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New Catholic Shrine Brings Old Memories Of Maritime South Boston04:29
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The inside of the new Our Lady of Good Voyage shrine during Sunday Mass (Simón Rios/WBUR)MoreCloseclosemore
The inside of the new Our Lady of Good Voyage shrine during Sunday Mass (Simón Rios/WBUR)

For Marilyn Morrissey and her husband John, the new Our Lady of Good Voyage shrine symbolizes not just the Catholic faith, but the South Boston waterfront culture they grew up in.

"My father was a longshoreman ... my two brothers, my uncle Happy, and a lot of our friends," she said shortly before the 11:30 Mass at the shrine located in the city's Seaport. "We grew up on the waterfront, so it [was] more or less a calling for them."

The Morrisseys now live in Randolph. But they've watched the transformation of the Seaport over more than a half-century.

"Oh my goodness," she said. "There was nothing here, none of these skyscrapers, none of these buildings."

"This was all railroad cars," John Morrissey added with a laugh. "I go back to the '30s."

The Southie natives were among more than 200 people who attended Mass on Sunday at Our Lady of Good Voyage, the first newly built Catholic church in Boston for some 65 years. The shrine replaces a chapel of the same name — that building was razed recently to make way for a yet another towering Seaport development.

"That was my father's favorite place to go," Marilyn Morrissey said. "Gate of Heaven [in South Boston] was our parish, but he loved the chapel. Beautiful, beautiful. A lot of good memories from that church to this church. And I hope they do well here."

The new shrine is an ode to the churches that closed before it. The altar windows are made from stained glass from the former parish of St. Catherine of Siena in Charlestown, the main altar comes from the former Holy Trinity church in the South End, and the cross atop the bell tower comes from the former Mary Star of the Sea church in Quincy.

Since the 1970s, the Archdiocese of Boston has closed more than 150 churches, according to a spokesman. New churches have opened in Dracut and Plymouth over the last decade, but the Seaport shrine is the first newly built church in Boston since 1952.

"I'm somewhat young, but I was even talking to the older priests and it was the first dedication they had ever been at also," said Father Gerald Souza before celebrating Sunday Mass. "So it's really a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

Father Gerald Souza holds Mass inside the newly built Catholic shrine on Sunday. (Simón Rios/WBUR)
Father Gerald Souza holds Mass inside the newly built Catholic shrine on Sunday. (Simón Rios/WBUR)

Souza is assigned to the new shrine and other churches in South Boston. He said he's been ordained for about four years, and previously worked in Billerica.

Souza says the original Our Lady of Good Voyage chapel was built to serve workers on the waterfront.

"The new shrine continues that same mission," he said. "The people who work here are a bit different, their occupations, the jobs, very different. But we continue that same mission."

The shrine is brimming with symbols of the Our Lady of Good Voyage tradition, which stretches back not only to Portugal and Spain, but also here in Gloucester, where a church of the same name opened in the late 19th century.

"Our heritage is very strong into the nautical themes," Souza said. "You'll notice there are anchors on the doors. We have different ships along the sides of the church. They each have a different connection to Boston. They were either made here or they sailed here."

Six model ships line the shrine's walls — including one of the USS Constitution and another of the Boston Lightship — and the structure of the roof invokes the carpentry used to build wooden ships of old.

This segment aired on April 24, 2017.

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Simón Ríos is an award-winning bilingual reporter in WBUR's newsroom.

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