Egleston Square Gathers to Remember ‘Father Jack’

A display showing a Globe article about Father Jack Roussin.

Amanda Burke

A display showing a Globe article about Father Jack Roussin.

Members of the Egleston Square community gathered for a special Wednesday night Mass in remembrance of local community leader Father Jack Roussin.

Known to his parishioners as “Father Jack,” the late pastor began his tenure at the historic St. Mary’s of the Angels in Egleston in the mid 1970’s, where he worked until moving to a shantytown outside Lima, Peru in the early 1990s.

From the outset, Roussin was a force within the community, working to help unify a neighborhood that was gripped by drugs and violence.

“He walked as our brother, he walked as our father, he walked as our Shepherd,” said the Rev. Wayne Belschner, who was mentored by Roussin.

“It didn’t matter if we were white, black, or even Italian, he took us in,”Belschner said from behind the pulpit to the audience’s laughter.

To the crowd in the pews, Wednesday’s mass was just as much a homecoming as it was a remembrance. Not one of around 70 community members entered without a thorough greeting from Mother Catherine, who hugged and kissed generations of men and women, young and old.

In Belschner’s homily, which he delivered in both Spanish and English, he recalled his time in seminary learning from Roussin, and choreographing a sly cigarette reconnaissance routine lest a member of the press approached the senior reverend for a picture while on a smoke break.

By all accounts, Roussin was a fearless activist whose actions in the neighborhood and outside it were direct, affecting and lifelong.

Roussin died in 1995 from tuberculosis he contracted while working in Peru. He was a close friend of Dr. Paul Farmer, whose work founding Partners in Health is recounted in the classic “Mountains Beyond Mountains.”

He welcomed parishioners of all backgrounds, and as a result installed St. Mary’s into the bedrock of the Egleston Square community.

“There was a unity among us and our diversity,” said Belschner.

William Morales (far right) looks at photos of the late Father Jack Roussin

Amanda Burke

William Morales (far right) looks at photos of the late Father Jack Roussin

Roussin made sure the door to his center was always painted a siren bright red, Belschner said, making it a beacon for anyone in search of guidance.

One such person was William Morales. Morales described himself as one of the young men Roussin was “trying to save” from the gang activity that flourished in Egleston Square some decades ago.

A ‘Priest of the Youth’

Morales was in a downward spiral after his brother died after a shootout with the Boston police. Hector Morales Jr., 19 at the time, fired a shotgun loaded with birdshot at plainclothes cops near the corner of Washington and School, according to a Harvard Crimson account. Police returned fire, mortally wounding Morales’ brother.

Morales was heated and grief-stricken. He credits Roussin, a “priest of the youth,” with convincing him not to avenge his brother’s death and bringing the community back from the brink of upheaval.

Roussin taught Morales how to celebrate life, and today Morales is the executive director of the Egleston Square YMCA, which is itself housed in the Father Jack Roussin Center along with a community high school. The Center is at the same corner where Morales’ brother had his shoot-out with police.

Like so many people touched by the life and passion of Father Jack, Morales works every day to keep the late reverend’s spirit alive.

“He was an anchor of support in our community, a source of motivation and strength. He was the glue that held this community together.” Morales said.

[Editor’s note: The original posting incorrectly identified the priest saying Mass.]