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Alums Doherty and Abbott, Class of 1967, to be honored by Church on Nov. 24

November 19, 2013

At solemn vespers in the Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston on November 24, Dr. M. J. Doherty, Special Assistant to the President of Regis College, and Susan Lang Abbott ’67 will be among those receiving the Cheverus Medal from Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley, OFM, Cap, Archbishop of Boston. The award, named for the first Catholic bishop of Boston, Jean-Louis Lefebvre de Cheverus (1808-1824), was instituted by Cardinal O’Malley in the bicentenary of the archdiocese in 2008. It is given each year to lay people, religious, and deacons “for exemplary service in the name of the Lord.”

“As Catholics conclude a remarkable Year of Faith,” Doherty said, “I am honored to receive the Cheverus Medal on behalf of the many lay professionals who worked together as volunteers to advance child protection and help repair the Church of Boston during the past decade, and to be joined by my Regis classmate, Susan Abbott, who is also receiving the award.”

Speaking from a health policy and educational perspective, Regis President Antoinette Hays, PhD, RN, noted Doherty’s and Abbott’s dedication. “Going forward,” Hays said,ays ssaidH “both the Church and society have been learning to be vigilant. Regis women like M. J. Doherty and Susan Abbott, both members of the class of 1967,one a volunteer, the other an employee, both laborers in the vineyard of the Boston Church, often work behind the scenes to bring about needed change, so it is good to see them acknowledged. They have consistently reinforced the idea that education and outreach are forms of prevention for this human problem, and prevention works.”

For decades, Abbott was pivotal in the archdiocesan office overseeing religious education, including the roll out of child safety education since 2002, and has recently finished a term as director of that office. She is a mother of four from West Roxbury and has published articles in America magazine, the Jesuit weekly, on lay ecclesial ministry, pastoral leadership, and what works to engage the young being educated for the sacrament of confirmation.

Starting out as aide de camp for then-Regis president, Mary Jane England, MD, who was named to the Commission for the Protection of Children in 2002, Doherty became a communications volunteer for the Commission. A year later, she joined the Implementation and Oversight Advisory Committee (IOAC) to work with Deacon Anthony Rizzuto, PhD, social worker Bob Kelley, and others to develop age-appropriate child safety education in schools and parishes across the archdiocese. She assumed chairmanship of that committee in 2005 and was actively involved in writing the assessment of all archdiocesan responses to the clerical sexual abuse crisis known as “Children First”, in providing continuous quality improvement reports to the U.S. Attorney, and in developing an effectiveness measurement pilot program. Between 2010 and 2013, she chaired a newly structured, independent, and ecumenical Review Board tasked by Cardinal O’Malley to advise him on allegations and to continue to review archdiocesan policies and their effectiveness.

“The leadership and liberating mutuality of Cardinal O’Malley,” noted Mary Jane England, MD, a child psychiatrist and former Commissioner of DSS who is now at Boston University School of Public Health, “have enabled Catholic clergy and laity alike to reposition in faith while moving through the abuse crisis. The proactive and preventative programs of child safety, due process, and victim-survivor outreach the archdiocese has put in place with the support of women such as Doherty and Abbott have often made it the standard for other dioceses.”

“Having worked closely with Doherty for ten years, I especially appreciate,” England added, “the way she has brought together the academic world, the Church, the community, and the deeply personal in her two recent books. We need this kind of social history in order to remember the past and better shape the future.”

Doherty, who took vows as a canonical hermit in 2008, is herself the survivor of the abuse 40 years ago by a counselor during graduate school at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. She has recently published two books in social history and meditation that address the anatomy of trauma and recovery.

The heftier of the two books Doherty describes as a monastic journal that became a journey. “The Gate Is Everywhere: Victims, Christ & Faith,” interweaves her own healing sojourn among the Trappistines with a perspective of faith on the scandal in Boston in 2002.In a scholarly but intimate style, Doherty also tracks the ripples of trauma in the social response of Catholics caught in the crisis and the ongoing and often lifelong struggle of survivors to become persons again. Published in October, the book is available at the Regis College bookstore, the Harvard Bookstore, Bookends in Winchester Center, the gift shop at Mt. St. Mary’s Abbey in Wrentham, and by writing to the Doherty at Regis College.

The second book called “Shards of Light: Catholics & Boston after the Marathon Bombing,” asks why Boston writers read the trauma of the bombing through the lens of other traumas such as the Berlin Wall, the troubles in Ireland, and 1970s desegregation and busing in Boston, and ignored comparison to the more recent trauma of the abuse crisis. In 2002 the Globe authors of Betrayal called Boston the “epicenter” of the abuse scandal because of the “Catholic character” of the city, among other reasons. Yet, in 2013, while four of the six people killed, injured or held hostage in the bombing were Catholic and everyone noted the valiant turn of step in which first responders and bystanders moved into the smoke to help the injured, no one then spoke of Catholic character or culture. What had changed? Printed in a limited edition in June, this monograph will be available in an online edition at Amazon and Barnes and Noble before Christmas.

“Social reforms including better policies, practices and awareness have been key to help Boston Catholics emerge from the abuse crisis,” Doherty says, “and the generous social response to the Marathon bombing signalled that our diverse, multi-cultural city and our Catholic community had both moved beyond the decade of scandal into a greater sense of social connectedness. But ultimately it is spiritual transformation inside all of us that changes the stories of betrayal, the histories of loss, and the agonies of social argument with good news, face to face.”

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