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Spotlight Report

Lennon is viewed as skilled manager

By Walter V. Robinson and Matt Carroll, Globe Staff, 12/14/2002


Bishop Richard Lennon (AP Photo)

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 Bishop Richard Gerard Lennon
1947   Born March 26 in Arlington.
1965   Graduated from Matignon High School in Cambridge.
1969   Graduated from St. John Seminary in Brighton.
1973   Ordained as a priest and attained a masterís degree in sacramental theology.
1984   Attained a masterís degree in church history.
1973-1982   Priest at St. Mary of the Nativity church in Scituate.
1982-1988   Priest at St. Mary church in West Quincy.
1988-1998   Archdiocesan assistant for canonical affairs.
1999   Became St. John Seminary rector and overseer of parishes in Boston's western suburbs.
2001   Appointed by Pope John Paul II as auxiliary bishop of Boston.
Yesterday   Appointed by pope as apostolic administrator for the Archdiocese of Boston.
Source: Archdiocese of Boston

 In-depth
In December 2002, Bishop Richard G. Lennon replaced Cardinal Law as leader of the Archdiocese of Boston.  
Coverage of Bishop Lennon

Richard Gerard Lennon is evidence that it is possible to be a bishop even in so Catholic a city as Boston and be virtually unknown to the faithful. He is called the ''baby bishop'' by colleagues because he is the archdiocese's newest bishop, and its youngest. Just 15 months ago, Lennon was one of hundreds of priests whose only appellation was ''Father.''

By any reckoning, Lennon, 55, is about to age quickly: The Archdiocese of Boston, with all its troubles, is now his to run. Its crises are his crises. And his friends and colleagues said yesterday that, even if he is destined to be just a caretaker, he has the skills and willpower to begin to repair the damage.

With Cardinal Bernard F. Law gone, the archdiocese's 2 million Catholics will now be led by an affable former mathematics major, a self-taught canon lawyer, and a proven administrator who is a favorite of his fellow priests.

Joseph F. Finn Jr., a longtime friend of Lennon's who is a board member at St. John's Seminary in Brighton, where Lennon has been rector since 1999, said yesterday after talking to the man the pope just made Boston's apostolic administrator that Lennon is eager to begin work.

Asked about Lennon's demeanor, Finn declared: ''His mood is, `I know what to do, and I'm going to do it.' Bishop Lennon has the vision. He is decisive, and he is not going to sit around and waffle.''

Finn, who has advised both Law and Lennon on fiscal matters, said he was not criticizing Law's style, but said the two men have starkly different approaches. Lennon's approach, he said, ''is exactly what we need right now. He is methodical, fair-minded, even-handed, and, most important, consultative.''

In contrast, Finn said, ''Cardinal Law would listen to people and do whatever he wanted. If everyone in the room said `Don't do it,' Cardinal Law would do it.''

Lennon was notified on Thursday afternoon, in a telephone call from Rome, that he would be taking over for Law - another indication that the Vatican had made the decision to replace Law well before the cardinal's meeting yesterday with Pope John Paul II.

Lennon must now contend with a wounded and skeptical laity and a demoralized corps of priests, many of whom believe the archdiocese needs much more than a change at the top.

At least with the priests, Lennon has an advantage: According to his colleagues, he is widely admired - and often consulted - by other priests.

Several years ago, Lennon, the son of an Arlington deputy fire chief whose family recited the rosary daily, was voted priest of the year by his peers.

''He has a tough job ahead of him, and obviously the most important issue facing him is to bring closure to this scandal,'' said Monsignor Paul V. Garrity, a seminary classmate of Lennon - Class of 1973 - and the pastor of St. Mary's Church in Lynn. But Garrity said Lennon is equal to the task, calling him ''very bright, very affable, very easy to get along with.''

''He's one of us, meaning he's not a stuffed shirt,'' said the Rev. Kevin M. Sepe, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Braintree. ''He's easy to interact with because he's just like a brother priest.''

Lennon, Garrity said, also possesses intellectual credentials ''of the first order.'' Lennon has two graduate degrees, and although he is not a canon lawyer, he is so well-schooled in church law that he knows as much about the subject as most canon lawyers, Garrity said.

And during a year when Law and most of his bishops rebuffed attempts by members of the laity to become more involved in their church, Lennon was quietly encouraging such efforts, according to Finn.

Finn, a founding member of Voice of the Faithful, the activist group that grew out of the scandal, said he approached Lennon early this year with an argument that members of the laity were entitled to a greater say in running the church's financial affairs.

Lennon, after reviewing canon law, agreed with him, Finn recalled. ''He told me, `You have standing because you have been baptized and confirmed and called by Christ to speak the truth,''' Finn said.

But even if Lennon reaches out to lay Catholics, he may not be doing so for long. Historically, apostolic administrators serve only until a permanent replacement is named by the pope. And it would be rare for an archdiocese as large and important as Boston's to be awarded to a bishop who has not run a diocese elsewhere.

When Cardinal Humberto S. Medeiros died in September 1983, for example, his vicar general, Bishop Thomas V. Daily, served as apostolic administrator until Law became archbishop in March 1984. Daily went on to become bishop of the Brooklyn diocese.

Philip F. Lawler, the former editor of the Pilot, the archdiocesan newspaper, said yesterday that he doubts that Lennon will hold the job for long.

Citing Lennon's calm, prudence,and canon law background, Lawler said the bishop ''was very definitely chosen as a caretaker and administrator ... He is very careful, thorough, and detailed.''

Lennon, Lawler said, ''may be Mr. Fix-it, on the legal and financial issues. He may be the one to strike the deal, to get all those claims settled.''

That means, he said, that the caretaker could be in place for quite some time.

But Lawler said Lennon lacks the charisma to succeed Law as archbishop. ''He is a belt-and-suspenders type. He is very cautious,'' he said. ''You would want to invest your money in his bank. But you would not want to follow him into battle.''

Bishop Lennon was born March 26, 1947, in Arlington, where the family's Catholicism was deeply rooted. In 1914, his uncles helped build his parish church, St. James the Apostle.

According to Sepe, Lennon would often wear his father's deputy fire chief cufflinks with his white shirt.

The chief's son graduated from Matignon High School in Cambridge, where ne was a member of the National Honor Society. After two years of studying math at Boston College - he retains close ties to the school, with which Law had an acrimonious relationship - he transferred to St. John's Seminary.

From 1973 to 1988, Lennon was a parish priest at St. Mary of the Nativity Church in Scituate and St. Mary's Church in West Quincy. He was the archdiocesan assistant for canonical affairs from 1988 to 1998. In 1999, he became the seminary rector. He also oversees parishes in Boston's western suburbs.

The Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, an archdiocesan spokesman who also teaches at the seminary, said the burden of responsibility is already weighing heavily on the shoulders of the bishop.

''He is overwhelmed,'' said Coyne. ''But he is committed to doing what needs to be done for the spiritual and adminstrative well-being of the diocese.''

Lennon, Coyne said, has a courteous manner. But, he said, ''he doesn't mince words when something needs to be said. He is very direct. He is not afraid to disagree with people. But when he does not take people's advice, he explains to them why.''

Sacha Pfeiffer and Michael Rezendes of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.

This story ran on page A13 of the Boston Globe on 12/14/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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