by Robert Gillis
Published in The Foxboro Reporter 6/2005 and the Boston City Paper 2006
The evil actions of a very small percentage of priests have cast a shadow of suspicion, fear, and hostility toward the entire vocation, and that’s a tragedy, and an insult to the huge number of good men who have devoted their entire lives in the service of God.
As a Roman Catholic, I have a great respect and love for the priesthood. The recent scandal has hurt the Church, but the actions of the very few do not represent the whole. They never have. They never will.
There is no denying that certain Church officials did have foreknowledge of sick priests and wrongdoings. Abuses did take place. They were not isolated incidents. They were unspeakable. Sacred trusts were violated. The guilty must be published; the victims heard, compensated and one day, hopefully, healed.
It must never happen again.
But allegations of abuse should always proceed with an attitude of innocent until proven guilty. That doesn’t ever seem to be the case. Twice in the last six months I have noticed that the Boston Herald reported that a priest was CLEARED of abuse charges. In both cases, the acquittal was reported deep within the paper — once, on page 71 — hardly the “page one sensationalism” displayed when whispers of wrongdoings occur.
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.
I think of the priests at Saint Kevin’s and BC High. I learned so much from them. You could talk to these men. They were friends.
I remember all the priests who came to Dad’s funeral and the one who con-celebrated the mass.
I remember Father Kierce and his non-stop work to keep Saint Kevin’s Parish running for over 40 years. I remember the day I stopped by the rectory for a copy of my baptismal certificate. 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.
Here in Foxboro, I think of Father John McLaughlin, and how his mass is so enjoyable. After every sermon, I always think the same thing, “Message received.” Years ago, when he was the new priest in town, I was manning one of the Jaycees charity road race booths and happened to notice him. He wasn’t wearing priest clothes but I recognized him from his picture. While I was busy with other folks at the booth, I noticed him quietly slip a $20 donation into one of the road race donation jars. I remember thinking about what a small stipend priests receive, and what a very generous action that was. That was my first impression of him — a man who does generous things quietly. He’s an inspiration. He created the successful Life Teen program.
And I have great admiration for Saint Mary’s pastor, Father Tom Reilly. His mass is always an uplifting experience. His sermons are on target, and he cares — it is so obvious that he cares about people and what he does. May he stay here in Foxboro always — except for his occasional sabbaticals to Ireland, of course!
And Father Joe Li, no longer the new priest in town, has become such a welcome member of the Saint Mary’s family. He brings world experiences, an amazing culture, and a sense of humor and humanism to his masses.
There have been so many priests who made a difference in my life — Father Tom Walsh, thanks for the laughs and reminding me not to pick on my little sister. Father Francis Belcher, thanks for just listening. Ditto Father Frank Sheenan. Father Clement Pelletier, thanks for making the French language so interesting to learn, and for the slides shows of France’s architecture. Father Anthony Buchette, thanks for the healing masses that brought me back to the church, and being such a friend to Nana. Father Steve Madden, thanks for being there — you are such a blessing. You were born to be a priest. Father Lawrence Corcoran, your “words of the day” are imprinted in my vocabulary 20 years later. Father Sherpenski, thank you for opening my eyes to not take the bible quite so literally as a Charlton Hesston movie. Father Pat at LaSallette, thanks for the gift of your guitar and voice to spread God’s message.
And thank you to the priest at Boston City Hospital who interrupted mass to rush to my father and give him last rites on the day he died. He left mass to attend to my father. I don’t even know his name, but I thank him.
The few priests I have named here are a small fraction of those who have made a difference in so many lives. We need our priests, especially at this time of war and terrorism, in this era of confusion, in this time of chaos. They might not have all the answers — we might not even agree with those answers — but they always have an insight you might not have considered.
I have seen hundreds — maybe thousands — of instances of kindness, generosity, sacrifice, and assistance performed by Catholic priests. Let’s cherish the priesthood for the gift that it is. I thank God for the priests in my life, and thank them for devoting their lives God and to us, and for making this world a better place. As Father Steve always said at the end of his homily, “God Bless you all.”