Volunteers Lead St. Anthony Shrine Renovation

Jocelyn Thomas In the Headlines


Volunteers work on St. Anthony Shrine’s HVAC system. (Photo courtesy of the Shrine)

BOSTON — St. Anthony Shrine has a new heating and cooling system, thanks to a group of volunteers led by a concerned contractor who is devoted to the friars. The high-quality work and dedication of project leader Kevin Sheehan have been recognized by St. Anthony Shrine as well as by Boston’s media.

In June, the friars of the ministry center in Downtown Crossing honored Sheehan, who regularly attends Mass at the Shrine, with its Social Consciousness Award, and a few weeks later, the Boston Globe featured Sheehan and his work. The article, titled “Friends of Prominent Downtown Shrine Pitch in to Help,” described the project and the many volunteers who assisted with upgrading a ventilation, heating and air conditioning system that has been in place since the facility opened in 1954. Sheehan used labor donated by volunteers and many discounted materials to save the Shrine thousands of dollars.

The reaction to the Globe story about the Shrine’s volunteers has been “very positive,” said Thomas Conway, OFM, executive director. “It was perfect. People are so happy that the tradespeople were properly thanked and acknowledged for their work. Kevin told me once, ‘Nobody ever thanks these guys,’ so it’s great that it did happen on our project.”

Recognition and Teamwork
Sheehan, who is manager of technical maintenance at nearby Harvard University, supervised a “massive” overhaul of the 12-story building’s equipment, according to the Globe. He was recognized on June 10 in “a rather formal award ceremony,” said Thomas. “Some of Kevin’s family flew in from Florida for it and his mother, in her 90s, was present.”

Sheehan was given the Social Conscience Award that the Shrine created two years ago. The late Thomas Menino, former mayor of Boston, was one of the first recipients.

To accomplish the valuable project — which is still in progress — Sheehan led a group of 47 volunteers who varied in age and talents. Thomas and two Shrine staff members — Christopher Coccia, OFM, and Debby Hawes, director of facilities — serve as liaisons to the group, a ministry called the Mechanical Overhaul Project. “We’re a good team, since each of us handles different aspects of the project,” said Tom.

Sheehan said he and his volunteers do their work because of the respect they have for the friars.

“I think I speak for all the volunteers when I say that we want to do what we can for the friars so they can keep doing their good work,” said Sheehan. “By helping the friars with their building, we can help them continue to help all the people that they serve.”

“The guys have had a nice time working there,” said Sheehan, who estimates that he gives roughly 15 to 20 hours a week to the Shrine project. “My wife and I like the friars. We like that they are accepting of all people.”

“Kevin has been incredible, giving us all the time that he did despite having a high-level full-time facilities management job at Harvard,” said Tom. “A subset of the volunteers will continue with the project. We have a volunteer in particular who is willing to supervise on an ongoing basis. He is a good worker who completely appreciates the mission of Holy Name Province.”


Kevin Sheehan was presented with St. Anthony Shrine’s Social Consciousness Award in June. (Photo courtesy of the Shrine)

Doing the Impossible
The team has succeeded in accomplishing what some said could not be done.

“Kevin approached me in September 2013, when I first arrived at the Shrine,” said Tom. “He offered to help with maintenance. We took a tour, and he was stunned to learn that most of the HVAC equipment was the original equipment from 1954. He told me that we have the oldest HVAC equipment in downtown Boston. The normal useful life of HVAC is 20 years and ours was 60 years old. Kevin started planning that fall.”

“Kevin and I twice went in front of full meetings of the trade union’s business managers in Boston. Both times, they looked at us incredulously, essentially telling us that one can’t do a project of this magnitude with volunteers,” Tom added. “Kevin was completely unfazed. And in the end, the unions, especially the pipefitters, plumbers, and the electrical workers, were incredibly generous to us with their time. So, I have to look at it with some sense of humor. They told us it couldn’t be done and they did it anyway.”

The project is roughly 85 percent finished, according to Tom, who spends about a third of his time supervising finance and maintenance issues.

“Part of the building still needs to be re-piped, and that will be done in August and September,” said Tom. “Everything is on schedule. After that, we will spend our time tweaking and adjusting this new, relatively complex system that has been installed. It’s not a second-rate system.”

He continued, “Kevin tells me that we have the same system that the Harvard Business School buildings have. There are a lot of sophisticated, energy-saving features to it. Kevin has won national awards for his knowledge and application of energy-saving techniques and he has incorporated those same features into the Shrine’s HVAC system.”

“We want the Shrine and its friars to be around another 100 years,” said Sheehan.

Meanwhile, the neighborhood where the Shrine has been ministering for nearly 70 years is undergoing changes.

“There is something of a building boom going on,” Tom said. “Developers continue to build residential space near the Shrine.”

— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.

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