It's not often that a priest says Mass while holding an infant to his shoulder.
But that was not an uncommon sight when the Rev. James Broderick was pastor of St. George's Church in Haverhill.
If a baby was crying during Mass, Broderick would sometimes take the child from its mother. He would hold the child to his shoulder until it calmed down — all the while continuing the sacred ceremony, never missing a beat.
That personal touch created a special bond between Broderick and his parishioners during his years as pastor of St. George's and at other churches in the region.
Broderick died Monday at age 94. His health had been failing in recent years.
"He died peacefully (Monday) morning at the Regina Cleri residence for retired priests in Boston,'' said a Facebook posting from the Rev. Tim Harrison, pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Newburyport where Broderick lived for several years in retirement.
Broderick served as pastor of St. George's in Haverhill for 13 years until it closed in 1998 as part of a merger of four small neighborhood churches into one parish, which is now All Saints Church.
When that merger happened, Broderick went into semi-retirement and lived at Sacred Hearts Parish in Bradford where he occasionally said Masses. He later moved to Immaculate Conception Church in Newburyport, where he lived in retirement as senior priest in residence from 2004, occasionally saying Masses there, until he moved to the Regina Cleri home in 2016.
Broderick was very close to his parishioners, calling each of them by their first name as they approached him in line to receive communion during Masses.
When he said his final Mass at St. George's Church in August of 1998 as it prepared to close, Broderick cried with his parishioners.
Broderick's body will lie in state for calling hours on Friday, Sept. 4, from 3 to 7 p.m. at Immaculate Conception Church, 42 Green St., Newburyport. A funeral Mass will be held Saturday, Sept. 5, at 11 a.m., also at Immaculate Conception Church. Face coverings and social distancing will be required. Burial will be private in St. Mary’s Cemetery, Newburyport.
'He lived his faith'
Daniel Brosnan of Haverhill and his wife, Elizabeth, were parishioners at St. George's when Broderick arrived there in 1985.
"Father Joseph Svirskas, who was being transferred at that time, held a family gathering at my in-laws' where he introduced us to Father Broderick," Daniel Brosnan said. "The nicest memory I have is our daughter, Jacqueline, was the first baby Father Broderick baptized at St. George's. He was there for her first penance and first communion. And he was there for her confirmation at All Saints (Church), where all of his kids from St. George's were being confirmed.
"And when my daughter got married seven years ago, he was retired but came back to All Saints where he con-celebrated her wedding Mass,'' Brosnan said. "So for every sacrament my daughter received, Father Broderick was a part of it."
Brosan said the family Masses at St. George's were designed to make children comfortable.
"I can't imagine how many adults who were children in his parish are still active and good Catholics because of the influence of Father Broderick," he said. "I know a lot of people who were adults in his parish who were so affected by Father Broderick. It was the way he lived his faith. He lived the gospel, he didn't just preach it, and he was there for anyone who needed him.''
For Barbara Worcester of Haverhill, going from a large Catholic church in Malden in the 1980s to the small St. George's Church in Haverhill's Mount Washington neighborhood was nothing like she imagined it would be.
She said her then-new pastor, Rev. Broderick, welcomed her family into his church and that she, her husband and their children attended St. George's for six years until the merger with several other Catholic churches in Haverhill.
"One of my favorite memories was that Father had a little desk in the foyer and in its top drawer were Tootsie Pops for the kids," Worcester said. "I remember one Mass at St. George's when I had two of our children with me along with our new baby who was crying, so Father stopped the Mass, came up to me and took my baby, saying, 'This baby wants to be with me.'
"Father continued the Mass with my baby on his shoulder, and it wasn't just my baby he did this with," she said.
Worcester said that on Easter Sunday, Broderick would lead a parade in the church so everyone could see how nice the children looked in their Easter outfits.
"They'd all be following behind like little ducklings," she said. "And if a child was fidgeting, he'd tell the parent not to expect children to be as quiet or as patient as an adult. He told us this was a family Mass, and if you don't like the noise, you're welcome to attend another Mass."
Broderick personalized every sermon and would relate his homily to his life, Worcester said.
"He came from a well-to-do Boston family, and one day he told us a story of how he was engaged to be married to a Catholic girl and that she asked him to attend a retreat to learn about her religion," Worcester said. "After that retreat he broke it off and went into the priesthood. Maybe he fell in love with Jesus that weekend. I'll never know.
"He was a very special person in all of our lives," Worcester added. "He really cared about his congregation, and when St. George's closed it was heartbreaking to lose him. He told us not to go kicking and screaming, but to keep an open mind. He was one in a million."
Funeral arrangements for Broderick are by H.L. Farmer & Sons Funeral Homes, Bradford-Haverhill. In lieu of flowers, contributions in his memory may be made to Immaculate Conception Church, 42 Green St., Newburyport.
Finding his calling
Broderick had an unusual journey to the priesthood — a road that took him through the military and into the world of high finance before he felt the religious calling.
He served in the Army Air Corps during World War II, earning a Victory Medal, Air Medal, American Theater Ribbon, and EAME Theater Ribbon with 2 Bronze Stars
After he was discharged from the military, Broderick attended Northwestern University and became an investment banker. At the age of 29 he converted to Catholicism, entered the seminary in 1954, and was ordained a priest in 1960. His first assignment was at Our Lady of Presentation, Brighton. From 1961 to 1968, he served at the Society of St. James The Apostle, Peru, Latin America; from 1968 to 1974 at Our Lady of Grace, Chelsea, later becoming pastor of St. George Church in Haverhill.
As word about Broderick's death spread across Haverhill and the region, his former parishioners became sad and prayerful.
"When I heard he passed, it was a shock," Brosnan said. "He was a great priest and a great human being."