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Father John Kilmartin, a member of the Sons of Divine Providence -- the Don Orione Fathers -- and a fixture in Catholic life in East Boston for almost his entire priestly life died on April 17 following a long battle with multiple health complications brought on by diabetes. He had celebrated his 50th birthday on Feb. 1.
A native of Balloch Scotland, he was raised in New Malden, England. He was one of three sons of Hannah (Smillie) Kilmartin and the late William. His brother Michael preceded him in death. Educated in Catholic schools and at All Hallows College, Dublin where he studied philosophy and at Rome’s Lateran University where he completed theological studies prior to his ordination.
On June 28, 1986, Bishop Howard Tripp, then auxiliary of England’s Southwark archdiocese, ordained him to the priesthood at his home parish of St. Raphael, Kingston upon Thames. He briefly taught English literature in Rome. The following year he was named Director of the Madonna Queen National Shrine in East Boston. The famed national shrine draws thousands of pilgrims to its steep perch overlooking Boston, the more than life size statue of the Madonna is visible from many angles and is perhaps one of the first sights fliers note on an approach to Logan International Airport.
For 13 years he was the shrine’s director and endeared himself readily to pilgrims from far and wide and was especially visible in the shrine’s host community, East Boston.
In 2000, at the request of Cardinal Bernard Law, Father Kilmartin’s religious community, the Don Orione Fathers took on the responsibility of St. Joseph-St. Lazarus Parish in East Boston. Rather than look elsewhere for the pastor, his superiors turned to “the ‘Irish’ priest at Madonna” -- who willingly accepted this new challenge.
Already from his years at the shrine, Father Kilmartin was aware of the demographic shifts in East Boston; once a stronghold of Italian and Irish immigrants and families, it was now host to new immigrants, many from South and Central American nations. Sensitive to the traditions held out by the Don Orione Fathers of welcoming and educating the poor, Father Kilmartin, not surprisingly, provided excellent pastoral service and care.
Central Regional Bishop Robert Hennessey was to be the celebrant of Father Kilmartin’s Funeral Mass at St. Joseph- St. Lazarus on April 24 with Father Miroslaw Kowalczyk, FDP serving as the homilist. Among those indicating their attendance as concelebrants were Father Thomas Domurat, pastor of Most Holy Redeemer Parish; and Father Wayne Belschner, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, both in East Boston.
In addition to his mother, Father Kilmartin is survived by his brother Clive, of England. Following the funeral Mass, Father Kilmartin was buried in Holy Cross Cemetery, Malden.