Priests establish scholarship in cardinal's honor

WOBURN -- For Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley, his installation as archbishop of Boston on July 30, 2003, was "kind of a traumatic experience."

Speaking to hundreds of his priests at the Archdiocese of Boston's annual presbyteral convocation on April 25, Cardinal O'Malley recalled being driven from the Cardinal's Residence in Brighton to the Cathedral of the Holy Cross with a heavy police escort, including a helicopter. The archdiocese was still reeling from the clergy sexual abuse scandal and Cardinal Bernard Law's resignation. Cardinal O'Malley was so "distraught" that he forgot to bring his miter. When he arrived at the cathedral, he was surrounded by journalists and angry protesters, but when he entered its doors, he heard cheers and applause.

"Suddenly," he said, "I no longer felt afraid."

The presbyteral convocation, held at the Boston Crowne Plaza Woburn, was a chance for the cardinal and his priests to reflect on his leadership over the last 20 years. As Cardinal O'Malley approaches his 80th birthday on June 29, this year's convocation served as a tribute to the cardinal.

During the gathering, Father Michael Nolan and Msgr. John McLaughlin presented a tongue-in-cheek overview of Cardinal O'Malley's life, followed by an early 80th birthday gift from the Boston priests: the announcement they had raised $431,000 in donations to fund a scholarship in the cardinal's honor to pay for the education of seminarians. Father Nolan and Msgr. McLaughlin led fundraising efforts among the priests for the first $215,000, which was then matched by an anonymous couple.

"I had no expectations," Father Nolan, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Waltham, told The Pilot in an April 29 interview, "because we didn't ask for a specific amount from anybody. We just asked people to give what they could, to be as generous as possible."

Father Nolan and Msgr. McLaughlin asked Cardinal O'Malley what he wanted for his birthday, and the cardinal said he would be "honored" if they raised money for the formation of seminarians on his behalf. One year of study for one seminarian costs approximately $70,000. The money raised will go into an endowment, and Father Nolan and Msgr. McLaughlin are still accepting donations until June 29, the cardinal's 80th birthday. Those who wish to donate can do so by visiting

"I must confess, I am verklempt," Cardinal O'Malley said after accepting an oversized check representing the gift.

The convocation's keynote speaker was Catholic Leadership Institute CEO Dan Cellucci. CLI provides leadership training and consulting to 290 bishops, 2,700 priests, and over 35,000 deacons, religious, and lay leaders in over 120 dioceses.

Cellucci asked the priests to think about what has changed in the Archdiocese of Boston since Cardinal O'Malley became archbishop, and their expectations for his successor. They listed their expectations on a sheet of paper with two columns, one for "fair" expectations and one for "unfair" expectations.

"Now's the best time because, in the best sense, it's the purest period," Cellucci said. "We don't know who (the next archbishop) is. There's no baggage, there's no history. There's no social media posts or news coverage . . . So it's the greatest time to actually think about what's on your heart and your mind as you expect and anticipate your new shepherd."

Cellucci said that, while Pope Francis has the final decision over who replaces Cardinal O'Malley, the priests' opinions still matter. He asked them to listen to each other, and to make their waiting for the next archbishop "purposeful."

"I'd like to suggest today, not to listen to me, but to listen to the Spirit speak, speaking through each other," he said.

In his remarks, Cellucci said that the Archdiocese of Boston is special due to its "resilience and creativity."

"You have been at the beginning of a handful of really significant conversations and shifts in the American church in the last quarter century," he said. "Many have been painful, and they have been dynamic, and they have been important for worse, but I think mainly for better."

Despite declining church attendance among young people, Cellucci said that he is still excited for the future of the church, especially as the millennial generation enters middle age and assumes leadership positions within parishes.

"There's a growing consensus that we are moving into or already finding ourselves in apostolic times," he said.

The Catholic Leadership Institute conducted over 1,000 interviews with Catholics in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. Regardless of how much they practiced their faith, those who were interviewed represented what Cellucci sees as a generational shift. According to the interviews, young Catholics no longer see their parish as the center of their faith, and they want more from life than what the secular world has to offer. Cellucci also found that many young, lapsed Catholics did not stop practicing their faith, but never started to begin with.

"Even when I say it, I feel a sense of sadness at first," he said. "But think about the possibilities. Think about the opportunity in that to propose a fresh answer to their yearning, not through the lens of the structures we're used to, but through the person of Jesus Christ."

After the priests talked among themselves, several stood and spoke to the assembly. They praised Cardinal O'Malley for his humility and his leadership.

In his closing remarks, the cardinal expressed his gratitude for all of the clergy and "the wonderful men and women of this diocese."

He also reflected on how the archdiocese has become a model for other dioceses across the U.S. when it comes to protecting children and consoling victims of sexual abuse. He said bishops tell him that when they must confront "difficult topics," they wait to see the Archdiocese of Boston's statements before writing their own.

"Every generation, the Catholic Church faces its own challenges," the cardinal said. "It's a good consolation to me that other dioceses also turn to us to learn about how to respond to the clergy crisis."

He said that, even though the church seems to have lost much of its cultural influence since he was a child, "there is no golden age."

"The influence of the Catholic Church and the Gospel is going to depend on the witness of our lives," he said. "The coherent way that we embrace the Gospel ideals of generously and joyfully serving the poor, the suffering, and by proclaiming the love of Christ and the truth of the Gospel."

He led the priests in prayer that the Holy Spirit would guide Pope Francis in choosing the next archbishop of Boston, and that the archdiocese would give its new leader a warm welcome.

"You are some of the finest priests in the world," Cardinal O'Malley said, "and I am blessed to have been able to ordain so many of you in this presbyterate."