Dead Cardinal Moves a Short Distance at Boston College

The remains of William Henry Cardinal O'Connell, archbishop of Boston from 1907-1944, were removed from a mausoleum on the former archdiocesean property and reinterred in the courtyard of St. John's seminary last week.  Boston.com reported yesterday [here] that a settlement had been reached between BC, the archdiocese of Boston and the descendants of Cardinal O'Connell  who objected to the move.  Leading the fight against both BC and Cardinal O'Malley was Paul G. Kirk, the Cardinal's grand-nephew.  (Kirk was the Chairman of the John F. Kennedy Library when he was appointed to serve in the US senate upon the death of Ted Kennedy.)  Cardinal O'Connell's bronze casket, weighing just under a ton, was moved from the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin to St. John's Seminary - most is which is now owned by Boston College after its sale in 2007 [There is an excellent article from Boston Magazine regarding the nature of the property and its sale to BC in 2008 - appropriately enough, it is entitled "Over His Dead Body"].  The Cardinal's new resting place is a five minute walk from the chapel.

Back in 2009, the Globe published the documents requesting the removal of O'Connell's remains [here].  BC wants to build a parking garage on the parcel of land abutting the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin.  The Globe has also published O'Connell's will which is a fascinating document [here] detailing the disbursement of his personal wealth and the holdings of the archdiocese to his successor.  In the will, O'Connell directs that his funeral "obsequies be as simple as possible," and that he "be buried in the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin on the grounds of the St. John's Seminary."  The Cardinal's funeral in 1944 was a grand affair with several Boston Policemen lugging the bronze casket to the mausoleum.  The burial befitted a man who grew the archdiocese from 250 parishes in 1907 to 323 at the time of his death.  The man had unparalleled political power in Boston - see the Atlantic Monthly's review [here] of James M O'Toole's biography of the Cardinal, Militant and Triumphant: William Henry O'Connell and the Catholic Church in Boston, 1859-1944.

Advertisement

The removal of O'Connell's body is deeply symbolic.  The man who secured the land and built the mansion in which Cardinal Law exiled himself in 2002, was simply picked up and moved as the situation around him changed so drastically.  Philip Lawler's excellent book The Faithful Departed (2010) argues that it was O'Connell's tremendous success as an administrator that actually led to the episcopal mendacity that has so eroded the archdiocese since the reality of child sex abuse have come to light. About O'Connell, Lawler writes:

He had all the right arguments; he had all the right policies; he had all the right programs.  There is no irony intended here; Catholicism really was flourishing in Boston, and O'Connell commanded respect even among non-Catholics.  But like every successful administrator, the Cardinal was tempted to take his administrative process more seriously than his fundamental mission - in his case (as the old Christian addage puts it) to be so busy with the work of the Lord that he could forget the Lord of the work. (38)

Now O'Connell rests outside the one half of one building that the diocese has retained ownership of - St. John's Hall at St. John's Seminary - on the Brighton property that once housed the Lord of the work.

 

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
ed gleason
6 years 10 months ago
"American Catholic' by Morris has a lot of revealing and tainted memories of Cardinal O'Connell. O'Connell's  elaborate prep for his own entombment strikes eerily on Robert Browning's poem about another hierarch preparing his eternal resting place.
Morris says that when the Sulpicians left/pushed out of  the seminary of St John's they had to take their buried dead with them. The adage that my kids used a lot years years ago 'What goes around comes around ' seems prescient in O'Connell's body being reburied.
http://www.sparknotes.com/poetry/browning/section4.rhtml

Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies at a House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Tuesday, May 22, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
The Secretary of Education stirred up controversy when she said it was up to schools to decide if an undocumented student should be reported to authorities.
J.D. Long-GarcíaMay 25, 2018
Thousands gathered in Dublin May 12 to say "Love Both" and "Vote No" to abortion on demand. They were protesting abortion on demand in the forthcoming referendum May 25. (CNS photo/John McElroy)
“Priests and bishops get verbal abuse by being told, ‘How can you speak for women? You don’t know what it’s like!’”
America StaffMay 25, 2018
The coffin containing the body of St. John XXIII is seen during a ceremony in Vittorio Veneto Square after its arrival in Bergamo, Italy, May 24. The body of the late pope left the Vatican on May 24 to be displayed in his home region until June 10. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

BERGAMO, Italy (CNS) — Accompanied by Bishop Francesco Beschi of Bergamo and escorted by both Italian and Vatican police officers, the glass coffin containing the body of St. John XXIII left the Vatican early on May 24 for a 370-mile drive to Bergamo.

On this week's episode, we talk with Lieutenant Governor of Washington State, Cyrus Habib.
Olga SeguraMay 25, 2018