The Feast of the Portiuncula

Hello and welcome!

This past Friday was the Feast of St. Mary of the Angels of the Portiuncula, which was also the 35th anniversary of my episcopal ordination.

I look back at that moment with great gratitude for having given me the opportunity to serve the wonderful Catholics of four extraordinary dioceses, and it all began in the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul in the Virgin Islands 35 years ago.

I have very fond memories of the occasion, being surrounded by family and friends and feeling the support of the priests and people of the Virgin Islands.

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The founding bishop of the diocese, Bishop Edward Harper, who had been the provincial of the Redemptorist Fathers in Puerto Rico, was a wonderful mentor and an example for me.

It was a missionary diocese, and there were many challenges and opportunities. One of the things that we did very early on (though, when I arrived, our archdiocesan budget was a grand total of $30,000) was to waste no time in establishing a television station and a diocesan newspaper. We established them in an effort to unify the diocese across the different islands, so the people could become more aware of what was happening in the other parishes and grow in their sense of unity and communion.

One of my great helpers in this endeavor was Mary Conway, who came to us with a vast experience in Catholic journalism from the Catholic Standard in Washington. She very ably established our diocesan newspaper, the Catholic Islander.

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With Mary on my ordination day

I am very pleased to say that both the television station and the newspaper continue to this day.

The Feast of the Portiuncula is a very important day for all the branches of the Franciscan family, which is why I chose it for my episcopal ordination.

St. Mary of the Angels in Assisi was the third of three churches that St. Francis restored, and it was so dear to him that he gave the nickname of The Portiuncula, which means “The Little Portion,” and it became a sort of the motherhouse of the Franciscans. It is the place where the Franciscans held their first Chapters, where St. Clare made her vows and where St. Francis died in 1226.

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In his “Life of St. Francis,” St. Bonaventure describes the importance of the Portiuncula:

The Portiuncula was an old church dedicated to the Virgin Mother of God which was abandoned. Francis had great devotion to the Queen of the world and when he saw that the church was deserted, he began to live there constantly in order to repair it. He heard that the Angels often visited it, so that it was called Saint Mary of the Angels, and he decided to stay there permanently out of reverence for the angels and love for the Mother of Christ.

He loved this spot more than any other in the world. It was here he began his religious life in a very small way; it is here he came to a happy end. When he was dying, he commended this spot above all others to the friars, because it was most dear to the Blessed Virgin.

This was the place where Saint Francis founded his Order by divine inspiration and it was divine providence which led him to repair three churches before he founded the Order and began to preach the Gospel.

This meant that he progressed from material things to more spiritual achievements, from lesser to greater, in due order, and it gave a prophetic indication of what he would accomplish later.

As he was living there by the church of Our Lady, Francis prayed to her who had conceived the Word, full of grace and truth, begging her insistently and with tears to become his advocate. Then he was granted the true spirit of the Gospel by the intercession of the Mother of mercy and he brought it to fruition.

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He embraced the Mother of Our Lord Jesus with indescribable love because, as he said, it was she who made the Lord of majesty our brother, and through her we found mercy. After Christ, he put all his trust in her and took her as his patroness for himself and his friars.

On the feast, one can receive the Portiuncula Indulgence. St. Francis had a great devotion to the Holy Land and went there on pilgrimage himself. However, he realized that the vast majority of people would never be able to make the long and dangerous journey to the Holy Land. So, he asked the pope to grant a plenary indulgence to those who made a pilgrimage to the Portiuncula. The request was granted by Honorius III and later was extended to those who visited any Franciscan church or chapel on the feast day (in addition, of course, to fulfilling the usual conditions for an indulgence).

The Portiuncula is housed inside the much larger Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels in Assisi, and you can still visit it today.

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I also always like to remind people that we have an exact replica of the Portiuncula much closer to home. Cardinal Cushing had it constructed in Hanover to be his final resting place.

Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley and Lt. Governor Karyn Polito celebrate the groundbreaking of Bethany Apartments affordable and workforce housing at the Cardinal Cushing Centers in Hanover, Oct. 23, 2017.Pilot photo/ Gregory L. Tracy

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Saturday morning, I went to a Peace Breakfast at St. Monica-St. Augustine Parish in South Boston, which is part of their Good Samaritan Ministry.

The Good Samaritan Ministry does a great deal of outreach to people who live in the nearby Mary Ellen McCormack Public Housing Community and surrounding neighborhoods, as well as to homeless people who are facing the challenge of addiction or mental health problems. Deacon Paul Klein, Father Peter DeFazio and Father Joe White are very much involved in this ministry.

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The program has just an army of volunteers, and they get a great deal of support from the Boston Police Department, as well.

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This particular breakfast was an occasion to honor Bill McGonagle who recently retired after many years of service leading the Boston Housing Authority and who has been a great supporter of that ministry. He was instrumental in getting it off the ground and has been a steadfast supporter ever since.

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It was a pleasure to be able to honor Bill and to recognize him for all that he has done.IMG_0849


Sunday morning, I celebrated the Spanish Mass with the community at the cathedral. I was particularly impressed by the wonderful attendance for a Sunday in August, and think that it was at least in part due to the home visitations that they have been conducting in the Cathedral Parish. In fact, at that time of year when you would think mass attendance would be down, it was actually way up.

At the Mass, we prayed for the victims of the terrible shootings that took place over the weekend in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio.

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The following day I issued this statement on the shootings that I want to share with you here:

The mass murder of 31 innocent people in a 24 hour period, fueled by hate and disregard for human life, is unacceptable in any society. We offer our prayers and support for the communities of El Paso and Dayton in the midst of this time of immense pain.

Our nation was founded on the principle that all people are entitled to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” We implore our elected leaders to rise above ideological differences and work together to address the serious issues facing our country by enacting meaningful and effective policies to end the violence. This includes keeping firearms, particularly assault weapons, out of the hands of those who would use them to inflict devastating harm on our communities. We must address inadequate mental health care in this country. Finally, we must work towards a more civil and just society that rejects all forms of violence and hatred in our country. The fabric of our national conscience is at risk.

Today we give thanks for the bravery of the first responders who selflessly rush to the aid of the victims and pray for the healing of those injured in the shootings. We call upon the intercession of Mary, the Mother of God, for the protection of our loved ones, friends and neighbors as we entrust to our Lord’s mercy those lost to this violence. Together let us strengthen our commitment to do what is necessary to stop these horrendous attacks.


This week, was the Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Though I always look forward to the Supreme Convention, unfortunately this year I was unable to attend. However, I was very happy that our Vicar General, Bishop Peter Uglietto, was there and we always have a very fine group of Knights from the Massachusetts State Council at the convention.

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Though I couldn’t be present, I was so encouraged to hear of the many great works of the Knights through Supreme Knight Carl Anderson’s annual report.

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I was particularly encouraged to learn about their efforts to support Christians in the Middle East and the Knight’s new “Adopt-a-parish” program through which councils can directly support a church in Iraq.

It was also very good to hear about their initiative to reach out to the native peoples of the U.S. and Canada and their plan to build a new shrine to St. Kateri Tekakwitha.

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We also learned through the report that the Knights gave $185 million in charitable donations and dedicated 76 million volunteer hours. It is always very edifying to hear of the dedication, fidelity and resources that are put forth for the mission of the Church by the Knights of Columbus.

We are so grateful to the Knights for all the good they do and particularly to our local councils for all they do in our own archdiocese.

Until next week,

Cardinal Seán

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