Boston￢ﾀﾙs ￢ﾀﾙHealing Priest￢ﾀﾙ dies at 86
The man known far and wide as Boston’s "Healing Priest," Redemptorist Father Edward McDonough, died in the early morning hours of Monday, Feb. 11, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. In residence at Mission Church (Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help) since 1975, Father McDonough spent his last days at a nearby West Roxbury facility, Deutsches Altenheim, where he was receiving medical care following a series of strokes. He was 86 years old and, with the help of his secretaries, continued his Healing and Restoration Ministry until the last few days of his life.
At the invitation of various Catholic Charismatic groups, he conducted healing missions in nearly a dozen different countries, as well as throughout the United States. Yet, Boston-born and bred, he never lost his distinctive accent or his love for the Boston Red Sox, according to his fellow Bostonian and former Provincial Superior, Father George Keaveney.
A viewing will be held at Mission Church on Friday, Feb. 15, beginning at 2 p.m., followed by a Wake Service at 8 p.m. The Funeral Mass will be concelebrated there on Saturday, Feb. 16, at 10 a.m. Burial will be at Mt. Calvary Cemetery in Boston.
Described as a quiet and hard-working priest by those who lived and worked with him, Father McDonough never sought attention for himself, despite the fact that reporters from the religious and secular press and interviewers on radio and television often covered his ministry. "He never took credit for anything, with all the millions of people he helped," said Rose Catrone, secretary at Mission Church. "People came from anywhere just to be near him and it was just in the last few years he had to slow down," she added. "He used to take all the calls that came for him and he always came to the front to give a blessing to anyone who came to ask for one."
Born April 8, 1921, he was the son of John and Annie Sammon McDonough. He attended Our Lady of Perpetual Help School before entering the Redemptorist junior seminary in North East, PA. He spent his novitiate in Ilchester, MD, and made his first profession of vows in 1943. He continued his studies for the priesthood at Mount St. Alphonsus in Esopus, NY, making his final profession of vows in 1946 and being ordained to the priesthood on June 20, 1948. He later attended Boston College, where he earned a Master’s in Education, specializing in counseling and guidance, in 1962.
Father McDonough’s first assignment was to Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Brooklyn, where he served in 1949-1950. He then was sent out, in the era of Jim Crow laws, to do mission work among Black Catholics in the South, in Newton Grove, NC; Spartenburg, NC; and Richmond, VA. He was transferred to Mission Church in Boston in 1956 and, in 1967, he returned to Richmond, and then Roanoke, VA. It was in Virginia that he became interested in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal.
As he later recounted in one of his monthly newsletters, at one of the prayer services, a man came up and asked him to pray over him. The man experienced a healing, told a friend whom he brought to the next prayer service and presented to Father McDonough. The friend, too, experienced a healing and, little by little, word spread around Roanoke. Father McDonough had not sought a healing ministry but people were seeking him for his prayers that God would heal them. The priest explained the situation to his Redemptorist superiors for direction and they, seeing that not only were some people being healed physically, but even more people were returning to the practice of their Catholic faith, gave permission for Father McDonough to undertake the ministry on a full-time basis. With the approval of the then-Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Humberto Medeiros, it was arranged in 1975 for the priest to conduct his Healing and Restoration Ministry out of Mission Church.
For those used to the high-volume dramatics of televised healing services, where the presider would yell into people’s faces, "Heal! Heal!" Father McDonough came as quite a surprise. Father Keaveney recounted his experiences with attending Fr. McDonough’s services: "He was not high-pressure at all. He was laid-back, very gentle, very humble. He loved the people and was there for them. He was very popular and all he did was just give them the Gospel and pray."
Although he was in residence at Mission Church, Father McDonough began his ministry in a quiet way, accepting an invitation by one of his sisters, Mary Sheehan, and her husband, James, to conduct services in their home. The numbers of people who came soon outgrew the capacity of the private residence and Father McDonough had to move the healing services to St. Patrick Church. Again, the crowds swelled and, by this time, the only place large enough was Mission Church itself, the largest Catholic church in Boston.
At the same time the ministry was growing in Boston, word was spreading through the Charismatic Renewal and invitations to preach began to come in from other areas, including Brooklyn. New Yorker Eileen LaBarca heard about an upcoming healing service from a neighbor. "At the time -- this was 1978 -- my son Tommy, who was five years old, had a problem with his stomach," Mrs. LaBarca said. "His stomach would get so extended that I couldn’t get his clothes on and the poor kid used to scream in pain." She was particularly alarmed because a five-year-old nephew had died after experiencing the same symptoms the year before, she said. After a number of specialists were unable to diagnose Tommy’s illness, she took him to a service celebrated by Father McDonough. "The priest walked down the aisle past us and, all of a sudden, did an about-face and came back. Tommy was the third person in from the aisle and Father reached over and started praying with him. After a week, all my son’s symptoms disappeared! It got me started going back to Mass."
Father McDonough’s ministry also led his confrere, Father John Connor, into a healing ministry. He accepted an invitation to travel with Father McDonough on a healing mission to Canada and helped out, whenever needed, in Brooklyn. "He was a man of humility and zeal," Father Connor said. "It was amazing how hard he was willing to work."
Working at Father McDonough’s side for 15 years was his sister Rita, who became Sister Priscilla when she was professed as a School Sister of Notre Dame. Her most important contribution to the Healing and Restoration Ministry, Father McDonough said after her death, was the establishment of the Prayer Line. With staffing by volunteers, that telephone service continues today and can be reached by calling (617) 442-3935. In addition to the healing services conducted regularly at Mission Church and, by invitation, in dioceses across the country, the freely-given pamphlets, the Prayer Line and the radio and television broadcasts expanded the scope of the ministry. By the late 1980s, his words of faith, trust and healing were being televised over CTNA, reaching 90 dioceses in the U.S. When the internet became popular, a web site was developed and maintained to reach even more people around the world.
As the means of spreading the word grew, so, too, did the pool of volunteers who were moved to become part of the work.
Still, Mission Church, where Father McDonough and his siblings had prayed as children and where there is a long history of healing through the intercession of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, remained the locus of the ministry. Father Richard Bennett, pastor of Mission Church, said Father McDonough "always had time for anyone who asked him to pray and was the epitome of patience, no matter how often people called him." The image of Jesus as Gentle Shepherd was ever before him and he wrote a hymn addressed to this "Gentle Shepherd." Father Bennett said his confrere saw himself as a co-apostle with Christ and "would spend all the time, all the energy, everything that was needed to bring Christ’s sheep back to Him in the fold."
For the last few months, as Father McDonough grew too weak to attend the healing services, another confrere from Mission Church, Father Robert Lennon, has been continuing with the regularly scheduled services. "I feel as if I’m doing this in the presence of a very holy Redemptorist who set up this ministry himself," Father Lennon said. "It’s filled with prayer upon prayer, hymns, people witnessing to their blessings, exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, and the blessing of people with holy water. It’s very moving and a lot of people have expressed their love of the Church because of it."
Father McDonough often spoke of the types of healings God offered as being in a hierarchy of gifts. The least important was physical healing, although it is that which draws the most public attention and whole filing cabinets are filled with medical testimonies. Next is emotional or psychological healing and, at the top of the list, spiritual healing which allows a person to become more like the individual God created him or her to be. "A happy death, he said, is the greatest of all the healings," Mrs. Catrone said. "That’s what we were praying for for him."
Father McDonough is survived by a sister, Joan Hommel, and a brother-in-law, James Sheehan, as well as nephews, nieces, cousins, and an immense circle of friends.