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BOSTON -- The 13th annual Celebration of the Priesthood took place in a virtual format on Sept. 21, with the theme of "Opening Doors to Stronger Communities."
The Celebration of the Priesthood is the biggest single fundraiser for Clergy Trust, which supports the health and well-being of the archdiocese's active and senior priests in good standing. Organizers say the event has so far raised $1.5 million.
The 40-minute program was hosted by local media personalities Alice Cook and Scott Wahle. Event co-chairs Tom and Tricia O'Brien got things started by sharing how priests supported them throughout their family's joys and sorrows.
Having learned early in their marriage that they could not have biological children, the O'Briens adopted five children from four different countries. One of them, Marisol, developed dystrophy and ultimately died at the age of eight.
The family was supported by several priests during the difficulties of Marisol's illness and death. Tricia O'Brien said she often thought of what the late Father Edward McDonough at Mission Church told them, that someday they would realize what a gift Marisol was. Tom O'Brien eventually founded HYM Investment Group, LLC, a real estate company, whose initials stand for "Hug you me," a phrase Marisol would say when she mixed up her words.
The O'Brien family formed a close relationship with Father Paul Rouse, who gave Marisol her First Communion before she died. They visited him at Regina Cleri Residence on what would have been Marisol's 21st birthday. Father Rouse died on Aug. 4 of this year.
Tricia O'Brien said that knowing the priests are cared for in their later years is "so comforting and so right."
"They gave of their lives to all of us. And now it's time for us to take care of them," she said.
One segment of the virtual celebration featured pastors and parishioners from two communities that thrived during the coronavirus pandemic. In the St. J's Collaborative in Quincy, consisting of St. John the Baptist Parish and St. Joseph Parish, Father Matt Williams launched the JOY Movement, an acronym for the priorities of "Jesus, Others, and Yourself." St. Mary Parish in Waltham, led by Father Michael Nolan, Father Joseph Diem, and Father Fernando Vivas, partnered with Healthy Waltham food pantry and started an after-school program for children.
Another segment focused on women serving on the board of Clergy Trust, who talked about their three primary programs: the Intentional Living Program, which provides priests with preventative health and wellness programs; the Dedicated Care Team, which offers priests one-on-one support to manage health concerns and navigate the healthcare system; and Regina Cleri, which is home to over 50 senior priests.
One featured trustee was Sharon McNally, the president of Camp Harbor View, a summer day camp and year-round enrichment program for teenagers and their families. McNally said she sees "a big overlap with what I do and with what the priests do."
"They spend most of their time building community, about making people feel invested in the community and feeling welcome in the community. And that's a lot like what we are trying to do at Camp Harbor View. So it's sort of natural for me to be involved in this work," she said.
Another trustee, Ann Carter, a communications expert and business strategist, noted how communities have changed over the years, to the point that today one pastor may cover a wide geographic area and have more administrative responsibility.
She also emphasized the need for women to be involved in policymaking at Clergy Trust.
"To have different perspectives, and especially to have a female perspective, certainly the perspective of people accustomed to caregiving in their own lives, is really important to policymaking," Carter said.
She reflected on how priests shape people's faith and are present at so many moments in their lives.
"All those things that are too numerous to count, when they were there, make me feel like for us to be there for them now is not an obligation, it's a privilege," Carter said.
The virtual presentation also highlighted the legacy of teaching that is evident in the multiple generations of priests present in the archdiocese. This story was dedicated to Father John J. Connelly, who passed away during the filming process. At age 98, he was the oldest living priest in the archdiocese and the last to have served in World War II.
Bishop Mark O'Connell, Father Stephen Salocks, Father John J. Grimes, and Father Peter Stamm spoke about Father Connelly's legacy as well as the shared responsibility for producing the next generation of priests. Father Connelly taught Father Grimes, who in turn taught Father Salocks, Father Stamm, and Bishop O'Connell. Father Salocks, who is now the rector of St. John's Seminary, also taught Father Stamm and Bishop O'Connell.
"Father Connolly manifested a wonderful coalescence of the philosophy, the theology, but also the pastoral practice. It wasn't just theory. For him, it was something that you put into action," Father Salocks said.
Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley gave closing remarks at the end of the celebration. He quoted St. John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests, who told his parishioners that "a priest is not a priest for himself, he is a priest for you."
"The profiles featured in tonight's program are examples of that dedication lived in our midst today. Our priests come from so many different backgrounds and experiences with one mission in mind: to serve others. As archbishop of Boston, I am privileged to witness firsthand how they carry out that mission every day," Cardinal O'Malley said.
Following tradition, the celebration ended with the singing of the "Salve Regina." Father Oscar Pratt and Father Eric Cadin joined the cardinal in singing at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, while other priests across the archdiocese joined the song by video.
A recording of the 2021 Celebration of the Priesthood can be viewed on Clergy Trust's YouTube channel and on the CatholicTV website at www.catholictv.org/the-church-in-america/celebration-of-priesthood-archdiocese-of-boston.html.