Drive-by birthday party showers love on Fr. Ray at 90

Beloved Edmundite priest, former Marine, stands at window and waves during surprise event that attracts nearly 50 vehicles, despite raw weather and pandemic

May 4, 2020
Mark Tarnacki
Staff Writer

Fr. Ray Doherty, S.S.E. ’51, holds a sign by an American flag outside Nicolle Hall, the Edmundite residence, after a parade party Monday evening for his 90th birthday. He stepped out to greet well-wishers from a distance after watching the parade from his window. (photo by Mark Tarnacki)

Fire trucks, balloons, shouts, honks, colorful signs and even a tall and bright Dr. Seuss hat were among the props that well-wishers brought to a mobile party of nearly 50 vehicles that drove by Nicolle Hall on the Saint Michael’s College campus Monday evening, May 4, to help the beloved Edmundite Fr. Ray Doherty ’51 have a fitting 90th birthday celebration — in safe but spirited defiance of a pandemic and a raw, wet May evening.

Organized by some of Fr. Ray’s longtime old Saint Michael’s administration and other friends who have retired or moved on in recent years, the parade/processional/celebration gathered in the parking lot by the tennis courts and proceeded at 6 p.m. sharp past Nicolle Hall — the Edmundite campus residence — where Fr. Ray stood in window, waving and beaming at the surprise affair and warm outpouring of love.

“I felt a little like Pope Francis!” the former Marine joked afterward of his waving from the window during the drive-by, after he decided to even venture outside post-parade to the courtyard of the Edmundite residence entrance to greet a group of PPE-masked revelers from a distance, as they called out well-wishes and “happy birthdays!” while waving their signs.

Fr. Ray at the window of his Nicolle Hall residence, waving at the passing birthday parade. (Photo by Mark Tarnacki)

Earlier in the day, Fr. Ray’s brother Edmundites had a party in the Edmundite Dining Room, complete with cake. But, at the pre-arranged appointed hour, Fr. Brian Cummings, S.S.E. ’86, director of Edmundite Campus Ministry, saw to it stealthily that Fr. Ray was at the window of his room with his attention directed to the nearby campus road when the parade started rolling.

Among the lead vehicles were two Saint Michael’s Fire and Rescue fire trucks and  ambulances – Fr. Ray has long served on the SMFR Board – along with several campus security cruisers, with lights flashing, horns blowing and balloons tied strategically. The balance of the parade consisted of cars, mini-vans and pickups with many colorful signs on the windows or more balloons tied onto them, and other creative expressions of good cheer. The partiers ranged in age from the children of faculty and staff riding along with their parents to the retiree organizers of the event, and everything in between, including some current students. Jack Thurston covered the festivities for New England Cable News/NBC 5.

Fire trucks from Saint Michael’s Fire & Rescue led the nearly 50-vehilce parade by Nicolle, starting by the tennis courts.

Fr. Ray is a former U.S. Marine and 1951 journalism graduate of St. Mike’s, where he was an excellent varsity pitcher on the college baseball team in his day. His priestly assignments have included time in the Edmundite Missions in the U.S. south during the early Civil Rights era, a short stint at an Edmundite parish in England, and long periods as a popular campus minister over several extended stretches on the Colchester campus even into recent years — and he faithfully says the daily Mass in the College chapel in normal times several times a week and the main Sunday morning Mass many weeks, up until the time when most everybody had to leave campus due to the pandemic. He is on the alumni magazine advisory board still as a former journalist in the Marines, and has been a trustee. Until a year or two ago when he had a fall and had to slow down, he was frequently seen cross-country skiing and bicycling all around campus and surrounding areas.

Fr. Ray with his 90th birthday cake in the Edmundite dining room before the surprise parade went by. (photo by Fr. Steve Hornat, S.S.E. ’72)

The Boston native also is friends with his fellow Marine and St. Mike’s graduate from the era when Fr. Ray was campus minister during the student days of  Gen. Joseph Dunford ‘77, the recently retired U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, with whom he occasionally communicates. The priest’s gentle goodness and ability to never forget a name and face have made him very popular in the Saint Michael’s community for decades. Birthday wishes on the College alumni page with a copy of a favorite Fr. Ray homily on Monday received hundreds of “likes” and “loves” by the end of the day, emblematic of the many thousands more he has inspired in real-life through 90 years of life and ministry.

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