A Firefighter's Son Answers the Call of the Church, and Its People

A Firefighter's Son Answers the Call of the Church, and Its People

Boston Archdiocese's new leader has roots at Boston College

By Stephen Gawlik and Reid Oslin
Staff Writers

In 1973, the Scituate Fire Department welcomed its new chaplain, a priest recently assigned to St. Mary of the Nativity Parish.

The job was largely an honorary position, but the new chaplain - the son of an Arlington firefighter - treated it seriously, a friend and fellow priest recalls.

"He would spend a lot of time in that firehouse," said Rev. Thomas Maguire '71, pastor of St. Helen Church in Norwell. "When the Blizzard of '78 hit Scituate, he was out on the streets with the firefighters and police officers. He even helped get people out of the houses that were flooded."

Today, Bishop Richard Lennon '69 is responding to a far different call for help, but one no less urgent. On Dec. 13, Pope John Paul II appointed Bishop Lennon as apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Boston, succeeding Cardinal Bernard Law. Bishop Lennon will govern the diocese on an interim basis, with all the rights, duties and responsibilities of a diocesan bishop, until a permanent successor is appointed.

For Bishop Lennon, his new position means he has the duty of rebuilding public faith in the Catholic Church even as he deals with the social, legal and economic ramifications of the sexual-abuse scandal that has shaken the archdiocese.

Administrators of the university Bishop Lennon once attended say the archdiocese's new leader should consider his alma mater an ally in this task. As Boston's largest Catholic university, and a major fixture of the archdiocese, Boston College seeks to provide resources and a forum for discussion to help the Catholic community transform the crisis into an opportunity for renewal, say University administrators.

BC administrators cite the University's "Church in the 21st Century," a two-year project aimed at helping the Catholic Church in exploring the issues emerging from the clerical sexual abuse crisis.

"I have spoken to Bishop Lennon and have offered him my congratulations on his appointment and my full support in his new role," said University President William Leahy, SJ. "I think the Catholic community regards him as a pastoral leader and wants to work with him in the coming months to help bring healing and renewed trust to our Church."

Those who, like Bishop Lennon, can point to BC as a source of intellectual and spiritual formation praise the Arlington native's work, administrative and pastoral alike.

"[Bishop Lennon] has always done an admirable job in whatever he was asked to do," said Fr. Maguire, who still occasionally attends Boston College hockey games with Bishop Lennon. "Whether it was his parish work, when he was chosen to work in the chancery, as seminary rector or as an auxiliary bishop. After being a parish priest, some of those assignments came as surprises, but each of these cases has proven to be an outstanding success.

"Clearly his fondness is for parish work. My guess is that he would give up being a bishop - even in the very best of times - to go back and be a parish priest," said Fr. Maguire.

A graduate of Matignon High School, Bishop Lennon attended Boston College for two years before leaving for St. John's Seminary. Students who have left Boston College as undergraduates to enter the seminary are traditionally considered alumni.

Another fellow BC alumni priest, Rev. Robert M. O'Grady M.Ed.'81, recalls how Bishop Lennon first put his pastoral skills to work during his assignment to St. Mary of the Nativity Parish. Having barely arrived at the parish, said Fr. O'Grady, Bishop Lennon found himself pressed into service when the pastor, Rev. Joseph Deacon, fell ill and was unable to attend to his duties.
Even as he looked after Fr. Deacon with careful attention, Bishop Lennon took charge of the parish as though he were a veteran priest, said Fr. O'Grady, providing leadership and guidance where needed and maintaining his concern for the individual needs of his parishioners.

"What Richard did was pretty remarkable," said Fr. O'Grady. "His stamina in the midst of a brother priest's illness and the daily demands of the parish was exemplary. His name is held in reverence in Scituate to this day."

Said Fr. Maguire of his former fellow seminarian, "[In his role as administrator] he'll do what he believes has to be done to put the spiritual and psychological house of the archdiocese back in order, and will likely allow the new archbishop to pick up the spiritual work of the archdiocese when he is appointed."


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