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Gala goes virtual to celebrate service of priests

  • Pilot photo illustration
  • Keynote speaker of the celebration, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff retired Marine General Joseph Dunford Jr. speaks with Father Bryan Hehir in a segment from the video. Courtesy photo
  • A scene from the Celebration of the Priesthood shows Father Bill Devine during his service as a Navy chaplain. Courtesy photo
  • A Mass at Regina Cleri is shown during the virtual celebration. Courtesy photo
  • Priests join Cardinal O’Malley in singing the Salve Regina, the traditional ending of the Celebration of the Priesthood. Courtesy photo

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BRAINTREE -- The Clergy Health and Retirement Trust held its 12th annual Celebration of the Priesthood in a virtual format on Sept. 29, with the theme "Mission: Possible," emphasizing the role of priests during the pandemic and the need to support their health and wellness.

The Celebration of the Priesthood usually consists of a gala dinner and speaking program at the Seaport World Trade Center, drawing about 1,500 guests each year. The event is an opportunity to honor the work of diocesan priests and raise money for the Clergy Health and Retirement Trust. The trust's programs include Regina Cleri home for senior priests, the Intentional Living Program that provides information and services for priests' wellness, and the care team that provides one-on-one support and advocacy for priests with health concerns.

This year, in light of the coronavirus pandemic, the celebration was held virtually, available to view through CatholicTV, Facebook, and YouTube. It was co-chaired by Carol and Mike Shaughnessy as well as Karen and Mark Vachon.

One segment of the half-hour long video presentation focused on the archdiocese's team of priests who were trained to administer the Sacrament of the Sick to hospitalized COVID-19 patients during the height of the pandemic. These priests lived in isolated pods while they did this work so they would not risk carrying the virus between their communities and the hospitals.

"Being a priest does involve being on the front lines, the front lines of people's joys, the front lines of people's griefs. It only makes sense that priests would be shoulder-to-shoulder with the other first responders. I'm a physician of souls. We work in concert with the physicians of the body," Father Tom Macdonald, vice rector of St. John's Seminary and one of the priests who served on the coronavirus team, said.

Father David Barnes, a spiritual director at St. John's Seminary who also served on the team, said that preparing to go into a patient's room by putting on personal protective equipment reminded him of putting on vestments before celebrating Mass.

"There's a sense that the individual priest is disappearing, and Christ, the one true priest, is appearing," he said.

The team anointed over 1,100 people, and none of the participating priests tested positive for the coronavirus.

The virtual Celebration of the Priesthood included messages from Mark Wahlberg, who spoke at the celebration last year, and Florida Panthers hockey player Brian Boyle, the brother of Boston priest Father Christopher Boyle. It also featured segments on the ministry during the pandemic of Bishop Mark O'Connell, pastor of St. Theresa in North Reading and the story of Father Thomas Domurat, an East Boston pastor who nearly succumbed to COVID-19.

The keynote speaker of the evening was retired General Joseph Dunford, Jr., a Boston native who served as the 19th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the nation's highest-ranking military officer, from 2015 to 2019.

General Dunford also appeared earlier in the program, in a segment about Father Bryan Hehir, professor at Harvard Kennedy School and the secretary for health and social services for the archdiocese. General Dunford said he was greatly influenced by Father Hehir's seminars in the national security studies program at Georgetown University. In these seminars, he learned about the principles of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine, principles he would fall back on when making difficult decisions throughout his career.

In his keynote address, General Dunford spoke about the importance of chaplains, especially in the military. He spoke from over 40 years of experience serving with military chaplains.

"I've seen them live out the Gospel across the world with extraordinary commitment, courage, selflessness, and humility. Military chaplains don't wait for young men and women to visit them. They connect with those they serve by sharing their experiences, and often sharing their hardships," General Dunford said.

"Whether they are in parishes building communities, in hospital gowns providing solace to the sick, or in uniform with our soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and coast guardsmen, they are selfless servants of God, helping us navigate the challenges of life by deepening our faith and our relationship with God," General Dunford said.

The final message of the evening came from Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley speaking from the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.

He took a moment to recognize Joseph D'Arrigo, who has served as executive director of the Clergy Health and Retirement Trust since its inception and will conclude that role this year.

"Because of his tireless efforts, the Clergy Trust is well-positioned for sustainability and archdiocesan priests in good standing will be cared for throughout their priesthood and their senior years. Joe's exceptional business acumen and commitment to the mission of caring for our priests will serve us as a model for those who will follow him. Thank you, Joe, for having answered the call to lead the Trust," Cardinal O'Malley said.

The cardinal also touched on the activities of priests during the pandemic, including working in food pantries, adopting new technology to stay connected with parishioners, and volunteering to provide the Sacrament of the Sick.

"Our priests have done everything possible to continue their mission of bringing the presence of Christ to others. I'm proud to call the priests of the Archdiocese of Boston my brothers, and I am proud to be in their service to you, to our families, and our loved ones. Without the health and wellness programs supported by the Clergy Trust, their ministry would not be possible, and some of our priests would not be with us today. Please know that we are more than grateful for your support," Cardinal O'Malley said.

The Celebration of the Priesthood usually closes with the priests present singing the "Salve Regina." In keeping with this tradition, several priests sent videos of themselves singing in their own homes or churches. The residents of Regina Cleri sang from their balconies.

The Celebration of the Priesthood can be viewed via Facebook or YouTube. Donations to the Clergy Health and Retirement Trust can be made at 41399.thankyou4caring.org/chrt/chrt-cop-2020-donate-page.

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