Preparing Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica for Kennedy's Funeral Mass

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BOSTON — The telephone rang early Wednesday morning in the hushed rectory of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica, the old Catholic church on Mission Hill. Phones are always ringing in old churches in working-class neighborhoods, but this caller, a priest, had a singular request.

He said that the Kennedy family — that would be the Kennedys of Hyannis Port, Washington, the world — wondered whether the funeral Mass for Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who had died just hours earlier, could be said at Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Would that be all right?

The Rev. Philip Dabney, the associate pastor, was stunned. All he had done was answer the phone, and now his life had changed. “I said, ‘Sure,’ ” he recalled. “I was so taken aback. But you know how grace works.”...

... The priests here are Redemptorists — missionaries who built this commanding Romanesque church in 1878. Known locally as the Mission Church, it holds a special place among Boston Catholics because of its shrine to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, which is bordered by two vases filled with canes and crutches. According to the church’s official history, these strange but beautiful bouquets “provide testimony to the multitude of cures and graces granted through the intercession of Our Lady.”

In the generations since the church’s founding, several hospitals have cropped up within walking distance. Father Dabney said that many patients from these hospitals come to pray before the shrine, sometimes leaving petitions in a glass bowl.

“They’re looking for some sort of comfort,” he said. “The nurses in the hospitals all know about this place.”

And so it was, a few years ago, that Senator Kennedy began coming here, after his daughter, Kara Kennedy, began treatment for lung cancer. According to the priests here, he spent time reflecting and praying with the Rev. Edward McDonough, who for years was known in Boston as the Healing Priest.

Father McDonough died in February 2008 at the age of 86. Three months later, Senator Kennedy learned he had brain cancer...
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