The Re-Dedication of St. John’s Church

posted by Mike on October 2nd, 2005

The first thing you’d notice upon entering the church: There’s no holy water.

The second thing: The tabernacle is wide open, empty.

Last September, the ceiling of St. John’s Church fell in.

Today, October 2, all the repairs were completed, and it was re-dedicated by Most Rev. Robert P. McManus, Bishop of Worcester.

The concelebrants were Msgr. Edmond Tinsley and Rev. John Madden, who is the administrator of St. John’s.

From the program:

St. John’s is the “mother church” of two dioceses, Springfield and Worcester. The legendary Father James Fitton, often named the Apostle of New England, was our founder.

In December, 1833, Father Fitton wrote to Bishop Fenwick about the need for a church in Worcester in order to “preserve the flame of faith at present kindled.” On July 7, 1834 Father Fitton laid the foundation for our first church building, Christ Church. Our current church was built in 1846 and renamed St. John’s.

Introductory Rites

The Mass of Dedication begins with the entrance procession. When the entrance rite is completed, the bishop blesses the water with which to sprinkle the people as a sign of repentance and as a reminder of their baptism, and to purify the walls and the altar of the church.

The mass began with a fantastic rendition of “All People That On Earth Do Dwell,” with organ and brass accompaniment. The bishop sprinkled holy water on the altar, the walls of the church, and the people. Then the Gloria was sung, in Latin. Another powerful song.

Sometimes I think of these great hymns as part of the “dynamite of the Church” that Catholic Worker co-founder Peter Maurin talked about:

If the Catholic Church
is not today
the dominant social dynamic force,
it is because Catholic scholars
have taken the dynamite
of the Church,
have wrapped it up
in nice phraseology,
placed it in an hermetic container
and sat on the lid.

Why do we hide the light of these great songs under a bushel? Why do we hide the weirdness of our lives as Catholics under a bushel? Why aren’t non-Catholics aware of our teachings on social justice? Why is the priest seen as less of a countercultural figure than some poseur punk kid?

Sometimes at the Catholic Worker, we’ll have a young homeless kid living with us, and he’ll start bragging to the other guests about his time in jail or gunfighting on the streets of Worcester. This is tolerated to a point, but if the kid starts glorifying jail, one of the older Catholic Workers will have to speak up and say, “How many jails have you been in? Well, of the sixteen I’ve been in, the worst by far are in the south. Lemme tell you about southern jails. . . .” Or if the kid is glorifying gunplay, someone may have to tell about being in a war zone, and being shot at by someone skilled with a gun, not these half-assed city kids.

I remember one night I was talking to one of these kids. This guy had a big skeleton tattooed on his forearm, and all kinds of evil-type designs elsewhere. He was going on and on about his bad-assedness. Then it came time to say Friday compline, and the kid joined in. The candles were lit, the lights turned off, and the chilling 88th Psalm began to take effect:

You have laid me in the tomb,
in places that are dark, in the depths.
Your anger weighs down upon me:
I am drowned beneath your waves.

We finished up with the Latin Salve Regina. The kid was crying at the end. He never played the badass again.

Liturgy of the Word

Msgr. Francis Scollen was the homilist. He was once at St. John’s himself.

He started off with a funny story about a church dedication near New Orleans where the priest was drunk.

Then he told the story of Auxiliary Bishop Reilly (our old bishop) and Bishop McManus (our new bishop) visiting St. John’s with Father John Madden after the collapse:

Bishop Reilly, his usual effervescent self, came in saying, “Oh, no!” and gave Father Madden a big hug.

Bishop McManus, in his somewhat unflappable manner, said, “Having a bad day, John?”

Msgr. Scollen thanked the bishop for supporting the restoration of the church, and everyone clapped for him. Then Msgr. Scollen thanked Father Madden for running the parish while all these repairs were taking place, and Father Madden received a standing ovation.

Now Father Madden is not the pastor of St. John’s, just the administrator. The pastor is Joe Coonan, who’s on leave because of a scandal. Father Joe is a very charismatic man, and attendance at St. John’s surged when he took over. Then the scandal happened, and he was placed on leave while things got sorted out. The parishioners continue to support him, and pray for his return, though this does not seem likely.

As the administrative replacement for a beloved priest who many parishioners feel got a raw deal, Father Madden has been in a tough spot. So the standing ovation was a real affirmation of the respect people have for him. He seems to have done a great job so far. He’s overseen the restoration of the church, the rectory, and the parking lot. He’s helped start a parish soup kitchen and a support group for prison ministers and ex-cons.

Liturgy of Dedication

A principal part of this rite is the dedication of the altar. After an invitation to prayer, the Litany of the Saints is sung and the prayer of dedication is offered by the bishop.

He then anoints the altar and the walls of the church. The oil of chrism is poured on the middle of the altar and on each of its four corners. After this, the walls of the church are anointed by tracing the sign of the cross on the crosses under each of four candles at the corners of the church.

The anointing is followed by the incensation of the altar, the church, and the people. After the incensation, the altar is wiped clean and covered with a cloth and decorated with candles and flowers for the celebration of the Eucharist.

Then the festive lighting takes place. As a sign of rejoicing, all the candles are lit, including those at the crosses which were anointed by the bishop.

When the Bishop anointed the altar, he really anointed the altar, rubbing oil into the entire surface.

Then two people came out with fresh white cloths to clean the oil from the altar and place a clean white cloth on it. The program listed 14 people under “clothing the altar,” and that’s about how many it took: five people to carry a second white cloth to the altar, four others to carry candles on huge floor stands that would be placed around the altar, and four others to carry wreathes for the candles. I think one of the two people involved in cleaning the altar was part of this second team also.

I’d expected to see something involving relics, but didn’t. Maybe the altar had gone through that when the church was originally dedicated.

Liturgy of the Eucharist and Communion Rite

This was familiar from normal mass. After communion, Bishop McManus led the “Inauguration of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel.” All of the priests and assistants processed throughout the church while we sang Pange Lingua, the same song we sing Holy Thursday when the blessed sacrament is removed from the church.

The bishop’s closing remarks were to the point and a bit dry, as is his style. He did a good impression of John Paul II.

Father Madden’s closing remarks were hearfelt and included a gratuitous reference to the Pittsburgh Steelers, as is his style.

After mass, Pie and Coffee asked altar server Amelia Angevine, “What’s it like working for the bishop?”

“Pretty good,” she said.


So you know we have same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. The past two weekends, there’s been a petition drive at Catholic masses for an amendment against gay marriage.

The Bishop’s most-reported activity of last week was substituting for the parish priests at St. Luke’s in Westboro. As the T&G reported:

In a parish bulletin issued Sept. 11, St. Luke’s two priests, the Rev. George O. Lange and the Rev. Steven M. LaBaire, announced that Massachusetts bishops are supporting an amendment to the state constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman, and were seeking parishioner help with a petition drive to obtain signatures to support the movement.

The announcement, however, contained an editorial comment saying the parish priests do not support the constitutional amendment, which prompted the unannounced visit last weekend from Bishop McManus.

The priests in Westboro wrote: “the priests of the parish do not feel that they can support this amendment. They do not see any value to it and they see it as an attack upon certain people in our parish, namely those who are gay.”

So Bishop McManus went out to Westboro, celebrated the masses there, gave strongly-worded homilies, and headed back to Worcester.

I have strong opinions on civil same-sex marriage, but they are ill-informed opinions, so I won’t share them here. I will say that I like the way the bishop handled this. He stepped in, said the homilies, and handed the parish back to the pastors. No sanctions, no punishment.

This is in contrast to Archbishop O’Malley in Boston, who forced the resignation of a popular priest in Newton. The priest was an outspoken critic of Cardinal Law’s handling of the sex-abuse scandal, and from press reports seems to be a bit more socially liberal than the hierarchy would like. But rather than say, “You’re out because you criticized the cardinal and you are not socially conservative enough,” the archdiocese concocted some phony financial “scandal” and pushed him out with that.

So anyway, the local press had a good time with Bishop McManus’s bold move of last weekend. This weekend, it was good to see him do something both non-controversial and wonderful.

In completely non-ecclesiastical local news, the Telegram & Gazette ran a nice article about some kids I know who have a hiking club: Boys stick together in quest of N.E. mountain challenge:

They are six boys, ages 10 to 13, who spent a good chunk of their summer climbing some of New England’s highest mountains. One of their conquests this year was Mount Greylock, the highest peak in Massachusetts.

They also climbed the highest mountains in Connecticut (Bear Mountain) and New Hampshire (Mount Washington).


The Mountain Warriors are Josef Ameur, Conor Cappe, Aiden Duffy, Patrick Duffy, Evan Johnson and Kieran O’Sullivan.

All of them live in Worcester. In 2004 they hiked a total of 31 miles to the summits of seven mountains, with a combined elevation of 21,418 feet.

This year they took on eight mountains totaling 36,226 feet in elevation.

The Mountain Warriors at the foot of Mt. Liberty
Patrick Duffy, Aiden Duffy, Kieran O’Sullivan, Evan Johnson, and Josef Ameur steel themselves for the hike up Mt. Liberty. Conor couldn’t make it that weekend. Photo: Pie and Coffee archives.

Fie on the T&G for being behind a pay wall so that you can’t read the article. (Local subscribers can register for free access. )

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2 Comments Leave a comment.

  1. On November 15, 2005 at 15:51 johnson nwannah said:

    i will love to be amenber of the church.

  2. On January 26, 2014 at 21:43 Alfred G."Jerry"Laverty said:

    I have been told by a relative that my 3rd Great-Grandfather,Robert F.Laverty,was instrumental in having the Bishop of the Archdiocese of Boston in sending Father James Fitton to Worcester in 1834,He was born in December,1790 in Ireland and died,March 25,1873 in Tewksbury,Mass. from debility. can my Information in any way be verified? Thank You! God Bless!

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