Ever since Jesus turned water into wine, the Christian world has been fascinated by the subject of miracles, and in turn the men and women said to perform them. The topic speaks both to our humanity, and to our divinity, as people seek healing of their physical bodies through divinely guided human hands. To study the miraculous though is also at its core a quest for understanding, part of an insatiable desire to know the unknown.
In October and November, 1929, nearly a million people converged on one site in Massachusetts to participate in that very quest, for it seemed for a time that literally anything was possible. The lame walked, the sick were cured, the blind could see. The place was Holy Cross Cemetery in Malden, Massachusetts. The human being said to be responsible for these miraculous acts was a man named Father Patrick Joseph Power. He had been dead and buried there for six decades.
For several weeks until the cemetery gates were finally closed, scores of individuals claimed to be healed by this man. Yet who was this Father Patrick Power? What evidence is there to support that he was a miracle worker, during his life, and even after his death? In short, the answer to those two questions is what we will seek to find in this book. We desire the truth about this man’s life, and about the events of October and November of 1929 when heaven seemed to touch earth.
The approach will be one of fairness, balance, accuracy, and objectivity. When dealing with the area of the unknown, in fact when dealing with anything that gets dubbed with the catch-all label “paranormal,” it is best to simply lay out the facts as straightforward as possible, and then let the reader delve into that messy area of “belief.” The method here is that of the historian and the journalist, not the missionary. In fact, mainstream historians have spent far too much time shying away from religion, and the supernatural, topics well suited and crying out for sober, fact-based, judgment-free prose. That is the goal for each chapter of this book.
Chapter one, “Life of Power,” examines the mysterious life of this Irish born priest who never made it past the age of 25. It details such factors as Power’s bloodline, and a curious similarity between this young man and other holy men and women throughout the history of the Catholic Church. These and other pieces of historical evidence serve to build a case for him as a potential miracle worker during his lifetime, and therefore perhaps after his death.
Chapter two, “29 Days in Autumn,” chronicles the actual events of late October and November, 1929, when nearly a million pilgrims, literally from around the world, swarmed the grave of Father Power to seek his divine intercession. We will also look at the months and years leading up to this brief moment in history and see how Power’s grave may have been a “wonder shrine” long before people were waiting in line for hours just to glimpse it.
Using previously unpublished materials, chapter three, “Closing the Gates,” explains how and why the Archdiocese of Boston sealed Holy Cross, and how and why the diocese chose to move the body of Patrick Power to a new gravesite within the cemetery. This part of the book also looks at some of the letters that poured into the Boston chancery from people writing from across the globe, seeking help from the diocese, and ultimately from Father Power himself.
Also drawing on previously unpublished archival material, chapter four, ”The Official Miracles,” examines what appears to be the final report of the investigation conducted by the Archdiocese of Boston into the miracles said to have taken place at Power’s grave in 1929. Just days after the gates of the cemetery closed, parish priests throughout the diocese began an inquiry into the alleged miracles said to have taken place among their parishioners who had visited the burial site. What they found is the subject of chapter four.
Finally, chapter five, “Letters of the Impossible,” delves into the correspondence sent to the Boston chancery from people who claimed to have been miraculously healed by Patrick Power. Once again, this section draws from largely unpublished archival information, material not included in the chancery’s official account.
Also a word on privacy. The Archdiocese of Boston was very gracious in granting permission to use archival material for this book. In return I have assured them that I will not use the names of any people who claimed to be miraculously healed by Father Power. This is meant to protect their privacy and the privacy of their families. The exception to this rule is if the name of the person in question was already published in local newspapers, something which can be checked in the endnotes, and in the appendix which has been assembled from media reports.
I again thank the archival department of the Archdiocese of Boston, particularly Archivist Robert Johnson Lally, for assistance in providing research materials and photographs. I also thank the Catholic Cemetery Association of the Archdiocese of Boston, located at Holy Cross Cemetery in Malden, Massachusetts, particularly Allen Burgess, and Richard Bradley. I would also like to extend a sincere thank you to my wife, Tammy, who took some of the photographs for this book and provided constant insight and support during its creation. Also, please keep in mind that this is the first book on Father Patrick Power, and by extension the first book on the events in Malden in late 1929. To say the least then, the existing published scholarship to draw from for this topic is therefore, shall we say, limited. In other words, if the Archdiocese of Boston and the Catholic Cemetery Association were not so forthcoming in opening their archives, what you are holding in your hands would simply not exist. The help and patience that they provided has been their miracle to me.