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Spotlight Report

  A Boston Globe Editorial  

A priest's achievements

5/16/2003

THE REV. Michael F. Groden was one of the young priests of the 1960s who kept the Archdiocese of Boston anchored in the city as many Catholics moved to the suburbs. Today Groden directs an effective housing development office while tending to the spiritual needs of parishioners at St. Cecilia Church in the Back Bay. His forced resignation from both positions is a blow to any Catholic who favors an innovative, vibrant church that strives for the inclusion of those on society's margins.

The Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, the archdiocesan spokesman, kept quiet about the reasons for Groden's removal yesterday, but the Globe's Michael Paulson reported that it had something to do with excess payment of Social Security taxes. The church was paying $4,500 a year that ought to have been Groden's responsibility. This apparently was inadvertent and should not have been the cause of his forced resignation as pastor. Groden has transformed St. Cecilia in his 14 years there. ''He turned it into an urban spiritual center,'' said Thomas P. O'Neill, the former lieutenant governor and a parishioner.

Groden first made his mark as an assistant pastor at St. Joseph's in Roxbury, where he supervised the construction of 137 units of housing. Cardinal Richard Cushing named him director of the archdiocese's Planning Office for Urban Affairs in 1968, and he set to work building mixed-income developments in the city and suburbs. He made enemies in the process, including some influential Catholics, who did not want to have poor people living next door.

Groden persevered, and he is responsible for the construction of 2,000 units overall. His latest projects are the 184-unit Rollins Square complex in the South End and a development that will offer assisted living, nursing home care, family housing, and units for retired priests at the old St. John of God Hospital in Brighton. Groden built only mixed-income developments because he wanted poor residents to be part of the greater society, not consigned to enclaves.

Groden has gained many friends over the years, and he will be honored May 30 when the Office for Urban Affairs presents him with the Mayor John B. Hynes Award. Hynes was a great builder like Groden but of a different sort. He laid the foundations in the 1950s for the redevelopment of Boston.

Still shaken by the sexual abuse scandal, the Boston Archdiocese is enduring a sad interregnum under the temporary leadership of Bishop Richard G. Lennon. Groden plans to take a few months off, but at age 63, he is too young to retire. An experienced developer able to overcome the political, legal, and financial hurdles of affordable housing may well find new opportunities in other cities. A new archbishop will eventually come to Boston, and he ought to find new uses for Groden's rare and powerful ministry.

This story ran on page A18 of the Boston Globe on 5/16/2003.
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