Saturday, January 31, 2009

Vietnam, Vatican II, Civil Rights, Laity Ministries 1960-1978












In January, 1960, William H. Bannon, residing at of 127 Morse Street and executive of the Mansfield Bleachery, was honored by Pope John XXIII with the Star of Gregory, the highest rank of the Papal Order. The Order was established in 1831 by Pope Gregory XVI and is bestowed on Catholic men and women in recognition of their service to the Church, unusual labors, support of the Holy See, and the good example set in their communities and country. Bannon had previously been honored as a Knight of Malta, an organization founded in Jerusalem in 1050 to provide care for poor and sick pilgrims to the Holy Land. Today, its goal is to assist the elderly, refugees, the handicapped, children, the homeless, those with terminal illness without distinction of race or religion. Mr. Bannon is remembered as a man who quietly distributed much of his wealth and contributed generously to the building and furnishing of the new St. Mary’s church.

In March, 1960, "Cottontails," the second annual St. Mary’s minstrel show took place, directed by Larry Jondro and Jim Hennessey. There were many people involved in the success of the events including, Jack McCarthy, Lorraine Norton, Don Cleary, Marilyn Scott, Joseph Silva, Mary Callahan, Tom McGowen, Charlie O'Brien, Steve Linfield, and Jeanette McKay. Headliners were soloists Dolores Pinsonault, Nancy Baker, Lillian O'Malley, James Silvi, and Helen McKay; acrobat, Leona White; The Roulette Twirlers; ballet, Ellen O'Reilly; tap dance, Coleen O'Donnell and Susan Doonan; a trio, the Banjoliers. The show was performed before "standing room only" crowds in the high school auditorium.

Rev. John J. Keahane was assigned as pastor in June, 1960. Fr. Keahane transferred from St. Mary's in East Walpole. Born in 1897, he was a WWI veteran and had played basketball for Boston College. He even held the amateur boxing New England Heavyweight title, under the name "Joe O'Brien." Under his administration that the church debt was finally paid off. In fact an additional $30,000 in property was purchased. Fr. Keahane had the title of "Monsignor" bestowed upon him. The title is reserved a priest of the Catholic Church for some outstanding work in the field of administration, missionary endeavor, or scholastic achievement. When Bishop Jeremiah Minihan conferred the title on Msgr. Keahane, he stated, "The honor was not sought, which made it ever more glorious!"

In the years leading up to Vatican II, lay people were increasing becoming active participants in their thirst for spiritual development, Catholic action, and religious education. In 1961, the "Catholic Family Movement (CFM)" commenced in the parish. Former parishioner, Rosemary McNabb, recalled, "It was during this era when groups of couples, began to regularly meet in each others homes, reading and discussing scripture...later the priest, who was always present, but not joining in the discussions, would then participate." The CFM began in the early 1940s in South Bend, Indiana and Chicago, Illinois. CFM was a national movement of parish (neighborhood) small groups of families that meet in one another’s homes to reinforce Christian values and actively encourage other fellow Christian parents through active involvement with others. CFM groups contain five to seven families and the adults meet two nights each month in each others houses.

In September,1962, the parish elected its first Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) Board. The officers were: President, Doug Brunell, principals Greg Shinsky and Mrs. Sheila Coyle; and program chairperson, Miss. Margaret Ahern. Later officers and helpers included C. Joseph Chaisson, Norman Rice, Anthony Fiore, Gertrude Bresse and Geraldine Davies.

The local religious practices of Catholic parents, students and public employees regarding observing Holy days, resulted in a statement by the School Committee, dated June 14, 1962, Schools not to close on Good Friday:"The Foxboro Public Schools will not be closed on any religious holiday. Any teacher wishing to take a day off in order to observe a religious holiday will not receive pay. Any student wishing to be dismissed early for the purpose of a religious service must bring in a written request."

In February, 1962, Fr. Richard J. Butler, ordained only a week, was assigned to St. Mary's. In a letter he shared a few memories. "My days at St. Mary's were great...arrived here six months before the bishops convened for the Second Vatican Council. It was the last of the old days but already in Foxboro the spirit of new days was present...The executive board of the CCD exercised a vital ministry and held responsibilities that could match any parish council which Vatican II encouraged...the parish was growing and the people were responding to the growth...then came Vatican II." He wrote, "Ecumenism took hold well from the onset. In January 1965, there was the first of a series at Lakeview Ballroom. In the Civil Rights crises that surfaced throughout the country in 1965, the response in Foxboro was rooted in the ecumenical bonding that had already taken hold." Writing about the local impact of Vatican II , he stated, "Liturgical changes came quickly, Even before I left the parish in 1966, Fr. Keahane had arranged for renovations in the sanctuary with the altar brought forward and the introduction of lay lectors and lay song leaders." He related the importance of the Cursillo movement, "Cursillo was responsible for much of the early formation of parish leaders in Vatican II changes. From 1964 onward several dozen members of the parish had gone to various centers-Cumberland, Attleboro, North Easton, and Brighton- for the three day program and were living out the 'Fourth Day' in a variety of parish activities." The Cursillo is a ministry of the Roman Catholic Church. It was founded in Majorca, Spain by a group of laymen in 1944. To train lay people to become effective leaders over the course of a three-day weekend. The weekend includes fifteen talks, some given by priests and some by lay people.

In November, 1964 a general norms effectively established the constitution of the liturgy in all the parishes, changing the Mass to be offered with the priest facing the congregation, a lay commentator to be used in the ceremonies, and the entire congregation singing at all scheduled Masses. The present lay-ministry of Lector actually began with layman selected as of lay-commentators and readers during. At specific times during the Mass, these laymen would explain to the parishioners what was occurring on the alter. It was a time of transition, parts of the Mass were in English and others in Latin. Mr. John J. Ahern one of the first. Lay-commentators in the parish.

Fr. George J. Connolly, described Fr. Keahane in a letter, "The strong ecumenical movement which developed in Foxboro had its beginnings in the good relationship he enjoyed with all the patients and the many friends of the hospital on whom he called for assistance. In time, his attitude reached many outside the hospital, making him one of the earliest 'Apostles for Ecumenism.’"

During this era, the curates who served under Fr. Keahane included, Reverends John T. Finnegan, Richard J. Butler, David Mulligan, Gerard T. McMahon, John Bernatonis, George Connolly, and Joseph Mullen. Fr. Finnegan was assigned to the parish in February, 1960. He was a native of West Roxbury, and served as an officer aboard the USS Gianard, a destroyer during the Korean War. St. Mary's was Fr. Finnegan's only parish assignment. After two years at St. Mary's he was selected to study Canon law in Rome. He returned from his studies abroad and became a professor of Church History and Canon Law at Pope John XXIII Seminary.

In January, 1965, three hundred men representing all the faiths in town, including Catholics for the first time, gathered for the first "Ecumenical Workshop Service" at Lakeview Ballroom . The representatives for the meeting were John J. Ahern and Jack Authlete. These annual gathering began in the late 1950's and was initially composed mostly of Protestant men from St. Marks, Bethany, and the Universalist Churches. After the service they were joined by 'representatives' of other denominations.

In March, the Foxboro Reporter interviewed Rev. Gerard T. McMahon on his return from Selma, Alabama, "The most impressive feature was the silence of the seven block march to the Dallas County Court House following the memorial service. It shows people throughout the country the seriousness of our concern about the racial situation."

In December, 1965, Catholics throughout the world were called to observe a "Triduum of Prayer" at the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council. The Council was first announced on January 25, 1959, by Pope John XXIII, first convened in October, 1962 and concluded on December 8, 1965. The purpose of the triduum was explained to the parishioners of St. Mary’s, "Catholics all throughout the world might be drawn into the spirit of the Council in praying for a new Pentecost that will renew, through the Holy Spirit, the face of the spouse of Christ and of the times."

In January, 1967, the school committee was presented with a petition signed by Fr. NcMahon and five other clergy of the town, "We, the undersigned clergy of Foxboro, agree that since the state law leaves it up to the discretion of the school committee of our town whether or not to rent school property if it is to the advantage of the community - we agree that the churches of Foxboro should be offered the opportunity to rent the public school buildings upon said churches' request and the approval of the school committee." The committee voted favorably for the request and soon after over 1,100 children of St. Mary's attended Saturday morning classes several of the Foxboro school buildings.

The impact of Vatican II resonated with the laity eager for spiritual renewal and Catholic action. . St. Mary's offered a very progressive outreach program to the adult population of the parish. The Adult CCD program was expanded to include a "Discussion Club' and a "Couples Club." The former was an avenue for parishioners to discuss Vatican II, especially the "Constitution on the Church." The latter was a "new venture" under the direction of Bob and Brenda Weiss, to develop a Christian social atmosphere. The entire adult program at St. Mary's during this era was in consonance with the "Year of Faith" proclaimed by Pope Paul VI, "...to help, by prayer and action, to bring Christianity to a renewed vitality so necessary in the modern era."
In October, 1967, Rev. William P. Castles was appointed pastor. Fr. Castles had been an associate pastor at St. Mary's in the early 1930's. Several parishioners recalled that Fr. Castles arrived in Foxboro expecting to find the quiet village town he remembered from his days as a curate. Unfortunately for the pastor and the parishioners, his three years are recalled as very difficult years, for the parish demographics had changed greatly. Fr. Castle’s style of leadership frustrated many members of the parish. It was stated, "He wasn't a man to place himself in the limelight, and he had a too soft touch approach." The end of Vatican II and the liturgical changes were followed by an era that forced many priests and laity make a commitment to the various aspects of social justice, civil rights, the war on poverty, urban renewal, and the morality of Vietnam War.

On May 7, 1968, the Foxboro Council, Knights of Columbus, #6063 was established. Early organizers included Pat Munn, Richard Noonan, Lloyd Gibbs, and Emil Ferencik.
In November, 1968, St. Mary's began preparations to elect a parish council. The formation of the parish council was a response to diocesan recommendations. Ideally the council was to act as an advisory and decision-making body with the pastor and priests of the parish. Members of the Nominating and Organizing Committees included; Linda Sawyer, Dan Enxing, Dorrie Manning, Bob Palmer, Frank Ricker, Terry Giovino, Rev. Joseph Mullen, Neil Arsenault, Frank McCusker, and Jim Graham. The election was held early in 1969. The Reporter mentions the race for "Administrative Chairman" between Frank Barros and Attorney Garrett Spillane was a "Cliff Hanger." The vote was 140 for Barros and 140 for Spillane. The tie was broken by a vote of the members of the Organizing and Nominating Committee. The vote gave the position to Barros.
Other officers elected were Robert Pyne, Theresa Giovini, Bob Weiss, Frank Ricker, Bob McAullife, Frank McCusker, and Robert Palmer.

In January, 1969, the subtle existence of turmoil and emotionalism in the parish revealed itself in a controversy concerning the religious education of youth in the parish. Over 400 parishioners gathered to take part in a panel discussion and open forum on the subject , High School Religious Education, Its Goals, Content,"and the teaching methods of "informational" verses "formational." The students on the panel arrived at a conclusion that CCD should prepare them for the future and should give them a background for facing responsibilities, give them insights into life, point out ideals, and be relevant to their present situation. Several teachers related how the weekly class was a learning and growing experience for them.

Fr. William Bene attended the meeting and published his thoughts in a letter to the editor titled, "A Close Look at CCD Panel - Sometimes Hot." He wrote, "Some people in the audience drew the conclusion that personal opinion was replacing church teaching, that classes were mere 'gab-sessions' on current events ...that the ‘informational’ style as a means seeks to impart a list of facts to be learned and attempts to be thorough at the expense of being broad, and is often, in fact quite narrow. The presumption exists that for every question there already exists an answer." The other style, ‘formational’ attempts to develop an attitude, a way of living and is capable of being quite broad at the expense, sometimes, of being superficial....the key question is, ‘What is the role of the parent?’...The question came indirectly when one of the teachers on the panel expressed the feeling that some students could speak more openly in class than at home. To some this was taken to mean that there was little or no direct communication between parents and students and that CCD teachers had moved in and became a wedge between the generations...It was not evident that this misunderstanding was cleared up by the time the program ended but the role of the parent in the total education of a child and young adult is central. The CCD program exists to assist parents in their responsibility." He closed his letter, "Throughout the evening, ideas were exchanged openly and sometimes sharply. Although the call of the opening Scripture reading to was to 'charity and love' it was temporarily forgotten."

A week later, Fr. Bene's Palm Sunday sermon was published in the Foxboro Reporter. By this time, the Vietnam war was taking its toll on the consciences of the people of the United States, and in particular, the Catholic clergy were struggling with the implications of a "just war."
Fr. Bene’s sermon not only upset many of the parishioners, but resulted in being transferred out of the parish. He preached, "Modern war is serious business. What did Christ say about peace? What has the Church said about peace? Christ said 'My peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you,' and also 'he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword.' Has the Church followed up Christ's teaching at all?...What has happened to the just war theory since then? Is it dead or alive?...The Second Vatican Council took as its own a just war theory and noted that it had to be applied more strictly than ever because now all wars are world wars in their impact! A just war therefore has conditions to be moral. First, it must be a last resort, having exhausted all peaceful means. Second, it must be an act of defense, not backed by aggression. Third, it must be declared legally constituted by the nation involved. Fourth, there must exist a reasonable certainty of victory. Lastly, military tactics and objectives must discriminate between civilians and soldiers. How many yes answers do you come up with concerning our country's involvement in the war with Vietnam? The Palm we carry home this morning is a symbol of peace. But, can we in good conscience do this unless we are really in favor of peace? And can we really be in favor of peace unless we are willing to do something for peace!...In light of all this, have we, as Christians, any choice but to accept the teachings off Christ and the Church? Or, do we consider these optional?"

The following May, the names of the 33,000 Americans killed in Vietnam at that time were read in a 20 hour session on Foxboro's Common. The idea was conceived by four Foxboro clergymen, Fr. William Bene, St. Mary's; Reverends John Benbow and Steven Wilkenson, both from Bethany; and Rector Walter Sobol, St. Marks. As one body, they issued a joint statement, "The Vietnam War is a national tragedy of horrifying proportions and it has divided the American people as nothing else since the Civil War."

In January, 1970, Fr. Castles received permission for early retirement. He was replaced by Rev. James B. Murphy, a retired, Army Chaplain with thirty years in the service and held the rank of Colonel. Fr. Murphy's style of leadership was quite different than that of Fr. Castle's. A parish council member recalled, "Fr. Murphy encouraged lay-involvement, but in matters of policy making, the final decisions were his prerogative. In the end, the pastor signed the checks!"

The "Friends of St. Mary's" was instituted by Fr. Murphy as a means to fulfill St. Mary's financial assessment to the "Archbishop's Stewardship Appeal." It was a means to raise funds without having to resort to personal appeals or door to door canvassing. The minutes of the Parish Council reveal that in March 1970 the altar rail was removed and in June, St. Mary’s received permission to institute a Saturday evening Mass which would meet Sunday obligations. At this time the parish council voted to discontinue the collection of seat money.

In March 1972, "The Holy Outlaw" a film about Daniel Berrigan and his activities involving the Vietnam War was shown in St. Mary's hall, and a fast was broken with a simple meal of rice and cheese. The meeting was held in an effort to educate parishioners about the situation in Southeast Asia.

St. Mary’s women were invited into the ministry of Lector in 1972. The following year 1973 marked the demise of the Parish Council. The parish council was having difficulty attracting candidates. A statement was issued, "The promise of an on-going parish council seems fruitless unless we can muster up the support and assistance needed to fill the vacating positions."
Associate pastors under Fr..Murphy included Reverends William Devine, James Barry, and Stephen Koen.

In November, 1976, Rev. William F. Kenneally was installed as pastor. Associate pastors under Fr. Kenneally were Reverends Arthur Flynn, Robert Wolongevicz, Joseph Carney, and Joseph Welsh.

In 1976 men were invited into the ministry of Eucharistic Ministers and women were invited into the ministry of Eucharistic Ministers in 1978.

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