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Priests respond warmly to address

By Chris Chinlund, Globe Staff, 3/23/1984

oston's Roman Catholic priests packed into the ornate Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston's South End yesterday to meet their new spiritual leader. Introductions were hardly needed.

"He has struck our hearts with his heart," said Rev. William J. Noonan of St. Joseph's parish in Ipswich after Archbishop Bernard F. Law addressed the pews filled with hundreds of smiling men of the church, all eager to welcome the new prelate.

"The most important thing is that he really wants to work with us, that we need one another," said Rev. Adelard Gagnon of Our Lady of the Assumption in East Boston.

Said Rev. Gary Sullivan of St. Catherine of Siena in Charlestown, "The fact that he is so accessible to the people has contributed to his popularity already . . . Every priest I have spoken to is very pleased, very anxious to work with him."

There was, it seemed, an almost instant bond between the archbishop and the men whom he will work with most closely. At the church and later at a reception in the Park Plaza Hotel, where priests stood around in small groups and talked, the word "warm" was frequently used to describe Archbishop Law.

The archbishop set the tone in his address at the cathedral, telling the priests over and over again that he is counting on them. "You are, in a very real sense, by arms, my ears, my eyes, my heart," he told them solemnly. "Without you, I am helpless . . . ."

It was a message eagerly received, and as the hundreds of priests filed from the church, they talked quietly of what it will mean for them. "His expression of love for the priests, and his desire to work with them, that was the whole meat of it," a pleased Rev. Kenneth McAskill of Sacred Heart parish in Medford said at the reception later. "He kept repeating that we need each other."

Indeed, it was the new prelate's style that attracted as much attention as anything. "He doesn't preach to people, he talks to us," said one priest. "Cardinal Cushing always talked down to us, Cardinal Medeiros gave his sermons in monotones, but this guy here uses a conversational tone."

The afternoon vesper service was, some said, indicative of what was to come. Yesterday was the first time a new archbishop of Boston assumed his responsibilities in a public setting rather than behind closed doors.

"This is symbolic of the new bishop's desire to have a lot of church activites in public," said Rev. William Howard of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross as he greeted priests on the front steps before the service. "It reflects his desire to work closely with people, a more democratic approach."

But while the mood yesterday was one of celebration, there was a serious side to Archbishop Law's welcome. Priests talked privately of the challenges that face the archbishop.

Improved race relations in Boston was high on the list. So was the need to draw young men into the priesthood and to improve the morale of the clergy. Others talked of the need to deepen ecumenical commitments, reaching outside the church. And there was the issue of women in the church, and the importance of helping the poor and homeless.

But none doubted that Archbishop Law is up to the task of improving life in his new city and new church.

"It's good having a new archbishop and a new mayor both with (a* grassroots approach. They seem to be of the same mold," said Rev. David D'Olimpio of the team ministry at St. Pius V in Lynn.

And many talked enthusiastically of the archbishop's youth, saying it will be a welcome addition.

"With Cardinal Medeiros, there was a concern about his health, concern that we not push him, so that we were just in a holding pattern," said Rev. William H. Mullin of St. Robert's parish in Andover. "Now we have a young man with enthusiasm, and I think things will blossom."

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 3/23/1984.
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