John Healy might have been the perfect guy to be there when anguished Lynn residents asked, “Why?” following yesterday morning’s conflagration that claimed four lives.
“I think of a line from an old spiritual that tells us, ‘We’ll understand it better by and by.’ ”
With him, that’s not theoretical theology.
At 65, a priest for only three years, Father John lost his wife, Mary, a decade ago, just two weeks shy of their 30th anniversary.
“I still miss her every day,” he said. “I remember crying out, ‘Lord, you took her from me; now give me something to do for you.’ That’s when I felt the priesthood pulling at me like a magnet and I ended up at Blessed John Seminary in Weston.”
Upon his ordination, he was appointed parochial vicar at St. Pius V in Lynn, where he also became a chaplain for the fire department.
That’s why his phone rang at 1 a.m. yesterday, alerting him to a raging inferno on Bruce Place.
“I was on my feet as fast as I could say, ‘Hail Mary!’ As I pulled up I looked at the faces of the firefighters. They seemed so somber, so quiet as they went about their duties; I knew something was up.”
Father John would soon be ushered into a room where the presence of grief and pain was palpable.
“The families who escaped were huddled together,” he said. “Then one man, who had just lost his wife, who was pregnant, saw my collar, stood up, came to me and put his arms around me. He spoke Spanish, I spoke English, but I knew exactly what that hug was saying, and all I could think at that moment was, ‘Thank you, Lord, for allowing me to be here.’ ”
Yet he was there to minister to the firefighters, too.
“I’m sure half of them don’t even know who I am,” he said. “Maybe they’re not Catholic, and maybe some couldn’t care less. But when they see that white tab around my neck they understand what it means and why I’m there.
“I was so proud of them as I watched them doing their duties with broken hearts and I wanted them to know how much I admired them.
“So I told them, ‘God had a plan for you to be a firefighter, just like He had a plan for me to be here with you this morning. This is something you guys always wanted to do, always wanted to be, maybe from the time you were a kid, but you aren’t playing firefighters this morning; you are firefighters!
“ ‘When I became a priest I said, ‘OK, Lord, I’ll give it my best shot,’ and that’s what I saw all of you doing.
“ ‘As I watched you climb those ladders, carry those hoses, grab those pickaxes, I knew you were doing all you could do to help others.
“ ‘We all have missions. This is the mission you’ve been given and you performed it awfully well this morning.’ ”