Hill History: Mission Church: 60 years as Boston’s basilica

Meet Boston’s Basilica, the church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. To friends and neighbors, she is known simply as Mission Church, which lent its name to Mission Hill. The 1575 Tremont St. church is celebrating 60 years since receiving the honor of being designated a basilica—one of Roman Catholicism’s significant church buildings. Fewer than 75 Catholic churches in the country share the title.

“The church is Mission Church to the people who grew up in the surrounding areas even though its formal title remains and has always been Our Lady of Perpetual Help,” Rev. Raymond Collins told the Gazette last week. “We have two names. And it’s not that one is better than the other.”

However, the church recently began using the name “Boston’s Basilica,” emphasizing that status rather than the local nickname in a rebranding effort. The official church website recently switched from themissionchurchboston.com to bostonsbasilica.com, and one must dig deep into the site to find the term “Mission Church” used.

The New York-based Redemptorist Fathers constructed the original wooden church on the spot where the current rectory stands in 1870. And because the church was not a parish but a mission, the locals promptly called it the Mission Church.

In 1876, the current building—except for its now-trademark twin spires—was constructed. It was dedicated to Our Lady of Perpetual Help in 1878, Collins said.

The 215- and 213-foot towers—the height difference a consequence of the church’ sloping foundation— were added in 1910, and “like a lighthouse of God, their golden crosses have burned high and steady over the dark rolling waves of the city’s rooftops ever since,” according to a 1960 booklet chronicling the church’s history. That booklet is available in digital form at the church’s website.

In 1954, Pope Pius XII gave the church its proverbial “gold star,” Collins said, when he honored the church with the title of basilica. To merit such an honor, a church must have an imposing architecture, a substantial number of visitors, and an important spiritual treasure, the church’s website explains. Only the pope can make the designation. The dedication ceremony was held Dec. 8, 1954.

There are 74 minor basilicas in the United States today, Mission Church included. Major basilicas are grander still, and the only four in existence are all in Rome.

The church’s 12 bells have been silent for some time, a consequence of their age, Collins said. He added that restoration work will be carried out as soon as funds have been raised.

Today, by all of its various names, the church continues Catholic traditions in Mission Hill. Masses are held twice daily Monday through Saturday and five times on Sundays. Novenas are still held every Wednesday and the building is open to the public for prayer during the week from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Cardinal Richard Cushing (left, holding staff), the Catholic archbishop of Boston, observes the ceremony dedicating Mission Church as a basilica in 1954. (Courtesy Photo)

Cardinal Richard Cushing (left, holding staff), the Catholic archbishop of Boston, observes the ceremony dedicating Mission Church as a basilica in 1954. (Courtesy Photo)

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