header image
◄ Back to Cardinal's Corner Subscribe to RSS Feed

Boston pilgrimage to Our Lady of Knock

Tags: Main

Hello and welcome!
Last week I took part in a pilgrimage of Boston Catholics to Knock, Ireland.

But before I tell you more about that, on Tuesday the Red Sox celebrated Catholic Night at Fenway Park and, even though I could not be there, they asked me to send a short video that was played on the big screen.


You can read more on this story that was published on this week’s Pilot.

– – –

We had the honor of being on the historic first direct flight from Boston to the Knock airport.  The Knock airport was established 30 years ago by the rector of the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock, and is now one of the most important airports in Ireland serving the Western part of the country.

Despite the atrocious weather, the first inaugural transatlic flight from Boston USA arrives at Ireland West Airport Knock with American and Mayo flags fluttering from the cockpit. the flight carried 179 pilgrims to Knock shrine led by Archbishop of Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley. Picture Henry Wills.
In spite of the atrocious weather, smiles abounded from passengers as they alighted from the first inaugural transatlantic flight from Boston USA to Ireland West Airport Knock. Picture Henry Wills.
With us on the trip was Ambassador Raymond Flynn and his wife Kathy representing the City of Boston, since Mayor Marty Walsh was unable to be with us.  With us as well was the “Lord Mayor of West Roxbury” Richie Gormley.

Pilgrims Progress - Archbishop of Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley steps off the first transatlanic flight from Boston USA to Ireland West Airport Knock to the delight of welcoming party, Archbishop of Tuam, Dr Michael Neary, Knock Shrine PP Fr richard Gibbons, Mayo Co Council Cathaoirleach Collr Al McDonnell, and Airport Board Chairman Joe Kennedy. Also alighting from the flight, with the Cardinal who led 179 fellow pilgrims to Knock Shrine, is Airport Board International Chairman Brian O'Dwyer. Picture Henry Wills.

Archbishop of Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley is welcomed to Ireland West Airport by Knock Shrine PP Fr Richard Gibbons and Mayo Co Council's Al McDonnell. Also alighting the flight is Airport's dedicated International Board Chairman New York's Brian O'Dwyer. Picture Henry Wills.
When we arrived in Knock, we were met by the very impressive delegation of the Archbishop of Tuam, Archbishop Michael Neary; Sir Joseph Kennedy, the chairperson of the Board of Directors of the airport who is a Knight Commander of the Papal Order of St. Gregory and was in full uniform with plumes and sword; Father Richard Gibbons, the rector of the Knock Shrine; and Al McDonnell, the Cathaoirleach of the Mayo County Council.

Smiles all round as relatives await the pilgrim arrivals at Ireland West Airport Knock. Picture Henry Wills.

From the airport we went to the shrine, where the next day I had an interview with Irish television followed by the Mass of rededication of the shrine.


For Knock Shrine's Parish Priest Fr Richard Gibbons and his sister Aine, the arrival of Ireland West Airport's first transatlantic flight from Boston was a special day for the family. Senior Aer Lingus Cabin crew member Aine, pictured with her daughter Eva and husband Ronan O'Reilly, hosted the 179 pilgrims led by Archbishop of Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley during their visit to the shrine and it's Basilica Rededication. included with the Cardinal and the Gibbons' family on their arrival is Archbishop of Tuam Dr. Michael Neary. Picture Henry Wills

Knock Shrine Parish Priest Fr Richard Gibbons welcomes the Boston pilgrims on their arrival at Ireland West Airport. Also included from left, Archbishop of Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley, Airport International Manager Brian O'Dwyer, Mayo Co Council Cathaoirleach Al McDonnell and Chairman of the Airport Board Joe Kennedy. Picture Henry Wills.

The crowd was most impressive. The shrine, which I believe holds about 5,000 people, was completely filled.

The huge attendance at the National Rededication of Knock Shrine's Basilica of Our Lady. Picture Henry Wills

Attendance 1

Archbihop of Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley,left, pictured at the National Rededication of the Basilica of Our Lady of Knock. The cardinal led 179 of his Boston pilgrims to the ceremony attended Papal Nuncio Archbishop Charles John Browne, and members of the Irish hierarchy including from left, Archbishop of Tuam Michael Neary, Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin, Archbishop of dublin Diarmuid Martin and Archbishop of Cashel and Emly Kieran O'Reilly. Picture Henry Wills.

RededicationPractically every bishop in Ireland was there, along with the papal nuncio, Archbishop Charles Brown, U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Kevin O’Malley, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, as well as representatives of the different Catholic associations and organizations.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, American Ambassador to Ireland Kevin O'Malley and Arbhsip of Tuam, Killala and Achonry Rt Rev Patrick Rooke were among the huge attendance at the National Rededication of Knock Basilica. Picture Henry Wills.

Church dignatories at the Knock Basilica Rededication.
On top of that, it was just a beautiful day for the celebration. In fact, Ireland has had sort of a rainy summer.  As you can see from the photo of our arrival, when we arrived it was very gray and foggy — sort of the stereotypical Irish weather — but the day of the celebration was clear, bright and sunny.



It was a very beautiful ceremony of rededication of the basilica, in which we consecrated the altar and the walls.
The shrine has undergone extensive renovations, including a beautiful mosaic which is one of the largest mosaics in Europe. It depicts the apparition of the Blessed Mother with St. Joseph, St. John and the lamb with a cross on the altar.

Cardinal and Fr Richard

The apparition took place in August 1879. 15 witnesses saw the apparition and, a few months later, they all gave sworn testimonies to a commission of inquiry. At the end of the Mass 15 people dressed in period clothes representing those witnesses carried candles and processed to the altar.

And of course, we concluded with the singing of the beautiful hymn to Our Lady of Knock, which is so popular with Irish Americans. (We sang it at my father’s funeral and we sing it every year on St. Patrick’s Day at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross).

I would like to share with you a video of the Mass.


– – –

The following day, we went with the Boston group to Ballintubber Abbey, which is celebrating its 800th anniversary.





This is the abbey that Cromwell tried to destroy in 1653.  It was originally run by Canon Regulars of St. Augustine.  These are not the Augustinian Friars, but this is the group that was founded by St. Augustine for groups of diocesan priests to live in community.  They are the original Augustinians who ran that abbey on the place where St. Patrick had baptized thousands of people.  IMG_6116

In the picture you can see the stones in front of the statue in front of St. Patrick.
That is the old chariot road that goes from there to Mt. Croagh Patrick, which is the mountain where St. Patrick made his retreat. Every year in July thousands of Irish people climb that mountain – many of them in their bare feet – and go to confession and make a pilgrimage to the top of the mountain.  It’s a very popular religious practice in Ireland.



My grandfather’s family is from a town near there, called Westport, and in our clan there are many legends and stories about the famous Grace O’Malley, who was a pirate queen and even had meetings with Queen Elizabeth I.  Her son, Tibbot of the Ships, is buried in the sacristy of the abbey.

We joined the regular 11:30 parish Mass at the abbey and it was very encouraging to see the church filled with young families.  I think there were about eight servers and a beautiful choir.  It is a parish that is very lively and has many activities.  The pastor, Father Frank Fahey, has been there for 30 years.  They have beautiful grounds around the abbey, including the stations of the cross and the 15 decades of the rosary.  They also have an island retreat near there where people go to pray.  It’s a very active and vibrant Catholic community there.
After the Mass, we were invited to lunch in what was the old dormitory of the monks in the upper level of the church.  The people were so hospitable; it was a wonderful visit.

– – –
Finally I want to note this week the passing of Carmen Hernandez, one of the founders of the Neocatechumenal Way.  She died Tuesday in Spain after a very long illness.

She was an extraordinarily gifted woman with a great love for the Church.  I always enjoyed being in her company. She was very feisty, and you never knew what she going to say, but you knew she was a woman who was motivated to the core of her heart by faith and love.

The many contributions that she made to the Neocatechumenal Way will always be fondly remembered.  She has gone to her eternal reward — and I think that now they are going to have to include a smoking section in heaven for her!

Until next week,

Cardinal Seán

Tags: Main

Reflections of a newly ordained priest: Fr. Thomas Sullivan

Tags: Main

Hello and welcome!

Around the start of summer each year, I like to give an opportunity for two of our newly ordained priests to reflect on their experience. Last week, we heard from Father Christopher Bae, and this week I am happy to have Father Thomas Sullivan share his story with you.

– Cardinal Seán

– – –


It’s impossible to put into words all the workings of grace that lead a man to ordination and the priestly life. We can talk about significant events and people who have influenced us, we can piece together a concise narrative, but even we don’t understand all God has done in his providential care for each of us in order to accomplish his holy will.

But we still give our vocation stories anyway, as best we can, to give thanks to God and offer possible guidance to those who might follow the same road. Having lived with dozens of seminarians over the past five years, I’ve had the chance to hear dozens of vocation stories, and many have been inspiring and humbling. To be honest, there’s nothing particularly remarkable about my own story. I have no Saul on the Road to Damascus event to tell. The only remarkable feature of my background is my family, immediate and extended, which has been blessed with rather extraordinary graces when it comes to true Religion.


Baptized by my uncle, Father Bob Sullivan, at St. Theresa of the Child Jesus Church, Watertown.


Slightly older with my brother-in-law Jeff, sister Meg, and my parents next to Galway’s Cathedral.

The extended Sullivan family has been blessed with a strong faith, and that has born great fruit when it comes to strong marriages and several religious vocations. Born to Thomas and Geraldine (Reed) Sullivan in March of 1982, my part in that history began at my baptism in St. Theresa of the Child Jesus Church in Watertown, MA, on June 13, 1982. I was baptized by my Uncle Bob Sullivan, a priest of the Society of St. Joseph — an order that ministers specifically to African-American Catholics in the Baltimore/Washington area and along the Gulf Coast. St. Theresa of the Child Jesus would be the parish where I would go on to make First Penance and receive First Holy Communion, both with Father John Nichols who 26 years later would vest me at my priestly ordination.



With Father John Nichols at my First Holy Communion and being vested at Priestly Ordination.

The example of vocations to the religious life didn’t end there. My uncle, Ed Sullivan, is a permanent deacon in Baltimore, my aunt, Sister Eileen Sullivan, was a Sister of the Blessed Sacrament (St. Katharine Drexel’s order) and my grandmother’s brothers, Jack and Jim Coen were religious order priests — a Passionist and a Redemptorist, respectively. I give this inventory of vocations because this is the Catholic atmosphere I grew up in, and our earliest influences are often decisive. Apart from any accomplishments they had in their specific apostolates, the mere presence of these family members in my life made the possibility of a vocation something real and almost ordinary. The steadfast faith of my parents and the rest of our family demonstrated to me that the Catholic Faith isn’t one more feature of who we are, but something that permeates and animates the whole of life.



Granduncle Jack Coen, C.P., Uncle Bob Sullivan, S.S.J., Granduncle Bill Coen, and Granduncle Jim Coen, C.Ss.R.

The “whole of life” included Mass each Sunday and every other holy day of obligation. I was probably a typical kid, not always eager to wake up for that morning Mass, and often a pain in the neck in the pew. But I remember at a young age, before even receiving First Communion, looking at the priest at the altar and saying to myself, “I could do that…” before returning to my mischief under the pew. My vocation had no more dramatic beginning than that. I always wanted to be a priest. As I grew up I attended Boston College High School and Boston College, graduating in 2000 and 2004. At B.C., I majored in Philosophy with an eye to entering the seminary. In my studies I had the great benefit of being taught by men like Dr. Peter Kreeft, Father Ron Tacelli, and Father Gary Gurtler. They helped me see the beauty and inner cohesion of the Faith with which I had grown up, and I owe much in my formation to the truths in which they schooled me.


At the baptism of my niece/goddaughter

In college I took a course on The Confessions of St. Augustine, and while that work is a treasure trove of spiritual gems, one line in particular stood out as a summary of my post-college years. Augustine had been thoroughly convinced of the truth of the Catholic Religion, but his appetites weren’t yet brought to heel. He prayed that the Lord would grant him chastity, “but not yet.” While Augustine was speaking about a particular virtue, I could echo his words regarding my vocation. I often told God, “Yes, I’ll be a priest… but not yet.” It’s a result of having a fallen nature, even those who believe will often defer sanctity. We have so many attachments that the thought of giving everything up to follow Christ can be frightening. When I have given vocation talks in the past I like to include the concluding words of the great Pope Benedict XVI from his homily at the Mass inaugurating his pontificate. I use it so often because I need to constantly remind myself of the message:

“If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life. Amen.”

It’s that friendship with Christ, rooted in prayer and nurtured by the Sacraments, which sustains us in the particular vocation to which he calls each of us. It was after returning to regular and frequent Confession that I got the courage to finally bite the bullet and apply to seminary. And it was through study and prayer that I persevered to ordination. In my studies I came to know Christ better, and the more one knows Christ the more he can love Christ. The good friends God puts in your life help, too, as you share many of the same joys and hardships on your way to serving the Church we all love.


Ordained a deacon by the Cardinal with my uncle Deacon Ed Sullivan in the foreground.

At the start of my last semester in the seminary I was ordained to the diaconate, with my Uncle Ed acting as one of the deacons of the Mass. I served my diaconate at the great parish of St. Thomas Aquinas in Bridgewater with Father Bill Devine and Father Adrian Milik. It was an encouragement and foretaste of the priestly life, which I’d not yet experienced. I was finally able to proclaim the Gospel and preach. And I had the humbling privilege of baptizing three babies — driving to Pittsburgh for the first!


Administering baptism for the first time as a deacon, in Pittsburgh, PA, assisted by Seminarian Brian O’Hanlon.

The five months to priestly ordination flew by. All the years of preparation (and the more proximate stress of coordinating my first Mass the next day) melted away, and the three hour ordination could have lasted ten hours without me realizing it. Prone for the Litany of the Saints, kneeling before the Cardinal for the promise of obedience, the laying on of hands, reception of the chalice and paten, anointing with Sacred Chrism, and imparting to him my first blessing – I can recall all these moments vividly. Standing at that altar and concelebrating my first Mass was surreal. I felt like I was play acting! All those years of wanting to be a priest finally came to fulfillment, and yet it was difficult grasping that it had actually happened. God’s grace can change us in an instant: in the baptismal font, at an ordination, in the confessional, at the altar rail. And our response should be gratitude. Which is what happened the next day at my first Mass of Thanksgiving.



I offered Mass at Sacred Heart Church in Watertown, a church in which so many Sullivans received the Sacraments, including my uncle’s own ordination to the priesthood. It was good to have so many friends and family assisting — clergy and laity and friends from the seminary. I offered the Mass for my grandparents, Warren and Bernadine (McDowell) Reed and Edward and Margaret (Coen) Sullivan… without whom the church would have been empty that day.


Pictured after my first Mass at Sacred Heart, Watertown, with Seminarian Brian Cullen and Deacon Jason Giombetti.

Since starting my assignment at St. Catherine of Siena in Norwood I’ve quickly come to grips with ordination: I really AM a priest. My first full day I got called out to administer the Anointing of the Sick. I’ve heard many impromptu confessions. I’ve enjoyed visiting the parish school, attending morning prayers in the gym and popping into classrooms. And I’ve met countless other parishioners. But best of all, I look forward every day to being able to say Mass.

I began by saying nobody could ever give a full account of his vocation story. Well, no priest could ever fully understand the mystery of the Eucharist and the Mass, either. And maybe that’s the veil we need between heaven and earth, the veil of bread and wine concealing Christ’s Body and Blood, which gives us the courage, and even eagerness, to dare approach the altar. By God’s grace, I’ll never lose that eagerness to offer the Holy Sacrifice.


In the sanctuary at St. Catherine of Siena Church, Norwood – my first assignment.

Thank you to everyone who has prayed for me over the years. Please, continue to pray for me, for all priests and seminarians, and that more men will answer the call.

Tags: Main