Cardinal issues a message in regards to the Coronavirus situation in anticipation of Saint Patrick's Day

Reflecting on the legacy of St. Patrick

Hello and welcome,

I want to begin this week by sharing with you the statement issued earlier today regarding our on-going response to the coronavirus outbreak. I encourage you to visit for the latest information.

In response to growing public concern and following Governor Baker’s Emergency Order prohibiting most gatherings of 250 or more people, Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley, OFM Cap, Archbishop of Boston, has made the decision effective immediately to temporarily suspend all daily and Sunday Masses and religious services in the Archdiocese of Boston until further notice.  This begins at 4:00pm on Saturday afternoon, March 14. In announcing this decision, the Cardinal has also issued a dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass during this time to the Catholics of the Archdiocese of Boston.

Cardinal Seán said “We live in times when many people are confused, hurt, and fearful, for many different reasons. In the midst of these challenges Jesus seeks to meet us in the same way He met the disciples on the road to Emmaus, accompanying us on the journey, calming our fears and anxieties and assuring us that He will be with us always in the gift of the Eucharist. This decision to temporarily suspend the daily and Sunday Mass is motivated by an abundance of caution and concern for those most vulnerable and the need to do our part to help limit and mitigate the spread of the illness.” 

The directive to temporarily suspend the celebration of Mass applies to all Archdiocesan parishes, missions, and campus ministries until further notice. Baptism, Confirmations, weddings and funerals may proceed but attendance should be limited to only immediate family.


Cardinal Seán encourages Catholics to participate in the daily and Sunday Masses broadcast from the CatholicTV chapel.

· Daily Mass airs live at 9:30am and is rebroadcast at 7pm and 11:30pm.

· Sunday Masses air throughout the day at 10am, 4pm, 7pm, and 11:30pm.

· The Sunday Spanish Mass airs live at 8am and is rebroadcast at 5:30pm and 10pm.

Viewers can watch these Masses on demand at any time at For more information about CatholicTV and where you can watch it, visit


Earlier today after conferring with Cardinal Seán, Thomas W. Carroll, Superintendent of Catholic Schools, announced that Archdiocese of Boston parish schools and Archdiocesan elementary and high schools will be closed for two weeks from Monday, March 16 to Friday, March 27. On an ongoing basis, the Catholic Schools Office will consider whether this period needs to be extended further.

The Archdiocese will provide ongoing updates to parishes, schools and ministries during this period of response to the Coronavirus outbreak. 

Cardinal Seán said, “Though these are challenging times for our parishes and all members of our communities it is important that we not forget the importance of care and concern for those who are most vulnerable, including the poor, our senior citizens and people who are medically compromised. I urge those who can do so to maintain the support for their parish during these difficult days in order to sustain the ministries and outreach services for parishioners and those most in need. We entrust the Church to the intercession of our Blessed Mother as we pray for the return to full celebration of the sacraments and community prayer as soon as possible.”

I have asked that all parishes provide for their churches be open every day during reasonable hours in order that the Catholic faithful and other members of the community can have the opportunity to visit the church for times of prayer and that, when possible, there be exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in the churches.

When we visit our churches outside of Mass and see the red glow of the sanctuary lamp we know that Jesus is there with us. The presence of the Eucharist in the tabernacle and during times of Adoration is a sign that Jesus silently and lovingly waits for us, always ready to receive and console us. May our prayers in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament be a source of strength and peace until we can safely resume the celebration of Mass for all members of the Catholic community in our Archdiocese and all who would wish to join us at that time.

As we draw near to St. Patrick’s Day, there is an on-going conversation throughout the country about the indemnification of the descendants of enslaved people in the United States. I want to share with you some of my thoughts on these topics that are suggested by the life and writings of St. Patrick.

In my office at the rectory of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, there is a painting of the patron saint of the Archdiocese of Boston, St. Patrick. I received this painting as a gift after celebrating a priesthood ordination in the town of Loiza in Puerto Rico. The town is inhabited mostly by descendants of African slaves who have maintained many of their traditions through the centuries. The church is named San Patricio, and it is one of the oldest churches on the island. In the church, there is a huge statue that depicts St. Patrick as a black bishop with his miter and Crozier. Likewise, my painting of St. Patrick depicts the patron saint of Ireland as a black bishop.

For centuries the descendants of the slaves in Loiza Aldea have maintained a deep devotion to their patron saint and credit him with having saved the village from an invasion of huge red ants early in the history of the parish. This is consistent with Patrick’s success in driving the snakes out of Ireland and makes him the patron saint of pest exterminators.

I am sure that St. Patrick is very happy to be the patron and protector of the Afro-Caribbean parishioners, descendants of the men and women brought there to be slaves. What most people don’t know about St. Patrick is that he started off as a slave. He was kidnapped, carried against his will to Ireland, and there sold into slavery. The same trajectory of so many African men and women who were abducted from their homeland and brought to America where they were sold into bondage.

Thomas Cahill, in his fascinating book, “How the Irish Saved Civilization,” dwells on the fact that not only was St. Patrick a slave himself, but he was the first important historical figure to oppose slavery, the first abolitionist. Sadly enough, generations of slaveowners found many excuses and justifications for the barbaric practice of slavery.

In America, we have seen up close the injustice and suffering that slavery and the legacy of racism have visited on this country. Like many young people in the 60s, as a seminarian I was caught up in the civil rights movement along with so many religious people of the time. We did voter registration, participated in demonstrations, received training in nonviolent resistance, took part in prayer services and town meetings inviting people to work with the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and other organizations that found inspiration in the fearless leadership of Rev. Martin Luther King.

Later as Bishop of the US Virgin Islands, I found myself surrounded by many symbols of the chattel slavery that was part of the history of the islands for centuries. In Charlotte Amalia you can still visit the place of the old slave market, and on St. Croix you can see the ball and chain used for recalcitrant slaves to prevent them from fleeing when they were sent to cut the sugarcane. A slave rebellion on St. John’s ended in a mass suicide because the slaves knew how cruelly they would be punished for trying to throw off the shackles of slavery.

Slavery was a terrible, dehumanizing force. It dehumanized the slaves who were bought, sold, and bred like animals. It dehumanized the slaveholders who participated in and promoted the barbaric treatment of human beings. Family life and marriage were destroyed by the slave system. Slaves could be tortured or killed practically with impunity. Even after the abolition of slavery there were almost 5,000 terror lynchings of blacks right up until the mid-20th century. In many places, it was prohibited to teach slaves or free blacks how to read. In Virginia, there were heavy penalties for both student and teacher if slaves were educated, including whippings or jail.

With the passing of the 13th Amendment in 1865, slavery was finally abolished in the United States. Sadly enough, the cruel legacy of this immoral institution has affected the descendants of the enslaved. This is very evidenced by the large percentage of African Americans living in poverty and being overrepresented in the prison population because the courts do not afford them the same kind of justice afforded to white citizens. The fact that half of the African American babies in New York are aborted each year is just one more terrible reminder of the devastation that slavery has visited on our African American population.

The percentage of black students that graduate from high school is 20% less than the white graduation rate. The same is true for college graduation rates, with only about 42% graduating. The Department of Education data reveals that black students who earn a four-year college degree have incomes that are substantially higher than blacks who have only some college experience but have not earned a degree. Most importantly, blacks who complete a four-year college education have a median income that is near parity with similarly educated whites. Life expectancy among blacks is lower in the United States, except for those who are college graduates. Education is a crucial factor in elevating the standard of living of the African American population.

In recent times we see how governments have been able to change the course of history by directing much-needed resources to populations experiencing economic distress. The Marshall Plan, the European Recovery Program, which was first proposed in an address by George Marshall at Harvard University in 1947, advanced the idea of a European self-help program financed by the US to combat poverty, unemployment, and dislocation, as well as to reduce the appeal of communism. $13 billion were allocated in four years, and European nations were lifted from the postwar devastation to a path for economic recovery that profoundly changed the history of those nations. More recently, West Germany, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, invested billions of dollars to rescue East Germany from poverty and incorporate them into a united German state.

In retrospect, we can say that these programs ultimately were very beneficial to the countries that initiated them. In the case of The Marshall Plan, a revitalized Europe became our most important trading partners and defenders of democracy in the world. All the sacrifices that West Germany made have resulted in their becoming the most important economic power in Europe.

After the Civil War in the US, there were almost 4 million former slaves. Much has been written about the promise of “Forty acres and a mule” that was an attempt to provide a form of reparations to newly freed slaves. Unfortunately, even that modest plan never materialized. If it had been carried out, the history of our country might have been much different. Black citizens would have been able to accrue and pass on wealth from one generation to the next, and the huge gap between black and white could have been avoided.

The white population has benefited greatly because of equity in a home and property that can be passed on to the next generation. In my own family, my father and his siblings were able to get a university education during the Great Depression because of an inheritance left to them by their Irish grandfather. The possibility for a good education has made a huge difference in our family.

The “Forty acres and a mule” that we should offer with humility to the descendants of slaves in our country should be the opportunity for a good education. It is my conviction that the indemnifications might be in the form of scholarships for primary, secondary, and university education for low-income families who are the descendants of the men and women who were unjustly held in bondage and exploited in our country.

Any American who is asked if they are opposed to slavery would strenuously affirm their absolute opposition to this terrible institution. Today, however, we must unite in our opposition to the consequences that this immoral practice has visited on our nation.

My prayer is that all Americans may come together to redress the great injustices of our history and build a country that truly has a commitment to liberty and justice for all. At a time when we are so polarized as a nation, let us rise above the division and together commit ourselves to overcome the sins of the past, to work for the common good, and to be one America, not red or blue, not black or white.

We Irish are children of the great hunger, the famine, that changed the face of Boston. Many of us are descendants of those brave refugees fleeing hunger and persecution in the coffin ships that brought our people to these shores. We are also the spiritual sons and daughters of Patrick, the escaped slave who raised a prophetic voice against this cruel and inhumane institution of human bondage. As your bishop, my appeal to you all is to repudiate not only slavery but also the consequences of slavery that weigh so heavily on the descendants of the African slaves who, like Patrick, were kidnapped and taken to a strange land and forced to perform hard labor for oppressive masters.

Mine is a modest proposal that our government give scholarships to young people living below the poverty line and who are descendants of slaves in our country, but I am convinced that this attempt at restorative justice could be our Marshall Plan for our own people and change the face of America. Let us listen to the voice of Patrick calling us to end slavery and its legacy in our midst.