A Faithful Man, Sorely Tested
Cultrera was raised Catholic and married Catholic. "Josie" was every bit as devout as her husband, and both their lives were centered on St. Mary's Italian Church.
In the European immigrant neighborhoods established in New England at the turn of the last century, the church was mortar that held everything together. If you were Catholic and Italian, you had your church; the French Catholics had theirs, and so did the Irish and Polish.
You were wed there, your children were baptized, had their First Communions and their own weddings there. Nearly every social event was church-related, and it was about the only public place you could go where everyone spoke the old language.
For him the bell tolled
Every Catholic over a certain age remembers when priests and nuns walked on water. Everything they said or did was not only accepted, it was honored.
"If they told you the sky was green, you'd say, 'OK, it's green,'" Maria said.
Paul and Josie were every bit the true believers, so when Paul Jr. approached them on their 50th wedding anniversary in 1995 to tell them he'd been sexually abused by a priest when he was a boy, they didn't believe him.
"Never, never," Josephine recalls thinking.
"There was no reason for them to suspect anything," Paul Jr. said. "Nobody else did."
But he was telling the truth. Seven years before the priest abuse scandal began making headlines, Paul Jr. made up his mind to confront the Boston Archdiocese about the abuse he had suffered at the hands of a serial pedophile, the late Rev. Joseph Birmingham.
Accepting the truth, as he finally did, was hard for the senior Cultrera. It not only rocked his trust in the church, but left him feeling guilty that he hadn't protected his son from his abuser.
Cultrera's faith, his trust, might have survived even that awful blow. There were, after all, more priests who weren't abusers than those who were.
Then the archdiocese decided to close St. Mary's. It was bad enough the heart of the community was being torn out, but the knowledge that the proceeds from the sale of St. Mary's and other churches would be used to pay the legal costs of the abuse scandal was too much even for Cultrera.
He and Josie tried going to several other Catholic churches before settling, uncomfortably, on St. Anne's, the French Catholic church.
But they were attending services more out of habit than devotion, Josie said, and her husband's heart was no longer in it.
"If he had any excuse, he didn't go to Mass," she said.
When St. Mary's was being built, women in the community were asked to donate their wedding rings to be melted into the church bell. It was said its peals would be all the sweeter for their sacrifice. [See video.]
After the church was sold, the bell was moved to the courtyard of the Christopher Columbus Society, where Cultrera spent many an hour playing cards with his cronies.
He rang the bell when it was first installed, but it was silent after that until last Thursday.
The funeral procession was as long as any you've ever seen, and the route was laid out to pass by the club.
The old St. Mary's bell, cast literally with the golden hopes and dreams of hundreds of immigrant families a resounding reminder of their faith and devotion to God, their church and each other was rung once again, for Paul S. Cultrera.
Staff writer Steve Landwehr can be reached at 978-338-2660
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