By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — Six months after the death and burial of Bishop Emeritus Raymond J. Boland in his beloved Ireland, the annual outdoor Mass for the Kansas City Irish Fest was not celebrated without a Bishop Boland.
“I am his little brother, which is something he constantly reminded me of,” Bishop Emeritus J. Kevin Boland of Savannah, Ga., told some 2,000 people who crowded the pavilion at Crown Center to celebrate Sunday Mass and the life of both Bishop Boland, who died Feb. 27, and of longtime Irish Fest leader Bernard “Barney” Walsh, who died May 4.
There were no tears for either man. Or at least there weren’t until Bishop Kevin took to the microphone after Communion to explain why his big brother had to return to the land he never stopped loving.
“I really can’t sing, but this is a song of the Irish emigrant, longing for the place he came from,” he said, as he proceeded to prove himself wrong.
Bishop Kevin sang, a capella and in perfect pitch, “Ireland, Mother Ireland,” written in 1922 by Raymond Loughborough and P.J. O’Reilly:
Oh, land of love and beauty
To you our hearts are wed
To you in lowly duty
We ever bow the head
Oh, perfect loving mother
Your exiled children all
Across the sund’ring seas to you
In fond devotion call
If you sigh, we hear you
If you weep, we weep
In your hours of gladness
How our pulses leap!
Let what may befall
Ever shall we hold you
Dearest – best of all
Dear isle across the sea
Dear loving land of ours
May your days be sunny
And your way – a way of flowers!
Wide though we be scattered
By alien vale and hill
All the love you gave to us
We keep and cherish still
Bishop Kevin also told the crowd that when he was invited to take his brother’s place as the celebrant of this year’s Irish Fest Mass, it was an honor he could not refuse.
“(Bishop Raymond) talked frequently of the Irish fest and with joy and love,” Bishop Kevin said.
“For 57 years since he came to the United States, he served in Washington, D.C. Birmingham (Ala.) and Kansas City-St. Joseph,” Bishop Kevin said. “He always requested to be buried in Ireland.”
He recalled, for the huge congregation, his brother’s final days.
“I arranged for him to go on a medical plane from the Downtown Airport. We flew to Newfoundland to refuel, then flew to Ireland, where we were met by an ambulance that took him to a hospice,” Bishop Kevin said.
“He was with family from that Sunday until the following Thursday,” when he died.
“He was laid to rest in the courtyard of St. Michael’s Church. That is the church of his baptism, and the church where our parents were married,” Bishop Kevin said.
“On behalf of the Boland family, thank you for the privilege of saying this Mass,” he said.
But it was not a Mass for mourning. It couldn’t be with Redemptorist Father James Shea, serving as concelebrant and homilist.
Father Shea, former pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help (Redemptorist) Parish in Kansas City and now serving as pastor of St. Gerard Parish in San Antonio, said the opportunity to celebrate the Irish Fest Mass one more time with another Bishop Boland was also an opportunity he couldn’t decline.
“This year, we have not only the spirit of Bishop Raymond Boland with us, but also his brother,” Father Shea said, who then began to regale the congregation with his wit.
“I didn’t know what ‘emeritus’ meant, so I looked it up in the dictionary. It says, ‘Someone who is retired with nothing to do,’” Father Shea said.
He told the story of two Irish boys, coincidentally named Raymond and Kevin, who were constantly in trouble, until their mother sent the eldest, Raymond, to the parish pastor for a stern lecture.
“Where is God?” the pastor asked Raymond, who then bolted out the door, ran home, and began packing.
“Kevin,” he said. “You had better start packing, too. They lost God and they’re blaming us.”
Father Shea recalled calling Bishop Raymond soon after the Redemptorist priest was assigned to the Kansas City parish, simply as a courtesy.
But instead of the short courtesy call the priest expected, Bishop Raymond invited him to the chancery.
“We spent over an hour chatting, then he introduced me to everyone in the chancery,” Father Shea recalled. “That is how he welcomed people.”
People will remember Bishop Boland in many ways, he said. But they should especially remember how he took up his own cross and followed Jesus.
“Not everybody will be going to Calvary to suffer a cruel death,” Father Shea said. “But we will all be going to Calvary.
“All of us have a cross to carry to Calvary. We can deny it. We can try to force our way through it. Or we can accept it in the spirit of Jesus Christ,” he said.
Bishop Raymond could accept his cross, because he knew in faith that God always had a plan for him, as God has for every human person, Father Shea said.
“Take up that cross,” Father Shea said, “and we will all know our way home.”
There was one more memorial.
A collection was taken up to benefit one of the charities closest to Bishop Raymond Boland’s heart — Seton Center, serving the poor of the inner city at 23rd Street and Benton Boulevard.
Executive Director Sister Loretta Marie Colwell, Sister of Charity of Leavenworth, told the congregation that Seton Center provides food to more than 800 families a month, plus sponsors a full dental clinic for children, many of whom have never seen a dentist’s office before.
She spoke of the gratitude of the people the center serves.
“They can have absolutely nothing, and they say, ‘I am so blessed,’” Sister Loretta Marie said.
“They are happy they made it through one more day, and that we were there for them,” she said.
The Irish Fest Mass collection raised $4,434.96.