'This guy from Dorchester' homed in on justice in his lifelong ministry

Rev. John Doyle dies at 93

The oldest of the six children of Donald Joseph and Mary Catherine (MacDonald) Doyle, he was born and raised in Dorchester in the midst of a loving family and enjoyed being part of St. Mark’s Parish where he attended its elementary school before moving on to the Boston Latin School and St. John’s Seminary. With his family and his faith behind him, the newly ordained Rev. John L. Doyle set out on a 70-year mission of service to the poor of all races and faiths that included two dozen years in Bolivia and ministry work in Brockton, in his home town in the 1990s as pastor of St. Peter’s congregation, and later in Brighton and East Boston.

Father Doyle died last Sunday at age 93, the pursuit of justice for the poor and needy a legacy of a life spent being a man and priest for others.
Back in the 1950s, Boston’s Cardinal Cushing founded the Society of St. James and sent its member-priests to minister to the poor in Latin America. Father Doyle found himself in Bolivia where he spent 24 years traveling widely doing his ministry. When he returned to Boston, he said, “I decided I wanted to spend my last years with people who are up against it” and asked his bishop for assignments in bilingual parishes with large Hispanic and minority congregations.

I met up with Father Doyle when he served in Brockton and Dorchester and his congregations were active in community groups that I worked with and for. With the members of St. Patrick’s Parish in Brockton, he helped build a Social Justice Committee that took on local issues like getting the Brockton Community Health Center opened in downtown Brockton over the opposition of those who thought having poor people going to a health clinic downtown was not such a good idea. The committee also pushed for better police response to crime in the parish neighborhood.

Father Doyle also was a leader in the Brockton-wide, congregation-based community improvement organization called Brockton Interfaith Community, which, among other things, worked in support of statewide funding for community policing grants. Despite his crime-fighting reputation, then-Gov. Bill Weld vetoed funding for this initiative. John Doyle led the effort that pushed back on this by personally delivering a petition to Weld, who expressed surprise when confronted by this short but fiery priest. Father Doyle’s team and other groups met with legislators asking them to support this program. Commenting on the next year’s budget passed by the Legislature, Weld said he’d see what he’d sign or veto, “but this year I am definitely signing the community policing funding.”

Later, in the 1990s, Father Doyle was pleased to come home and take up the position of pastor of St. Peter’s in the Meeting House Hill/Bowdoin-Geneva area. The parish then had mostly Cape Verdean and Latino parishioners and some mostly elderly white parishioners. The new pastor worked with Sister Sally McLaughlin and Sister Glenna Connors and parish leaders like Maria Barbosa, Joanne Johnson, and John Walsh to develop a Social Action Committee to take on local issues like police response to crime hot spots.

Father Doyle was also a co-founder and leader in the formation of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO), a congregation-based community improvement organization. He and the parishioners at St. Peter’s were active in the successful campaign that won $20 million in new state funding to establish the Affordable Housing Trust Fund for affordable housing development and in many other issues.

Former US Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey, a former All-American and professional basketball star and a major candidate in the Democratic primary for president in 2000, came one day to campaign and speak at Codman Square Health Center. There in the audience to question him on his urban agenda was Father Doyle. And he followed up afterwards talking to the senator, who, at 6-foot-5, towered over the 5-foot-5 priest in size but not in commitment.

Even in retirement, Father Doyle worked part-time, saying the Spanish Mass at St. Gabriel’s in Brighton and then at Most Holy Redeemer in East Boston. This guy from Dorchester carried on, non-stop, a lifelong ministry for justice.

Lew Finfer is a Dorchester resident and co-director of the Massachusetts Communities Action Network.

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Father Doyle leaves three sisters, Sr. Mary L. Doyle, SND of Ipswich; Catherine Muirhead, of Middleborough, Anne Kenney, of Sharon and a brother, James S., of Gaithersburg MD.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be said on Saturday at 10 a.m. in St. Joseph Catholic Church, 68 William Cardinal O’Connell Way, Boston.