Our First Friends in Boston: 1950-1952
Sister Margaret O’Conor, among the pioneer MMMs in Boston, recalled:
“About two weeks after we arrived, Sister St. John and myself began to visit the parishes with a view to having the movie shown and our work known. Sister St. John had been one of Mother’s early companions, and the first nurse to enter MMM. She had been in Nigeria for a number of years, and was living for the day she would go back. She begged with charming intensity for the leprosy patients and frequently sent off parcels for them to her beloved Nigeria. Besides being charming, she was witty and entertaining, and very knowledgeable about Nigeria and about the early days of the Congregation. She loved talking to people, but in ones or twos, so she insisted that I address groups. I found this very difficult in the beginning, as I had no firsthand knowledge of the missions. Gradually I found ways of doing it, though, and later was glad to have had the experience.”
She also remembered, “Although we got the Guild established and subsequently had many showings of the movie, we continued to be very, very short of cash for those early years. We never bought fresh meat, like hamburger or beef, etc. Sometimes an Irish girl working out in the Back Bay would bring in some very much-needed things, on a Saturday evening, when no one but the Lord would have known our need. Here she would come, perhaps someone we had never met before, laden with bacon, sausages, butter, cheese and maybe homemade bread.”
Notes from the Regional archives say, “The Guild was mostly composed of young Irish girls who had come out here years ago and had jobs cleaning, working or cooking in the homes of the rich. Most of them were unmarried. Possibly they had been sending money to their families in Ireland, also supporting the Church and other mission societies and they really built the churches around Boston. The ones who gave maybe a dollar a month, but it came each month. They also put on many card parties for us.”
Margaret still recalled the first Thanksgiving Day at Commonwealth Avenue. “On our first Thanksgiving Day, the pastor from Saint Cecilia’s in the Back Bay sent us a turkey, and later on he sometimes sent us gifts of meat. Again, he could not have known that we did not have these things. We were, of course, anxious to send help for the missions in Africa and the needs of the Motherhouse from the beginning.
“That first winter was a hard one, and we learned how to shovel snow off the sidewalks. We also learned, long before the oil crunch, how expensive it was to heat a house with very high ceilings and many windows not winterized. Our clothing was not meant for Boston’s harsh winters.
“But one morning we had a shock to find that a pipe had burst, and we had to find ways of getting funds to replace it quickly before further damage was done. Therese (who was local superior) was adamant that we would not ask the Archbishop for further help. He had already given us the house, after all. That very day, a priest came and wrote out a check sufficient to cover the cost of the repairs.
“Mother Mary appreciated the generosity of the many friends of the pioneering days in Boston. ‘Everyone,’ she said, ‘has been so kind. Why, the doorbell is apt to jingle at any hour of the day, and it will be someone with a gift for us.’
Margaret also stressed the support provided by other groups of Sisters. “The Ursulines, who lived on Arlington Street in Boston, overlooking the Boston Gardens, helped us with food and advice of all kinds. Now when I pass by, and see that the Ursulines are no longer there, I offer a silent prayer for Mother Elizabeth and those other Ursulines who made our days somewhat easier back then. They also shared their library and their days of prayer with us, as well as the chapel before our own was installed.
“The Poor Clares were also staunch supporters. As you know, Mother Mary was always devoted to groups of enclosed sisters, and so one of the first things she did in Boston was to visit the Poor Clare convent in Jamaica Plain. There, Mother Virgilius not only promised prayer for the success of our ventures in the US, but later arranged for us to share in the donations of food which were made to themselves. Between all this help we survived those first years, snows, floods, broken pipes and exile.”
Margaret also recalled that they had some very, very good days, and some fun, too. The Lord sent along people to help in this area. She remembered the friendship of the Marist priest who was attached to Our Lady of Victories Church, Isabella Street, and who acted as chaplain to MMM in those days. “Outstanding was our chaplain, Father Gerard Maynard. May the Lord rest his gentle and generous soul. I think he could gauge the temperature of the house at morning Mass, and if he found that the spirits were lagging, before the morning was over he had discovered some special feast day and had sent around flowers and ice cream. Sometimes he sent over a movie, which was very welcome. In those days, the only movie we saw was Visitation, which got to be a bit boring after the first few hundred showings! There was no TV either, although, again, after some months, someone gave us a six-inch TV, and we used to watch mainly religious programs.
“But I don’t think that any of the early MMMs in Boston can ever forget the goodness of Father Maynard…He thought we were very adventurous, not to say foolhardy, to venture out in a car for destinations far away to do church collections. Also to travel at night. These were part of our summers from the first summer on. Mother Mary had visited the Propagation of the Faith directors in several dioceses that first summer with Sister Stella, before we arrived, and they responded to our need by giving us churches. Often on Sundays there would be no one in the house except Therese, who could never bring herself to make a church appeal, being fundamentally too shy, I guess, but she more than made up for this with her organizing skills and with the skill of her hands. From the beginning we had small bazaars at Commonwealth Avenue, and Therese did a lot of clever handwork for these, and taught others to do it also. We also learned about Boston Irish bread, which is really Irish soda bread with raisins and sugar added. This was most popular and from the beginning has featured at our functions and become a sort of hallmark for us. (In later years in Winchester, Mary Reynolds made it up in dry packages and it was sold at bazaars and lawn parties)… We made everything from dolls to flowers. I don’t think there was anything that Therese could not copy.”