May 20, 1998
DUNGANNON, Northern Ireland — He has stood over too many fresh graves filled with victims of a stale hatred that is quite pervasive but he manages to greet each day with a grin along with a hope that the children he teaches will somehow manage to prosper here in a small country where education might eventually prove to be a larger asset than a ballot measure that has all the politicians talking while the public on both sides — Catholic and Protestant — approach the election with sealed lips anda grim pessimism.
He is 66 years old, Monsignor Denis Faul is, and he is the principal of St. Patrick’s Academy, where 940 boys and 930 girls attend classes in a huge school set on a hillside alongside an awkward neighbor — a British Army post — as constant noise from helicopters interrupts geometry and geography. “They’d never get away with flying in and out over a Protestant school,” the monsignor said yesterday. “It’s just the way it is here.”
Denis Faul is not a shy man. He has specific views and certain opinions. He also has credentials among Catholics: For years, he said daily Mass for prisoners in the Maze prison and alienated the IRA when he was instrumental in ending the hunger strike nearly two decades ago.
“We had 10 already dead and they had had 20 more ready to die,” Faul recalled. “Enough was enough. Ireland doesn’t need any more funerals or any more martyrs. I helped get the lads to stop and the IRA never forgave me.
“Let me tell you what will happen Friday,” he declared. “It will be a 55 to 45 vote for the Yes position. Just enough to create chaos. People are truly torn about this because it’s an argument between the head and the heart.
“For most people on both sides — the majority in the middle — their heads tell them to stay with Great Britain because they’re afraid of losing their benefits, their free education, free health as well as what they get from the dole. But their heart tells them to vote with Dublin. And, of course, they’ve had “Moses” Mitchell and “Moses” Hume with their new commandments, but the real issues are not discussed.
“There is indeed a strong element of bigotry among Protestant leaders and the only way this will work is for everyone to take a vow to protect human life, get rid of the guns, and look after the victims. That will have to be done street by street, parish by parish, and town line by town line. And it will only succeed by bringing charity and a lot of forgiveness to the task.
“There are very long memories here,” he added. “People know that whenever Catholics have shown advances in acquiring legal rights, civil rights, poltical and economic rights, that’s when the assassinations begin again. The Protestants fear Catholic advancement.
“When Sinn Fein had the prisoners appear at the rally last week, it was a dreadful blunder, but it was done because the IRA runs Sinn Fein. Gerry Adams is a very clever man. But he’s a vain man, and that’s dangerous. Yet he’s patient. He knows time is on his side, so he can wait to see how unmanageable the new process will be because he knows, in the end, the British will have to deal with him. Not Dublin. Not Washington. Him. He views a Yes vote as a tactical vote for the IRA and Gerry Adams.ts do not know who they are. They have no sense of identity. They’re not Irish, not British, not Welsh; all they have to cling to is the fact that they won the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 — not that long ago in Ireland — and that’s why they go crazy during marching season in July.
“That gets to the issue of justice, too. The application of the law toward Catholics is unjust. It’s at the heart of the whole debate over the release of the prisoners. Since 1968, not a single RUC [Royal Ulster Constabulary] man has served a day in jail for killing while on duty or torturing people arrested under emergenecy laws. Twelve children and many adults were killed and no one was ever charged. So the Catholics say, “Why am I doing 25 years in prison when the man who killed my son or
“Now I’ll be voting Yes on Friday,” Monsignor Denis Faul stated. “But you can’t build a government on a 55 to 45 vote. You have to have education with a spiritual background as well as human rights, and you must have a soul and be willing to forgive. That’s the foundation we need to build.”
Then he stood at his desk and glanced out the window behind him at an Army helicopter skidding through the sky above his school. The noise was fierce, but the priest’s smile was gentle as he said, “They wouldn’t dare do that to any other people.
July 31, 1997
As soon as everyone had gathered in St. Ignatius Church at Chestnut Hill yesterday for the funeral Mass, a full company of Jesuits marched silently down the center aisle of the handsome stone edifice to bury a brother, Rev. Ray Callahan, SJ, who fell dead at his desk last week at 59. Until his death, Father Callahan had been president of Nativity Prep in Roxbury, a miracle of the city where children are given the gift of a future.
It was 10 a.m. when the Jesuits took their seats directly across the aisle from Marie Callahan, the deceased priest’s mother, who sat sadly with her daughters. She wore a black dress and held a single white rose Outside the church, the sun stood sentry in a cloudless sky and a wonderful breeze danced across the day. Inside, people stood shoulder to shoulder singing “Here I am, Lord” as five Jesuits began the beautiful ceremony.
There were no TV cameras or any reporters clamoring for participants to discuss the quiet, noble life of Ray Callahan, who never sought a headline. He was born in Framingham, son of a newspaperman, and he went to Fairfield University until God tapped him on the chest with such ferocity that he chose the Marine Corps of Catholicism — the Jesuits — as a life.
He taught at Boston College as well as at BC High, but for the past several years he had run Nativity Prep. It is a small, private school — 15 students in 4 grades, 5 through 8 — where boys from places like Mattapan, Roxbury, and Dorchester get just about the finest free education around.
“Anybody can learn math,” Ray Callahan used to say, “but our job is to help these boys gain pride and dignity, too. They are wonderful, strong children.”
All this week, the town has witnessed a flood of publicity concerning the future of William Weld. And as the funeral began, a new governor, Paul Cellucci, was in the State House discussing tax cuts and judgeships. All of it is considered news because these people and their policies affect so many.
However, Ray Callahan was a single man who touched a thousand lives. He was a Jesuit priest who had a hand on someone’s shoulder every single day, pushing or prodding them toward heights once thought to be unattainable.
As Rev. William Russell, SJ, delivered the homily, one of the many Nativity Prep students at Mass bowed his head in grief. His name was Adrian Rosello. He is a 13-year-old from Mattapan who will be in eighth grade this September.
“I never expected him to die,” Rosello said quietly. “I loved him. He always made me laugh and told me I could do better. He believed in me. How could he die in the summer?”
Now, at Communion, Mike Burgo came from the sacristy holding a guitar. He began to sing the infectious hymn “Be Not Afraid” and soon the huge congregation joined Burgo, the sound of their grateful voices filling the church and spilling out toward the trolley tracks and the campus of Boston College.
“You shall cross the barren desert, but you shall not die of thirst. You shall wander far in safety, though you do not know the way. You shall speak your words in foreign lands, and all will understand. You shall see the face of God and live.
“Be not afraid. I go before you always.”
Both song and service are part of the constant comfort of Catholicism, a religion that blankets the start and conclusion of life with splendid ritual. But Ray Callahan represented the finest aspects of his faith every single day. He led by example, a humble man dedicated to God and to education.
And yesterday his legacy filled St. Ignatius: Former students; young people like Amy Shields, who went straight from Duke to teaching at Nativity Prep because providing a child with the excitement of ideas is far more rewarding than making money; hundreds of friends; and his fellow priests.
Then the Mass ended and the Jesuits filed out to the front of the church where they stood in a circle on the sidewalk, resplendent in white cassocks, as six Nativity Prep boys carried a black casket down gray cement steps. They were followed by Marie Callahan, who walked slowly out of the church into the bright sun of a day, comforted by the knowledge that while others elsewhere celebrated temporal rewards of prosperity or politics, the crowd around her had gathered to celebrate the rich and marvelous life of Raymond J. Callahan, SJ.
“Thank you for your son,” Rev. William Leahy, the president of Boston College, said to Marie Callahan.
“Thank God for my son,” his mother replied.
June 15, 1997
So here she came the other day, walking through the haze of a humid afternoon, walking proudly up Adams Street in Dorchester past a line of red brick rowhouses where children sat on stoops seeking relief from the heat, walking right into a future filled now with potential due to her own diligence.
Her name is Phong Tran and she is 17 and she has only been in the United States since 1991 — time enough, though, to finish at the top of her Cathedral High class and win a four-year scholarship to UMass-Amherst, where she will be one more Vietnamese student representing the constant American spirit of renewal “It is like a dream,” Phong Tran pointed out. “I am so grateful. I am so happy.”
“With no scholarship, where would you go?” she was asked.
“To work,” Phong Tran replied.
“What do you want to be?”
“A doctor,” she said right away. “So I can help others. So I can repay people for my good fortune.”
The young woman earned her fortune all by herself. And she is only one of 83 premier students from across the state who have been granted a gift worth $8,000 a year simply because they were smart enough to be smart.
The University Scholars program is a new benefit provided by the state’s university system. This year, four-year scholarships were offered to those seniors who finished first or second in their classes at each of Massachusetts’ 400 public and private high schools. Tomorrow, many of the 83 who accepted the scholarships will be honored at a State House reception.
For decades, the UMass system has been smeared by elitists and relegated to second-class status in a commonwealth that boasts a long line of more famous and more expensive private institutions. But, whether at Harvard or UMass-Lowell, nobody is ever given an education, only the opportunity to get one — grab one, really — and that chance is not lost on those students and families going now for free.
“My daughter is very ambitious,” the Rev. Earl McDowell was saying Friday. “We teach all our children to be ambitious, to have goals and go after them. She did, too.”
Rev. McDowell was sitting in the second-floor parlor of his Roxbury apartment along with his wife, Patricia. The two parents were crazy with pride over their daughter Valerie, who topped the ticket at Madison Park High and will be going to UMass-Boston in September. Both young women — Phong Tran from Vietnam and Valerie McDowell from Guild Street — take a splendiferous spirit off to their amazing new world.
“She just graduated last night,” Patricia McDowell explained. “She was the valedictorian. The ceremony was at Matthews Arena, and she walked in with all the dignitaries.”
“I had tears in my eyes,” her husband added.
“She’s the first in our family to ever go to a four-year college,” the mother said.
“She worked hard for it,” Rev. McDowell said. “She had three part-time jobs all year, too. This scholarship is a true blessing because, as you can see, I took a vow of poverty.”
“He took it seriously, too,” his wife laughed.
“Valerie has always been a straight-A student,” the proud father continued. “At the Nathan Hale. At the Wheatley and all through Madison Park. We are firm believers in public education, but it’s a matter of determination and parental involvement whether your children do well.
“It’s not up to society, to the city, or to the police to provide children with goals and ambitions. It’s up to us as her mother and father,” Rev. McDowell stated. “If a black youth is nothing, it means they chose to be nothing.”
“Basically, we have tried to be our daughter’s best friends as well as her parents,” Patricia McDowell added. “It’s good that way. We were able to guide her away from trouble, and if our children meet someone not up their standards, we let them know. And they just say `goodbye.’ “
Now, the valedictorian from the night before was ready to go to work on the morning after her triumph. Valerie McDowell, symbol of any future we might have, is a marvelous young woman who only dreamed of a university education prior to the gift of a four-year scholarship.
But sometimes dreams come true. And sometimes hard work, discipline, and dedication are rewarded, and when that happens, the grateful — like Valerie McDowell and Phong Tran — head to college, two magnificent investments in a state of mind.
March 27, 1997
One of the babies who represents the future for these young girls pushing a carriage instead of carrying books was being wheeled down Mercer Street in South Boston yesterday by her mother, who is not quite 17. The mother was white and the infant a wonderful shade of mocha, which sure made her beautiful but appears not to have inspired much glee in the household where she is being raised.
“My boyfriend’s black,” the girl pointed out. “And my mother hates him. She don’t hate the baby, but she hates what happened, you know In projects like D Street and Old Colony, there seems to be a significant increase in the number of interracial infants born to white teenagers. Many of these girls drop out of school prior to giving birth and try to raise their own baby in the same apartment where they had been attempting to grow up when a pregnancy interrupted the process.
“There are quite a few white girls having babies with black and Hispanic guys here,” one of the police who specializes in South Boston project life was saying yesterday. “It’s a good news-bad news story: The good news is that race is not the factor in these kids’ lives that it was — and is — for a lot of their parents. Kids don’t have the same hangups as adults. Kids don’t go around talking about what busing did to their town. That was 20 years ago. They weren’t even born.
“The bad news is it means the end of the line for the girl: dropping out of school, no job, raising a kid where her mother, father, too, if he’s around, can’t stand looking at the baby because the baby’s not white.”
Yesterday, the girl pushing the stroller had a plan: She intended to walk to Rotary Variety for milk and then visit a friend on Silver Street. Her plan was built around the premise that she should try to remove herself and her child from the apartment for at least five hours. Kind of like a job.
For some, the increase in interracial children represents another assault on “The Town.” South Boston has been staggered by suicide and drugs. One — kids killing themselves — is a shock. The other — cocaine and heroin — is an old habit, narcotics having been easily available there for a long time.
At a community gathering the other evening, a suggestion was made that more police were needed to fight drugs and restore the mythic sense of “neighborhood.” But the statement was made in a section of the city no longer immune to social conditions that cause deterioration: alcoholism, addiction, AIDS, teenage pregnancy, illiteracy, poverty, unemployment, fractured families and rampant rates of divorce or abandonment.
Yet police alone cannot do the job. Nor can schoolteachers, priests or social workers. The type of work necessary can only be accomplished by a parent, and in the projects of South Boston, like projects everywhere, too many parents are poor or ill-equipped for the task or juveniles themselves or AWOL from responsibility. To ignore this is ludicrous.
“It’s a bizarre form of equality,” the police officer was saying. “And it’s filled with irony. Many of the white kids in D Street or Old Colony are in the same position as a lot of black kids in Roxbury and Dorchester: They have no shot and they know it by the time they’re 15.
“They’re poor. For a lot of them, there isn’t a parent around. They don’t go to school, so they do whatever is free and feels good.
“Now what can 100 more cops do about that? We can patrol. We can investigate. We can arrest. We can get a warrant and go in an apartment but we cannot go inside someone’s head and force them to change their behavior.
“And it’s not just cocaine taking a toll on South Boston. Look around and you will see more bars, taverns and package stores in this community, per capita, than probably anyplace else in the city. You fall down drunk and people think it’s funny, actually kind of normal. You overdose and it’s a tragedy, but they are both addictions and there are plenty of addicts to go around in this town.”
Still, some in South Boston seem amazed at the ages of the desperate or those already dead by their own hand. And the enormity of the problem is such that others either refuse to recognize it or mistakenly feel that it is restricted to project life where a baby can face a bleak future because its very existence serves as a reminder of failure rather than a source of joy.