In 1927 the Cardinal Archbishop of Boston donated his mansion and carriage house to the Franciscan Friars of Holy Name Province for use as a retreat house. A chapel was opened in another building in 1945, and that building was remodeled as a shrine the following year. It quickly proved to be too small, however, and ground was broken for the present building in 1952 by the Most Revd Richard J. Cushing, Archbishop of Boston, on the occasion of his becoming a Franciscan priest. (Archbishop Cushing would not be elevated to cardinal until 1958.) The exterior is simple concrete with tall thin stained glass windows and a very large crucifix. The most striking feature about the interior is a large mural behind the altar, which depicts St Anthony kneeling before the Madonna and Child, attended by assorted angels and cherubim.
St Anthony of Padua is probably the most venerated Franciscan saint after St Francis himself. It was said that he could outpreach even the Dominicans. He is the patron saint of lost items – legend has it that Anthony prayed that a disgruntled Franciscan novice who had taken a book of psalms from him would return it, which is exactly what happened – not only that, but the thief repented of his dissatisfaction with the Franciscans and went on to take final vows. The St Anthony Shrine is, of course, a shrine, so it does not serve as a normal geographic or ethnic parish, as most Catholic churches do. The shrine ministers primarily to the many Catholics who work in the area, with a special outreach to the marginalized. It offers many ministries, including bereavement, recovery, and spiritual direction, as well as outreach to youth and the homeless. Their Lazarus Ministry has as its purpose to provide proper and dignified burials to the homeless and abandoned.
The St Anthony Shrine is tucked between two buildings on Arch Street – which in turn earned it its nickname of ‘the church on Arch Street,’ which is how many Bostonians refer to it. This is the area known as the Downtown Crossing, the major shopping district of downtown Boston. It is a short distance from a number of social service programs, including St Francis House, a homeless day shelter that, while no longer operated by the friars, was started as an outreach program of the shrine. Until recently there was very little housing in the immediate area other than the infamous ‘houses of ill repute’ of Boston’s red light district – but that’s gone now, and gentrification has set in, with many multi-million dollar condominiums springing up at an ever quickening pace.
The mass was offered by a young Vietnamese friar who spoke English flawlessly. He was assisted by a lector, two extraordinary ministers, and a rock and roll band.
What was the name of the service?Vigil Mass for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time.
How full was the building?
The mass was held in the upper chapel, which probably holds about 500 and was about 95 per cent full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
We arrived just as the rock and roll praise band was tuning up, and we had to squeeze in. There was a very nice friar at the information desk who directed my wife and child to the facilities.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, very much so.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Sorry, missed it.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The typical worship resource from Oregon Catholic Press was in the pews. However, the songs sung by the band came from someplace else. I had never heard them before.
What musical instruments were played?
Keyboard, guitar, drums – maybe more.
Did anything distract you?
The rock and roll band. I felt like I was at some sort of evangelical praise service, not the holy sacrifice of the mass.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The propers of the mass were sung in what I would call happy clappy Kumbaya style. The band was a bit overpowering and the music was unsingable. I really miss singing. I do wish the music in the average Catholic parish was recognizable and not so consistently bad – or at least that it was singable.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 — The priest was very young, which surprised me in a good way, as I thought the Franciscans were struggling to get vocations. His projection was excellent and got better as he went.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He referred to his mother's long illness and how he and his brothers had prayed for her for a long time without an apparent result. This frustrated and bothered him. However, as he lived through the experience and the eventual passing of his mother, he realized that the fruit of his prayer was the prayer itself – how it changed him and his brothers and brought them closer to God.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I have to say the sermon – it connected!
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Two points: First, the praise band. They were talented enough, but such music often makes me feel left out because I actually enjoy singing traditional hymns. Unrecognizable rock music is a bit much. Second: At communion, we waited for the row in front of us to go, if they so chose, but the gentleman at the end impatiently headed up cutting the line. I suppose such enthusiasm over the eucharist is a good thing, but it made us have to climb over him when we got back to the pew.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There was no after-service coffee, it being a vigil mass. However, before we headed off to dinner and a musical in the nearby theatre district, we did duck into the downstairs chapel so I could show my daughter the beautiful and unique statue of Mary the Mother of God full with child (as they used to say), that they have there.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 — The St Anthony Shrine has a very robust schedule for confessions, which many downtown Boston Catholics take advantage of. Now that I am working in the area again, I am certain I will take advantage of that schedule and perhaps a holy day liturgy. However, I will likely avoid the rock and roll mass.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, it's not about the music..
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
It's been more than seven days since I attended – and that sermon rocked!