Kevin Cullen

Closer excels at long relief

By Kevin Cullen
Globe Columnist / May 10, 2011

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Patrick Mahoney, a master’s student at the University of New Hampshire, was cycling home last October when a car knocked him off his bike. He hit his head and it was bad.

Don and Mary Mahoney were home in New Jersey when they got the call: Their son was in a coma. They dropped everything and headed up to Boston, where Pat was fighting for his life at Massachusetts General Hospital.

One of Mary’s oldest friends, Mary Mallon, heard about the accident and called her cousin, a priest in Mississippi. His name is the Rev. Tommy Conway, and Mary Mallon asked him if he remembered that couple from New Jersey he had met at a cookout years ago. Father Tommy has a memory like an elephant, and he described them head to toe.

“Well,’’ Mary Mallon said, “I want you to pray for their son, Patrick, because he’s in a bad way.’’

“Where is he in hospital?’’ Father Tommy asked.

“Boston,’’ Mary Mallon said.

“Where are his parents staying?’’ Father Tommy asked.

When he heard they were staying at a hotel, Father Tommy said, “That won’t do.’’ He hung up, and before he said a prayer for Patrick Mahoney he made a phone call for Don and Mary Mahoney. He called Jonathan Papelbon, the Red Sox closer, one of his parishioners at St. Thomas Aquinas in Hattiesburg. Father Tommy baptized Jonathan and Ashley Papelbon’s kids, and he asked a question to which he already knew the answer.

“It was the offseason, Jonathan and Ashley were here in Mississippi, and so I knew their place in Boston was empty,’’ Father Tommy Conway said. “As soon as I explained the situation to Jonathan, he said straight away, ‘They can use our place.’ I never got the question out. Jonathan beat me to it. Which, knowing him, is what I expected.’’

That was the easy part. The hard part was getting Don and Mary Mahoney to take up the offer.

“They were very reluctant; they felt they were imposing,’’ Father Tommy said. “But Jonathan and Ashley insisted. They didn’t want the Mahoneys to go broke taking care of their son. Jonathan and Ashley are parents, and they knew if they were in the same situation, they would want to be by their child’s side.’’

Mary Mahoney was overwhelmed.

“We’re strangers,’’ she said. “They didn’t know us. They didn’t know anything about us. But they trusted Father Tommy.’’

So the Mahoneys of Cranford, N.J., moved into the Papelbons’ spacious, gracious condo on Beacon Street.

“It was unbelievable,’’ Mary Mahoney said. “We could walk to Mass. General to see Pat every day. Then he was transferred to Spaulding Rehab, so we walked there every day. We were there for months. It’s a beautiful place.’’

By the time Opening Day rolled around last month, Patrick was ready to be transferred to a rehab facility in New Hampshire. Papelbon and his family were still on the road by the time the Mahoneys left. “We still haven’t met them face to face,’’ Mary Mahoney said. “Ashley stays in touch. She wants to know how Pat is doing.’’

The Mahoneys told me this story because they know of no other way to repay the Papelbons for their kindness to total strangers. “They wouldn’t want the publicity,’’ Father Tommy was saying. “I could talk to you the rest of the day about the people here in Mississippi that Jonathan and Ashley have helped. And they’d be mad at me for telling you that, so I won’t. They’ll be mad I’m talking to you about this, but there you go.’’

Pat Mahoney has made great progress. His doctors say it’s a miracle. But that’s not the only miracle. “We were always Mets fans,’’ Mary Mahoney said. “But I told Ashley, we’re really Red Sox fans now. And we really are. Ashley loved it.’’

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at