this is a signal of confidence in what he’s been working hard to do, which is to bring unity to the Archdiocese of Boston.”

“Pope Benedict XVI’s confidence in Archbishop Seán is a clear message that healing and unity are the Church’s highest priorities,” he said.

Father Joseph Gurdak, OFM Cap, parochial vicar at St. Patrick Parish in Roxbury, said he hopes that the appointment will help Cardinal-designate O’Malley continue serving the Church in the archdiocese.

“He’s going through a lot of difficult times here in the archdiocese, this might give him a boost to continue hopefully the good work that he wants to do here,” he said. “We’re very proud because he’s one of us, a Capuchin Franciscan.”

Father Paul O’Brien, pastor at St. Patrick Parish in Lawrence, said that he hopes the change will give confidence to Catholics in the archdiocese.

“For anybody who has wondered if there’s been a lessening of the Holy Father’s view of this archdiocese given the crisis we’ve experienced in recent years, the naming of a cardinal for the archdiocese would boost those people’s confidence,” he said.

“It’s wonderful to recognize how much the Holy Father must value Archbishop Seán as a person. It’s equally wonderful to have an affirmation for the Archdiocese of Boston,” he added.

Carlos Suarez, a first year seminarian at St. John’s Seminary, said that the occasion should be a time of rejoicing for Catholics in Boston.

“Archbishop O'Malley has been a phenomenal pastor for his flock, and I think his elevation to cardinal is a sign that the pope recognizes this,” he said.

After the noon Mass at Harvard Square’s St. Paul Church, the regulars said they welcomed the news from Rome.

“Good luck to the guy,” said Robert J. O’Leary, who is the president of the local Knights of St. Finbar. “It is very important for the Vatican to show that Seán O’Malley had come along at a difficult time and was doing a great job under trying conditions.”

“I like O’Malley,” said Marjorie W. Parsons, a member of St. Paul Parish. “It would have been an insult to him, if he had not been elevated.”

“I am so happy. He deserved it,” said Louise M. Menard, who was visiting the Shrine of St. Anthony on Boston’s Arch Street.

Menard, who is a member of St. Matthew Parish in Dorchester, said she learned the news when she received a phone call from a friend that morning.

“She said, ‘Turn on the TV!’” she said.

Menard agreed with others that Cardinal-designate O’Malley has had a difficult time in Boston.

“When he first got here, he lost so much weight,” she said.

“I met him when he came to St. Matthew’s for a confirmation,” she added. “I asked him to pray for me, and he asked me to pray for him, too.”

A native of Haiti, Menard said she appreciated when the archbishop celebrated Mass in Haitian Creole, saying “He has a nice accent.”

Father George Roy, a parochial vicar at St. John the Evangelist Church in North Cambridge with special responsibility to the Haitian community, said the Haitian community has responded very strongly to Cardinal-designate O’Malley and his special outreach to them. Every Jan. 1, the archbishop celebrates a Mass in Creole that brings together Haitian Catholics from all over the archdiocese and marks the anniversary of Haitian independence, he said.

Father Roy added that he was very pleased when he heard the news of the elevation, saying that it was somewhat expected.

“It was something we expected because Boston is a cardinal see,” he said. “When the last consistory met, he had just been assigned.”

But it also would have been understandable if the pope had not made the archbishop a cardinal with this consistory, since the former archbishop, Cardinal Bernard F. Law is still alive, he added.

Another visitor to St. Anthony’s, Robert W. Callanan, a member of St. Mary of the Annunciation in Melrose, said the elevation was well-deserved.

“It will elevate his reputation and highlight his merits, having come to Boston and making a negative situation more positive,” Callanan said.

“The image of the Catholic Church in Boston has been temporarily tarnished, but not indelibly because the Holy Spirit has a way of erasing the tarnish and making it gleam more than before,” he said.

The archbishop’s elevation is part of that process of renewal, he said.

Father Richard Mehn, pastor at Immaculate Conception in Malden, said that he views the creation of another cardinal in Boston as a sign of hope for the future of the archdiocese.

“It’s a great day for the archdiocese,” he said. “It’s a humbling thing. It’s good for the Church. He’s a good man.”