St Zepherins Pastor Calls It Quits

By Susan L. Wagner
Wicked Local Wayland
July 2, 2008

After eight and a half years at the helm of St. Zepherin Parish in Wayland and more than 44 years as a Roman Catholic priest, Father Ronald L. Bourgault retired at the end of last month. "It's time for me to slow down," he said simply.

What, exactly, does retirement mean for a priest? "It means that I can have a bit more choice with what I do with my time," said Bourgault, who prefers to be called "Father Ron." Given the clergy shortage, however, other priests are already knocking at his door for help. And also reflecting the current realities his replacement, Father James Laughlin, will be doubling up as pastor of St. Zepherin as well at St. Ann's down the street, where he has served for the past two years.

Bourgault, who will be 70 this year (but looks at least a decade younger), was born and raised in Salem. His call to the religious life was inspired by his uncle Louis, who was a parish priest.

After attending St. John's Preparatory High School in Danvers, he went to Cardinal O'Connell Seminary in Jamaica Plain and then to St. John's Seminary in Brighton. Following this, he studied at the North American Academy in Rome and was ordained by the Archdiocese of Boston in 1963.

Bourgault has always been a parish priest. "My love and my interests have always been in parish life," he said. St. Zepherin was his seventh church following assignments in North Beverly, Brighton, Billerica, Framingham, Lawrence, and West Quincy.

Since being posted to St. Zepherin, however, Bourgault's road had not always been a smooth one. In June 2002; he was removed from active ministry by the Archdiocese of Boston because of an allegation of sexual abuse 30 years earlier. He was asked to vacate in two hours, "which I did."

Then, after eight months, during which time the Archdiocese was unable to substantiate the accusation, Bourgault was reinstated, but "with a cloud over my head."

Several days later, the alleged victim acknowledged that he had misidentified Bourgault, and an investigation of Archdiocese annual directories by parish member Thomas J. Fay, an attorney, unearthed information that decisively cleared Father Ron.

"Tom spent an afternoon at the Boston Public Library and 80 cents making copies. It was that simple." Bourgault's parishioners, who had stood by him throughout the ordeal, welcomed him back with cheers, applause, and a standing ovation.

Asked about the hallmarks of his time at St. Zepherin, modestly responded: "I don't know. I guess you'll have to talk to someone else about that." After a bit of prodding, though, he said he thought he had been able to encourage lay people to be involved in all aspects of parish activities, such as hospital and home visits and the various councils and committees of the church.

His efforts appear to have paid off. Longtime parishioner Darrell Simpson, credits Bourgault with the fact that the church currently has 250 active volunteers, a phenomenal number given the small size of the parish. Father George Evans, pastor of St. Julia Parish of neighboring Weston and Lincoln echoes Simpson.

"Father Ron," he said, "strikes me as someone who is very appreciative of the gifts of the laity and is very able to tap them respectfully and successfully."


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