Learn, Embrace, Love:
by Paul Zilonka, C.P.
the Legacy of Bishop Paul Boyle, C.P.
In many ways, July 9, 1991, the Passionist feast of Mary under the title of Our Lady of Holy Hope, was a typical mid-summer day in the island-nation of Jamaica. On a school playing field in the town of Mandeville, the afternoon breeze lifted one’s spirit along with the folds of the large tents sheltering crowds of Jamaican parishioners and foreign visitors from the tropical sun. Nothing escaped its heat, even at 2400 feet above sea level.
A few billowing white clouds moved majestically across the deep blue sky. However, there was little danger they would let loose the intense downpour that was characteristic of this hilltop town so many afternoons during the year. Today, even nature adopted a prayerful calm.
Passionist priest, Fr. Paul Michael Boyle, lay prostrate on a hastily constructed stage floor, as the Book of the Gospels was held open above him. Choir and people together called on the saints in heaven to join their prayer with all gathered on that grassy field to bless the ministry of this man about to be anointed as the first Roman Catholic bishop of a new Apostolic Vicariate in this south-central region of Jamaica.
Many can document the long list of accomplishments for which Bishop Boyle will be remembered, both in Jamaica and elsewhere. Within six and a half years the territory entrusted to his administrative care was officially declared to be the third diocese of the country, situated between Kingston on the east and Montego Bay on the north and west.
From the moment he arrived in the island in the weeks leading up to his ordination as bishop, he diligently sought to learn about the people and places that would now be entrusted to his pastoral care. His worldwide leadership of the Passionist Community from 1976-1988 had given him opportunity to travel to the 58 countries where his religious community serves. That vast experience of knowing people in diverse cultures gave him enthusiasm to discover what was distinctive about the people and traditions of Jamaica.
Bishop Boyle communicated this same respect for Jamaicans and local culture to the many seminarians, priests, religious sisters and brothers, as well as the laity whom he invited from around the world to assist in strengthening the local church of Jamaica. He organized orientation programs in which the arriving foreigners could receive the best instruction from Jamaican church leaders, and professionals from a wide variety of perspectives. At right, on the day of his ordination as bishop with Mrs. Ina Hylton
Before coming to Jamaica, Bishop Boyle had a broad background in teaching Canon Law and in the administration of several religious organizations on a national and an international level for most of his life. Many who knew him in those responsibilities wondered how he would settle into his new role. The answer from the beginning was “Marvelously!” He brought his array of leadership skills and warm human relationships to the service of the Jamaican people and to his fellow bishops in the Antilles Conference of the Caribbean.
Education was a priority for Bishop Boyle’s vision for building a strong diocese. That conviction grounded his diligent efforts to establish kindergartens (“basic schools” for 3- to 5-year old children) at all church locations. He was also concerned to develop some high schools and, eventually, under the direction of Passionist Sr.Una O’Connor, the Catholic College of Mandeville. This institution has grown by leaps and bounds since its inception.
One of the enduring gifts to the people of Jamaica from the Mandeville diocese is the much-acclaimed Art Fair. This annual event enables dozens of local artists to display their works over a period of several days at an exhibition free to the public. The sale of the paintings, sculptures and other artistic creations also contributes in part to help support many programs of the diocese.
Following customary church practice, Bishop Boyle submitted his resignation when he turned 75 after a decade in Jamaica. However, Pope John Paul II did not officially accept that letter for three more years. This was not the accidental result of some bureaucratic snag at the Vatican Post Office! Rather, it was a clear sign of the Pope’s confidence in this self-sacrificing talented man of the Church whom the Pope had known from Bishop Boyle’s labor on behalf of religious throughout the world during his years at Rome. Right: Coat of arms for Bishop Boyle, with his motto: “His Cross Is Our Hope”
Returning to Louisville, Kentucky after July 6, 2004, Bishop Boyle devoted his energy to preaching throughout the USA inviting parishioners to support Food for The Poor, an agency founded by the Mahfood family of Jamaica which offers extraordinary assistance in providing housing, food and other materials to people in many countries through their local church. Bishop Boyle continued this strenuous regimen until 8 weeks before his death on January 10, 2008
On the eve of his funeral which took place at Detroit, Michigan on January 16, relatives, fellow Passionists and many other friends from Jamaica and the USA gathered for a Wake Service in the Passionist Retreat Center. The testimonies offered a broad swath of the ways in which God had enabled this man of God to lead and help others.
Fr. Patrick Brennan, C.P. recalled how thirty years earlier his Provincial, then Fr. Paul Boyle, assigned him to Rome for advanced study. The young man asked for some tips about settling in Rome from his Provincial who had also spent years there gaining degrees in Theology and Canon Law. Fr. Boyle’s bon voyage advice was both simple and profound for those who have ears to hear. “Learn the language. Embrace the culture. Love the people.” These brief words of wisdom will endure as a fitting testament to the man, the priest, the bishop who lived so well for a lifetime exactly what he advised others to do.
Paul Zilonka, C.P. is the editor of The Passionists' Compassion Magazine. The photo of Bishop Boyle on the day of his ordination was taken by Fr. Zilonka.