Friday, November 16, 2012

Cardinal O'Connell Parkway

Postcard of O'Connell Parkway
It was as if the fates were against the idea from the beginning.  William O’Connell, a favored son of Lowell, was given the red hat of Cardinal in 1911.  It took years before the city that witnessed his birth could decide how to appropriately mark O’Connell’s being made a prince of the Church.  There were financial reasons, then the Great War took precedence, and the Spanish influenza epidemic that ravished the US in 1918.  After much negotiation, the Committee decided that naming a parkway along with a fountain and bust of the prelate would be the most fitting. 
The big day was set- Sunday, November 17, 1918.  Humphrey O’Sullivan, the rubber heel king, and others from the Committee traveled to New York City to pick up the bronze bust which would surmount the granite shaft and fountain.  A grand parade would top off the day.  Weeks ahead of the event, organizations posted their “marching orders” in preparation.  Every parish, Holy Name Society, Knights of Columbus Council, temperance society, drum & bugle corps, cadet band, fraternal group, parochial school and whatever other group you could think of was invited to the parade.  And those were just the Catholic groups!  Since the Cardinal was quite proud of his Irish heritage and his American patriotism, many of those ethnic and civil groups were invited as well.  The Grand Marshall of the parade invited over 100 men to march with him, all wearing frock coats with gloves and cardinal red sashes. Badges with the Cardinal’s likeness and a red, white, and blue ribbon were distributed to the crowds.  There was discussion about allowing the women of the Catholic League to march.  Some were not opened to the idea, but in the spirit of the event, they were allowed. 
The Cardinal has gone down into history as someone who got his way.  He personified the rise of Irish-American Catholicism.  He never forgot how Boston treated his Irish ancestors.  He was quoted as saying, “The Puritan has passed, the Catholic remains.”  But even the good Cardinal could not control the New England weather.  Even days before the event, the weather was miserable.  A large tent was erected by the canvas-covered bust and fountain.  It rained so hard that there was serious consideration of cancelling the entire parade.  The parade marshal made the decision that the weather was not appropriate for women to march in.  But the crowds could not be disappointed and the parade stepped off.  The Cardinal’s niece from Boston pulled the cord that unveiled the bust.  Speeches were made and then more speeches were made.  His Eminence spoke of home, industry, faith, and peace.  The ceremony closed with the thousands joining in the singing of America.

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