Celebration marks 15th year of supporting, honoring priests

BOSTON -- Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley likes to say that being Catholic in Boston is a contact sport.

When he became Archbishop of Boston in 2003, the Church was being "beaten bloody." The archdiocese was in the depths of the child sex abuse scandal, which had sullied the reputation of the priesthood.

"When I arrived here 20 years ago, it was a time of great sadness and darkness," Cardinal O'Malley told those gathered at the Omni Seaport Hotel in Boston on Sept. 14 for the 15th annual Celebration of the Priesthood. "The Church was in terrible turmoil. Some people were embarrassed to be Catholic."

Cardinal O'Malley's keynote speech ended on a more optimistic note, looking back on his 20 years as archbishop and expressing his gratitude for the priests who have made a positive impact in their parishes.

"We are blessed by the generosity and fidelity of our priests who work so tirelessly and selflessly," he said.

In his time as archbishop, he has ordained over 130 priests.

"Nothing could bring me greater joy than that," he said.

Over 1,100 people, including 175 active and senior priests, attended the celebration. They and other donors raised $1.6 million for Clergy Trust, which provides healthcare to active and senior priests of the Archdiocese of Boston in good standing.

"This is one of the largest celebrations that we've had," Clergy Trust Executive Director Mike Scannell told The Pilot.

Mark Vachon, chair of the Clergy Trust Board of Trustees, credited Cardinal O'Malley with "saving" Clergy Trust.

Fifty-six parishes sent attendees to the celebration, and 79 donated to Clergy Trust. It was the first celebration of its kind since 2019.

At the start of the dinner, Jay Hooley, who co-chaired the celebration with his wife Linda, recalled Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley asking him to chair this year's celebration.

"When you get that call, what do you do?" Jay Hooley said. "You say, 'Name the time.'"

Linda Hooley said that with all that priests do for their parishioners, it is easy to forget that they also have needs, especially when it comes to their health.

On each table, there were note cards on which guests could write messages for residents of Regina Cleri, the archdiocese's residence in Boston's West End for senior priests.

"These good priests at Regina Cleri pray for us all the time," emcee Bishop Robert Reed said, "and they would be happy to hear from you."

Bishop Reed said that the floral centerpieces on every table would also go to Regina Cleri.

Students from St. Paul's Choir School in Cambridge performed at the gala. The school, the only boys Catholic choir school in America, celebrates its 60th anniversary this year.

As gala attendees enjoyed their dinner, a video was shown celebrating the special work of three priests in the archdiocese: Father Jim Ronan, retired pastor of St. Mary-St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Charlestown, who provided spiritual and emotional support after a 12-year-old St. John's Preparatory School student and his mother were killed in a murder-suicide in February; Father Marcos Enrique of St. Mark-St. Ambrose Parish in Dorchester, who provides an educational faith-based community to low-income children; and Father Robert Deehan of Holy Family Parish in Duxbury, who opened up his church to a community in mourning after a parishioner murdered her three young children in January.

Cardinal O'Malley said that the videos are "just a snapshot of what's happening all over the diocese every day."

"When tragedy strikes, oftentimes we ask: 'Where is God in all of this?'" Jay Hooley said. "This video reminds us that God is there, through the presence of our priests."

Cardinal O'Malley presented this year's St. Joseph the Worker Award posthumously to Jim McDonough, former chancellor of the archdiocese and board member of Clergy Trust. Cardinal O'Malley credited McDonough with "rescuing the archdiocese from financial collapse."

Cardinal O'Malley said that when he became archbishop in 2003, the archdiocese had an annual deficit of $15 million. Its pension funds were failing, the Catholic hospitals were losing $40 million a year, and 1,000 sexual abuse lawsuits were pending, which had sullied the reputation of the priesthood.

"It was in this crisis that we found Jim McDonough," Cardinal O'Malley said. "He didn't run from a challenge. He was a man of faith, and he wanted to help his Church."

McDonough's wife Lynne and his children Kristin McNulty and her husband Peter, and Brian McDonough and his wife Kaitlyn, accepted the award on his behalf. Kristin McNulty represented the family in giving acceptance remarks.

As is his tradition, the cardinal led the priests in singing the "Salve Regina" to conclude the evening.

"Thank God for our wonderful Church," Cardinal O'Malley said, "Thank you for our priesthood, thank you for all your love, your faith, and your love of our priests."