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The conversion of Father George Haskins -- Part II

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Thomas
Lester

The previous installment of this column discussed the life of George Foxcroft Haskins, a native Bostonian and Protestant Episcopal Minister who converted to Catholicism in November 1840.

Following his conversion, Haskins visited Father William Wiley, who had been an influence leading to this outcome, then departed for Rome, intending to learn more about his new faith. He wrote to Bishop Benedict Fenwick from Paris on Aug. 1, 1842, recounting his time in Rome, calling it "the happiest and most profitable of my life."

His visit commenced with a stay at the Propaganda Fide, learning the "discipline and course of instruction of that admirable institution," though, after four months, he determined his age and experience made him a poor candidate for missionary work. He moved to a private residence and continued studying subjects such as Dogmatic Theology, Moral Theology, and Latin. After long contemplation, he reveals "without equivocation and with a desire to express none other than the true sentiments of my heart ... my desire to consecrate myself forever to the service of the Almighty God in the work of the ministry."

He departed Rome for Paris on June 6, 1842, hoping to continue his studies at the Seminary of St. Sulpice. Already an experienced minister, he hoped the directors of the seminary would let him pursue a modified course of study and asked the bishop to write them in his favor. His wish appears to have been granted since he returned home by early 1844 and was ordained at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.

Immediately following ordination, Father Haskins was briefly sent to Providence to relieve Father Wiley. He then returned, spending the following two years at the cathedral in Boston. In 1847, he was reassigned to the parishes of St. Stephen and St. John the Baptist in the North End, where he would remain until his death in 1872; as pastor from 1864 onward.

During this early period, he was also active in East Boston, alongside Father Wiley until his 1855 death. He assisted Father Nicholas O'Brien of St. Nicholas (later Most Holy Redeemer) with his newspaper, the Boston Catholic Observer, which ceased publication in 1849. He also constructed the Chapel of Our Lady, Star of the Sea, which opened in 1858 but was replaced by Father James Fitton several years later.

Father Haskins' most notable accomplishment was founding the House of the Angel Guardian (HAG) in the North End, primarily a home for boys who worked but could not afford lodging. The institution opened June 1, 1851, on Moon Street, a property owned by St. John the Baptist, and in 1852 moved to North Square. The next year, already too small for its purpose, land for a new building was purchased on Bennington Street in East Boston but it was instead used for the aforementioned chapel.

Meanwhile, Father Haskins accompanied Bishop John Fitzpatrick, Bishop Fenwick's successor, on his 1854 trip to Rome for an ad limina visit, the first by a bishop of Boston. Highlights included being handed palms by Pius IX on Palm Sunday and assisting at the pontiff's Mass on Holy Thursday.

The need for a new HAG was finally met with the purchase of a building on Vernon Street in Roxbury, which was occupied in December 1860. Leading up to the transition, Father Haskins spent brief periods as temporary pastor of St. John (later Sacred Heart of Jesus) and St. Peter, Cambridge, and St. Mary, Quincy; celebrated the first Catholic Mass in Natick; and became the first Catholic elected to the Boston School Committee. To make his workload more manageable, he removed himself from responsibilities related to East Boston in 1861.

Back in Roxbury, the original St. Francis de Sales Church had been destroyed by a fire in 1858, and Father Haskins was named pastor and charged with replacing it; in the meantime, the HAG chapel was used for worship. In 1863, he purchased a lot, hired Patrick C. Keeley to draft the plans, and is believed to have raised most of the funding before resigning as pastor on March 22, 1867. It was completed by his assistant and successor, Father James Griffin, in 1869.

At this point, Father Haskins was nearly 66 years old, pastor of St. John the Baptist and St. Stephen in the North End, director of the HAG, and a member of the Boston School Committee. On Nov. 5, 1868, priests of the diocese met with Bishop Fitzpatrick at the HAG Chapel for the second diocesan synod, where he was also appointed a diocesan consultor.

Father Haskins died on the evening of Saturday, Oct. 5, 1872, at the HAG. His obituary notes that for several months he suffered from "dropsy and enlargement of the liver," which eventually caused his death. The Pilot estimated 10,000 people came to pay their respects the following day, filing by his body which rested at St. Stephen Church from the early afternoon until midnight. On Tuesday, Bishop Fitzpatrick's successor Bishop John Williams celebrated the Solemn Requiem Mass, and crowds gathered outside to watch a procession make its way to his final resting place at Forest Hills Cemetery.

Father Haskins bequeathed his possessions to Bishop Williams for the benefit of Boston's homeless boys. Unfulfilled was his desire to find a religious congregation to take over the HAG, ensuring its continuation beyond his death, but his departure spurred the Board of Trustees to continue the search leading to the arrival of the Brothers of Charity of Montreal in 1874.

Even two installments of this column cannot adequately describe the character and works of Father Haskins, readers who wish to read more can find links to free online resources in the edition of this article appearing on TheBostonPilot.com.

Even two installments of this column cannot adequately describe the character and works of Father Haskins. Readers are encouraged to read further and may want to consider the two works below:

"Biography of Father Haskins," 1899 (via archive.org): archive.org/details/lifeoffatherhask00kell/mode/2up.

"Travels in England, France, Italy and Ireland," 1856 -- a published account of the ad limina visit (via Hathi Trust): babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.hnumstandview=1upandseq=1.

- Father Thomas Ryan, CSP, directs the Paulist North American Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations in Boston.



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