The mission of LowellIrish is to collect and preserve the history and cultural materials, which document the presence of the Irish community in Lowell. As the first immigrant group in a city that continues to celebrate its immigrant past, LowellIrish will serve as an advocate to support a better understanding of the historical, political, religious, and social function the Irish played in the formation of the city.
The darkened skies and rolls of thunder were a foreboding for the news the messenger was bringing to St. Patrick’s Rectory. The housekeeper could hardly be understood between her sobs and the raging storm. Fathers William and Shaw heard the banging on the door followed by the cries from the maid. Calming her down they finally made out the news- Brother Bonaventure was dead, a victim of drowning.
There was little relief from summer heat in the 19th century. Combine that with the close living conditions in the Acre and the disciplined order of being a Xaverian Brother made for a trying life. The Superior of the Brothers, Brother Dominic, was a true shepherd of the flock of Brothers who taught the boys at St. Patrick School. It was August of 1896. His idea was to give them a respite from the heat, a little vacation at Lake Nabnessett in Westford. Mr. McGlinchey, a local, “thrifty” farmer, arranged for housing for the Brothers. On Monday, after dinner, the Brothers decided to go for a boat ride.
All the Brothers got into the boat, along with the McGlinchey boys and a friend. As the afternoon progressed the rowers became fatigued and the fatal decision was made for others to take up the oars. As the boaters switched positions the boat suddenly overturned sending the group into the water. Panic struck the group. The McGlinchey boys, their friend, and Brother Bonaventure began making their way to shore, 100 yards away. The cries for help made Bonaventure and one of the boys turn around to help the Brothers who were flailing in the water. None of them knew how to swim.
The two rescuers speedily made their way back to the upturned boat and got them to hold onto the edge of the boat. Brother Mark, who was stuck under the boat, was dragged to safety. Brother Eugene was going under for the 3rd time before he was saved. Brother Mark could barely keep his head above water. The entire lot was at the point of exhaustion. Brother Amandus, who was onshore, got another boat and started rowing out to those holding on for dear life. The group heard a cry and saw Brother Bonaventure “the pale face of Brother Bonaventure turn heavenward and then submerged below the surface of the water, a gurgling cry was all the sound he made and he never rose again in life.” The rescue boat could not find Bonaventure and quickly turned to those holding onto the upturned boat who had little strength left.
The storm clouds moved in and the steady rain kept up through the night. Carriages arrived from Lowell including the Superior, Brother Dominic who had arranged the short respite. A number of local residents from Westford and parishioners from Lowell kept up the search. Undertaker O’Donnell also came. About 6 in the morning Brother Bernard found Bonaventure’s body. It was brought to the schoolhouse to lay in state on Suffolk Street. On Monday and Tuesday between twelve and fifteen thousand people came to pay their respects.
“In the world” Bonaventure was known as William Guthrie. A quiet, spiritual boy from Kentucky, he entered the Xaverians at 19 and decided to give his life in service to others. He served as teacher for 7 years. Observers noted those who attended the wake, including many boys from the school, openly wept. He was truly loved by many who knew this gentle soul. The funeral, on Wednesday filled St. Patrick’s Church. As the body was borne from the school to the church his fellow Brothers chanted the De Profundis. The Mass was sung by Bonaventure’s own students. An observer said the only way to count the crowd was to say it was in the thousands.
The funeral cortege wound its way to St. Patrick Cemetery for burial in the Brothers’ Lot. The crowd was so numerous many could not get near the grave. Father O’Brien recited the committal prayers as the body was being lowered into the grave. “Sobs of heartfelt sorrow” muffled the priest’s prayers. An observer noted that his kindly face will be missed and that many will utter a fervent prayer for the repose of his soul.
Sadly the story does not end here. The Superior, Brother Dominic, who arranged for the Brothers’ rest was given the burden of guilt for the tragedy. Though the poor man was visibly moved in grief, he was quickly removed from St. Patrick’s without any notice or reason for doing so. Though nothing was openly said, the pastor, Fr. Michael O’Brien had words with Dominic. And Dominic’s superior in Baltimore openly held him responsible. Dominic went from being the Superior of one of the Xaverians leading institutions to a teacher at St. Mary’s Industrial School in Baltimore. A writer said Dominic carried his burden “quietly and obediently.”
(The Brothers’ Lot at St. Patrick’s has not been located. If anyone knows where it is, please let us know.)