In the spring of 2006, while I was finishing my service as an active duty military chaplain and about to begin my ministry as vicar general, I traveled often between Washington D.C. and Boston. To give you an idea of how frequently I made the trip, one day I was staring at an airport monitor when an airline employee asked, “Sir, can I help you.” I said, “Yes, I’m going to Boston.” The woman replied, “Sir, you are in Boston.”
That same day, I arrived in D.C., and I received a call from Cardinal Seán: “When are you coming home?” I reminded him I had left Boston just a few hours ago and answered jokingly that I would return in the year 2020. He replied--and I could almost feel his smile coming through the phone--“We were hoping you could be here for a meeting tomorrow afternoon.”
I remembered this story as I reflected upon the fifth anniversary of Cardinal Seán’s becoming Archbishop of Boston. It seems to exemplify so much of what I have since come to know of the cardinal. First, he has great empathy. He understood I was being pulled in two directions--literally and figuratively--that day. Next, he has a warm sense of humor. I could sense it a half-dozen states away, and it made the request that I turn around and come right back to Boston palatable. Finally, that he made the request demonstrated his passionate commitment to our mission here in Boston and his singular focus on what Christ is asking of us.
Up until the day then-Archbishop Seán asked me to serve as vicar general, I had spent a total of one hour and 15 minutes with him in my lifetime. Very graciously and generously, he came to pay his respects to my family and to pray with us at my mother’s wake in 2003. When I was on military duty, I met with him twice so that I would remain connected with my home diocese and bishop. Since then, I have spent a great deal of time with him. We are together for one reason or another on most weekdays. I have witnessed, firsthand, his heart of gold. I have seen the way he is moved by the people he meets and the stories he hears with a shepherd’s heart.
The challenges of the past five years have been many. Cardinal Seán has approached each with passion and humility. The decisions he has made have all been based on his commitment to bring healing to the Church: selling the Brighton property in order to restore our financial health and to provide a solid foundation for the ministry of the Church in our third century in Boston, closing parishes so that the archdiocese reflects the shift in population and clergy availability, making transparency a way of operating every day, creating a pastoral plan to care for the two million Catholics in the archdiocese, revitalizing Catholic Schools through the 2010 Initiative, strengthening Catholic health care with unwavering support of Caritas Christi, encouraging our priests through personal outreach and by calling us together as a presbyterate, nurturing a culture of vocations where all Catholics are encouraged to be vocations directors, creating new opportunities for faith formation through the Men’s and Women’s Conferences and the Arise: Together in Christ initiative, and embracing technology as an instrument to hand on the Catholic faith.
Cardinal Seán would be the first to take responsibility for the difficult decisions and to give away credit for the accomplishments. One of his great strengths is the collaborative way in which he leads. He has recruited leaders in their fields to strengthen the central administration, and he has called forth lay leaders both within the Church and within the greater Boston community to help steward the Church. He trusts in the abilities and vocations of others to serve our mission of continuing the saving ministry of Jesus Christ.
I’ve heard Cardinal Seán referred to as exactly what the Church in Boston needed at this critical time in our history. I believe that was clear in April with the meeting arranged between the Holy Father and survivors of abuse from Boston. When Cardinal Seán returned from that meeting, I told him that moment of healing was a reflection of why the Holy Father chose him to shepherd our archdiocese.
For five years he has led by example. By choice, he has a humble lifestyle that, quite frankly, has inspired me. He accepts wholeheartedly that what is being asked of him is to be an instrument of the Lord’s healing. My prayer is that the Lord will bring to fulfillment the great work he has begun in Cardinal Seán.
Father Richard M. Erikson is Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia of the Archdiocese of Boston.