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St. Anthony Shrine holds inaugural Franciscan Dinner


Franciscan friars from St. Anthony Shrine in Boston chant a blessing over guests at the shrine's inaugural Franciscan Dinner Oct. 20. Pilot photo/Gregory L. Tracy

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BOSTON -- Hundreds of people gathered at the Seaport Hotel in South Boston to support St. Anthony Shrine during its inaugural Franciscan Dinner.

The gala raised over $500,000 for the shrine and its numerous outreach and evangelization ministries, and saw Jim O'Connell, president of the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, receive the shrine's inaugural Pope Francis Award.

Funds were raised through ticket sales for the dinner and donations, as well as a live auction that took place during the event.

Fred Brown, assistant director of liturgy at the shrine and an organizer of the event, said over 350 people attended the gala.

Among the attendees were Governor Charles D. Baker and First Lady Lauren Baker, and Mayor Martin J. Walsh and Ms. Lorrie Higgins, who were the honorary co-chairs of the evening.

Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley also attended, and gave the invocation before the start of the dinner.

Mayor Walsh offered some of the first remarks of the night, and he recalled going to St. Anthony Shrine with his mother when he was a child.

He said it's an "incredible place... bringing people together in faith, seeing prayers in action."

"You can go in there in a very difficult time in your life, and you can kneel back in the back of the Church, and you can sit there and just look around at the people that were there. The person to your right could be somebody who just came off the street to say a few prayers and the person to your left could be a president of a bank," said the mayor.

St. Anthony Shrine executive director Father Thomas E. Conway also offered early remarks, briefly speaking about the work of his fellow friars, particularly the work done in confessions, counseling, and spiritual direction.

"The friars, through all of those confidential conversations with people, and my brother friars here they know this well, they inspire people," said Father Conway, before showing a short video created by the Boston Herald highlighting some of the shrine's over 30 outreach and evangelization ministries.

Father Conway returned to the stage again later to present O'Connell with the Pope Francis Award. Before he did so, however, he shared with attendees two special messages he received for O'Connell -- one from Father John Jenkins, president of O'Connell's alma mater University of Notre Dame, and one from Father Michael Perry, minister general of the Franciscans.

After accepting the award, O'Connell spoke about his early days at the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, noting how he drew on St. Anthony Shrine for support.

"When I think of the early days when we were really frustrated and didn't know what we were doing, we used to run into the shrine to just sit down and relax. And that's when I started to learn -- I had not been to Boston before medical school -- what a powerful presence the shrine has been for all of us," he said.

"Then, as I got more and more into the world of taking care of homeless people, I started to realize how much we depended on not only the shelters, the police, and the wonderful first responders in our city, but to the whole faith community, the religious community, to the churches," O'Connell continued.

As both the president and the founding physician of the program, O'Connell saw it grow into a service that provides care to over 12,000 homeless men, women, and children each year.

He offered thanks to the shrine and to the attendees at the dinner for their financial support.

"I realize that the work that the shrine does... is dependent so much on your generosity, and I just thank the Lord each day that we get to work in a world with all of you," he said.

The evening came to a close following remarks by Father Kevin Mullen, provincial minister of the Holy Name Province.

"I am so grateful for how you, how this great city, how the people who have formed the shrine community continue to support my brothers and the work that they do," he said, before inviting all of the friars of the shrine to join him in a closing blessing.

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