Sale of Traditional Church Signals Death Knell for Catholic Boston

(The Final Days of Holy Trinity Church)

Steve O'Brien

( The hour is near.  Unless there is some kind of dramatic intervention from on high (however that may be interpreted) Holy Trinity church in the South End of Boston is soon to be eradicated.  Should this German Gothic structure fall to the bulldozers and wrecking balls of developers, it will symbolize yet another step in the thoroughgoing moral disintegration in what was once America’s most spectacularly Catholic archdiocese.  Cursed with a string of abysmal prelates since the death of O’Connell in the 1940s, the Catholic population in Boston and in Massachusetts at large is as degraded as any in the world.  State and local politicians, and those sent to the U.S. House and Senate, are among the most virulently hateful anti-Catholics in the nation, interminably returned to office by a constituency overwhelmingly “Catholic.”  This Catholic state is already Mecca for sexual predators. Now, as I write, some in the legislature are promoting bestiality.  When you’ve gone as low as you can go, it's time to dig a sub-basement.

Masses at many parishes are a stew of witchcraft, obsequious apologies, and “gay” agitprop.  The small pro-life community is routinely subjected to police brutality but the prelates remain silent.  Churches are routinely vandalized and desecrated but the prelates remain silent. It cannot be said that the bishops are entirely out of action, however.  Archbishop Sean O’Malley did put together a stellar coalition of the state’s bishops to fight the homosexual “marriage” fiat.  Too bad the whole thing unraveled when one of the aforementioned shepherds was screamed out of the closet by two of his “alleged” victims.

In this cauldron of dross there is a fleck of gold.  Holy Trinity, as many Traditionalists know, is the one parish in the archdiocese which is officially allowed the Latin Mass.  For the past fifteen years, a devoted cadre of parishioners has kept the church going as a beacon of God’s light in the vast wasteland that is the archdiocese.  It is entirely fitting that this structure is the last stronghold of traditional Catholicism in Boston.

Holy Trinity parish was originally formed in the 1840s to serve the small community of German Catholics in the area and for many years had a troubled history, which included bankruptcy and factional squabbles.  By the second half of the 19th century, the Jesuits were in charge and the extant building was completed in 1877 at great cost to, and sacrifice by, the parishioners and the priests of the Society of Jesus.

When Catholics first worshipped at this church, Pio Nono was still on the throne of Peter after thirty-one years of being savaged by successive waves of anti-clerical European regimes and rebels.  Pius’ camerlengo,  Gioacchino Pecci, would soon succeed him as Leo XIII.

The year that Holy Trinity opened its doors, John Boyle O’Reilly was occupied composing poetry and editing the Pilot, an Irish newspaper, not yet the official organ of the archdiocese.  At the same time, William Henry O’Connell, the indefatigable, imperious future cardinal was just entering Boston College, then located in the South End near the parish.  In 1877, the “Boston Strong Boy,” John L. Sullivan, was still five years from becoming the heavyweight champion of the world and neither the Red Sox nor Fenway Park yet existed.

When Mass was first said at Holy Trinity, Rutherford B. Hayes was president, winner of one of the most dubious elections in American history, and the Civil War was still a recent memory.  The Spanish American War, World Wars I and II, and all of the others were cataclysms yet to happen.  At the church, generations of Catholics celebrated the rituals of the Faith as they passed through this mortal coil.  How many children have been baptized at its font?  How many brides have shed happy tears at its altar?  How many of the faithful have shed tears of anguish there, before the casket of one of their own?

Today, after 128 years, the church is on the archbishop’s hit list of parishes to be closed to pay off the whopping settlement incurred by decades of child molestation cases.  A gang of homosexual predator-priests did this, they and the bishops who protected, enabled, and empowered them.  When the cesspool finally overflowed a few years ago, Bernard Law was rewarded with a sinecure in Rome and John Paul moved Sean O’Malley, formerly of the Fall River and Palm Beach dioceses, to Boston.  In many quarters there was relief that the reviled Law was gone, but there was also a hope that O’Malley would go to work cleaning up the effluence.  This has not happened and he has spent his time converting churches to ready cash.  Though a few of the predator priests are either in jail or dead, the Augean Stables that are the Archdiocese of Boston have yet to be cleansed, and O’Malley is anything but a Hercules.

In a sane Church, Holy Trinity would not be a parish slated for closing, since the Latin Masses are well-attended and the parishioners enthusiastic.  But real estate in downtown Boston is phenomenally expensive and even though Holy Trinity is in an Asian neighborhood, the property it sits on is likely to fetch an exorbitant amount, presumably millions of dollars. A few hundred Latin Mass devotees and a handful of German-Americans are nothing compared to that payday.

Now, I have a dog in this fight, and it concerns the old Company of Jesus boys.  For some years, I’ve spent a lot of hours with books written by and about the Jesuits. Because anti-Catholics have always hated them passionately, I had a predisposition to admire them. For centuries, the Jesuits were the “Can-Do” men of the Church; men, not gods, but men who steeled themselves for any miserable task; men who lived to endure.

A few years ago, I was hunting at a library book sale.  Whether books are face up or spine up, it’s easy to find what I’m looking for.  Any volume with S.J. after the author’s name gets snatched, though most of the stuff published after 1960 gets tossed back. 

One little book I found was about Kateri Tekakwitha, written by F.X. Weiser, S.J.  At the time I knew nothing about him but a former owner had thoughtfully left a 1986 obituary clipping in the book.  It indicated that he was an Austrian who had come to America at the beginning of World War II and spent the rest of his life in pastoral work and academia. He sounded interesting and I thought I’d look into him someday.  Father Weiser had also signed the book, and, for me, autographed books have an aura.  The man himself had this copy in his hands, and a good book represents the heart and soul of the guy who squeezed out every word.  When you find an autographed book the author is talking to you, even if he’s long dead. Subsequently I picked up two more of his books, one concerning the traditions of Christmas and the other on Holydays. Regarding them, it is evident Weiser loved what he was doing and loved the Church.  The books are little treasures.

Last spring, the president of the Holy Name Society at Holy Trinity asked me to speak at the Society’s lecture series, provided, of course, that the doors were still open in September.  As fate would have it, the lecture series is named in honor of that selfsame Fr. Francis X. Weiser, S.J., who was Holy Trinity’s pastor in the 1940s.  If the church was still alive in the fall, and I was, I’d be there.

Sunday, September 18 was a beautiful day in Boston, sunny and windy.  The president of the Holy Name Society and I strolled around the church prior to the noon High Mass, admiring the artwork and discussing the imminent closing. Many Traditionalists from all over the country have come to Holy Trinity as to a shrine, and for good reason.  The church remains a Catholic church, not a Puritan meeting house or converted Seven-Eleven.  The Novus Ordo crowd can keep their ersatz “worship spaces.” This is the real thing.  The honest-to-goodness altar appears to be marble but is actually intricately carved wood that has been colored white.  The stained glass windows and massive Stations of the Cross are predictably wonderful.  And Lord, what a collection of statues!  Larger than life-size figures of Jesus and Mary flank the main altar as St. Joseph, not to be neglected, stands watch over a side altar.

It is everywhere evident who the caretakers of this church were.  Here, a statue of Ignatius; there, one of his lieutenant, Francis Xavier.  Abutting the ceiling, in twin rows of alcoves in the nave, are paintings of the pair, joined by some of the other heroes of the long black line.  Depicted are Peter Claver, the “Slave of the slaves”; the fantastic General, Francis Borgia; the humble porter Alphonsus Rodriguez; Robert Bellarmine, hero of the Catholic Reformation who had “no equal for learning”; Peter Canisius, “Second apostle to Germany,” entirely appropriate considering the Church’s  history,  and the three who died too young, Aloysius, Stanislaus, and John Berchmans, who nevertheless get to mingle amongst the greybeards through eternity.  It’s not the Sistine Chapel, but some artist worked his craft on scaffolding, putting those images on high so that the Jesuits could look down in perpetuity and watch the people at Mass.  Oh, yes, it’s very clear who tended to this church for many years.

The Jesuits left Holy Trinity in 1961, though of course there is still a Jesuit presence in town, at Boston College.  But to compare the modernist Jesuits to the iron men of the past is to liken chopped liver to filet mignon.  At B.C., the aged apostles of liberation theology soldier on, espousing just about every conceivable immorality.  Have you heard the latest?  The war of “gay” “rights” is consonant with Ignatius’ concept of “social justice.”  I prefer to think that Ignatius will shish kebab these blasphemers with his G.I. sword on the other side.  Certainly there are a few good men left in the order but they’re not the ones calling the shots or getting their names in the papers.  The showboats are the characters cheering for euthanasia and abortion, and that’s just for starters.

Back at Holy Trinity, the Mass I attended was reverently conducted by an intense diocesan priest.  The atmosphere in the sacristy prior to the Mass was electric.  Some of the team vested the priest, others prepared the censers and torches.  During the Mass, smoke and pungent incense wafted through the church. The priest knew why he was there.  He was not a clown or an emcee.  He didn’t crack jokes, try to be “mod,” or appeal to the children.  Instead, he offered the sacrifice of the Mass in a language which the Church found perfectly acceptable for more than a millennium, and in a manner which those men on the ceiling loved well.

After the Mass, I was to speak in the lower church.  I had something up my sleeve that I wanted to spring on the parish.  A few months before, I had asked Father McLucas at The Latin Mass if he was interested in an article on the history of the church.  He gave me the green light and I finally got to do a little research, not just on the church, but on Father Weiser, who had been with me since I discovered his books.  The issue of The Latin Mass came out only a few days before I was to speak and the people at the Keep the Faith office rushed a big box of copies so that I could give them to the parishioners.  One woman, near tears, thanked me for writing a tribute to the church.  Another lady thought that the article would spur action, because, she assured me, the magazine is “read in Rome.”

Read in Rome.  Does anyone actually believe that Rome would stir itself to save an historical church on the chopping block?  Then I allowed myself a flight of fancy.  Why not?  What if the Bavarian wearing the fisherman’s ring somehow heard the story of Holy Trinity and decided to do right by these people?  After all, the church was founded by German immigrants and he likes to talk about a “re-evangelization” of the West.  Where better to begin than at the last, beleaguered garrison in a once-Catholic city, now crawling with pagan barbarians?  If only he would hop a jet (surely his passport is in order) and show up at the old fortress, perhaps to deliver a sermon explaining that marriage is a sacred bond between a man and a woman, not a hook-up between a man and a man, a man and a boy, or a man and a twenty-mule team.  He might even exhort the Catholics of the city to get up on their hind legs, act like Catholics again, and oust their rulers who hate both them and God.  On his way back to the airport he might even suggest to O’Malley that the parish be kept open and, presumably, the archbishop would get the message.

This would be an eminently realizable miracle.  But it isn’t going to happen.  The current pope appears content to follow his predecessor’s policy of appeasing those who reject the Lord, even as Catholics striving to live the Gospel suffer endlessly.  And while mitered (Kasper) milquetoasts celebrate forty years of Nostra Aetate, the Church’s enemies celebrate forty years of Catholic cowardice and decay.  As for O’Malley, he, unfortunately, shares some of the characteristics of his unlamented predecessor.  It must be said that taking over the morally bankrupt archdiocese in the wake of Law’s regime would have been a daunting task for even a very strong man. 

What Boston Catholics needed, desperately, was a man of courage who would first clean out St. John’s Seminary, then correct the abuses in the parishes by ejecting every priest engaged in sexual activities with anyone or anything.  Such a man of scruple would be pilloried by every malignant bigot both without and within the Church.  The only folks he’d have with him are the minority of Catholics sick in the gut over the way things are, and have been for decades.

O’Malley’s “promotion” to Boston is a dreary continuation of what went on before.  He has been repeatedly humiliated by Mayor Thomas “Mumbles” Menino; yet another “Catholic” politician with a vicious animus toward the Church.  Menino’s career has been built upon adoration of homosexuals and abortion and aggression against orthodox Catholics, a sure-fire combination for political success in Massachusetts.  O’Malley has consistently failed to stand up to Menino and to defend Catholics against his and other politicians’ attacks on the Faith.  Just recently O’Malley was scheduled to appear at a Catholic Charities party honoring this creature, before the attendant publicity shamed him into withdrawing from the event. The perversely misnamed Catholic Charities group are the very ones who adopt children to homosexuals.  Such is what passes for good works in post-Catholic Boston.

In other matters, O’Malley appears insensible.  His reaction to the enrollment difficulties in diocesan schools indicates a man out of touch with reality.  He has claimed that Catholic schools were begun because of pervasive anti-Catholicism but since that does not exist anymore, the schools must find another mission.  If O’Malley is sincerely unaware of the boiling hatred in this society of everything genuinely Catholic, he is beyond reason.

One of the causes, by the way, of the vacant schools was O’Malley’s implementation of the controversial “Talking about Touching” program in 2003.  When disgusted parents sought to have their children opt out of that, they were told by the archdiocese’s  priest-spokesman that, if they didn’t like it, they weren’t forced to send their children to Catholic schools.  In other words, shut up about the filth or get your kids out.  Not much Christian charity there.  Is it any wonder that the schools are dying?

The parochial schools could perhaps benefit from an infusion of decency and Catholic teaching, but those concepts are not even on the table.  O’Malley chose instead to bring in money men from that university on Chestnut Hill. These financial wizards are planning to “Boston College” the schools by filling them with non-Catholics.  And so, adieu to the Catholic school in the Archdiocese of Boston.

Now it may seem that I have digressed from the sad story of Holy Trinity’s closing, but not so.  The eradication of that lovely and beloved church and the pathetic condition of the institutional Church in Boston are of the same cloth.  There seems to be no legitimate reason to close and sell the church.  The Novus Ordo Masses are not the draw, but the Latin Masses pack the pews.  As heretofore noted, the church has a devoted parish community.  Worshippers drive from all over the state, and from as far away as Maine to hear the Latin Mass.  Even now, with the archbishop threatening to padlock the doors, the parish continues to present cultural events, including concerts which take advantage of the church’s excellent acoustics.  Holy Trinity even has a parking lot, that rarest of commodities in downtown Boston, and a priceless asset to an urban parish.  The bureaucrats have been characteristically obtuse, but the feeling is that the parish will be extirpated after December 25. This, remember, is the church credited with introducing the Christmas tree, the Christmas card, and the Christmas pageant to America.

As I left the church on that blustery September afternoon, I glanced back and envisioned an empty hole.  Should O’Malley go through with his plans, it won’t be a pretty sight.  Like abortion, the reality is a horrific event, not the bloodless theory of its advocates.   It is possible, though improbable, that a purchaser would reuse the building in its original form for some purpose.  But because of the structure’s age, converting it to, say, apartments for the wealthy or a barroom would probably be prohibitively expensive.  It is assured that once the building is on the market, the Archbishop will realize a fantastic profit on its sale, though still less than true value because he’s an eager seller.

A developer planning to vomit up a concrete eyesore on the real estate could have the site cleared in one day. A crew with crowbars and sledgehammers would make short work of the Stations of the Cross, while another group filled a dumpster with statues.  A wrecking ball or a giant crane can crack the exterior walls of granite and in the process smash the stained glass windows into a million shards.  When the roof collapses, that Black Legion of Jesuit saints will go crashing down, to be scooped up into a dump truck and hauled away with all of the rest of the wreckage.  However, the church’s destruction will not go unnoticed.  It is guaranteed that the demolition of this historic shrine will generate a great deal of national publicity for the Archbishop.

On that day O’Malley will have killed two birds with one stone.  The sale of the church will net a hefty wad of cash but, perhaps as importantly, the Latin Mass community will be dispersed and the ancient rite may eventually, if not immediately, be prohibited again.  For the Vatican II hierarchy, churches like Holy Trinity and the devout Catholics who adhere to Latin are tangible and infuriating reminders of the way the Church once was, and, if it is to survive in any meaningful way, must be again.  Those whose rice bowl depends upon the modernist version of the Church must fight, tooth and nail, to prevent any more Catholics from “going back there” and so must continue to promote the prevailing bedlam.  In Boston, it’s only a matter of time before another predator scandal erupts.  Whether or not O’Malley survives the Iroquois gauntlet he’ll be dragged through is of no consequence. He’ll learn, to his sorrow, that collaboration with the Enemy avails him nothing.  It will be left to whoever replaces him, or the one after that, to do what needs to be done.

During the Roman republic, virtus, meaning manliness, was the noblest of characteristics.  The saying went that virtus ariete fortior, virtue is stronger than a battering ram.   Those of us who seek the resurrection of the Church await an ecclesiastical champion well-imbued with virtue to begin the job.  The successful applicant must also be in possession of a good stout backbone and a head harder than a battering ram.


 Steve O'Brien holds a PhD in history from Boston College

and writes the Biography Department for The Latin Mass.