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Spotlight Report

Archbishop will leave manse

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 8/9/2003

The rectory of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross is next to a housing project in Boston's South End. (Globe Staff Photo / Wendy Maeda)


Comparing the residences

Bishop O'Malley's Pilot column

Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley, in a dramatic gesture illustrating his commitment to change, announced yesterday that he will move out of the Brighton manse occupied by his predecessors and into the brick rectory of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, next to a housing project in Boston's South End.

The cross-town move, which O'Malley said he expects to complete within the next couple of months, is the latest in a series of rapid-fire steps the new archbishop has taken in the nine days since he was installed as archbishop July 30. On his second day as archbishop, he replaced the church's oft-criticized lawyers, and yesterday he offered $55 million to settle 542 clergy sex abuse claims.

O'Malley suggested he did not plan to sell the heavily mortgaged Brighton residence, which is coveted by Boston College, but instead would use it for church offices. He announced his decision to move in a column published in yesterday's edition of the Pilot, the archdiocesan newspaper.

''We no longer need all the symbols of the past, especially when those symbols now seem ambiguous at best and a contradiction of some of our Gospel values at worst,'' O'Malley said in his first column as archbishop.

A Franciscan Capuchin friar who has committed himself to a simple lifestyle, O'Malley said in the column that he regretted that he must move amidst the ''glare of media attention'' and that he would have ''preferred to sneak out with my suitcase in the middle of the night.''

He also said he was embarrassed that his simple ways had been favorably compared to his predecessors in Boston.

''I can assure you that Cardinal Law, Cardinal Medeiros and Cardinal Cushing were not worldly men who sought a `fancy pad,' '' he wrote.

O'Malley similarly shunned the residences of his predecessors when he served as bishop in the Virgin Islands and in Palm Beach, Fla. During his decade in Fall River, however, he lived in the same residence as other bishops had.

O'Malley first signaled that he had doubts about living in the Brighton residence on July 1, at a news conference the day Pope John Paul II named him as archbishop.

''As a Franciscan brother,'' he said, ''I prefer to have the simplest quarters.''

O'Malley has not spoken with the secular news media since, and the archdiocese this week canceled its usual practice of making advance copies of The Pilot available to the news media in order to prevent O'Malley's plans from leaking out. O'Malley has been in Washington this week, where he was seen at a convention of the Knights of Columbus with Cardinal Bernard F. Law, the former archbishop of Boston, and other prelates yesterday.

The house O'Malley is leaving is a large Italianate residence, often described as a mansion, on a sprawling archdiocesan campus that also houses the offices of the archdiocese and St. John's Seminary. The property is bordered by an affluent section of Newton, as well as by middle-class neighborhoods of Brighton.

His new neighborhood, in the South End, is more diverse. The rectory, at the corner of Union Park Street and Harrison Avenue, is in an area of large low-income housing developments as well as million-dollar condominiums, with a population that includes large numbers of Hispanics and gays.

''This is part of the ongoing imagery of change that he's bringing in,'' said Thomas H. O'Connor, university historian at Boston College. ''He's very conscious of the fact that people are watching and listening, and that a certain amount of physical imagery has to accompany the verbal imagery if he is to regain the trust of the people.''

O'Malley's move, although not an entire surprise, was welcomed by many.

''That's great news,'' said Mayor Thomas M. Menino. ''He continues his commitment to change within the archdiocese, and by a move to the South End he sends out a message he wants to be of the people.''

Boston College history professor James O'Toole said there are many benefits to living in a more urban neighborhood.

''I always thought that the palace -- which really wasn't much of a palace -- had its uses as a place where you can bring the fat cats to get money out of them to support Catholic Charities,'' O'Toole said. ''But, in the present circumstances, identifying with the city is probably a good thing for him to do. It sends the message about where he wants to put his primary focus, and that's with ordinary Catholic believers.''

Robert Oliverio, 68, a retired custodian who lives in St. Helena's retirement home, across the street from the rectory, was thrilled.

''He's a good man, and he's humble,'' Oliverio said. ''We don't need a muckety-muck living in the cardinal's residence.''

But others were unimpressed. Several people interviewed near the cathedral yesterday said they didn't know there was a new archbishop, or where he lived.

''It's inconsequential to my life,'' said Henry Ortega, who works near the cathedral. ''This might make the Catholic Church a little more open to who's around, but I've been so turned off by the church, it might as well be anyone moving in.''

The rector of the cathedral, Monsignor Frederick J. Murphy, invited O'Malley to move in shortly after the pope announced the new archbishop's appointment. Murphy said O'Malley came for a tour a few weeks later. Murphy said O'Malley also evaluated other possible residences.

''It's very important for the bishop to be at his cathedral,'' Murphy said. ''He's the pastor. That's an important reality -- not just a symbol.''

Murphy said the archbishop would live on the third floor, in a three-room suite, and that there would be room for one of his secretaries to live on the same floor. The bishop has two secretaries, who are priests who drive him, handle his correspondence, advance work, and scheduling, and coordinate the liturgy at events where the archbishop is present.

The house is currently home to three priests and is staffed by a secretary and a cook. The building, which once housed as many as a dozen priests, includes a chapel, a formal dining room, and offices for several cathedral employees.

''I told them we make our own breakfast, and our own lunch, and we have dinner at 5:30 every day,'' Murphy said. ''But we may have to make some adjustments.''

The cathedral parish is small, with about 300 people attending a Mass said in Spanish and another 300 attending an English-language Mass each Sunday. Large numbers of Latinos live at the nearby Cathedral housing development and Villa Victoria apartment complex.

The rectory is across the street from a parking lot and a social service center; down the block are businesses ranging from upscale restaurants Caffe Umbia and Pho Republique to a laundromat called South End Suds and Harry O's Pizza. The area, which was quite run-down just a few years ago, has been gentrified considerably in recent years.

The rectory was built in 1937. Above the main door, it contains Cardinal William H. O'Connell's seal, with a Latin motto, Vigor in Arduis, which translates, roughly, as ''strength in difficult times.''

Michael Paulson can be reached at

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 8/9/2003.
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