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BOSTON -- Over 1,650 people -- a record number -- came together for the ninth annual Celebration of the Priesthood Dinner to offer thanks and support to the priests in the Archdiocese of Boston.
The annual dinner gala serves as a major fundraising event for the archdiocese's Clergy Health and Retirement Trust (formerly 'Clergy Funds'), which provides health, welfare, and retirement support for the archdiocese's active and retired priests. This year's gala, held Sept. 28 at the Seaport World Trade Center in Boston, raised over $1.6 million for the trust, the second highest total ever raised in the event's nine years.
Bishop Robert P. Reed, an auxiliary bishop of Boston and president of the CatholicTV network, acted as the emcee for the event, and began the night's program with words of welcome and thanks.
"Your generosity ensures that our priests may live with confidence in the care they receive throughout their entire lives," he said, speaking to the supporters present.
The welcome was followed by an opening prayer and blessing by the archdiocese's youngest priest, Father Matthew J. Conley, who was also the youngest priest last year, before chairman of the Clergy Health and Retirement Fund and HP Hood LLC CEO John A. Kaneb offered the opening remarks.
Kaneb, who will have served three consecutive three-year terms as chairman of the fund as of June 2018, announced he will not be serving another term. In his "farewell address," he spoke of his time as chairman, noting that, when he assumed chairmanship about nine years go, "the outlook was ominous" for the fund.
To use nautical terms, he said, "Nine years ago, the ship was listing and taking on water. Today, the ship is upright, watertight, and moving full steam ahead."
"Not only is the fund healthy, financially," but it also offers priests a number of benefits, providing "programs so that our priests, both active and senior, can have a pleasant lifestyle."
Even with the all the benefits, he continued, "during these years, we've actually reduced medical costs for priests by $3,000 per priest."
"Your generosity, your engagement, and the support of all of our priests have made this possible," he said to attendees.
John and Cathy White, the event's co-chairs, also offered words of welcome.
"The benefits our priests receive today are absolutely terrific thanks to your generosity. More directly, our priests will be better cared for in the future because of the sustained stewardship and financial support achieved here this evening," said John White.
He thanked Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley and "all of your brothers in the priesthood for allowing us to see the face of Christ on your face through your eucharistic spirituality, for reminding us that God should always be our first priority and not our last resort, for reminding us that our faith is always, always greater than our fears, for reminding us to be in awe of the poor, for the burdens that they carry rather than stand in judgement for how they carry them," he said.
Cathy White also offered words of gratitude for the priests in the archdiocese as well as the seminarians, and recalled the clergy members who have died.
In a "surprise" visit, Mayor Martin Walsh also spoke to those gathered, thanking the priests and thanking those who support them.
"I want to thank all of the priests in this room, both active and retired, for doing the work in our community every single day," he said.
"It's important for us not to forget to support the clergy."
The night's keynote speaker was Roma Downey, an actor and producer perhaps best known for her role as the angel Monica on the CBS series "Touched by an Angel."
Downey, who has since produced a number of Christian series and movies, including the mini-series "The Bible," is currently the president of Lightworkers Media, a faith and family-oriented film and television production company she founded with her husband, producer and president of MGM Television and Digital Group Mark Burnett.
She spoke about her faith, which she noted has "truly been a bedrock and a constant anchor for me." Born in Derry, Ireland to a Catholic family, faith "was a constant and an integral part of who we were."
She received a Catholic education, and relied on her faith when her mother died a week before Downey's 11th birthday.
"My father turned to prayer to get us through those painful days of loss, and he reminded us of the hope that we had through Jesus that we would see our mother again, and I have clung to that hope my entire life," she said.
"In many ways, after I lost my mother, I felt even closer to the Blessed Mother, because I needed that source of nurturing and loving that I could no longer receive from my own mother, and I felt a kinship with Our Lady, and I knew she had also experience heartbreaking loss," Downey continued.
She relied on her faith again when her father died several years later, shortly before her own brother was ordained a priest.
God gives us strength in our weakest moments, and God loves us, she said, and it's the priests who bring that joyful message of love to the public.
"They're the messengers. They are the comforters. They are the hope-bringers, they have given their life in service for the rest of us, and I just want to stand here and to all the clergy in the room personally say thank you so much, thank you," she said.
"You step beside us when we need to remember our faith. You pray for us, you council us, sometimes you just sit with us quietly in silence," she continued, adding that she is grateful for all that they do.
As the night drew to a close and the plates and glasses were swept away, Cardinal O'Malley offered the benediction and thanked people for their support, before leading those in attendance in the Marian hymn, the "Salve Regina."