Mass marks jubilee of St. James Society

The bells of St. Stephen Church in Boston’s historic North End tolled 50 times at 5:50 p.m. July 25, the Feast of St. James, to mark the founding of the Missionary Society of St. James the Apostle by Cardinal Richard Cushing in 1958.

The bells signaled the beginning of a jubilee Mass celebrated by Central Region auxiliary Bishop Robert Hennessey, who once served as a society missionary in Bolivia.

More than 60 of the society’s missionaries and former missionaries concelebrated the Mass with Bishop Hennessey. Also presiding were Bishop Emeritus of Brooklyn Thomas Daily, a former missionary, and Bishop Daniel Riley, Emeritus of Worcester and chaplain of the Knights of Columbus.

Immediately following the jubilee Mass, participants attended the “birthday party” reception at Boston’s Coast Guard facility.

The St. James Society, as it is popularly called, is a unique Boston-based organization of diocesan priests who volunteer five years of their priestly lives to serve as missionaries among the poorest of the poor in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador. While many of the missionaries came from this area, the society is now an international organization attracting priests from throughout the English-speaking world.

Catholics as well as people of other faiths joined hands to financially support evangelization while also building schools, food kitchens, clinics, hospitals and economic development projects. Thousands of people still make monthly contributions to maintain the work of the society.

Unlike many other mission efforts, a feature of the St. James Society is that once a parish area becomes financially stable, the parish is turned over to the local bishop and the missionaries move on to more remote areas, such as jungle, mountain or city slum areas.

The St. James Society has attracted 330 priests since its establishment a half a century ago. Many of those who have returned to their home dioceses are actively involved in working with Hispanic people.