Catholic Free Press

Catholic Free Press Digital Edition

  • Oct
  • 31

Treasure revealed

Posted By October 31, 2013 | 12:45 pm | Lead Story #2

By Tanya Connor

WORCESTER – “St. Peter is here.”
Janine Gould, of Holy Family Parish, is talking about a relic of the first pope, displayed in a new chapel in the parish’s church, St. Joseph’s.
“I just love: ‘You are the Rock on which I will build my Church,’” Dr. Gould continues, quoting Jesus’ words to Peter. “The highest saint is St. Peter.” She points out his relic – the top one in the top reliquary on the chapel’s front wall. Directly above it, on a shelf,  is a relic of St. Anne.
“So, if you think of it, St. Anne, mother of Mary, and then below, St. Peter, that’s special,” she says. She finds the chapel “very peaceful and prayerful.”
Sacred relics are “a tangible connection with our spiritual past, in a world that’s so focused on what’s new,” says Father Steven M. LaBaire, Holy Family’s pastor. “This small chapel is an opportunity to prayerfully contemplate the holiness that has marked the Church’s journey through time.
“So many of the challenges faced by these saints were not unlike our own. If these sacred pieces of connection to the heroes of our past can inspire someone to find their own path to holiness today, they will have served the Church quite well.”
How the relics got here and what this space has seen are stories in themselves.
Father LaBaire says the parish has close to 370 relics, 353 of which are displayed in this chapel.
“They’re almost all first-class relics,” he says. “Every relic has an authenticating document.”
A first-class relic is a part of a saint’s body; a second-class relic is a piece of a saint’s clothing or something used by him or her; a third-class relic is an object touched to a first-class relic, Father LaBaire explains.
About 95 percent of Holy Family’s relics came from the former Holy Name of Jesus Parish; a few from the former St. Joseph’s and Notre Dame des Canadiens parishes, he says. They came together when the parishes were merged in 2008.
Father Richard G. Roger, who was pastor of Notre Dame-St. Joseph Parish, and then Holy Family, says he stored the relics in Notre Dame’s rectory, where he lived. He had been looking for a way to display them at St. Joseph’s.
This summer Father Roger retired and Father LaBaire took up the project.
“The diversity of characters and occupations and lives that they lived … that can be enlightening,” Father Roger says of the saints. “We have to see the history. The focus is on the people and how they sacrificed their lives for Christ.” He says early Christians celebrated Mass in the catacombs in Rome, over the remains of martyrs.
“I decided we should make a chapel,” Father LaBaire says of the left sacristy in St. Joseph’s, where in 1992 people occupied the church for 13 months in protest of its closing. (The court sided with Bishop Timothy J. Harrington and the police removed the people, but in 1996 a new bishop, Bishop Daniel P. Reilly, reopened the building.)
Recently some of those same occupiers raved about the relics chapel, where weekday Masses began Oct. 21.
“You come in here and you feel like God’s hugging you,” says Rita Dziemian, 90.
“The way Father did this – he’s got the eye,” says Anne Marie Archambault, her daughter.
Father LaBaire gives credit to Jim O’Brien, husband of Theresa O’Brien, parish secretary, who “beautifully arranged all the relics.”
“I think it’s beautiful,” says Therese Heroux. “I can’t think of anything else this could be. This is the best. … All those relics; they’re displayed so beautifully.”
Father LaBaire tells how the relics ended up here, referring to the 1993 booklet “Holy Name of Jesus Parish: 100 Years in South Worcester,” by local historian Richard L. Gagnon.
When Father Herménégilde A. Boutin was pastor of Holy Name, from 1949-1955, he had an oratory in the rectory that housed 700 relics he had been collecting for more than 35 years, according to the history.
“It was one of the largest collections of its kind in the country and spanned the 20 centuries of Catholic history,” the booklet says. It included “a splinter from the true cross” and relics of the 12 apostles.
Most were given to Father Boutin by the Grey Nuns and Sisters of Providence in Montreal. Some came from other sources, like the serviceman from Holy Name Parish who received about 50 from a grateful French nobleman during World War II.
“All were kept in sealed glass, hand-carved ornamental boxes or cruciformed, stand-up reliquaries so that they would be carefully preserved and receive the reverence and veneration due to them,” the history says.
When Father Boutin died suddenly in March 1955, the relics were left in the Diocese’s care. That summer they were transferred to a new Shrine of Relics in the church.
“When a fire struck Holy Name Church in 1960 … about a third of the relics were lost,” Father LaBaire says.
Among those now displayed in the chapel are ones of the Apostles and Saints Francis of Assisi, Nicholas, Patrick, Casimir, Hedwig, Francis Xavier, Camillus de Lellis, Therese of Lisieux, Francis de Sales, John Vianney, Charles Borromeo, Ignatius of Loyola, Kateri Tekakwitha and the North American Martyrs, Father LaBaire says.
By way of an anonymous donation, a second-class relic of Blessed John XXIII (a piece of his cassock) is soon to be added, he says.
Some relics still need to be put up, and some are displayed on the reredos in the church. One of those is of a saint to whom Father Boutin had a special devotion, Father LaBaire says: his patron, St. Herménégilde of Spain, who was martyred in 586 after rejecting the Arian heresy.
Father LaBaire says all are welcome to the chapel in the church at 35 Hamilton St., and he’ll offer an explanation of the relics as needed. The chapel is open before and after Masses, which are at 8 a.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, 5 p.m. Saturday and 9:30 a.m. Sunday.