I don’t go to Church but I know my Churches

Church of the Holy Cross Cathedral, Washington Street, Boston's South End

After working news for the last 45 years and covering all too many funerals at the beautiful Cathedral of The Holy Cross Church in Boston’s South End, I really got to see the full splendor of it recently attending my nephew’s wedding.

I knew it was going to be fun when Aunt Kit said to me on the way into the ceremony she will follow my lead as to when to stand-up and when to kneel. I looked at her and said I doubt that, you better watch what everyone else does like me as I am also not a Catholic.

The night even got better when we found metered parking spaces outside one of the most beautiful wedding receptions I had ever been to at the Copley Fairmount, even if I had to wait till 6:pm for the meters to no longer be active.

Father William Russell (no, not the basketball player) delivered the homily for the wedding ceremony which brought smiles and laughter to all of us. After we left the church I went up to him and told him what a great (I had to ask him what they called that part of the ceremony and he even spelled it out for me) homilies he delivered. When I told him I would be blogging about this event and asked for his email address so I could forward it to him his response was “I don’t even know how to turn a computer on,” lucky him.

His homilies had some great quotes regarding how the 29 year old bride had been able to stay single so long and said; “If I had been a younger man and in a different line of work Laura would have been spoken for already but I think Christopher (the groom) was well worth the wait.”

Then he said marriage is about compromise not always 50/50, sometimes 90/10 as he told stories about his parents. His father loved to watch Sunday football on TV. His mother, knowing this, put a Cross on top of the TV to remind him to lift his eyes to God at least on the commercials and he left it there to appease her.

He then told us how after dinner every night he and his five sibling brothers were sent out of the room and the doors would shut while his mother and father would discuss their day. The boys would stand at the crack of the door trying to listen to their conversation. One that he always remembers was when his mother said to his father “why don’t you say you love me?” His father answered “I do.” She asked “do what” and he answered “what you just asked me.” This went back and forth several times till he said the words “I love you,” which made his mother very happy.  Everything Father Russell said was warm, fuzzy and brought a warm feeling to the bride and groom along with the guests.

I have listened to and covered Cardinals giving memorial masses, beautiful Christmas ceremonies and even Cardinal’s wakes. But the homilies I heard from Father Bill Russell made the church seem all the more beautiful.

Richard Cardinal Cushing saying the memorial Mass after Bobby Kennedy's assassination at the Cathedral in 1968.

On our way to the church which I had not been in for many years, I repeatedly told my girls how I had seen Richard Cardinal Cushing’s hat raised to the rafters for his funeral celebration in 1970. The Cardinal’s dying was huge in Boston as he was loved by all. Well maybe not all as some of the veteran reporters who had to cover him were not too pleased sometimes as when dealing with the Cardinal it was his way or the highway.

Sitting there looking at the three cardinals hats (I don’t know who the other two hats belong to which hang from the ceiling over the altar) made me think back to the many times I covered Cardinal Cushing. I always believed he knew I was not a Catholic as I never knelt to kiss the ring on his hand but we did shake hands.

I was at the press conference in the late 60s at his residence on Commonwealth Avenue near Boston College, (who now owns the property) when he announced he had cancer. We all thought there was some kind of illness he was suffering from but until he told us it was a mystery. I was with reporter Ollie Brennan who had himself a Page One story that day. Ollie went on from us to join the Globe as their TV critic.

Thinking about Cardinal Cushing brings back a couple of funny memories. Jack Wharton, a veteran reporter (and one the most wonderful reporters I ever worked with), was told to call “The Cush” and see how he was. He had missed a couple of masses and there was concern about his health. The Cardinal answered the phone and when Jack asked him how he was as many of the paper’s readers had inquired the Cardinal very gruffly said “if my parishioners want to know how I feel tell them to call me themselves!” Next day the Record American printed his phone number with his message.

When Cushing died I spent a lot of time at the Cathedral and watched the nuns sewing the material on to his hat so it could be raised to the rafters. I watched it being put in place (haven’t located the negatives yet). The wake lasted a couple of days and photographer Gene Dixon had the day shift of sitting in a pew waiting for photo opportunities.

He came back with two great stories. The Cardinal had a huge ring or two on his fingers and some of the people kept touching and pulling them. Gene thought some of these people wanted to steal the ring off his fingers. Officials ended up sewing his arm sleeve to his jacket so his hand could not be raised. The other story was Gene had his two-way radio on and it started to squawk loudly, so loudly Gene said “I thought he was going to jump out if the box!” Who knows how true these stories are but they certainly bring a smile to my face.

At his burial in Hanover, Massachusetts at St. Collette’s School colleague Mike Andersen squeezed himself right next to the gravesite and had a very moving photo of the casket being lowered into the ground.

The Cardinals replacement was Archbishop Humberto Medeiros, who arrived from Brownsville Texas to Logan Airport. He was escorted through the throngs of media by Boston police and lead cop was the same cop who led the Boston Bruins onto the ice at Boston Garden for every game back in that era. He was a big friendly guy but this day he had in his hands a large rectangular object like a 16/20 print to keep us back. It worked as we only got just so close but with a great view for our photos.

Medeiros became Cardinal Medeiros during his time in Boston and on a Saturday in September of 1983 I covered his death. On that Saturday, Jack Harper and I went to Saint Columbkille’s Church which was near Saint Elizabeth’s hospital to cover the goings on.

We all covered his funeral and I was sent to Fall River his hometown for the burial. He was loved in Fall River and through it all his family was as gracious as he was.

Then came Archbishop Bernard Francis Law who knew how to play to the media. He arrived shortly after St. Ambrose Church burned down on Adams Street in Dorchester, January 1983. He went to the Church with a lot of fanfare to help the people grieve over their loss promising to help with the rebuilding of the structure. He played softball with other archdiocese priests against Boston Police. It was called “The Law vs. The Police.”  It became an annual event at Town Field in Dorchester. The police usually won.

In 1985 he became a Cardinal. When the Church sex scandal broke in Boston around 2002 he was at the center of it under great criticism of how he handled it or maybe how he did not handle it. I took video of him as he arrived at the court house for his deposition. He was none to happy to see us, and protested our presence. He came up through garage elevators to avoid the media. Advantage us!

That was the last time I saw him in person and then his resignation from the Boston Archdiocese in ‘02. I was told during his St. Ambrose Church visit years earlier he told my good friend and great photographer Stan Grossfeld of the Boston Globe he was going to win a Pulitzer and he was correct as Stan has won two. I did not mind he said that as I already had won a couple.

The Rest of The Story:

My friend and former colleague Mike Andersen updates me on his role with Cardninal Cushing.

To clarify my role in Cardinal Cushing’s funeral: The Cardinal had arranged for a mausoleum to be built on the grounds of St. Coletta’s in Hanover long before his death.  The day before the funeral, Chief Photographer Myer Ostroff sent me to Hanover just to see what I could see.  I found some workmen putting the finishing touches on the sarcophagus in which his casket would be entombed.  I made a picture of them and we used it.  The next day the entire staff was assigned to the funeral.  Angela’s only job was to shoot Jackie Kennedy.  Mine was to get inside the mausoleum and get a picture of the VIPs who would be permitted inside for a private farewell.  There were two doors, one in front and one on the side near the back..  The back door was locked and there was a nun guarding the front.  I think she had played linebacker at Notre Dame.  Every time I made a move for the door, there she was.  I brought along prints of the sarcophagus masons and given them each a print.  One of them saw my plight and said he’d get me in.  So he unlocked the back door and I went in.  The only other person inside at that time was the Pilot photographer Phil Stack.  He kept waving for me to get out.  I just waved back and tucked myself into a corner in front where I hoped I wouldn’t be seen from the door.  Fortunately the outside service ended about then and the VIPs, other Cardinals, the Kennedy family and probably others I didn’t know came trooping in.  They filled this small building.  I had a 20mm lens on a tripod and a long cable release so I could hold the camera way over my head and cover the entire room.  Somebody at the office was able to identify most of the people and they ran two of my pictures full-page in the Record.  I was the only secular photographer there, so we beat the Globe and Herald-Traveler six ways from Sunday, excuse the pun.

I had had an earlier incident with Cardinal Cushing.  I came to Boston in 1969, the year of the Apollo 11 moon landing.  Michael Collins, the third astronaut no-one remembers, was from Boston, so Cardinal Cushing was going to conduct a private Mass blessing Collins at Holy Cross Cathedral.  I was assigned to cover it.  I’m also not Catholic and had never even been in a Catholic Church before.  I had also never seen a photographer in my Presbyterian Church.  I don’t know if the Presbyterians are too dignified to permit photography or just so boring (we’re known, with good reason, as the “Frozen Chosen”) that no-one wants to take our picture.  But other photographers were there, all taking pictures, so I started taking pictures too.  I was so wrapped up in what I was doing that I didn’t notice when the others set their cameras down.  I was looking through the viewfinder with a telephoto lens and a tight shot of the Cardinal when he glared at me and said, “Stop taking pictures now!  This is the HOLY part.”

I was at Fenway Park when the Eagle landed.  The PA announcer came on the air between innings to announce that Americans were now safely on the surface of the moon.  There was a moment of stunned silence. then loud applause, then someone began to sing.  The next thing you knew 30,000 people were singing, spontaneously and a cappella, “God Bless America”.  It was the most moving moment I’ve ever witnessed.

More of The Rest Of The Story:

I received a comment which fills in a lot of information on some of my information or lack of it from Attorney James C. Reilly. Mr. Reilly grew up in Newton, went to the University of Rochester and Duke Law. Mr. Reilly practices law in Birmingham, Alabama. 

The three galleros hung from the rafters are for Cardinals O’Connell, Cushing and Medieros.  William Henry Cardinal O’Connell’s and Richard James Cardinal Cushing’s galleros were presented to them by the Pope, Pius X and John XXIII respectively, as the “red hat” of a cardinal.  The gallero was discontinued by Pope Paul VI and the “red hat” now given is the red biretta. Accordingly, Humberto Sousa Cardinal Medieros never received a gallero from the Pope.  However, Cardinal O’Malley had a gallero made for Cardinal Medieros so that the tradition of hanging it in the cathedral could continue.  The red gallero with 30 tassels is the heraldic device of a cardinal.  A green gallero with 20 tassels is the symbol of an Archbishop and a green gallero with 12 tassels is the symbol for a bishop.  Other colors and tassel numbers are also used as the heraldic device for priests (Black and 2), Monsignors (variations of black/amaranth, amaranth usually 6) etc.

BTW the picture of Cardinal Cushing does NOT show him “celebrating” Mass – most likely he is presiding, i.e., in attendance in his official capacity, as he is in choir dress and not wearing the chasuble of the priest saying Mass.

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