Miracles on Boylston Street
A Story of the Convention
By Cathy Fallon, Secretary/Clerk, Voice of the
Was it grace? Was it the Holy Spirit? Or were they miracles? You decide:
Katherine Anne Porter has written, "Miracles are spontaneous; they cannot be summoned, but come of themselves." The "Response of the Faithful" conference, sponsored by Voice of the Faithful on July 20, 2002, at the Hynes Auditorium on Boylston Street in Boston, was a miracle in and of itself. Can you imagine a brand new organization, barely three months old, dreaming of having a convention that would draw a national and international audience on three months notice? Yet that's what happened. Volunteers sold 4,200 tickets in dozens of parishes. Volunteers took online conference registrations and printed identification badges. Volunteers left their homes at dawn to staff the most well-organized conference registration process most had ever experienced. Problem solvers smilingly solved problems. The day was pretty nearly flawless. It was a miracle!
Some miracles started happening a few days before the conference. Barbara Bird,
an artist from Belmont, was inspired by a moving photo in the Boston
Globe of a father embracing his son upon learning that the son
had been abused. Barbara is certain that she was prompted by the
Holy Spirit to make her own powerful sketch of the scene, which
she sent to VOTF president, Jim Post. Jim called another volunteer
to see if there was a way to use the sketch at the convention. Unbeknownst
to Jim, that volunteer was looking for a piece of art to accompany
the award that was being prepared for Fr. Tom Doyle. Barbara had
the image on disc, and was able to reduce it to the proper size
for the award. In characteristic generosity of spirit, she also
prepared a large framed version for Fr. Doyle and delivered it to
the VOTF volunteer's home, several towns away.
On the morning of the convention, Barbara arrived early and was seated up front
on an aisle. A photographer was adjusting his lens, focusing on
the podium and on the new Voice logo designed for the occasion by
Pat and Sean Healy. Satisfied with his camera settings, he began
to converse with Barbara. She told him the story of the sketch she
had made from a recent Boston Globe photograph. Incredulous,
he informed her that he was the photographer who had taken that
A few moments later, Barbara struck up a conversation with a woman
who had driven for seven and a half hours from Philadelphia to attend
the conference. Barbara asked her why she had come so far all by
herself. She said that after reading an article in the Philadelphia
Inquirer on the inspiring story of the explosive growth of Voice
of the Faithful, she just had to come and see what it was all about
for herself. She was overheard by a gentleman a row or two behind,
who identified himself not only as a fellow citizen of the City
of Brotherly Love, but as the very reporter who had written that
According to the laws of probability, there was virtually no chance that in a large municipal auditorium of over 4,000 people, the artist and the photographer, the reporter and the traveler from the same city would ever meet. Miracles? Why not?
On the morning of the conference, a small, intense woman on a mission
came up to a Voice member wearing an official badge. Hopeful, the
woman inquired, "Sir, is there any way that I could get to meet
Fr. Tom Doyle?" Knowing that Doyle had a very full schedule and
was making two presentations during the day, the Voice member was
not too hopeful, but said that if the woman stood near the stage
after the presentation, he would try to arrange an introduction.
Suddenly, the somber woman's face lit up, and she said, "Perhaps
I could bring him flowers?" The Voice volunteer nodded and said,
"Good idea!" as the woman hurriedly departed. After Fr. Doyle's
powerful address, which received a standing ovation from the crowd,
several survivors who knew Fr. Doyle crowded onto the stage to congratulate
him and thank him for his courageous, unwavering support of victims
and survivors around the globe. At the head of the line was the
small, intense woman carrying a large bouquet of flowers. She not
only met Fr. Doyle, who had helped her greatly on the phone and
by email, she got a huge hug, and provided a memorable photo opportunity
for the myriad press in attendance. A wish come true, or another
As the day wore on, the stirring chorus of voices made up of the conference faculty gave way to a choir and cantor and a beautifully choreographed Mass, with an impressive entrance procession of colorful parish banners and an offertory procession consisting of more than 50 Eucharistic ministers. So engrossed was everyone in the beauty, reverence, and drama of the liturgy itself, no one realized until the end of Mass that the promised collection for the benefit of SNAP and Linkup had not been taken up. Until then, the day had been flawless, but what could be done? Imagine, a Catholic Mass without a collection! Undaunted, a few volunteers found the collection baskets and dashed to the doors to collect checks and cash for SNAP and Linkup and envelopes for the support of Voice of the Faithful itself as people streamed out of the auditorium. Admittedly, it was a little helter-skelter, a tad disorganized, but all around, people were thanking Voice volunteers, knowing that they had experienced an extraordinary day. "Inspiring" and "so professional," were assessments heard many times over.
After the 10-hour conference program, an estimated 700 persons accepted survivor Art Austin's invitation (or challenge) to accompany his fellow survivors on the mile-long walk to the Cathedral to bear witness and support to the survivors. A handful of people remained behind, huddled over a table for well over two hours, counting the money that had come in for SNAP, The Linkup, and VOTF. The counting process brought to mind the gathering up of the many baskets of leftovers after Jesus's followers were fed on the occasion of the mountainside miracle of the loaves and fishes. The final miracle of the day was the generosity of people who believe in the mission and goals of Voice of the Faithful - to be attentive to the Spirit, to support victims and good priests in their ministry, and to find ways to change the structure of the church to allow for mutual respect and shared responsibility between the laity and the hierarchy. These good-hearted people gave over $9,000 to SNAP and Linkup and cash and pledges totaling $30,000 in support of Voice operating expenses. This was on top of the costs of their own transportation, mileage, babysitting expenses, lost wages, and more. A blessing, for sure. A miracle? Maybe.
Our hard work and prayers paid off. The "Response of the Faithful" set a high bar for future conferences, colloquia, and institutes. The speakers and discussion leaders were well-prepared, thoughtful, and provocative teachers. Hundreds of volunteers, many of whom did not know each other at all, interacted professionally and provided seamless support for the countless details of the day. The conference put the Voice of the Faithful on the map; it was clear to one and all that ours is a group to be reckoned with. We're here to stay. We're here to "Keep the Faith and Change the Church."
And when we succeed, some day, that will be another miracle to behold. Miracles do happen.
If one person witnessed this collection of "miracles" on July 20, surely
there were other persons who saw miracles, too. Please let us know
about them. Send to email@example.com.
We will find a way to share them with the VOTF membership.