Diocesan Demolition: Correction and Updates

In follow-up of our posts about the demolition of the mauseleum that housed the remains of the late Cardinal O’Connell and the moving of the tomb of the late Cardinal to St. John’s Seminary, BCI has a correction and some clarifications to make.

First, the correction. In our last post, Diocesan Demolition: Tomb of Cardinal O’Connell, we initially published photos of the chapel and statues of angels as they looked in 1944, and when compared to pictures of the angel statues as they lay on the ground after the demolition, we may have incorrectly implied that the statues were damaged in the recent demolition process. We subsequently learned the extent to which the Chapel of the Virgin Mary had fallen into disrepair before it was demolished and that the staffs of the angel statues were damaged prior to the removal of the mauseleum. BCI apologizes for that error.

Second, BCI stands by our criticism of how the sacred objects in general and one particular sacred object, the cross, were handled. Commenter, “Voice of Reason,” apparently from Boston College, initially said the cross and angel statues “could not be saved,” to which BCI responded, “BCI does not understand why these sacred objects“could not be saved. What exactly has become of the cross and the statues? BCI maintains that the handling of the sacred objects as depicted in the photos amidst the other rubble from the demolition still speaks for itself.”

After that, a reader, who prefers that her name not be cited publicly (identified simply as “M” here), forwarded an email exchange she had with both the archdiocese and Boston College about the matter of the handling of the sacred objects. “M” told BCI she was pleased and satisfied to receive the responses, and BCI learned something valuable from what the reader heard back–thus the above correction.

BCI also found that the message officially validated some of our criticism.  Because the archdiocesan spokesman, Terry Donilon, said M could “feel free to share this information as you see fit,”  BCI is publishing part of the explanation:

M. wrote to Mr. Donilon: “The cross, I gather, should have been intact at the top of the mausoleum before the work to remove the mausoleum began, but the photo shows it broken on the ground. There was a bronze statue of Mary above the doorway entrance. Was that saved?  Maybe I overstated things when I said reckless disregard for the sacred objects based on the photos without knowing more, but they look like they were tossed aside on the ground recklessly rather than some attention being put to protecting them.”

Terry Donilon responded: “The cross was atop of the mausoleum as you note, and built directly into the structure.  Workers attempted to remove it by strapping and gently lifting to see if the bottom of the cross would make a “clean” break from the building. They expected it could not, but they made the effort to lift it and it broke away from the mausoleum at the bottom of the cross.  The cross was slowly maneuvered  with the boom of the excavator to workers, and was saved.

The angels were broken prior to the work on the mausoleum.  The angels were moved in the similar manner as the cross. They were intentionally placed them on a lower level of the hill, so workers could have access to them when demolition of the mausoleum was finished.  Also, we thought they would be safer in the wooded area where they were carefully placed. They too were saved.  The bronze statue of the Blessed Mother was also saved.

BCI is glad to hear that the angels, the bronze statue of the Blessed Mother and what remained of the cross were saved. But, BCI is also disappointed to hear that the work team tried to lift the cross off the top of the building by “strapping” it, when they expected beforehand it would not make a clean break.  If they expected beforehand that this approach was not going to succeed in keeping the cross intact and had a good chance of breaking the cross itself, then why exactly did they go forward with that approach anyway? Why not try an approach that was likely to succeed instead?

BCI is not expert with demolition or stone masonry, but a simple Google search reveals a variety of methods and tools used for stone carving and breaking stones and concrete, including conventional hammers and chisels, air hammers and chisels, and concrete and stone-cutting chain saws.
Here is a video of a concrete chain saw that cuts through concrete, brick, stone, and masonry. These concrete-cutting chainsaws can be rented for $148/day and a do-it-yourselfer can easily use one as seen below.

Why would a team expert in salvaging sacred objects who wanted to save the cross intact not just have had a person skilled in cutting stone or masonry cut through the base of the several-inch-thick cross using a specialized tool to remove the cross intact?

Third, we got word via a comment on the blog and an email forwarded by “M.” that some of the powers-that-be at both Boston College and the Archdiocese of Boston were not pleased with our posts on this topic. BCI was accused of making “character attacks” (which we did not do) and being “slanderous” (which we were not).

BCI was critical of what appeared to be evidence of disrespect shown for the sacred statues and objects by those responsible for removing the chapel. BCI asked, “Were there no other efforts possible and practical to preserve these statues and the cross, so that perhaps they could have been used at the new burial location or elsewhere?”  Furthermore, BCI said, “Fr. Leahy at Boston College and the leaders at the Archdiocese of Boston (to the extent they were involved in this) owe an explanation to the faithful…”

That is not a personal/character attack or slanderous claim. There was photographic evidence of disrespect for the sacred objects.  At the same time the archdiocese says that “great care” was taken to save the sacred objects, the archdiocese has confirmed that the approach taken to remove and preserve the cross was expected in advance to not work. This validates the issue raised by BCI that sufficient care was not taken. BCI said that the leaders of BC and the Archdiocese owed the faithful an explanation. No one by name was specifically criticized. What makes the criticism of the process and approach taken with the demolition a personal attack or slanderous?

Though initial news reports in the Boston Globe and the Boston Pilot did not make clear who hired the firm that did the demolition, it is now clear that the firm was hired by the Boston Archdiocese. However, since the land is owned by Boston College and they were clearly the driving force behind the demand that the remains of the late Cardinal be relocated, BCI felt it reasonable and appropriate to cite Boston College in our criticism. Furthermore, the publicly documented refusal of BC early-on to meet with the family of Cardinal O’Connell to discuss their reasons for wanting the remains relocated was one of the key reasons this ended up in probate court and in the mainstream media.

This post is not quite the end of the saga.  BCI received an email from a member of the family yesterday to explain matters further. Stay tuned next post for more.

14 Responses to Diocesan Demolition: Correction and Updates

  1. Serviam says:

    It is obvious to me from the results that there was never any intention on the part of the RCAB or BC to absorb the expense to ever properly dismantle this chapel for preservation and future re-erection.

    From Mr. Donilon’s description of the process executed to remove the cross, this Contractor’s crew was neither qualified or willing to do a proper hand dismantle with preservation as a stated goal. In fact, the quick turn around reflects the work of a rather typical Demolition Contractor within a limited budget.

    1. Save what can be removed QUICKLY.
    2. Minimize hand labor.
    3. Use heavy equipment to remove the subject.
    4. Truck debris off site for disposal.
    5. Regrade to match existing adjacent contours.

    As far as I’m concerned, further breast beating over the removal of the chapel is a waste of time as it is ‘water over the dam’. That said, with all the money flying around BC, you would think the Administrators of this esteemed Jesuit institution would go out of their way to ensure important elements of Boston Catholic patrimony would be preserved within the confines of their jurisdiction. Whatever the cause may have been, the outcome has resulted in a clear demonstration how little patrimony matters in ‘The Church in the 21st Century’. Perhaps this is more a reflection of current values (or lack there of).

    Whether you like(d) Cardinal O’Connell or not, is immaterial. He was the longest reigning and one of the most towering figures in the history of the Archdiocese of Boston. We now allow him a resting place that appears to be afterthought, beside a set of steps. Is this the best we can do for the late Cardinal Archbishop of Boston? The current location of His Eminence’s mortal remains stand to reflect poorly on the beliefs of our current generation. The last I checked the Communion of Saints remains a deeply held Catholic doctrine.

  2. Mikel says:

    I don’t believe for one minute that the photo of the chapel is from the 1940s. This digital image is much more current. I know my Photoshop — sorry! And, who, pray tell, profited from the spoils? I’m sure that the bronze statue is going somewhere unfitting — i.e. a foundry… for a pretty penny!😦

    • Mikel,
      Allow BCI to clarify the matter of the photos. We originally posted the picture you see from 1944 in this Boston Globe article. You can clearly see the staffs in the hands of the angels are intact in the 1944 photo. The color picture you see in the blog post today is a more recent picture, where, if you look closely, you can see that the staffs are not present in the hands of the angel statues. Once we realized this, we clarified and corrected our previous post about the damage to the angel statues and removed the 1944 picture. Just minutes ago, after further investigation as part of researching another post, we found yet another photo published in 2009 that likewise showed the staffs missing from the hands of the angels. BCI does not know where these sacred items are at the present time, but we hope and pray they are used for a sacred purpose in the future.

  3. jbq2 says:

    Pictures don’t lie. How come the angel statues were laying next to torn up staffs? The statues could have been brittle. If they put straps around the cross, then it would appear that they stapped the angels and then used a tractor to drag them out. The answer by Donilon has “damage control” written all over it. You better believe that a private investigator is already on the job. The stakes are already being laid in a courtyard and gasoline with BCI’s name on the can is already being poured. In 1940 Croatia, the Nazis infiltrated the Franciscans and they began ethnic cleansing of the Serb Orthodox at the very site of Medjadorje. Do a history search of Giuseppe Siri and how he was threatened and kept from being Pope twice. Modernization of the Church is important. However, the methods being used in Boston are “from the devil”.

    • jbq2, BCI agrees that pictures do not lie, but in this case, BCI has come to now realize that the picture snapped 2 weeks ago showing the condition of the “fallen angel” as of that time should still be compared to what that same angel statue looked like just a few years ago, having already fallen into disrepair. BCI was just researching our next–and hopefully final–post on this topic and came across this 2009 article from The Boston Pilot. If you look at the photo, you can clearly see that the staff was broken as of 2009.

      As BCI said in this post and Serviam has suggested, this does not mean that the RCAB did a proper job trying to preserve the sacred objects and Catholic patrimony. It is simply acknowledging that the angel statues, in particular, were damaged well before the chapel was demolished.

  4. bitsnbytes says:

    We BCI readers should have seen this coming. Maybe we ought to identify a list of other vulnerable churches and chapels and ask for volunteers to photograph them now before they get demolished.

  5. […] UPDATE:   Diocesan Demolition: Correction and Updates. […]

  6. Anonymous says:

    Where is the altar?

  7. Jack Davenport says:

    There are literally dozens of qualified individuals and firms who could have been engaged in the process of salvaging the sacred objects from this chapel. Indeed, there may have been parties who would have been interested in the chapel in its entirety (that would include me). It is also beyond shameful that this mausoleum (the resting place of aguably the most influential Boston Cardinal of the 1900s) was allowed to fall into disrepair in the first place. The cost for regular upkeep/maintenance would have been nominal. Shameful.

  8. ted says:

    Stone masons have been working on Gasson Hall at B.C.
    for the last year and a half , couldn’t someone have been dispatched to do this demolition correctly and with respect?

  9. Serviam says:

    Just a thought…

    I wonder if there would be sympathy to consider a better and more dignified solution for Cardinal O’Connell’s reinternment?

    I suggest consideration be given to relocate his remains within the confines of the Seminary Chapel (Oratory). Perhaps under the floor in the Sanctuary or within a specially constructed Altar that could also act as his sarcophagus. There is plenty of precedent for this throughout Church history.

    This would solve:

    1. His wish to be near or within sight of the Seminary.

    2. His wish for Seminarians to pray for his Soul. What better place than an Oratory, where he presumably once offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

    3. This would eliminate the any need to recreate a free stand chapel/mausoleum.

    4. This would shelter his remains more adequately than an outdoor plot, particularly near the drip line of the building where water could be a problem and snow will likely drift.

    5. This could be done at significantly less expense in a more appropriate and dignified setting. This could be held as a more permanent solution to the Seminary’s current lack of outdoor jurisdiction on the site.

    6. If God forbid St. John’s had to relocate, the new location could have a similar set up.

    • Liam says:

      I don’t think an altar could be licitly erected over his tomb until he was raised to the altars, which is highly unlikely…..

      • Serviam says:

        I didn’t know this. At what point would this be acceptable practice. What is ‘raised to the altars’?

  10. […] you have not yet read our post from Sunday, Diocesan Demolition: Correction and Updates, do check that out before reading our post for […]

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