In loving memory of Father John Joseph Kierce,
pastor of Saint Kevin Church, Uphams Corner, Dorchester for 50 years
by Robert Gillis
published in the Foxboro Reporter, 3/2006 and the Boston City Paper 6/2006
Without exception, every priest I have ever met — every single priest I have ever met in my entire life — has been an inspiration, a role model, and a good person doing a difficult, sometimes Herculean job.
I have laughed with many of them, and I cried with more than a few. I have depended on many of them.
But NONE were the legend personified by Father J. Joseph Kierce. I was very saddened to learn that Father Kierce died February 26.
The man was a local hero. Larger than life. Everyone in Dorchester knew him.
His non-stop work literally kept Saint Kevin Parish running for 50 years. A good-natured extrovert, his long ministry at Saint Kevin brought peace and comfort to parishioners for decades.
He was a continuous presence throughout my childhood, and everyone in the parish. I received all my sacraments at Saint Kevin. I graduated from grammar school there. Father Kierce was always there.
One time, he walked nearly a mile to our house to tell us Nana had fallen and was in the hospital.
He visited Saint Margaret’s Hospital regularly to see the new mothers.
He arranged annual trips to the Holy Land. What an experience it must have been for the fortunate parishioners who walked the path of Jesus with Father Kierce. He had such encyclopedic knowledge of the Bible — he must have been the ultimate tour guide.
He created a program called “Walk & Talk,” where parishioners met after mass and walked in large groups. It was a great way to chat with neighbors, walk the community, and stay fit.
I remember the day I stopped by the rectory for a copy of my baptismal certificate for my wedding. Father Kierce was wolfing down a vanilla pudding after a brief supper. No time to eat — He was on his way back out — always on the go. Always helping.
I remember church BEANO (Bingo). The Passion play, the Christus, which he himself had written, performed every year. The church bulletins he typed himself each week. The visits to the classrooms, the endless administering to his parish.
I remember the bounce in his step. His seemingly endless energy.
We all remember that Father Kierce was a very powerful speaker. His stentorian voice boomed through the church as he preached. I remember his precise annunciation and obvious love of the Gospel. I remember that he always pronounced Christmas as “Christ-Mass.” He loved to sing; not just hymns such as, “Alleluia, Alleluia, let the Holy Anthem Rise,” and “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” and the National Anthem, but also just about any part of the mass that could be sung: The responsorial psalm; the prayers; Through him with Him, in Him, in Unity of the Holy Spirit … And I especially remember the power and force as he sang the hymn, “Immaculate Mary.”
There was a particularly endearing thing he would do — at the sign of peace, it was his custom, as many priests do, to walk toward the congregation and make his way to the pews, shaking hands. As he turned back toward the altar, the next part of the service was the invocation, “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world have mercy on us.” Father would turn back toward the altar and shout, “LAMB OF GOD!” to jump-start our recitation of the prayer as he returned to the altar.
My sister Theresa recalls, “He allowed [our friend] Pam’s dad to be buried in a Catholic cemetery even though he wasn’t Catholic. Pam’s father was Greek Orthodox and at the time people of the Greek religion were not allowed to be buried from the Catholic Church. Father Kierce knew Mr. Genacopoulos very well and all the good he had done. He made an exception and had Mr.Genacopoulos buried from Saint Kevin with all full honors from the Catholic Church.”
My mother recalls, “He also had the band that always won.” (Mom is referring to the Saint Kevin Emerald Knights, was one of the greatest most respected and admired drum & bugle corps in the United States.) Mom continues, “He would walk through crime-ridden areas and all the kids used to wave to him; no one ever bothered him. When we went to mass one very snowy day, there were only four people in church. He still said a full mass. He was one of four priests to start Saint Kevin; he was the youngest.”
Most poignantly, many years ago, my Dad bumped into Father Kierce one late evening. He’d wanted to go to confession for many years. He said, “Father, if your church were open right now I’d go to confession.” Well, Father Kierce was happy to oblige, unlocked Saint Kevin Church, heard Dad’s confession, and lifted a great burden from Dad’s heart that he’d carried for many years.
Father Kierce was always on the go, always moving, always doing his best. He made a difference. He was not the first pastor of Saint Kevin Church, but it was truly he who was the rock on which Saint Kevin was built and flourished.
Father Kierce had long since retired, but his passing is certainly a final milestone for everyone who lived in that parish in Dorchester.
We’ll miss you, Father. But I have no doubt that even now you are with God, for you were always one of His most loyal and devoted servants. Thank you for your lifetime devotion to the priesthood, and to your parishioners. Thank you for being there whenever we needed you.
Rest in peace, Father Kierce.
(There is an online memory book for Father Kierce at Legacy.com; you can click here to share your memories of this good man. )