Cardinal Seán's Blog

Cardinal Seán O’Malley shares his reflections and experiences

Giving thanks to God

Hello and welcome!

As I do every year on Thanksgiving week, I am posting my blog a couple of days early so I can spend time with my family for the holiday.

Following the meeting of the bishops’ conference last week, I traveled to Pittsburgh for the celebration of our Capuchin Province’s 150th anniversary. When our Province of St. Augustine started, most of the members were lay brothers, which was very typical of the way things were in Germany – there were more brothers than priests.  So, though it is hard to read, the photo says, “Capuchin lay brothers in Herman in 1913”.

In the 1870s and 1880s, there was a virulent persecution of the Catholic Church in Germany, which was called the Kulturkampf.  The architect of that was Otto von Bismarck, and I always say that we should build a monument to him in the United States because he caused so many priests, nuns, monks and friars to be sent to this country.  Of course, the largest European ethnic group in the U.S. has always been the Germans and 150 years ago, there was quite a scarcity of clergy to serve the German-speaking immigrants here.

It was during this time that our friars came from Bavaria, from Altötting, which is the very famous Marian shrine very close to where Pope Benedict was born.  When they arrived, they went first to St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe because there was a very famous abbot there named Archabbot Wimmer, and he received the Capuchins.  At the time, he was the most important German figure in that part of the country.  In fact, The King of Bavaria had given him money to start a convent of Benedictines in Collegeville, Minnesota, and the King thought it was going to be a convent of nuns, but he also made another monastery for monks.  That, of course, is where St. John’s Abbey is today.

After that, the friars went to Pittsburgh, where we took over care of the German parish of Lawrenceville.

In the program, there is a picture of Father Hyacinth Epp who is the founder.

Within a couple of years, they had built the seminary in Herman, Pennsylvania, which is just outside of Pittsburgh.  (And when I say built, I mean that literally – the friars made the very bricks!)  Many of them were also excellent woodcarvers from Bavaria, and they made the altar, the reredos, and the statues in the church.  The church itself, St. Augustine’s, is a replica of St. Benno’s Church in Munich.

In the 20th century, we began to have missions.  We first went to China and then to Puerto Rico and Papua New Guinea.  Papua New Guinea and Puerto Rico have grown, and we just sent another friar back to China.

I very much like these pictures in the program.

In the bottom right-hand corner, there is a man from Papua New Guinea talking to Father Jonathan, who was a classmate of mine.

On the upper left-hand side, you see the friars from the original China mission that came to an end around 1950.

The other scenes are from Puerto Rico, where I worked as a subdeacon.  In fact, it was at that yellow church you see in the photos, San Miguel in Utuado, which is up in the mountains.  As I say, when I was there, only jeeps and horses could get around.  There were no regular cars, so some of the chapels we went to on horseback.

They asked me to preach at the anniversary Mass at St. Augustine’s on Saturday.  Bishop Bartchak from Altoona-Johnstown Diocese was there, as was Archabbot Martin of St. Vincent’s in Latrobe, who is the successor of the first abbot who received the Capuchins when they came from Germany.


In my reflections, I talked about how when I arrived at St. Fidelis Seminary, it was still very German.  We had one of the largest German libraries in the United States, and on top of all the bookshelves were beer steins. In former generations, one was assigned to each seminarian, and the friars made beer right there in the monastery.

On Sunday, I was back in Boston to celebrate the annual Appreciation Mass for our Catholic Appeal volunteers and benefactors.  I was very happy to celebrate this Mass, especially since it was the Sunday before Thanksgiving, a time we want to express our thanks to God.

On that day, we were giving thanks to God for the generous benefactors and friends we have who support the works of evangelization and works of mercy of the Archdiocese of Boston with their prayers, sacrifices and the time that they dedicate to help the church.

It was a lovely celebration, and it was good to see so many people there.  There was a wonderful turnout.

Finally, as we prepare to celebrate this Thanksgiving holiday, I’d like to say how thankful I am for the gift of our faith and our community of faith, the people who make up the archdiocese whose witness and generosity are crucial for the mission of the Church.

We pray that people are able to gather with their loved ones for this very beautiful American feast, in which we recognize that everything we have, and everything we are, is a gift from our loving God.  It is my hope that we will all come to understand that the best way to show our gratitude to God is by sharing the blessings we have received with those in need.  It’s also a time when we come together to pray for peace in our world, particularly in the Holy Land and Ukraine, where people are suffering the ravages of war.

I wish you all a blessed and happy Thanksgiving!

Until next week,

Cardinal Seán