Challenge and change forseen
By Chris Chinlund, Globe Staff, 3/24/1984
one are the rolling hills and plains of rural Missouri. No longer is it possible to know everyone's name. The freedom of hopping in the car and driving to a parish across the state has been supplanted, at least for now, by a tight new schedule and chauffeur-driven limousine in a crowded city of concrete.
Such are the changes Boston's new Archbishop Bernard Law faces as he begins his new life as the spiritual leader of Boston's two million Catholics.
The people who know him best, those he worked with in the small towns and farming communities in Missouri and Mississippi, talked yesterday of the adjustments that will come with taking over the third largest diocese in the country. Some said it may not always be easy.
"It's like night and day, going from Springfield, Missouri, where there are 120 priests in the whole diocese, to here, where there are almost 2000," said Rev. Patrick Carroll, of Sacred Heart parish in Springfield, Mo., as he munched cake at a reception for the new prelate yesterday evening at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel.
"It's like someone going from the country to the city."
Like others, Fr. Carroll said Archbishop Law will have to learn to leave behind the sense of family that has grown in his small, southern diocese. He will also find that he can not personally direct all that goes on around him, said others. And being a leader to 2000 priests, finding ways to inspire and motivate them, will require new initiatives.
Whatever strains those adjustments might cause have not been evident in the last two days of ceremonies as the archbishop has been introduced to his new city. The prelate has been graceful and relaxed.
"But on Monday the honeymoon is over," said one priest from Mississippi. "Then he has to face the everyday problems of running a diocese this size."
"The biggest adjustment will be because he is a very personal individual, who loves to call people by their first names, and there was a closeness that came from the smallness (of the Missouri diocese* that is here," said Fr. Carroll, who, like dozens of others from the southern diocese, came to Boston to see Archbishop Law installed. "It seems like that will be astronomical to overcome."
Said Rev. Phil Bucher of the Immacuate Conception parish in Springfield, Mo., "In today's church, priests need affirmation and encouragement, and that will really challenge him, with so many."
Echoing his colleagues, he mused about the demands of city life on the man he's known only in the country. "The lifestyle and the pace here are so fast," he said. "He'll have to make some adjustment."
The people who know Boston's new archbishop say he will gracefully handle the new demands -- "He always comes out smelling like a rose," said one southern priest -- and will likely make his own mark on Boston.
They said Bostonians can expect a firm leader, a man of strong opinion. He will be a conservative leader, some speculated, but one of humor and dignity.
An example of that conservatism, said Sr. Irene Benyak of St. Mary's School in Pierce City, Mo., is the archbishop's desire that women in the church wear something like a veil as "witness to the gospel." Not all nuns prefer the practice.
"He's a bit conservative, but he's very adaptable to change," she said, praising Archbishop Law as a warm and inspiring leader. "He's a strong church man."
"The biggest adjustment will come in not having the beauty and the hills of Missouri, now he's in a concrete city," she said. "He's so accustomed to just getting in a car and driving and now he's chauffeured around -- well, he'll just have to get used to it."
Across the room, Rev. Al Camp, principal of St. Aloysius High School in Vicksburg, Miss., also talked of the new challenges ahead of the archbishop. Like the others, he expressed confidence in the Harvard-educated prelate's ability to adapt, and in his intelligence and insight -- qualities he got to know many years ago when they were in the seminary together.
He called him a man of "opinions, well-founded, not just strong," and predicted that Archbishop Law will have to adjust to a new atmosphere where others want to do things for him.
"You will not put him in a box, you'll not define his role for him, he'll do that himself," he said. "He's that kind of person."
Indeed, signs of the archbishop's strong will were evident later in the reception, held in the main ballroom of the hotel.
When the hundreds of people packed into the steamy room continued to chat loudly after a string quartet began to play on the stage, he didn't hide his displeasure.
Archbishop Law took the stage and, after brief comment about his pleasure at being "home" in Boston, he chided the crowd for not listening more closely to the music. He asked the reception-goers to be quiet for at least one number, and they complied as music filled the room.
"You were very good," he said in a fatherly tone when the piece was over.
Many people laughed quietly. Muttered one man, "I think he's asserting himself."
This story ran in the Boston Globe on 3/24/1984.