1,600 gather to celebrate priests, cardinal’s jubilee

byJim Lockwood

Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley delivers his remarks to the 1,600 guests at the Sept. 16 Priest Appreciation Dinner at the Seaport-World Trade Center. Proceeds from the event benefited the fund which provides for the medical and retirement needs of priests. Pilot photo/ Gregory L. Tracy

BOSTON -- Over 1,600 supporters of the Archdiocese of Boston packed Commonwealth Hall at the Seaport World Trade Center for a gala dinner Sept. 16 to honor the work of the priests of the archdiocese and to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley’s ordination as a bishop.

The event was held in recognition of the Year for Priests, and proceeds went to support the Clergy Funds, which provide for the retirement, medical, and financial needs of the archdiocese’s priests.

The keynote speaker of the evening was Cardinal O’Malley. Following a dinner of grilled early autumn vegetables, char-grilled beef filet, potatoes, and tomato and corn relish, the cardinal was greeted with a standing ovation from the faithful who were there to honor him.

In his remarks, however, the cardinal chose to focus on the work of his priests and praised the roles that they play in the lives of Catholics everyday.

“Our celebrities and our heroes are our priests in the Catholic Church,” Cardinal O’Malley told the crowd, which included over 300 priests from the archdiocese.

“The Church is never better than when we have holy pastors,” he added.

In addition to the cardinal, speakers included former United States Ambassador to the Vatican and former Mayor of Boston Ray Flynn; Father Robert Reed of CatholicTV; archdiocesan Clergy Funds Advisor Joseph D’Arrigo; Father John MacInnis, pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish in Peabody; and former State Senate President William Bulger.

Msgr. Dennis Sheehan, the associate director of the archdiocese’s Office for Worship and Spiritual Life and parochial vicar of Our Lady Help of Christians Parish in Newton offered the invocation. Author Jill Ker Conway offered the toast.

Cardinal O’Malley was introduced by Msgr. Cornelius McRae, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Norwood.

Msgr. Francis Strahan, pastor of St. Bridget’s Parish in Framingham, sang “Simon, Son of Jonah” and “The Impossible Dream” as the closing songs. He also led his brother priests in singing “Salve Regina.”

All speakers paid tribute to the important work of Catholic priests in our time. Many also spoke of specific priests that played a profound role in their lives.

Flynn spoke of priests’ role in bringing Catholics toward God.

“The vocation of a Catholic priest is good, and if that vocation ceases to be good, Catholicism will cease to be great,” Flynn said. “Catholic laity believe that through you, we have a direct line toward Almighty God. As you celebrate Holy Eucharist, you bring us as close to God as we will ever be in our lifetime.”

Father MacInnis reminded all present of St. Augustine’s belief that priests are servants and leaders, at the same time.

“The word ‘father’ does not say it all,” Father MacInnis said. “Before we can be fathers to you, we are brothers to you in the family of faith. We priests need to know that we are leaders and shepherds.”

Bulger complimented priests for respecting the dignity of human life by word and example.

“Example is always more efficacious than precept,” Bulger said. “It is loud and powerful from you.”

D’Arrigo’s presentation detailed the efforts to stabilize the Clergy Funds and make them successful.

“We’ve begun a new era of transparency,” said D’Arrigo. “We will not run out of money by the end of 2011.”

With that, the crowd broke into applause.

Currently, there are 755 priests in the archdiocese, with 275 in retirement.

Priests who attended the dinner said they were encouraged by the show of support displayed by the faithful of Boston.

“It says to me that there is a deep spirit of prayer and faith,” said Father Tim Shea, pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Woburn. “It’s a way to honor the cardinal and it is a way that the people of the parishes can show a spirit of solidarity with the priests who work in the parishes. It’s a sign that the Catholic people of Boston have a spirit of unity with the cardinal and they appreciate his leadership.”

“It’s a sign of hope for the future,” added Father Eugene Sullivan, pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish in South Weymouth.