I remember as a young boy growing up in South Boston that during three Lenten nights my mother would scrub our faces and off we would we would go to Gate of Heaven Church to attend the parish Lenten Mission.
We always looked forward to going because after the service my mother would buy the kids a freshly baked donut at Mae’s Donut Shop, which was located directly across the street from the church.
Several of the mothers, like mine, had a lot to pray to God for. A sick child, a dying parent, a father out of work, or some mother’s son from the parish who had been killed in the war.
Everybody had a reason to need God, but the comfort of being together at the church with your neighbors seemed to ease the burden a little. I often felt guilty over the years every time I thought about the Lenten Mission, however, because with all those wonderful families experiencing so much pain, all I was thinking about while in church was getting a freshly baked donut from Mae’s.
I’ve attended many Lenten Missions over the years, from Italy to Poland, but this year was special. When Gate of Heaven and St. Brigid’s pastor, Father Robert Casey, announced that an Irish priest would conduct the three day Mission, I listened carefully as to where he might be from in Ireland – something that those of us with Irish roots almost automatically do.
When Father Casey announced that “Monsignor Liam Bergin is a priest of the diocese of Ossory( Co. Laois) Ireland,” and for ten years was the rector of the Pontifical Irish College in Rome, I was both stunned and delighted.
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I had attended many civic and church events with Msgr. Bergin while serving the United States as its ambassador to the Vatican. I knew him in Rome as a brilliant scholar, outstanding administrator, and dedicated priest.
What the parishioners of Gate of Heaven and St. Brigid’s would learn, however, is that the Irish priest is an inspiring speaker. You could hear a feather drop as he told us a story about God’s love for us, and no matter what problems and challenges we face in life, God will always be there for us, even when we question God’s love for us or when everything seems to be going wrong.
No matter when we sin or make a serious mistake, God loves us and will always forgive us, and all we have to do is talk to him. Msgr. Bergin told story after story about growing up in Ireland and his love for his country and Catholic faith. He made us all feel part of Ireland’s deep religious heritage and culture.
One morning after Mass, several of my South Boston neighbors and I were talking about Msgr. Bergin’s remarkable ability to connect each of us to Jesus Christ. “Not only that,” I said, “but how honored I am to say that I love Catholic priests, especially ones from Ireland.”
Msgr. Bergin came to South Boston to remind us of the significance of Lent. He certainly did that, but he also gave us a special feeling of pride in another special event that we will soon celebrate.
The Patron Saint of the Archdiocese of Boston is St. Patrick. This Irish priest not only helped prepare us for Easter, but reminded each of us why we love St. Patrick’s Day, and especially St. Patrick’s Day in Boston.