The gifts -- men and money for mission

Upon returning to Boston from Rome following his elevation to cardinal by Blessed John XXIII in the 1958 consistory, the priests of the archdiocese presented Cardinal Richard Cushing with a gift of $250,000.

Thanking each priest for that gift, Cardinal Cushing wrote, “I want to assure you that the gift was an answer to my prayer. It liquidated all the debts I assumed in connection with receiving the red hat and enabled me to finance the departure and equipment of the first group of Boston’s priests to go to South America.” Since that very beginning, Boston’s clergy have stood by the Society of St. James as its strongest financial supporters.

Acting quickly, the cardinal appointed Msgr. Edward F. Sweeney, the director of the Propagation of the Faith in Boston, as the society’s first superior. On Feb. 22 the first missionaries departed for Latin America. They left in small groups to preserve the society in the event of an accident. The diocesan priests included Fathers Don Ballou of Lexington, Frederick Cameron of Hull, George Flynn of Chelmsford, David Kelly of Arlington, John Lyons of Somerville, James MacDonald of Canton, Leo Mahoney of Cambridge, Joseph Martin of Somerville, Rudolph Masciarelli of Marlborough, Paul McGreevy of Lowell, William Pearsall of Lowell, Daniel Sheehan of Danvers, Robert Supple of Revere, and Tony Vasaturo of Medfield.

That same day, a cable arrived from the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Domenico Tardini, with a papal blessing: “Upon the Pious Society of St. James the Apostle, which was inspired by the loving zeal of our beloved Son, Richard Cardinal Cushing, Archbishop of Boston, and is now about to bear its first fruits, upon its present and future members, may there descend, together with Our Apostolic blessing, an abundance of heavenly graces in pledge of flourishing development and rich success in its apostolic labors.”

They were greeted upon their arrival by Msgr. Edward Sweeney, Father Ray Cowell of Chicago, the first priest from outside of Boston to join the society, and two Maryknoll priests who escorted them to a Maryknoll school in Cochabamba, Bolivia. There they became immersed in a new culture and the Spanish language. Between classes, Bolivian soldiers taught them how to ride on horses, which would become the main mode of transportation in the mountains.

In the high sierras of Peru, nine native priests had been ministering as best they could to 365,000 people. Our diocesan missionaries moved quickly into makeshift accommodations in those remote mountain areas as well as in urban slums to live among the people, to establish new parish communities, and to bear witness to Christ’s love for all of his children.

The work of the Society of St. James had really begun.

Frank Mazzaglia is a columnist and a layman associated with the Society of St. James.