Priests reflect on past five years at annual cookout

In a courtyard at Brighton’s St. John’s Seminary, more than 120 priests and seminarians enjoyed hot dogs, hamburgers and fellowship on Aug. 6. The annual gathering is scheduled for near Aug. 4, the feast day of St. John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests. Pilot photo/Neil W. McCabe

More than 120 priests and seminarians gathered at Brighton’s St. John’s Seminary on Aug. 6 for a holy hour on the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. During the cookout that followed five priests individually reflected upon the cardinal’s first five years leading the Boston See.

The holy hour and cookout is an annual event scheduled to fall near the Feast of St. John Vianney, the Curé d’Ars and the patron saint of parish priests. Cardinal Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley, who was scheduled to preside, could not attend the event because his flight from the Knights of Columbus convention in Quebec City was cancelled.

In the place of the archbishop, Father Arthur L. Kennedy, the rector of St. John’s since July 2007, presided over the evening prayer service in the school’s chapel and Father William T. Kelly, the director of clergy support, was the prayer and song leader. Before the prayer service, Father William T. Schmidt, the pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Stoneham, presented a lecture on the history of the archdiocese in light of its priests and bishops.

Father Kennedy told the priests and seminarians that in focusing on the Feast of the Transfiguration, he was reminded of Flannery O’Connor’s observation that “Evil is not simply a problem to be solved. It is a mystery to be endured.”

The life of the priest is to know both the glory and suffering of the Lord, Father Kennedy said. It is something they all shared together.

Father Kennedy was at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington when he heard that Cardinal O’Malley was to lead the Archdiocese of Boston. “My reaction was to think that this was going to be a difficult and important mission for any man to take up.”

The overriding theme of the past five years, said Father Kennedy, has been the one the cardinal focused on when he arrived: St. Francis rebuilding the Church.

“It has been a slow process and I am sure for him there have been periods of suffering,” Father Kennedy said. “But, he has been a great and wonderful shepherd helping both priests and laity understand some of what I was talking about today on the Feast of the Transfiguration and the mystery of suffering. It is only through God’s grace that we can be transfigured.”

Father Michael C. Harrington, the assistant director of vocations for the archdiocese, said he was a priest living and working at St. Paul Parish in Wellesley when he heard the news that the cardinal was coming to the archdiocese.

“I was familiar with the work the cardinal had done at other dioceses and how he helped them get through tough times,” he said. “I was pleased because it meant that now we could start to look forward. Cardinal Seán was the right person at the right time.”

Father Harrington said he has vivid memories of the installation Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. “It was a powerful experience. We were in the midst of so much difficulty at that time in the archdiocese. We were constantly being barraged by so many different things. To finally see our new archbishop installed was very touching.

“It got great coverage. It was all over the newspapers and TV. It was like the whole world descended on Boston--especially since Boston was Ground Zero for so much of the controversy over sexual abuse.”

The cardinal arrived at a trying time for the priests, he said. “Prior to Cardinal Seán being named, we were often left surprised and shocked by what we continued to see happening in the archdiocese. No one could predict week-to-week or day-to-day what was going to come out next.”

From his position in the vocations office, Father Harrington said he has witnessed the cardinal making extra efforts to be at the seminary and to help men discern their vocations.

Father Harrington said that he often receives letters and e-mails from seminarians who say that meeting with the cardinal or hearing something the cardinal said motivated the man to accept his vocation.

Father Paul Sullivan, who was ordained in May from Blessed Pope John XXIII Seminary in Weston, which is a seminary for men over age 28, said he was working in the admissions office of Magdalen College in New Hampshire when he heard of the appointment.

Sullivan, whose brother is Father John M. Sullivan, the pastor of St. Mary of the Annunciation Church in Melrose, said he entered the seminary in 2004 and there was a hopeful feeling among his classmates about the leadership of Cardinal Seán.

“Let’s face it. We wouldn’t have entered a seminary if we didn’t think there was hope,” he said.

“I think a lot of us just admired his courage for coming into a situation like this,” he said. “It was obvious to us that he was doing the best he could to solve some serious problems.”

Father Joseph F. Mozer, a canon lawyer, said he had just completed an internship at the Archdiocesan Tribunal, where he now works, and was preparing to enter The Catholic University of America in Washington to study canon law when he heard about Cardinal Seán’s appointment.

“I was very grateful to have the opportunity to attend his installation Mass before I left for Washington because it gave me sense of who he is and what his hope and desire was for the archdiocese and his mission as our archbishop.”

Father Schmidt said there has always been a great deal of pride in being a priest of Boston, but that pride has been sorely tested over the last seven years by the actions of a few.

Because of the need for crisis management in his first years, the cardinal did not have the freedom to focus on his priests as much as he wanted to, he said. “He had a very loving response to the victims of sexual abuse by priests and he needed to get us through that, and then help us as priests to get beyond that.”

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