St. Francis de Sales Parish marks milestone 150th anniversary
by Dan Murphy
Sunday Mass rings in “Jubilee 150: Rejoice and Be Glad!” in observation of St. Francis de Sales Parish hitting the century and one-half mark. The 18-month-long program will culminate with a Remembrance Mass on Sunday, Sept. 13, 2009, honoring all parishioners, friends, benefactors and visitors who have come to the church since its inception. In honor of this milestone, Fr. Daniel J. Mahoney sat down with the Patriot-Bridge to reflect on the history of the parish, as well as the more than 40 years he has spent as pastor to Charlestown so far.
Building the church “On Top of Bunker Hill” St. Francis de Sales Parish was established on Sept. 11, 1859, by the third bishop of Boston, Bishop John Bernard Fitzpatrick. The parish separated from St. Mary Parish, and Rev. George Hamilton was appointed its first pastor. St. Francis de Sales Church was designed by Patrick Charles Keely, a native of Tipperary who began his career as an apprentice architect in Limerick, Ireland, and went to become the most prolific church architect in the U.S. Despite Keely’s achievements, which include the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End and approximately 700 other churches, he died penniless in 1896, having donated all his money to Boston’s Catholic Home for Homeless Children (now Nazareth House) and other charities for the poor. Nearly as soon as construction got underway on St. Francis de Sales Church (which was eventually dedicated on June 17, 1862), vandals began tearing it down, stone by stone. The destruction continued until the Commonwealth’s governor resorted to calling in the National Guard to watch over the church from sunset to sunrise. Regarding the opposition that early St. Francis de Sales parishioners faced, Fr. Mahoney likened their plight to that of immigrants today.
Despite the early resistance, St. Francis de Sales Church was completed in approximately 18 months by hand and using a pulley system. Modeled after St. Mary’s Cathedral in Limerick, Ireland, the church’s unique features include the steeple, which sits in the middle of the building, and the ornate, colorful stained-glass windows that were crafted in Munich, Germany. The Rood Crucifix, suspended from the nave of the church, was given to the parish by Saint Pius X. When the American Society of Architectural Engineers held its national convention in Boston in 1982, the program featured a seminar on Keely’s influence and a tour of St. Francis de Sales Church as a prime example of his architecture. “This church is the best example of the Irish influence in Keely’s work,” Fr. Mahoney said.
Fr. Mahoney joins the parish On Jan. 16, 1968, Fr. Mahoney was assigned to St. Francis de Sales Parish by Richard Cardinal Cushing. Ten years after coming to the parish, Fr. Mahoney was appointed the eighth pastor in St. Francis de Sales history by Cardinal Medeiros on June 2, 1978. “You usually stay here until you go to Heaven,” Fr. Mahoney said of the tradition of longstanding pastors at the church.
St. Francis de Sales Church was a special place for Fr. Mahoney long before he delivered his first sermon there. As a boy, he used to visit Charlestown with his family on Bunker Hill Day and stand outside the church to watch the parade. But the church has an even more personal significance for Fr. Mahoney, since it was the first place where his father attended Mass in the U.S. after emigrating from Ireland in 1912. When his father died at age 94 in 1986, St. Francis de Sales church was the site of the Funeral Mass. “The Cardinal said you brought your father home to go home to God,” Fr. Mahoney recalled. Fr. Mahoney was named chief chaplain of the Boston Fire Department in 1991, after serving as a division chaplain since Oct. 1, 1964. In 1982, he helped firefighters recover the five Torah scrolls of Temple Tifereth Israel in Everett while the synagogue was ablaze. Fr. Mahoney helped bridge the gap between the two faiths again circa 1999, when he held a Jewish-Catholic interfaith service at Sr. Francis de Sales Church that successfully quelled tension between the two groups surrounding the controversial naming of the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge. “The Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee consider St. Francis de Sales Parish the Jewish-Catholic connection,” Fr. Mahoney said.
The faith of Charlestown For Fr. Mahoney, the devotion of the community isn’t limited to religious services. Instead, it’s a spirit that can be felt throughout Charlestown. “It’s the faith of all the people of Charlestown, not just St. Francis de Sales Parish,” Fr. Mahoney said in describing what makes the community so unique. Fr. Mahoney said this faith is evident in community events like the Michael P. Quinn Dinner Dance, an annual scholarship fundraiser held in honor of a Charlestown-born Marine who was killed in combat in Vietnam in 1969, and the work of the Bunker Hill Associates, which raises money for neighborhood youth programs. “In spite of the change in society and culture, the people of Charlestown have always extended themselves to others,” Fr. Mahoney said. “We’re all moved by God and we’re all brothers and sisters to each other, regardless of faith, creed or language.” As Fr. Mahoney often says: “We’re all in this together.”
“Jubilee 150: Rejoice and Be Glad!” kicks off with the Opening Mass at St. Francis de Sales Church, 313 Bunker Hill St., on Sunday, April 27 at 11 a.m. The Jubilee Mass will be celebrated with Bishop Robert F. Hennessey, Fr. Mahoney, Con-Celebrating Priests and Rabbi Samuel Chiel, formerly of Temple Emanuel in Newton. A reception immediately follows at the Bishop Lawton Hall.
This is my absolute favorite picture of Father Mahoney, it was from his Jubilee Mass. A picture perfect day of Father with his beloved BFD.