A bishop and his bus: A touch of Teamsters in Honduras

Dorchester native Bishop Mauro Muldoon poses in South Boston, far from his episcopal seat in Honduras. 	Photo by Ed ForryDorchester native Bishop Mauro Muldoon poses in South Boston, far from his episcopal seat in Honduras. Photo by Ed Forry

“Neponset Boy Scores First Basket on the Parquet Floor at Boston Garden.”

That’s the headline requested by Maurice “Tucker” Muldoon, a St. Ann’s-Neponset youth basketball player, and it tells the long-ago tale of a then-16 year old player on his championship Catholic league team 56 years ago. More of that later.

“Tucker” Muldoon is now the Most Reverend Mauro Muldoon, O.F.M., D.D., the bishop of the diocese of Juticalpa in Honduras. He was in Boston over Christmas and the new year to visit family and receive treatment for what he terms “medical issues” at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Brighton.

Born in 1938, Muldoon lived with his family first at 455 Ashmont Street, and later on Plain Street off Chickatawbut. He attended St. Ann’s school (now part of Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy) and entered a Franciscan seminary after graduating from the Franciscan-run Christopher Columbus High School in Boston’s North End neighborhood.

He was ordained 1966, and has worked since in the Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. In 1986, he was became the first bishop of the Honduran diocese of Juticalpa where he still lives.

This visit is only the second time he has made it home for Christmas in 47 years, he says. While here, he lived with other Franciscans Friars in the North End, and visited with his family, which numbers two sisters and a brother, 22 nieces and nephews, and 72 great nephews and nieces. “We have a very large family,” he says.

Back in Honduras, his is a “very rural diocese – larger than the state of Massachusetts,” he says – located in the eastern part of the country near the Nicaraguan border. “We are presently building a new Catholic hospital to tend to the needs of 150,000 people in the area. At present they are a two-or-three day journey from the only state hospital. There’s no emergency services now. The one paved road we have is through to the capital city. It’s a very poor area, a farm area – people basically live off the land,” he said.
While in Boston, the bishop was contacted by a longtime benefactor, Jack Shaughnessy, head of the Shaughnessy & Ahern trucking and rigging company of South Boston, who had learned that Teamsters Local 25 President Sean O’Brien had volunteered to rehabilitate a used passenger bus, and was offering to donate it to a needy charity.

“They have had a close relationship over the years,” Muldoon said. “Sean said, ‘Jack, I have this bus I want to donate,’ and Jack remembered me, and that’s how it all got going.” Shaughnessy knew that Muldoon was constructing a new hospital, and the bus would be very helpful in transporting medical personnel and supplies there.

On Friday, Feb. 12, several Teamsters met with the bishop and Shaughnessy at his D Street, South Boston, offices, to hand over the bus for transport to Hounduras. In an interview at Shaughnessy headquarters the following Friday, Muldoon said, “That day it left this yard and today it’s entering into Honduras. They trucked it down – it had my [Honduran] driver. They were in Houston late Saturday night and then on Monday morning they were at the Mexican border ready to go. It’s on its way through Guatemala and will get to the Honduran border around 3 o’clock this afternoon,” said Muldoon.

Jack Shaughnessy had high praise for the Teamsters union members and its leader O’Brien. “The bus was lovingly restored throughout to a like-new condition in order to be able to transit the hazardous mountainous terrain of Honduras.,” he said.” It is a gift from the members of Teamsters Union Local #25, Charlestown, Massachusetts, and their president.” Bishop Muldoon agreed “I want to express our gratitude to Sean O’Brien.”

“Over the years,” said the bishop, “we have had a very close relationship with the Catholic Medical Association – we receive 12 to 14 surgical and medical brigades each year. A brigade is between 7 and 14 people and they come with medications and sometimes surgical equipment. Right now they work in the only state hospital and they come and stay Sunday to Sunday. Our hospital always has patients waiting and they operate from Monday to Friday.”

During one recent week, he said, the volunteer brigades attended to 150 patients, and performed 49 operations. “It’s all completely free – they even pay us for their food and board, and their transportation. They are fantastic. The new hospital is a reality now. We are going to open the doors around April 1 and we’ll be dedicating it on April 13. The bus will be used specifically to bring these brigades on the three-and-a-half-hour drive from the airport in Tegucigalpa to the city. Not only the doctors but the medical equipment. It will be a fine service.”

Muldoon said the new facility would be considered mid-size in the USA. “In Honduras, we consider it a large hospital. We are going to begin with 60 beds but we have room for 120!” There also will be four operating rooms, and the hospital will be staffed in part with native Honduran practitioners. “I made  a contract with the Ministry of Health in Honduras; they will pay for some of the doctors.”

Now about that headline and the young “Tucker” Muldoon: It’s a true story, he said, and it took place in 1954, a time when the fledgling Boston Celtics invited good amateur teen teams to play exhibition games on the same court where Bob Cousy was plying his magic.

“We won our division, and by winning the division we had the privilege to play other teams at Boston Garden. Our games were Tuesday and Thursday and Sunday afternoons,” he said. “I went to Columbus High School, and we would dress in the same locker room as the Celtics and they would be practicing.

“One day we were going out to play and the guy said, ‘Hold it, you can’t play for a couple of more minutes. We’re putting on a new floor.’ – the famous parquet floor.

“I was just hanging around, and the guy says, ‘Go ahead, kid, you’re the first one to use the new floor.’ I had the ball tight, I drove for the basket – bada boom, bada boom – and so I scored the first basket on the parquet floor.”

Fact or fable? The 71-year-old prelate says he knows it’s hard to believe, adding with a chuckle and a smile, even “my nephews don’t believe me.”