Last summer an antique dealer struck gold while browsing wares in Miamitown, Ohio. During a routine excursion through the local flea market, Terri Ziepfel came across an item in the discounted pile, a plastic holder with two careworn inserts. The inserts caught her eye: an ornate tintype of St. Francis adjacent to an elegant typesetting of the Prayer of St. Francis. Content with the purchase, she was astonished to later discover a wonderfully crafted gold medal tucked away behind the tintype.
Intrigued by the compelling treasure, Ziepfel kept it in her wallet for nearly six months until deciding to learn who the enigmatic priest was. The decorative script emblazoned across the medal was a clue for where she could start: 'Souvenir of 15th Anniversary of my Ordination to the Holy Priesthood, Rev. P.H. Callanan.'
Zeipfel located a blog posting I had written on Father Patrick H. Callanan, a former St. Mary's, Foxboro pastor (1885-1890). After reading the essay she forwarded the medal along to me writing, "I want this historical honor to find its way home."
Father Callanan was born on Feb. 4, 1856 in New York City, the son of Irish Immigrants, Michael and Catherine Callanan, natives of County Cork. In September 1870, at the age of 14, he entered Boston College and was a member of the first graduating class in 1877. He earned both a bachelor's and a master of arts and was the first "College Historian." Later that year, he entered St. Joseph's Seminary in Troy, New York and on Dec. 18, 1880 he became the first Boston College graduate to be ordained a priest. In March 1885, at the age of 29, he became the youngest priest and the first Boston College alumnus to be appointed a pastor in the Archdiocese of Boston.
Father Callanan's first pastorate was St. Mary's in Foxboro. It was a very challenging task to say the least. But his accomplishment in Foxboro was an early demonstration of many future pastoral successes. The 25 year old parish in Foxboro was broken in spirit. It was also one of the financially poorest in the archdiocese due to two previous churches destroyed by fire. The church building at the time of his assignment was described as "barn-like." On the occasion of his 10th anniversary of ordination, Father Callanan remarked to his parishioners, "I found you six years ago a disunited, a discontented, and forgive me for saying it, a rather luke-warm people, and I found you without a church, fit to be called a house of God. I look on you tonight a happy, united, and practical Christian people, with a church worthy of your faith, worthy of your generosity, worthy of being called a house of God."
Leaving Foxboro in 1890, Father Callanan was appointed pastor of St. John's in Newton Lower Falls. In 1906 he established the mission of St. Paul's in Wellesley Hills and in May 1912, he was assigned pastor of St. Peter's in Cambridge. He remained here for the rest of his life. In 1927, the year Boston College's first graduates reached their golden jubilee, Father Callanan was awarded an honorary doctor of laws. At the time of his death, on Oct. 29, 1933, Rev. Dr. Patrick H. Callanan was the oldest living Boston College graduate.
Truly, Father Callanan was one of most remarkable pastors to serve St. Mary's parish, the town of Foxboro, and the Archdiocese of Boston. The finding of its way home of the medal offers a historical window to view and celebrate our collective community history and the life of a noteworthy Catholic priest.
WILLIAM MILHOMME WAS SUPERVISOR OF REFERENCE AND HISTORICAL RESEARCH SERVICES AT THE MASSACHUSETTS ARCHIVES BETWEEN 1985 AND 2005. HE WRITES A BLOG ON HISTORICAL MATTERS, MILHOMME.BLOGSPOT.COM.