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The Shrine of Father Patrick Joseph Power

EDITOR’S NOTE: Charles Radosta, the author of this story is a life-long resident of Everett. Mr. Radosta has been active in veteran, civic and fraternal organizations in the city. Over the past several years he has given talks on this story before various groups and organizations.alt

On the morning of Friday, December 10, in the year 1869, almost 142 years ago, a horse drawn hearse, followed by a funeral cortege, slowly departed from the Holy Redeemer Church in East Boston. The weather was cold and the journey was difficult as the funeral procession travelled the next few miles to the cemetery. A two day storm had preceded the funeral and a foot of snow covered the ground. Finally the procession arrived in Malden, Massachusetts and entered Holy Cross Cemetery. The attendants gently removed the casket from the hearse and placed it over the open grave. Family, friends and clergy gathered around and joined in the final committal prayers. Amid the weeping, the tears and the sorrow, the casket was lowered, and the workmen took the excavated earth and filled the grave. As the mourners left the grave of Patrick Joseph Power, little did they know that his name would be revered on the lips of a million souls some 60 years later.

Patrick Joseph Power was born in the year 1844, in the little farming community of Bantry, about sixty miles southwest of Cork, in the country of Ireland. At the time of his birth Ireland was under the cruel domination of the English.

Land ownership was restricted, farmers were penalized, and their farms were divided. In order to survive they sold their livestock and what little grain their farms could produce. By the early 1840’s half the Irish population was depending entirely on the potato for nourishment. The year following Patrick’s birth, the small nation had to endure more misery. The potato crop was ruined by a devastating disease. Their main source of food and nutrition was destroyed. The suffering endured was exacerbated the following year. Disease destroyed the crop again. Food was scarce and starving people looked for aid. The British government gave only token relief, and watched as over a million people died of starvation, deprivation and disease. Patrick Joseph Power was only a year old at the time of the great famine. By the time he was four years old, both his parents had died and he was an orphan.alt

A few months after his fourth birthday, young Patrick in the care of an older brother and sister, left Bantry and traveled to the village of Castletown on the Irish coast. There they boarded a large British sailing ship and along with seventy other passengers, left the country of their birth and sailed across the Atlantic to the United States of America. Five weeks later, after a long uncomfortable journey, the ship arrived at the Port of Boston and anchored at the new Deer Island facility. The following day after a physical inspection by the port physician, the passengers were discharged, left the ship, and entered the United States to begin a new life. DUring his early years, Patrick lived in East Boston and served as an altar boy at the Holy Redeemer Church, located on Maverick Street. The Pastor of that church, Father James Fitton, was a missionary priest. During his ministerial career, Fitton traveled extensively throughout New England. He established churches in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

While pastor of a church in the town of Worcester, he established a school for the education of young men. Over the years this institution has thrived and expanded and is now known as the College of the Holy Cross. Father Fitton was a great influence in the life of Patrick Power. He was an eager student, anxious to learn. Fitton became his mentor. He taught him Latin, the Greek language and the literary classics. It was obvious that Patrick was impressed with Fitton. He decided to become a Priest.

He was nearly 17 years old when he began his studies for the priesthood. Six years later at the age of 23, he was ordained to the priesthood at the holy cross cathedral in Boston. Following his ordination he studied canon law for a year and then began his ministry. Shortly after his ministry began, Father Power became ill. He was very frail, and his health was failing. Consequently, he could not continue his ministry and went to the home of his sister Mary, The sister who brought him to America. His health continued to decline.

He was then taken to Brookline. He was now bedridden and his condition was serious. Finally the disease that wracked his body, took its toll. Father Patrick Joseph power died at the home of brother on December 8, 1869. The death Certificate in the Town Clerk’s Office in Brookline recorded the official cause of death as tuberculosis. Patrick Joseph Power, who was born in Ireland during a time of brutal oppression, migrated to the United States and was ordained a priest in the Roman Catholic faith, died at the age of 25, and was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Malden. The cemetery, owned by the Archdiocese of Boston was opened the year before his death. There is a special area in the cemetery reserved for priests and nuns. Father Power was the first priest buried in that section. Not long after his burial a monument was placed over the grave.

The monument is a white marble tablet, six feet long by three feet wide. The monument is supported several feet above the grave by six pedestals. Carved in the marble at the head of the tablet is a chalice. Many persons have researched his life and could not find any extraordinary incident or event. Nothing has ever been discovered that would lead to the extraordinary events that occurred after his death. Shortly before the turn of the century stories began to surface about the grave of Father Power.

It seems that persons passing the grave would dip their fingers in the rain water collected in the chalice. The chalice resembled a holy water font and people would bless themselves, as they might do upon entering a church. According to one reliable source, an incident occurred shortly before the turn of the century in the year 1897. A man suffered a painful injury, when a metal spike was accidentally driven into his leg. A friend attempting to remove the spike tore the flesh and gangrene set in.

The man’s sister anointed his leg with water from the grave. There were several applications and slowly the leg began to heal. Over the course of the next 30 years other cures were associated with the tomb. A deaf boy was made to hear. Stories were repeated. For years these stories intensified, but were never publicized. Holy Cross Cemetery is within the parish boundaries of St. Joseph’s Church on Salem Street in Malden. On October the 27th, 1929, the Sunday proceeding All Saints’ Day, the Pastor of that Church, Father Patrick Walsh, gave a sermon. In his sermon he referred to stories about the grave of Father Power, and mentioned that many saints must be buried in Holy Cross Cemetery. He included a request for information about any miracles or cures to persons visiting the grave. This sermon was repeated throughout the parish, and beyond. Once again stories of the grave began to surface. One of these alleged cures was reported by Mrs. Mary O’Hearn of Franklin Street in Everett. Mrs. O’Hearn was the mother of five children, and for years was a victim of deafness. She had been examined by several doctors and her deafness was diagnosed as incurable.

In desperation Mrs. O’Hearn went to the grave on several occasions. Each time she blessed herself and prayed. The morning after her third visit, she got out of bed, and realized something had changed. She began to cry. A miracle had occurred. Her hearing had been restored.

This miraculous event was told, and retold. Soon it was reported in the media. One by one, newspapers printed front page stories about holy cross cemetery and the wonders and miracles of this grave. The publicity created a tidal wave of humanity. It was a trickle that became a stream. A stream that became a river and a river that became a flood. The multitude was measured First by the tens, then by the hundreds, and then by the thousands. The first of the great crowds came on Sunday, November the third.

The Malden evening news reported that people came as early as six in the morning. By noon the numbers stood ten deep at the grave. On the following Sunday, November the tenth, over 100,000 persons came to visit the grave. Thousands and thousands more came during the week.

On Sunday, November 17, over 200,000 people crowded Holy Cross Cemetery. As the crowds multiplied the newspapers increased the size of their headlines. Day by day, hour by hour, a constant stream of sick and suffering humanity poured into Holy Cross Cemetery.

The total number of visitors was estimated at almost a million. Cures were reported virtually every day. The Boston Sunday Post of November the 24th, 1929, published a list of 150 names and addresses of those who claimed to be cured. Cripples abandoned crutches. Canes and braces were discarded. The blind could see, the deaf could hear, the dumb could speak. Newspapers reported the scene around the cemetery. Every trolley car packed to suffocation. Every street crowded with cars. At a time when motor vehicle traffic was not significant, Broadway all the way from the cemetery to Glendale Square in Everett was bumper to bumper with traffic. Even more dramatic was the scene inside the cemetery. Police organize crowds into lines. As they approach the grave, the line divides, passing the grave on each side.

Money, flowers, rosary beads and religious pictures cover the grave. AFTER PASSING the grave, the line continues slowly toward the chapel. Hundreds anxiously wait to enter the building. They make their way slowly, up one side aisle, before the altar, and down the opposite aisle. They pause to genuflect, to pray or to light a candle.

Back at the grave the unending surge of humanity continues. Mental patients, victims of accidents and the afflicted appear hour after hour, from dawn until far after sunset. Men fill their pockets and women fill their pocketbooks with earth from the grave. Every day the cemetery receives hundreds of letters from all over the world asking for a handful of earth, a vial of water or some object associated with the grave. Pilgrimages to the grave of father power became a spectacular event. One day, eleven busloads of pilgrims came from Springfield. Among the passengers were 70 cripples. The Archbishop of Boston, William Cardinal O’Connell visited the cemetery on two occasions. Each time he observed with minute detail what was happening before his eyes.

The Mayor of Boston, James Michael Curley, came to pray for his wife, who was an invalid. The widow of a former governor came to pray for her sister, who was seriously

Ill. In never ending numbers, individuals and groups of pilgrims stormed Holy Cross Cemetery. Local police, state police and even firemen were called to control the situation, but the situation was getting out of control. The huge crowds, the desecration of nearby graves, and the volume of traffic, became a matter of great concern. Finally on November 23, Cardinal O’Connell ordered the cemetery closed to all visitors. Police were posted at the gates, and no one was allowed to enter.

The ecclesiastical authorities agreed that changes had to be made, before the cemetery could re-open. The grave of Father Power was situated too close to other graves. It was extremely difficult to prevent the public from encroaching on nearby graves. Consequently, the ecclesiastical authorities decided to move the remains of Father Power to a more secluded area.

Several weeks later with a dense fog blanketing Holy Cross cemetery, and a heavy rain falling at intervals, the remains were removed from the grave and buried again in a new location. Although the public was not allowed, the change of graves was witnessed by the State Police, cemetery officials, and members of the clergy. Shortly afterwards an iron fence was erected around the grave and the monument. Because the cemetery was closed, and because of the frigid weather, the huge crowds began to dwindle. Police and state troopers continued to guard the cemetery, day and night. Only funerals were allowed to enter the cemetery. This continued all during the winter months, until the following spring. Then on April 3 of 1930, the Cardinal went to the cemetery, visited the grave, inspected the area and gave permission to re-open the cemetery. He called a press conference to announce the opening. He asked the media to refrain from any sensational publicity. He did not want a repetition of the huge crowds, and he emphasized that this was not a circus or a carnival.

In spite of this, almost 5,000 persons came the following weekend to visit the grave. The grave, moved to a new location, was now surrounded by an iron fence. Visitors could see, but could no longer touch the monument. As time Passed, the crowds dwindled, the police were removed, and it was no longer reported in the news media. To this day the church has never recognized any of these cures or miracles, and has left its members free to believe or reject them. Although the majority of pilgrims were Catholic, it must be emphasized that people of many other faiths prayed at the grave. Many of the cures were investigated and many reasons were given. Devout Catholics believed that God was present. Then there were those who were reluctant to accept a supernatural cause for these events. Also there were those who said that most of the persons in the mighty throngs of those twenty two days were relatively uneducated. Yet many of the worshipers were people of wisdom. There was the Mayor of Boston, a well known judge from the state of New York and the former heavyweight boxing champion of the world, Jack Sharkey. Doctors testified to the miracles of their incurable patients.

Others scoffed and said that many paralytics suffer only from hysterical paralysis. If once a victim of many such troubles makes up his mind to get better, he gets better, unless he has an incurable disease. Many long years have passed since those eventful days in November of 1929. The Chapel in Holy Cross cemetery, where thousands once prayed, has been demolished. The memory of the crowds, the headlines, and the publicity of the shrine is known to only a few. Yet, there is undeniable evidence that many people still visit the grave of Father Patrick Joseph Power. Today as you enter the main entrance of Holy Cross cemetery on Broadway, and proceed straight ahead, you will come to the grave. Behind the grave, the landscape rises gently to the top of a knoll. On this knoll once stood the majestic wooden chapel, the sanctuary where thousands came for comfort and prayer. Beyond the grave is the area reserved for the anointed, the bishops, priests and nuns of the Roman Catholic Church. Their lives commemorated with crosses, stone and bronze.

In front of the grave a small path leads to the iron fence surrounding the monument and the tomb. The panarama, the stillness and the reverence instill a sense of awe. You wonder if this is hallowed ground. Does this grave have a supernatural presence? Does this grave of a young Catholic priest invoke divine intervention? These and other questions remain. But one thing is certain; time has not erased the legend of this shrine. There are many who still come and the evidence is compelling. Crosses, rosary beads and religious medals cover the fence and the monument. The grave of Father Patrick Joseph Power, a source of comfort and hope to those who are troubled, a Shrine that is sacred to those of great faith, and a legend that will live in perpetuity.

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