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BRAINTREE -- When Msgr. William Helmick arrived at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross for the annual Chrism Mass this year, he was happy to see a galero hanging over the altar in honor of his former boss.
The galero is the wide-brimmed red hat once given to new cardinals by the pope. Traditionally, a after a cardinal’s death, the galero is hung in his cathedral in his honor.
“I was just thrilled to see it there because there was nothing in the cathedral to honor the memory of Cardinal (Humberto) Medeiros until this got up there last week,” said Msgr. Helmick, pastor of St. Theresa of Avila Parish in West Roxbury and a former priest secretary of the late cardinal.
Cardinal Medeiros was born in the Azores in 1915 and came to the United States at 15, Msgr. Helmick said. To help support his family, he swept floors at a Fall River mill for three years. He did not attend high school until age 18, but was taught English there by two Irish schoolteachers. He was ordained a priest in 1946 and named Bishop of Brownsville, Texas in 1966. He was Archbishop of Boston from 1970 until his death in 1983.
Msgr. Helmick recalled the late cardinal’s accomplishments during his tenure as well as his personal traits.
“He was a very humble, gentle, and kindly person. He was a person who always gave people the benefit of the doubt. He was very anxious to heal wounds when dealing with troubled people, including the priests,” Msgr. Helmick said. “He was also the smartest man in any room he was in. He had a brilliant mind. He was a competent administrator.”
Msgr. Helmick said Cardinal Medeiros reduced the archdiocese’s debt from over $45 million to roughly $520,000.
In a 1983 homily to mark the opening of the Medeiros Townhouses at Boston College, Msgr. Helmick said the late prelate visited Latin America and was interested in the activities of the Church in Ireland.
That day, he also recalled how Cardinal Medeiros was encouraging, patient, and kind. Msgr. Helmick recalled how the cardinal greeted everyone at events he attended. He also was sensitive to the moral climate facing youth, Msgr. Helmick said, and constantly encouraged and supported them.
“He had a tremendous understanding of the human condition, and the effect human weakness could have on personal conduct,” Msgr. Helmick added. “He would never pass judgment on people; rather, he would always try to find an excuse and a reason to explain why someone did something wrong.”
In another homily given at St. John’s Seminary, also in 1983, Msgr. Helmick recalled Cardinal Medeiros’ “deep reverence” for the priesthood, and despite the cardinal’s keen sense of humor, he was not appreciative of jokes about the priesthood.
During his tenure as archbishop, the cardinal personally welcomed Pope John Paul II to Boston during the late pontiff’s 1979 apostolic visit to the United States. Cardinal Medeiros also went with the pope to other cities he visited, but he “made a hasty overnight return” to dedicate Pine Street Inn.
Now, whenever Msgr. Helmick visits the cathedral, he can look to the ceiling for a reminder of the late cardinal.
“He was a fabulous character,” Msgr. Helmick said. “He was a very humble person. He always had the good of the Church as his great concern.”