Cardinal Seán's Blog

Cardinal Seán O’Malley shares his reflections and experiences

Reflecting on the legacy of St. Patrick

Hello and welcome,

I want to begin this week by sharing with you the statement issued earlier today regarding our on-going response to the coronavirus outbreak. I encourage you to visit for the latest information.

In response to growing public concern and following Governor Baker’s Emergency Order prohibiting most gatherings of 250 or more people, Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley, OFM Cap, Archbishop of Boston, has made the decision effective immediately to temporarily suspend all daily and Sunday Masses and religious services in the Archdiocese of Boston until further notice.  This begins at 4:00pm on Saturday afternoon, March 14. In announcing this decision, the Cardinal has also issued a dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass during this time to the Catholics of the Archdiocese of Boston.

Cardinal Seán said “We live in times when many people are confused, hurt, and fearful, for many different reasons. In the midst of these challenges Jesus seeks to meet us in the same way He met the disciples on the road to Emmaus, accompanying us on the journey, calming our fears and anxieties and assuring us that He will be with us always in the gift of the Eucharist. This decision to temporarily suspend the daily and Sunday Mass is motivated by an abundance of caution and concern for those most vulnerable and the need to do our part to help limit and mitigate the spread of the illness.” 

The directive to temporarily suspend the celebration of Mass applies to all Archdiocesan parishes, missions, and campus ministries until further notice. Baptism, Confirmations, weddings and funerals may proceed but attendance should be limited to only immediate family.


Cardinal Seán encourages Catholics to participate in the daily and Sunday Masses broadcast from the CatholicTV chapel.

· Daily Mass airs live at 9:30am and is rebroadcast at 7pm and 11:30pm.

· Sunday Masses air throughout the day at 10am, 4pm, 7pm, and 11:30pm.

· The Sunday Spanish Mass airs live at 8am and is rebroadcast at 5:30pm and 10pm.

Viewers can watch these Masses on demand at any time at For more information about CatholicTV and where you can watch it, visit


Earlier today after conferring with Cardinal Seán, Thomas W. Carroll, Superintendent of Catholic Schools, announced that Archdiocese of Boston parish schools and Archdiocesan elementary and high schools will be closed for two weeks from Monday, March 16 to Friday, March 27. On an ongoing basis, the Catholic Schools Office will consider whether this period needs to be extended further.

The Archdiocese will provide ongoing updates to parishes, schools and ministries during this period of response to the Coronavirus outbreak. 

Cardinal Seán said, “Though these are challenging times for our parishes and all members of our communities it is important that we not forget the importance of care and concern for those who are most vulnerable, including the poor, our senior citizens and people who are medically compromised. I urge those who can do so to maintain the support for their parish during these difficult days in order to sustain the ministries and outreach services for parishioners and those most in need. We entrust the Church to the intercession of our Blessed Mother as we pray for the return to full celebration of the sacraments and community prayer as soon as possible.”

I have asked that all parishes provide for their churches be open every day during reasonable hours in order that the Catholic faithful and other members of the community can have the opportunity to visit the church for times of prayer and that, when possible, there be exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in the churches.

When we visit our churches outside of Mass and see the red glow of the sanctuary lamp we know that Jesus is there with us. The presence of the Eucharist in the tabernacle and during times of Adoration is a sign that Jesus silently and lovingly waits for us, always ready to receive and console us. May our prayers in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament be a source of strength and peace until we can safely resume the celebration of Mass for all members of the Catholic community in our Archdiocese and all who would wish to join us at that time.

As we draw near to St. Patrick’s Day, there is an on-going conversation throughout the country about the indemnification of the descendants of enslaved people in the United States. I want to share with you some of my thoughts on these topics that are suggested by the life and writings of St. Patrick.

In my office at the rectory of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, there is a painting of the patron saint of the Archdiocese of Boston, St. Patrick. I received this painting as a gift after celebrating a priesthood ordination in the town of Loiza in Puerto Rico. The town is inhabited mostly by descendants of African slaves who have maintained many of their traditions through the centuries. The church is named San Patricio, and it is one of the oldest churches on the island. In the church, there is a huge statue that depicts St. Patrick as a black bishop with his miter and Crozier. Likewise, my painting of St. Patrick depicts the patron saint of Ireland as a black bishop.IMG_1844

For centuries the descendants of the slaves in Loiza Aldea have maintained a deep devotion to their patron saint and credit him with having saved the village from an invasion of huge red ants early in the history of the parish. This is consistent with Patrick’s success in driving the snakes out of Ireland and makes him the patron saint of pest exterminators.

I am sure that St. Patrick is very happy to be the patron and protector of the Afro-Caribbean parishioners, descendants of the men and women brought there to be slaves. What most people don’t know about St. Patrick is that he started off as a slave. He was kidnapped, carried against his will to Ireland, and there sold into slavery. The same trajectory of so many African men and women who were abducted from their homeland and brought to America where they were sold into bondage.

Thomas Cahill, in his fascinating book, “How the Irish Saved Civilization,” dwells on the fact that not only was St. Patrick a slave himself, but he was the first important historical figure to oppose slavery, the first abolitionist. Sadly enough, generations of slaveowners found many excuses and justifications for the barbaric practice of slavery.

In America, we have seen up close the injustice and suffering that slavery and the legacy of racism have visited on this country. Like many young people in the 60s, as a seminarian I was caught up in the civil rights movement along with so many religious people of the time. We did voter registration, participated in demonstrations, received training in nonviolent resistance, took part in prayer services and town meetings inviting people to work with the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and other organizations that found inspiration in the fearless leadership of Rev. Martin Luther King.

Later as Bishop of the US Virgin Islands, I found myself surrounded by many symbols of the chattel slavery that was part of the history of the islands for centuries. In Charlotte Amalia you can still visit the place of the old slave market, and on St. Croix you can see the ball and chain used for recalcitrant slaves to prevent them from fleeing when they were sent to cut the sugarcane. A slave rebellion on St. John’s ended in a mass suicide because the slaves knew how cruelly they would be punished for trying to throw off the shackles of slavery.

Slavery was a terrible, dehumanizing force. It dehumanized the slaves who were bought, sold, and bred like animals. It dehumanized the slaveholders who participated in and promoted the barbaric treatment of human beings. Family life and marriage were destroyed by the slave system. Slaves could be tortured or killed practically with impunity. Even after the abolition of slavery there were almost 5,000 terror lynchings of blacks right up until the mid-20th century. In many places, it was prohibited to teach slaves or free blacks how to read. In Virginia, there were heavy penalties for both student and teacher if slaves were educated, including whippings or jail.

With the passing of the 13th Amendment in 1865, slavery was finally abolished in the United States. Sadly enough, the cruel legacy of this immoral institution has affected the descendants of the enslaved. This is very evidenced by the large percentage of African Americans living in poverty and being overrepresented in the prison population because the courts do not afford them the same kind of justice afforded to white citizens. The fact that half of the African American babies in New York are aborted each year is just one more terrible reminder of the devastation that slavery has visited on our African American population.

The percentage of black students that graduate from high school is 20% less than the white graduation rate. The same is true for college graduation rates, with only about 42% graduating. The Department of Education data reveals that black students who earn a four-year college degree have incomes that are substantially higher than blacks who have only some college experience but have not earned a degree. Most importantly, blacks who complete a four-year college education have a median income that is near parity with similarly educated whites. Life expectancy among blacks is lower in the United States, except for those who are college graduates. Education is a crucial factor in elevating the standard of living of the African American population.

In recent times we see how governments have been able to change the course of history by directing much-needed resources to populations experiencing economic distress. The Marshall Plan, the European Recovery Program, which was first proposed in an address by George Marshall at Harvard University in 1947, advanced the idea of a European self-help program financed by the US to combat poverty, unemployment, and dislocation, as well as to reduce the appeal of communism. $13 billion were allocated in four years, and European nations were lifted from the postwar devastation to a path for economic recovery that profoundly changed the history of those nations. More recently, West Germany, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, invested billions of dollars to rescue East Germany from poverty and incorporate them into a united German state.

In retrospect, we can say that these programs ultimately were very beneficial to the countries that initiated them. In the case of The Marshall Plan, a revitalized Europe became our most important trading partners and defenders of democracy in the world. All the sacrifices that West Germany made have resulted in their becoming the most important economic power in Europe.

After the Civil War in the US, there were almost 4 million former slaves. Much has been written about the promise of “Forty acres and a mule” that was an attempt to provide a form of reparations to newly freed slaves. Unfortunately, even that modest plan never materialized. If it had been carried out, the history of our country might have been much different. Black citizens would have been able to accrue and pass on wealth from one generation to the next, and the huge gap between black and white could have been avoided.

The white population has benefited greatly because of equity in a home and property that can be passed on to the next generation. In my own family, my father and his siblings were able to get a university education during the Great Depression because of an inheritance left to them by their Irish grandfather. The possibility for a good education has made a huge difference in our family.

The “Forty acres and a mule” that we should offer with humility to the descendants of slaves in our country should be the opportunity for a good education. It is my conviction that the indemnifications might be in the form of scholarships for primary, secondary, and university education for low-income families who are the descendants of the men and women who were unjustly held in bondage and exploited in our country.

Any American who is asked if they are opposed to slavery would strenuously affirm their absolute opposition to this terrible institution. Today, however, we must unite in our opposition to the consequences that this immoral practice has visited on our nation.

My prayer is that all Americans may come together to redress the great injustices of our history and build a country that truly has a commitment to liberty and justice for all. At a time when we are so polarized as a nation, let us rise above the division and together commit ourselves to overcome the sins of the past, to work for the common good, and to be one America, not red or blue, not black or white.

We Irish are children of the great hunger, the famine, that changed the face of Boston. Many of us are descendants of those brave refugees fleeing hunger and persecution in the coffin ships that brought our people to these shores. We are also the spiritual sons and daughters of Patrick, the escaped slave who raised a prophetic voice against this cruel and inhumane institution of human bondage. As your bishop, my appeal to you all is to repudiate not only slavery but also the consequences of slavery that weigh so heavily on the descendants of the African slaves who, like Patrick, were kidnapped and taken to a strange land and forced to perform hard labor for oppressive masters.

Mine is a modest proposal that our government give scholarships to young people living below the poverty line and who are descendants of slaves in our country, but I am convinced that this attempt at restorative justice could be our Marshall Plan for our own people and change the face of America. Let us listen to the voice of Patrick calling us to end slavery and its legacy in our midst.

Over the weekend, I celebrated two Masses at parishes in the archdiocese as part of our Catholic Appeal Announcement Weekend. CatholicAppeal2020Logo_653c

The first was at St. Jude’s in Waltham on Saturday.IMG_1846IMG_1847

The second was at St. Patrick’s in Watertown on Sunday.StPatsAppeal-JTetrault-06StPatsAppeal-JTetrault-08StPatsAppeal-JTetrault-11

In Watertown, we heard the testimony of a member of the Watertown Collaborative, Katherine Zuccala, which I found particularly moving. She certainly points out the reasons that the Appeal has made a difference in her life and the reasons why we should be motivated to support these works of mercy and evangelization that are supported by the Catholic Appeal.

I would like to share the text of her remarks with you here:

Good Morning Everyone,

My name is Katherine and my husband and I have been members of Sacred Heart Parish for 30 years. Currently, I serve our collaborative as a lector, and coordinate the schedules for our altar servers. Two opportunities I thoroughly enjoy. This morning, I would like to talk briefly about my personal experience in connection with the Catholic Appeal.StPatsAppeal-JTetrault-09

I think we all feel very connected and close to our beloved Watertown parishes. We are extremely blessed with such amazing pastoral leadership that we have in with Father Conley and Deacon John. I am amazed at how they are able to celebrate all of our regular Masses, provide guidance to all parishioners and consistently initiate positive changes to grow and develop our Collaborative. We are also very blessed to have such a wonderful music ministry which adds so very much to the weekly liturgy. These are the visible pieces that we all experience every week and there are many other more invisible elements that help to make our parishes so very special, and I believe we all can certainly understand the need to support our own. This is home – a source of strength and support, a comfort, a safe haven – strong, familiar and very close to our hearts. I know that I truly need and depend on my spiritual home here in Watertown, and I am sure that I am not alone in that sentiment.
We love our parishes, but what do we think about the Catholic Appeal? Sure, we all know that the diocese is important and is a common home for all of the parishes in this area, but what does it really do for us?
The Catholic Appeal supports many wonderful programs that happen above the parish level in order to serve our entire diocesan family. These are so many programs and initiatives, some perhaps more noticeable than others that affect and benefit us all and are in need of and deserve our prayerfully considered help and support to remain vibrant. We may not be aware of certain programs and services if we are not using them at this particular time in our lives, yet they are there – ready to step in at a moment’s notice, when we need them. And when we need them, we REALLY need them!
In very recent years, I have come to appreciate a few of these programs through personal circumstances. My mother was so blessed to be very independent, healthy and active until she was 90. One day changed all of that in the blink of an eye when she suffered a very serious stroke that confined her to a nursing facility. She was not able to vocally communicate, yet her mind was still quick and vibrant. There were several months of frustration for her to not be able to speak – or to tell me and my siblings what to do!!

These situations happen every day. Such circumstances can happen to anyone, but often affect the elderly. Just think for a moment — how must it feel to suddenly be unable to get to Mass, to take part in the Sacraments, and to be an active participant of the parish? I know that sometimes I take those things for granted. They are such an important element in my life, and I know they are there. Yet for many, suddenly they are not. The Diocesan Nursing Ministry and Hospital Chaplaincy Services are there to step in quickly and bridge that sudden and wrenching gap. That is a gift that may indeed benefit a member of each of our families, and would truly mean so very much.

Much more recently, my sister very suddenly suffered a massive aneurism. She was in the hospital for just a few days because it was clear that nothing could be done. Although her medical team were amazing in their expertise and clear and gentle communication of the circumstances, the entire situation was such a shock to me that I felt like I was walking in a parallel reality. Father Conley was a wonderful support to me of course and I will forever be grateful for his being there for me – thank you so much Father Conley!StPatsAppeal-JTetrault-10

I must also say that both myself and my sister benefitted a great deal from the ministry at the hospital as everything seemed to happen so quickly. Their support and guidance was helpful beyond words. When they were called to the hospital floor, they were there literally in minutes. They stepped in and gently engulfed me in their loving support. They prayed with us, gave me words of encouragement and even just sat in silence with me. I am not sure how I would have coped with that situation without all of this support. When we have a loved one who is ill to any degree, we are unnerved and fearful – we all need support and guidance. What a comfort we have to know that we have such programs that we can depend on. A safety net large enough for all of us to use.

On a happier note, I have a teenage daughter who is absolutely wonderful. She is an altar server in our Collaborative and recently was nominated to participate in the Archdiocesan teen leadership conference called Discipleship Week, a program whose organizers and participants are directly assisted by things like the Catholic Appeal. I want my daughter to thrive as she continues to grow in her faith life. Today’s world can be chaotic, overwhelming and maybe even a bit scary to kids of all ages. The Catholic Appeal will help her and many, many other teens from our Collaborative and beyond, by providing programs that bring youths from throughout the Diocese together to share faith, have fun, and grow in holiness together. I am willing to guess that all of the parents here would attest that safe, wholesome environments that nurture virtue and faithfulness are not always available in today’s world and yet Mother Church still provides these ever important environments and in large part because of people like you and I supporting them.

So, you may be thinking — Is my small donation of support really that important? Believe me – it is. Of course every family in our Collaborative has different circumstances that they are dealing with and those individual situations absolutely drive any level of support that can be offered, to our parishes and to the Catholic Appeal. That is an absolute given. But, if each of us, myself included of course, can pledge even a small amount, think about the collective result! Together, we can make a real difference.

I have already taken a great deal of your time this morning and I appreciate your attention very much and I thank Cardinal O’Malley for his presence here today as well. I leave you with a heartfelt plea to please carefully consider what you might be able to pledge to the Catholic Appeal this year and join me in making that pledge. Our individual families coming together into one is what our faith is all about.

Thank you!

Also on Saturday, I was very happy to attend the gala dinner celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Montrose School in Medfield.IMG_1865

IMG_1851During the dinner, they posthumously honored Father Dick Rieman, who was the chaplain there for many many years.IMG_1869

The gala was held at 60 State Street in Downtown Boston, which made for a beautiful backdrop for the gala.IMG_1853

It was a lovely celebration, and I was very happy to be able to be there.

On Saturday evening, I attended the St. Patrick’s Day gathering of the Clover Club at the Park Plaza Hotel in Boston, where I was asked to give a talk. This is the second time that I have attended one of their St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.IMG_1873

The evening featured skits and parodies and, in keeping with the light mood of the evening, I began by telling some of my favorite jokes and stories. Then on a more serious note, I reflected a bit on the life of St. Patrick, the Apostle of Ireland. They also had a wonderful glee club, which is directed by Richard Rouse who is Father Paul Rouse’s brother. They sang a lot of Irish songs during the evening. The highlight was when they sang “The Soldier’s Song,” which is the national anthem of Ireland, in Irish and English.

Sunday was ADL New England’s annual “A Nation of Immigrants” Community Seder. This Seder brings together people from many ethnic and religious groups in the community in order to highlight the fact that we are truly a nation of immigrants. This year, voter registration was one of the prominent themes, as we prepare for the election this November.IMG_1867

They also had a number of exhibits around the subject of immigration.IMG_1861

In my remarks, I thanked the ADL for hosting this important gathering at a time when there is so much anti-immigrant sentiment in our nation. I said that it was a great service to call people together to celebrate our immigrant roots in the United States.

I also reflected on some of the aspects of what it means to be an American. I said that America is unlike other countries, that have so many unifying factors — ethnicity, language, religion and history. Instead, what has unified us has been religious freedom, democracy and economic opportunity. So, we have been a very pluralistic society from the very beginning and, therefore, we have a great capacity to assimilate people into our country.

I also noted that it is important not to “write off” the value of working-class immigrants. There is talk about only allowing professionals — the ballerinas, the surgeons and the soccer stars — into our country. But the people who built our nation were very often poor, sometimes illiterate, working-class people who did very hard jobs, and their children have gone on to be successful professionals and make an incredible contribution to our society.

I also spoke about the history of Boston, which was transformed by the Great Famine in Ireland. One year after the famine, one-third of the population of Boston was Irish Catholic — and the welcome mat was not out. It was viewed almost as a sort of invasion. But I said that I am very proud of what the Irish have accomplished in our city and our country, even though their coming here was under very difficult circumstances.

Monday, I was very happy to meet with Bishop Ildo Fortes of the Diocese of Mindelo in Cape Verde, who was here to visit with the local Cape Verdean community.IMG_1870

IMG_1872He brought me the gift of a book about his ministry

He has sent us priests to help with the ministry to the Cape Verdean community. I was very happy to have an opportunity to greet him and thank him personally for the assistance he is providing to us.

Until next week,

Cardinal Seán