Priests honor peers at Chrism Mass luncheon

BRIGHTON — Three priests were recognized at a luncheon at St. John’s Seminary, following the annual Chrism Mass on March 22, where priests renew their commitment to their vocation. This year’s honorees, nominated by their peers, were Father Gerard Barry, Father Anthony Nguyen and Msgr. Richard Cunningham.

“In a brief moment of recognition of three of our brother priests, it is not our intention to single them out but to recognize in them qualities, characteristics and attributes present in each of us who are God’s faithful servants,” said Father James M. Mahoney, director of the Clergy Support and On-Going Formation Office. “They are mentioned by name today as a way for us to remember the fine, effective work that goes on every day in humble priestly service.”

One by one, Father Mahoney asked each of the recipients to come forward and Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley congratulated them and handed them a lamp, symbolizing their success in being Jesus’ light to the world.

Father Barry grew up in Newton and studied at Boston College for two years before entering St. John’s Seminary. He was ordained in 1950 and has served many years as curate at St. Augustine Parish in South Boston, chaplain at Deer Island House of Correction, assistant at St. Cecilia Parish in Ashland and St. Linus Parish in Natick, and pastor of St. Bernard Parish in West Newton before retiring in 2001. He loves baseball and golf, Father Mahoney said.

“He is noted for his zeal in pastoral ministry and the fraternity he shares with his brother priests. He has a reputation for kindness and compassion,” he added.

“I thought I was kind of unique, but the introduction pointed out that I’m just like everybody else,” Father Barry joked after receiving his award. “I thank you for the gift and for the kind words. I wish my parents were alive — my father would have loved to have heard those words and my mother would have believed it.”

Father Nguyen grew up and studied in the seminary in Vietnam and was ordained in the diocese of Phnom-Penh, Kampuchea in 1966. He spent years in a communist concentration camp as a prisoner, escaping twice in the early 1980s by boat and finding refuge in Indonesia in 1985. Then, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Migration and Tourism asked Cardinal Bernard F. Law to sponsor Father Nguyen, Father Mahoney said.

Father Nguyen was honored for “his quiet and humble work” at two parishes — St. Rose Parish in Chelsea and St. Patrick Parish in Lowell —  and “reaching out to the needs of both Cambodian Catholics and non-Catholics,” in his 20 years in Boston, he said.

“I asked myself, ‘Why me and not the other priests?’ They deserve it more than me. I don’t know how to say thank you enough,” Father Nguyen said. “I am very happy to be a part of this diocese because we have a good bishop, good priests and good lay people.”

Msgr. Cunningham was ordained in 1957 at Holy Name Parish in West Roxbury. He served in two parishes before pursuing studies at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. He received his doctorate in Canon Law from the Lateran University in Rome in 1972. He has served as a faculty member of St. John’s Seminary for almost three decades, Father Mahoney said.

“He dabbled in the theater for six years, wrote and produced a number of his own plays and musical comedies. He is also a magician and a ham actor,” he added.

“I was reminded of a story about a gentleman in the southern part of the country, named Harold,” said Msgr. Cunningham. “He was admired for his kindness, his patience, for so many good qualities and the people found him to be such a modest and a mild and a meek man, and never ever did the words ‘proud’ or ‘arrogant’ find their way into the vocabulary of anyone speaking of Harold.”

“So the people, out of appreciation, decided they would have a dinner in honor of Harold, and at that dinner they presented him with a specially struck silver medal and the medal read, ‘The most humble man in this town,’” he said.

“The next day they had to take it away from him because he wore it,” he joked.

“With all my heart, I thank you for this great honor and especially because it comes from a great group of priests — the priests of Boston,” Msgr. Cunningham said.

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