Many here in South Boston and beyond were upset when the statue dedicated to Father Laporte was vandalized earlier this month. But who exactly was Father Laporte and why does he have a memorial here in our neighborhood? Father Laporte is the subject of this week’s Caught in Southie History Lesson, so keep reading to find out!
Father Joseph Laporte, or Father Joe as he was commonly known in Southie, was the curate of Gate of Heaven and St. Monica’s Church for 6 years, from 1959 until his tragic death in 1965. A curate in the Catholic Church is a priest assigned to a parish in a position subordinate to that of the parish priest. Father Joe’s job here in South Boston was to look out for the youth. Father Joe took his mission seriously. According to the youth whose lives he impacted, he was not your typical priest – he was young, athletic and met the teens of the neighborhood where they were. He would walk the beaches and hold confessions as he walked. He’d also hold them in his car, the street corners or wherever the youth were. He attended baseball games, football practices, and he played basketball with teens in the neighborhood.
When he was 30, Father Joe, a native of Haverhill, MA, was diagnosed with leukemia and died from his illness two years later. During his Requiem Mass, which was so crowded that hundreds of people had to stand in the aisles of Gate of Heaven, the Eulogy was delivered by Rev. John Walsh.
In it he said Father Laporte, “He was a real father to the youth of South Boston. Two years ago, when Father Laporte found out how seriously ill he was, he resolved not to change, but to use the time left him in the best way possible. He told the Cardinal, ‘Please leave me in South Boston. I would rather wear away than rust away doing nothing.’”
In a March 1967 Boston Globe article written about Father Joe two years after his death, the Globe quoted a 19-year-old City Pointer: “I never met a priest like Father Joe. He practiced what he preached.” In the same article, a young man in his 20s said, “I graduated from Boston College in 1965. I had no intention of going to college. But Father Joe kept at me.”
Father Joe’s impact was so profound that the young people of Southie started a door-to-door fundraising campaign to raise money for an Italian-made bronze statue honoring Father Joe. When the statue was unveiled in 1968, several hundred people were there including Father Laporte’s mother, Mrs. C. Evelyn Laporte. You can visit the statue, which is located directly across the street from the L Street Bathhouse on Day Blvd. and read its inscription: “Do not forget those who had charge of you; contemplate the happy issue of the life they lived, and imitate their faith.”