He came here because he couldn’t feed his sister, brother and widowed mother back home. So he got a job in Lawrence, where he got married, and then moved to Milford and Hopkinton and finally Upton, always staying one-step ahead of the bill collectors.
But every place he went they looked down on him as something less than a real American and so he took the jobs that no one else would do, shoveling out the stables or unloading the ships or pushing big heavy carts.
A fifty-hour work-week back then paid new immigrants less than $4, a third of which got him a single nine-by-eleven foot room with no water, sanitation, ventilation or daylight. It was, of course, cheaper to get a room in “a cellar-hole” in Charlestown, but those used to flood with every tide and the rats would tend to go after the children.
Adult immigrants in those days lived, on average, just six years after stepping off the boat onto American soil. Yes, off the boat. That’s how Maurice Moroney, my great-great grandfather lived when he sailed to Charlestown from Cork, one hundred and sixty-five years ago.
But what got him through was his faith, especially in the Blessed Mother. That’s what got him through. Years ago, a small and faded picture of the Blessed Virgin Mary which I like to think he used to look at and wonder:…if God could make her blessed through the homelessness, the flight into Egypt, the slaughter of the innocents and even the crucifixion of her own son, then maybe there is some hope for me.
Not unlike Elsie who came with her husband came here from Latin America some fifteen years ago. They live not so far from Mission Hill and have 4 kids, including thee five-year-old who they think is autistic. Her husband is still undocumented because he can’t afford to pay for his green card and still put food on the table, so he moves from job to job. Last year his mother died back in Columbia, but he couldn't go because they would have stopped him from returning here to his family.
In Elsie and Juan’s living room there’s a picture of Juan Diego, kneeling before the Blessed Virgin at Tepayak. They pray each night before Our Lady of Guadalupe, looking a lot like the powerless little peasant at her feet, and Elsie often thinks “if she appeared to Juan Diego, then perhaps she can take care of us, too.”
They are like the more than 150,000 undocumented immigrants in Massachusetts, most of them are Catholic. Three times that number are recent legal immigrants to the Commonwealth. They are Hispanic, Asian and European, with more than 10,000 undocumented Irish living in Boston alone. More than a third of those who live here in Brighton arrived in the past fifteen years from Brazil, Asia and Russia.
Which is why our Holy Father has asked us to pray for immigrants on this feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. For we are immigrants, all of us, or great-grandsons of immigrants, who came here seeking a new life, and who through the intercession of the Mother of God found it.
Like the widower Juan Diego, who almost a half a millennium ago told the Bishop that he had seen the Virgin Mary. And when the Bishop asked him for proof, returned to the beautiful lady and, in the middle of winter, came back with a cloak overflowing with roses.
Blessed Virgin of Guadalupe, Mother of Immigrants and Mother of Priests, keep them all safe, and lead them home to the Manger of your Son.