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Bishop Lennon charms parishioners with visit

By Peter Demarco, Globe Correspondent, 1/13/2003

WALTHAM - Bishop Richard G. Lennon received a warm welcome at St. Jude's Church yesterday, shaking hands and joking with parishioners after Mass while challenging criticism that he has not done enough to reach out to lay groups and local parishes since becoming the Archdiocese of Boston's new administrator.

Lennon was in Waltham to preside over the installation of St. Jude's new pastor, the Rev. William T. Leonard. The visit was his first to a local parish and one of a handful of public appearances he has made since assuming Cardinal Bernard F. Law's duties - and the task of righting a church left in turmoil by dozens of clergy sexual abuse cases - one month ago today.

The Voice of the Faithful lay group criticized Lennon last week for ignoring requests for a meeting and for ''spending too much time in the chancery, surrounded by the last loyalists to the cardinal.''

But at a reception for Leonard following yesterday's Mass, Lennon characterized such criticism as unfair. ''This idea where I'm not out there, I don't know where this is coming from,'' he said.

Lennon said he visited more than 50 parishes each weekend in his former role as bishop of the west region of the archdiocese, and will be visiting more parishes in the future. He also will preside over Sunday Masses at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End as Law did in the past.

Though Lennon had made arrangements to appear at St. Jude's before he was elevated to administrator, he kept them. Following the Mass, attended by about 600 people, he spent an hour posing for pictures and introducing himself to nearly every table at the church's reception hall.

Acknowledging that he has received numerous requests to meet with Voice of the Faithful, Lennon said, ''I am getting to them.''

James E. Post, president of Voice of the Faithful, a group formed after the abuse scandal surfaced that advocates structural change in the church, said yesterday that he realizes Lennon has had many responsibilities thrust upon him in four weeks.

''We're not criticizing him in terms of having a busy schedule or his need to use his time wisely,'' Post said. ''All we are looking for is some acknowledgment - a courtesy call, an e-mail, a letter. It's not too much to ask for that. Just some acknowledgment that our communication has been received and that he is willing to have a meeting.''

Parishioners interviewed at St. Jude's overwhelmingly supported Lennon, saying that he must be given more time to acclimate himself to the challenges of his new role.

''I told him, `You have one hell of a job there. You've got some shoes to fill,''' said Joe LeBlanc, of Waltham.

Ed Jordan, 57, a letter carrier, also wished Lennon good luck as they shook hands at the reception. ''I think we've got to give him some time. He's stepped into a job that is difficult on the best of days,'' he said. ''He's just trying to catch up.''

Still, parishioners said it was good to finally meet their new leader, and wished he would come around again.

''I think everybody here needs an uplift. I think we've all been a little depressed'' because of the turmoil, said Barbara Meola, 74, of Waltham. ''I think he's given us an uplift by being here and showing that he cares.''

Lennon's warm personality was evident yesterday as he greeted parishioners after Mass.

As altar server Jennifer Nicoloro, 13, and her family walked past the bishop on their way out of church, Lennon kidded her parents, ''Without her, I couldn't remember the words. She saved me.''

''Are you going to be a server like her?'' he then asked Jennifer's sister, Katie, 8. ''She'll be able to teach you because she is good at this.''

A few minutes later, at the reception, 89-year-old Nancy Quirk asked Lennon if she could have her picture taken with him.

''You sure I won't break your camera?'' he asked. ''Now listen, don't use this as a dartboard, OK?''

Leonard, who was ordained in 1969, replaces the retired Rev. Robert Waldron as St. Jude's pastor. Standing on the altar after his installation, he told parishioners he was ''humbled'' to serve them, and thanked his late father, Alfred, as well as his mother, Eleanor, other family members, and priests for their guidance and support.

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 1/13/2003.
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