Cardinal Seán's Blog

Cardinal Seán O’Malley shares his reflections and experiences

Day: February 9, 2007

Renewal of religious vows, vocation events, a visit by Cardinal Stafford and the future of our Catholic hospitals

Welcome to you all!

This was a very eventful week in which I had the opportunity to renew my religious vows, participate in two vocation events at our seminaries and hear Cardinal J. Francis Stafford speak on the Sacrament of Penance. In addition, the Archdiocese of Boston made a very important announcement regarding the future of our Catholic hospitals.

Friday, Feb. 2, the Feast of the Presentation of The Lord – also known as Candlemas – was designated by the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, as the World Day of Consecrated Life. The feast marks the day the Holy Family presented Christ in the temple and consecrated Him to His mission. For that reason, it is a day when we invite the religious to renew their vows. We are very thankful for the gift of religious life in the Church.


Prior to the Mass, I blessed these candles which
will be used throughout the year

Many of the parishes have celebrations for religious life on the Sunday following the feast day. However, here at the Chancery, the feast coincided with our First Friday Mass. We took advantage of that occasion for those of us at the Chancery who have been called to religious life to renew our vows.During the Mass I invited the religious present to join me in this prayer:

Today, in our celebration of the mystery of God’s choice, we marvel at the lived response God has made possible in your vowed life. I invite you now to renew your commitment, so that all may rejoice with you in God’s faithful love.

Then I prayed, along with my fellow religious:

Eternal triune God,

trusting in Your faithful love,

I, Brother Se�n, renew my vows

to live my life following Christ in chastity,

poverty, and obedience

I commit myself anew

to serve the Church in the ministry

entrusted to my institute.

Grant me the grace, Lord,

through the intercession of Our Lady

and the prayers and support of my institute,

to live these vows faithfully.


Next, I blessed the religious:

The steadfast love of our God endures forever. With you, we rejoice at how God has loved you. Blessed indeed are you, each of you, for trusting as Mary, that God’s word to you would be fulfilled. We confidently pray that God, who has begun this good work in you, will bring it to completion on the day of Christ Jesus.

The assembly responded:

We praise and thank God with you for His faithful love which has inspired and enabled your fidelity. We thank you, too, for witness of your lives and your example of loving service. May God fill your hearts with love, peace and joy. Amen.


I, and all the religious present, renew our vows

– – –

This weekend the Archdiocese sponsored two events for men who are discerning a vocation to the priesthood. The first was a day of recollection at Blessed John XXIII National Seminary for men who are 40 or over. It was very well received.

Then, at St. John’s Seminary, we had a record crowd for a discernment retreat held from Feb. 2-4 – the response was so great that the retreat organizers had to go out and borrow beds!

In all, over 60 men in their 20s and 30s participated, a group that represented the diversity and the richness of our local Church. Among the participants we had immigrants who were Asian, Cape Verdean and Hispanic. In addition, we had students from MIT, Harvard, Boston College and Boston University.

During the weekend retreat we had a number of witness talks by the seminarians, and I gave a number of conferences. We also invited Cardinal J. Francis Stafford (who you’ll hear more about later in this post) to address them. The reaction of the young men was all very positive, it is good that they had the opportunity to catch a glimpse of what seminary life is like and to meet the seminarians.

The fact that so many came to the retreat was a great source of encouragement for all who attended and our seminarians. The large number of participants was evidence that the seminary and the priesthood are alive and well.

Certainly, in our parishes and religious communities, we are always asking for prayer for vocations, and I think this is a sign that those prayers are heard. In praying for vocations, we are publicly witnessing to our own conviction in the importance of vocations in the Church. This, in turn, is an encouragement to our young people.


Celebrating Mass in St. John’s Chapel for the retreat participants

In the past, when a very large percentage of our children were enrolled in Catholic schools, the sisters acted as wonderful vocation directors. They modeled the life of consecration for their students and were constantly inviting them to consider whether God was calling them to a life of ministry in the priesthood or religious life. Now that we no longer have that huge cadre of sisters, we must appeal to our religious education teachers, Catholic parents and parish priests to fulfill that role. Many of the young men who were at the retreat came because their pastors had invited them to be there. We are very grateful for that.


After celebrating Mass for the retreat participants, I suggested that we take this picture for the blog. However, I introduced the idea realizing that there may be some who might not want to be in the photo. I told them that everyone except those who were in the witness protection program or who had not told their mothers or their girlfriends that they were coming to a vocation retreat, could come forward and have their picture taken. I assured them that we were only going to put it on the blog and then we were going to destroy the negatives!

– – –

As I mentioned earlier, this past weekend we were fortunate enough to have Cardinal Stafford, the head of the Apostolic Penitentiary, here with us in the Archdiocese.

The Apostolic Penitentiary is a tribunal of the Holy See, which is comprised of two offices. One responsible for the regulations concerning indulgences (for example the plenary indulgence relating to World Day of the Sick activities this weekend), the other is a court which resolves cases relating to the internal forum and gives absolution from sins and censures reserved to the Holy See.

Cardinal Stafford was invited to the St. John’s Seminary to speak about the Church’s ministry of confession. He addressed the priests, seminarians and laity in three separate sessions.


Father George Szal and St. John’s rector, Father John Farren,
listen to Cardinal Stafford’s talk for priests

In his talks, spoke on the riches of the Sacrament of Penance, which is such an important means of God’s grace and mercy in the Church. It is through the sacrament that we are able to truly deepen our personal conversion and experience the Lord’s love and mercy in our lives.

I often reflect on how the Divine Mercy devotion has spread so rapidly in the last few years, and also the fascination our Catholic people have with Padre Pio, who would hear confessions for 10 or 12 hours per day. There is a hunger for mercy in the world, and so the cardinal’s conferences about the sacrament of God’s love and mercy are a great grace for us. We were grateful for his presence.

Cardinal Stafford is a great gift to the Church, a man of wonderful intellectual and spiritual gifts that he so generously shares. I have known him for many years from the time when he was a priest of Baltimore, and later the Bishop of Memphis and Archbishop of Denver. He also headed the Pontifical Council for the Laity in Rome, and therefore was involved in organizing the World Youth Days. Of course, being the Archbishop in Denver, he experienced the wonderful results of World Youth Day in his own diocese.

– – –

On Tuesday of this week, the archdiocese announced that we are entering into discussions with Ascension Health, a national Catholic health care system, concerning sponsorship of Caritas Christi Health Care. If all goes well, we will give the responsibility for the governance and running of our hospitals to Ascension Health.


The flagship hospital of Caritas Christi, St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Brighton

Last summer, I was poised to hire a new CEO and there was a sense of urgency to put someone in place very quickly. However, in the midst of that, John Kaneb advised me not rush into a decision but rather to bring in some consultants. Following John’s advice, we brought in Navigant Consulting, based in Chicago. They did a very good job of analyzing Caritas’ situation, and we discovered we had several options.

A few years ago, our entire health care system was losing money and was in great jeopardy. In the last couple of years – thanks to a very strong management team – there has been a remarkable fiscal recovery. That recovery gave us more options than we otherwise may have had.

Among the options presented to us were: to continue “going it alone,” since we were beginning to experience some successes; join a national Catholic health care system; merge with other, local non-Catholic hospitals; or sell our system to a for-profit system.

All of these were very real possibilities, and we were approached by many different groups – in part because our Catholic hospitals are doing well at this stage in our history.


Looking at the options closely, we have come to the conclusion that joining a national Catholic system is the best way to guarantee the future of Catholic health care in our region. The decision will strengthen our hospitals as well as deepen their Catholic identity and their mission. In a very special way, our mission is to be a sign of God’s love and mercy to the sick and the suffering and to have a special concern and outreach to the poor, to the underinsured, to immigrants and to those in need. We are called to do all of this in a way that protects the Church’s teaching on the dignity of the human person and sanctity of human life.

Ascension Health is a healthcare system established by the Daughters of Charity who have centuries of tradition managing Catholic hospitals, for 100 years they ran Carney Hospital here in our own Archdiocese. I think this is going to be a great moment in our history, and it will move us to a much stronger position. The Dominican sisters at St. Anne’s who are our partners in Caritas Christi are enthusiastic about this as well.

– – –

Finally, I’d like to answer some more of your questions this week:

Your Eminence, as always, I enjoyed your post. For a future Q&A session on here, when the bishop here in Wichita came to my house for dinner last summer, I asked him how much he talks to others in the episcopacy, and he said not very often because of duties in the diocese requiring his attention. Because you are a Cardinal, I am curious as to how often you communicate with the Vatican and/or other members of the American and international hierarchy? Or, as your blog posts suggest, are you pretty much consumed by obligations to your archdiocese as my bishop is with his? Just wondering how you juggle your responsibilities for the Curia and USCCB in addition to leading the Boston Church. I look forward to reading more next week. God bless, Cardinal Sean!

– Nathan

I certainly see my primary function and obligation as being the shepherd of this local Church. Obviously, there are times when the Holy See will involve me in meetings or in some project. I have been named to two congregations in Rome – clergy and consecrated life. However, those congregations have not yet held plenary sessions, so I have not been directly involved with them as yet.

I am on a number of committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops: for missions, for Latin America and for immigration. Those are obligations which certainly involve me in issues beyond the archdiocese. Boston also has a commitment to the Universal Church through the St. James Society. This week I will go down for the Society’s annual meeting of the 40 diocesan priests who are part of that effort to serve the Church in Peru and Ecuador. However, my principle focus and responsibility is the archdiocese.

Dear Cardinal Sean,

When will the church start addressing all survivors of sexual abuse, and not just the ones who were abused by priests?

– Christine

It has always been my hope that the tragedy of the clergy sexual abuse crisis, and the programs we have developed for the protection of children, will help to improve the way that society responds to the problem of sexual abuse.

Unfortunately, sexual abuse is far too wide spread in society, most of it takes place within families or neighborhoods. Through the programs that have been initiated in Catholic schools, parishes and other Catholic institutions, so far, more than 300 cases of child abuse and neglect that had nothing to do with clergy or Church personnel have been uncovered. Children who were being abused learned how to report it.

We see sexual abuse as a larger problem, and in fact, I am anxious for people to contextualize it. I think that there has been so much focus on clerical sexual abuse that people may get the impression that this a problem with priests, celibacy or the Catholic Church. That’s not true at all. I think that we are helping to make our Church, and society in general, safer for children.

Hello Cardinal Se�n,

I am still wondering if you are planning to visit Reading, PA. When you do, I will greet you with open arms (and baked goods)

Paz vobiscum

– Vox Clara

I would like to say hello to all the people at St. Gabriel Parish, Sacred Heart Parish and all those who live in Reading.

It is wonderful when I run into people from the parishes where my family lived. (We lived in two parishes in Pennsylvania.) Greetings to everyone, and someday I’ll get back there, but no plans right now.

Your Eminence,

Thank you for taking the time to write the blog. I pray that you and your staff take time to rest for you have a very busy schedule. I have a question about St. Dymphna. Do you think her intercession to relieve Depression is appropriate or do you have a “favorite” prayer that you recommend for those seeking relief?

Yours in Christ,

– Mary

St. Dymphna is an Irish saint who was martyred by her father who was mentally imbalanced. Therefore, she is invoked as an intercessor in the case of mental health. This whole area of mental illness is one that I do not think the Church gives enough attention to. We are very aware of people’s physical illnesses, and yet there are so many people who have mental and emotional problems, which are often every bit as painful – if not more so – than physical ailments. It is wonderful that we have saints in the Church like St. Dymphna, who remind us of God’s loving providence, care and mercy for those who have mental problems.

Could you please pray for me, Your Eminence, as I discern whether I am called to devoted service of the Church and more specifically the Franciscan order.

– David

Be assured that I, and many people throughout the Archdiocese of Boston, are keeping you – and others discerning a vocation – in our prayers. We pray and trust that the Lord will lead you where He wants you to be.

February 2007