The telephone rang early Wednesday morning in the hushed rectory of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica, the old Catholic church on Mission Hill. Phones are always ringing in old churches in working-class neighborhoods, but this caller, a priest, had a singular request. He said that the Kennedy family — that would be the Kennedys of Hyannis Port, Washington, the world — wondered whether the funeral Mass for Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who had died just hours earlier, could be said at Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Would that be all right?
The Rev. Philip Dabney, the associate pastor, was stunned. All he had done was answer the phone, and now his life had changed. “I said, ‘Sure,’ ” he recalled. “I was so taken aback. But you knowhow grace works.” Soon Father Dabney was working out the details with the senator’s aides. No air-conditioning? We’ll send over several industrial fans. Unsure about the sound system? ABC, the television network, will be on it. When the priest noted that the sidewalk in front of the church was in the midst of being repaired, one of the aides said, “It’ll be fixed.”
The priests here are Redemptorists — missionaries who built this commanding Romanesque church in 1878. Known locally as the Mission Church, it holds a special place among Boston Catholics because of its shrine to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, which is bordered by two vases filled with canes and crutches. According to the church’s official history, these strange but beautiful bouquets “provide testimony to the multitude of cures and graces granted through the intercession of Our Lady.”