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Finneran: The Rock of the Parish

Friday, March 30, 2018

 

He was a rock of the parish and, like a rock, he was quiet, strong, and steady, with a memorable presence.

His name is not important. His example was magnificent. He was a good husband, a good father, and a good provider, with immensely strong hands, Popeye arms, an amazing skill set, and a heart of gold.

Just about every parish in Boston has its very own “rock”. A good parish has several and a great parish, a really lucky parish, has a dozen or more.

You don’t need a horde of them because, given their faith, their skill, and their generosity, they can do the work of a dozen ordinary mortals.

My wife and I went to the “rock’s” funeral a couple of weeks ago. His bride, the love of his life, was strengthened by the love of their several children. His children, now grown with young families of their own, were stoic. This was a very sad day for them, the end of their dad’s life journey.

Not surprisingly, the church was full of neighbors, friends, and fellow parishioners, all of whom were aware that both the family and the parish had suffered a key loss. Even less surprisingly, even in this day of shortages of parish priests, there were three priests on the altar celebrating the rock’s funeral Mass.

The rock had a quiet sense of humor, with a twinkle always dancing in his eyes, and a smile always playing at the corners of his mouth. I often served him Holy Communion, and even in that brief and solemn exchange, his smile would flash as if he was amused by the spectacle of two sinners at work in God’s kingdom.

A word about parishes. They are the key to the neighborhoods of Boston. Once a Bostonian identifies his or her neighborhood---i.e.---Roxbury, Dorchester, South Boston. etc.---the next question asked will be “which parish”. Each parish has its own history. The parish church is of course the heart and soul of the immediate neighborhood. The church is where newborns are baptized, children are educated, young people get married, and old folks are prayed for and eulogized before their burial.

In the heyday of church attendance---think of Cardinal O’Connell and Cardinal Cushing---almost every parish had its own K-6 or K-8 school. Some parishes had their own high school. In addition to the school grounds and buildings, there would be a convent for the nuns, a rectory for the priests, and of course the church itself. And yes, the nuns wore habits!

All those buildings needed attention and maintenance and that’s where the parish rock would earn his place in heaven. Beyond ordinary cleaning and maintenance, there would be the special projects for which the pastor would make a quiet inquiry of the rock---do you think you could take a look at the leaky steeple, the worn-out kneelers, or the cramped pews? Do you think you could fix it up for us?

The pastor’s request of course would be treated as if it was a request made by Jesus himself and the rock would immerse himself in the pastor’s latest project, just a quiet humble man improving his little corner of God’s kingdom.

The rock is gone now and he is missed. His skilled hands left their mark on my church and his impish smile plays in my mind.

I miss my friend, the parish rock.

Tom Finneran is the former Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, served as the head the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, and was a longstanding radio voice in Boston radio

 

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