OF A TIME CAPSULE AND THE MARCH OF HISTORY: A link to Boston’s religious past is but a short walk away from 1795 capsule site

The discovery of a hidden time capsule is always intriguing. To great fanfare a few weeks ago, the opening of a 1795 trove discovered by workers repairing a leak at the Massachusetts State House did not disappoint. The capsule, a link to the present from Washington’s day, contained artifacts that evoked tangible artifacts of such legendary colonial figures as Sam Adams and Paul Revere – including a rectangular silver plate that, if made by Revere, is extremely valuable. Just down the street from the State House, a small marker on School Street testifies that when Adams, Revere, developer William Scollay, and other local dignitaries placed the time capsule, change was coming to “Old Boston.”

A small but growing community of Irish Catholics was testing the tenets of religious freedom at that School Street site, an old, ramshackle Huguenot church. The church is long gone, but few passersby realize just how important it once was in the annals of the Boston Irish.

In 1779, when Massachusetts’ leaders wrote the state’s constitution, they added a startling proviso: For the first time, they proved willing to give at least tacit acceptance to the handful of Irish and French Catholics in Boston. No longer would local Irish have to assume membership in other churches, masking or even shedding their traditional faith, because the Legislature could no longer enact overt statutes against Catholics. To the ire of many colonial Bostonians, the proverbial religious genie – “popery” – was slipping from its centuries-old constraints in the region.

Not many Catholics had actually practiced their faith other than in private. But in 1788, in a development that would have scandalized Cotton Mather and other Puritan luminaries a century earlier, a handful of local Irish and French heeded the call of a French priest named Abbe de la Poterie, who showed up in Boston and invited Catholics to hear the first legal Mass in Boston’s annals in the little church on School Street on a Sunday in November.

De la Poterie said the Mass in Latin, but with a thick French accent that proved difficult for the Irish to follow. The language barrier notwithstanding, Doyles, Callahans, O’Briens, Fitzpatricks, and other Irish emigres new and old crowded into the church.
As two years passed and another Frenchman, Father Rousselet, replaced De la Porterie, some of the Irish, frustrated by French-accepted sermons that they could barely follow – if at all, began to slip away from services, muttering they would return only when a priest fluent in English arrived.

That man strode onto the School Street church’s diminutive altar on Jan. 10, 1790. Father John Thayer had been born and raised a Congregationalist and had studied at Yale, a bastion of the era’s traditional American Protestantism. Then, he traveled to France and Italy, where he developed an interest in Catholicism. In 1787, he was ordained a priest in the Catholic Church and set out to organize a bona-fide parish in Boston.

Thayer had an immediate impact upon the local Irish. As the late Professor Thomas H. O’Connor wrote in “The Boston Irish,” the “Irish, especially… began to attend church services in greater numbers, brought their children (some as old as 16) to be baptized, and had their Protestant marriages solemnized in the Catholic Church.”

Eagerly aiding Father Thayer in his personal crusade to establish an English-speaking parish were the Irishmen and Irishwomen who had long awaited a church of their own. With such names as O’Connell, Magner, Mulligan, Harrington, and Maloney, they came out of the religious shadows to practice their faith in the open despite the certainty that no mere words in the state constitution could quickly erase centuries of religious antipathy between them and their Protestant neighbors.

A number of the parish’s members belonged to an organization that had quietly but firmly turned from religious prejudice as early as 1764. Despite Boston’s vehement 18th-century prejudice toward Catholics, the Charitable Irish Society had been ignoring religious admonition since that time and, in 1804, the group officially removed the Presbyterian requirement for membership, which had not stopped Irish Catholics from joining.

There was no memento of that landmark little School Street parish amid the contents of the 1795 time capsule. Still, at the very juncture where Sam Adams and Paul Revere buried the container, the Irish were making their presence known just a short walk from the State House.

Whither the Age of Tiger?

In a matter of little historical significance but of interest to golf buffs, outspoken Northern Irish golf great David Feherty continues to buck the legions of Tiger Woods haters. To SB Nation and other sports media, Feherty pronounced, “It would surprise me if, by the end of this season, he’s not No. 1 in the world again.”

Sensibly, Feherty tempered his prediction with an “if-Tiger-stays-healthy” caveat: “I think, if he’s durable, if his body’s in good shape, that we’re going to see him in contention again. The only mistakes I’ve ever made with Tiger Woods are underestimating him. If you think he can’t do that, well, he kind of thinks he can.”

Feherty’s remarks likely have not gone down well in Northern Ireland, the proving ground not only for Feherty, but also for the world’s current No. 1, a guy named Rory McIlroy. If somehow Woods does regain his game of yore – or something akin to it – a Tiger versus Rory chase for the top spot would pump some much-needed excitement into the Tour. “People have forgotten what happens when he does play well,” said Feherty. “It’s been so long since he did, I think, just by the law of averages, it’s going to happen again. Does anyone doubt that even a few tight final rounds between the current and former kings would be memorable? Here’s a hope that it happens – despite the long odds at the onset of the 2015 Tour.