September 1, 2019
By Sarah Wu
When Susan Pavlak flew from Minnesota to Boston a decade ago to donate her kidney, she did not expect to meet the recipient. But a month before the surgery, she agreed to meet Phil Saviano for lunch, which was the first of many meals they shared as their friendship grew stronger over the years.
“He has my kidney, but that’s not why we’re friends. That’s just how we met,” Pavlak said during an interviewlast week in Saviano’s Roslindale home.
The two had something else in common other than organ donor and recipient: They are both survivors of clergy sexual abuse.
Saviano, 67, was a whistleblower on the sexual abuse crisis in Massachusetts and played a prominent role in the Globe’s Spotlight investigation, published in 2002.
In 1992, in an interview with the Globe, he told the public about the abuse he endured as a child in East Douglas. Saviano was repeatedly forced to masturbate and perform oral sex on a priest who turned out to be a serial pedophile and who died in prison.
Pavlak, 65, was molested for about four years by a former nun who became a teacher at her Catholic high school.
Reflecting on the trauma they have endured — beyond sexual abuse, Pavlak battled alcoholism decades ago and Saviano tested positive for HIV in 1984 — Saviano said, “Horrible things happen to people. But that doesn’t mean that horribleness should define a person.”
Their enduring friendship, filled with laughter, adventure, and a good dose of activism, shows that joy can be found on the other side.
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