Hundreds celebrate Father Ray Doherty and his legacy at funeral
Homilist Fr. Theroux honors beloved Edmundite's "simplicity of faith" and good nature, concluding "Well done, good and faithful servant"
The scene was simply fitting Thursday morning, June 17 in the Saint Michael’s College Chapel for the funeral of much loved Edmundite Fr. Ray Doherty ’51 of the College’s resident founding religious order.
Many hundreds of souls touched by the life, ministry and gentle warmth of this very good and humble man came to honor him in words, prayer and song on a perfect sunny June day. The homilist — Fr. Ray’s brother Edmundite Fr. David Theroux ’70 — spoke of Fr. Ray’s beautiful and inspiring “simplicity of faith,” saying that “This was his simplicity: The world and all those in the world were a marvel that he appreciated and valued.”
Evidently the feeling was mutual among the throngs of admirers and devotees who appreciated and valued Fr. Ray — a fact driven home by so large a turnout for the weekday ceremony. A few in the crowd said it felt fitting that this, of all occasions, was the first time the large sacred space could be — and was — filled to near capacity in more than a year now that pandemic protocols are relaxing.
The large congregation included Fr. Ray’s family at the front, with his niece Dr. Meg Doherty offering a eulogy before the Mass proper; other family members and Edmundites did readings or prayers of the faithful. Nearly 20 priests processed to the altar at the ceremony’s start, after introductory rites at the back of the Chapel by principal celebrant Fr. Marcel Rainville, SSE ’67, as the pall and a crucifix were placed on the casket of Fr. Doherty, who was a proud Marine Corps veteran.
Two Marines in full dress uniform performed military honors as a distant bugler hauntingly blew “Taps” during the committal ceremony in Merrill Cemetery across Route 15 directly after the funeral liturgy, ceremonially folding the flag that had been placed over the casket before leaving the Chapel, after a large crowd processed to the cemetery with the help of police at the crossing. A restored original Saint Michael’s Fire & Rescue fire truck (Father Ray was a big longtime supporter of the heroic campus-based first responders) bore the casket to near the burial site.
The liturgical procession in the Chapel to start the funeral ceremony included Edmundites, diocesan priests and Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne. Edmundite Campus Music Minister Jerome Monachino and his liturgical ensemble and choir provided music: “Lord of All Hopefulness” for the Entrance hymn, “I Am the Bread of Life” at Communion, and “Sing With All the Saints in Glory” (Ode to Joy melody) for the Recessional. Other touching musical moments were the traditional Song of Farewell as Fr. Rainville censed the casket, just before the many priests in a semicircle in front of the altar, all wearing similar beige vestments with gold trim (save for the bishop in red), sang Salve Regina in Latin from memory, as is traditional, before departing the Chapel.
Also present were Saint Michael’s President Lorraine Sterritt, former President Jack Neuhauser, and scores of current and former College employees, who seemed widely to value reuniting at a reception in Alliot’s Green Mountain Dining Room, following the ceremony and committal in Merrill Cemetery, across Route 15, in the Edmundite plot.
A good-sized honor guard of Saint Michael’s College Fire and Rescue personnel in dress uniforms also attended, including founder Don “Pappy” Sutton, now in his 90s; current or alumni members of SMFR also served as pallbearers.
Others attending the funeral were longtime parishioners either from the Saint Michael’s worshiping community or from other area parishes where Father Ray had served – families who, like his own immediate family, had memories of Fr. Ray officiating at so many baptisms, weddings and funerals.
In her pre-Mass eulogy, Meg Doherty offered “snapshots” of Father Ray’s impact on her family as a “spiritual guide” through many decades performing so many family milestone liturgies and ceremonies, and who, later in his life, served as the family’s patriarch and a “window to the previous storied generation.” She said he was always “relatable and caring” and ready to offer guidance in times of need. Fr. Ray also faithfully sent holiday greetings to family from all over, taught kids from the family how to throw and catch a baseball (since Fr. Ray was a varsity pitcher for Saint Michael’s in college and a lifelong big Red Sox fan); and he loved joining family meals. The family in going through his things found piles of eloquent evidence of his considerable skill as a writer — he was a journalism major in college and a public relations officer in the Marines after that– in the form of so many homilies that he had written through the years. “Everyone knew Father Ray, and Father Ray knew everybody,” she said, citing last May’s 90th birthday “party” during the pandemic that still brought out a honking drive-by parade of many well-wishers.
Fr. Theroux in his homily said, “Ray approached the world and what happened in the world with the simplicity of a faith and a trust in a God who would in the end bring all things to good regardless of how things appeared at the moment.” He said the priest was always first to say something good about a person, offering a lesson and example for all. The homilist said Fr. Ray “believed in people as well as God,” leading to his positive regard for others. Theroux told of knowing Fr. Ray since meeting him at age 13 in a high school seminary in New Jersey, and later, of Father Ray giving the homily at Fr. Theroux’s first Mass – hence, he fancied he might “repay that act of kindness” on this day. He concluded by saying that, as much as Fr. Ray was known through the decades for greeting students and friends by name, “God now welcomes Ray by name into everlasting life.”
Reading the Gospel for the Mass was Edmundite Fr. Brian Cummings ’86; other readings were by Fr Ray’s family members Dr. Abigail Benkert, Molly Benkert, with the Prayer of the Faithful from Liz Doherty. Gifts were presented by Maureen Basler and Kathleen Swasey.
On the back page of the program for the ceremony was a smiling photograph of Fr. Ray with emblems of the St. Mike’s Purple Knights baseball team and of the Red Sox overlapping. The page also had the emblem of the Marine Corps. (see image at bottom of story).
Edmundite Superior General, Very Rev. David Cray, offered the committal prayers at Merrill Cemetery with a few hundred mourners gathered around in a gentle breeze as the sun shone. Afterward in Alliot Hall, a fine variety of food, buffet style (including mini hotdogs in memory of one of the priest’s favorites) in the newly reopened Green Mountain Dining Room was a chance for warm reunions and remembrances in the spirit of Fr. Ray. Many also had streamed through the Chapel and reconnected after a long period apart on Wednesday during afternoon and evening calling hours there, with an open casket before the altar.
In closing remarks in the Chapel before Thursday’s procession to the cemetery, Bishop Coyne told of the time he’d met Father Ray several years ago at a priest retreat where Fr. Ray took a spill on his bicycle and broke his hip.
Visiting him in the hospital later, Coyne recounted, the bishop asked Fr. Ray to promise that he stop riding his bicycle now, given the circumstances. Fr. Ray smiled a familiar playful smile, Coyne recalled, and reminded the bishop that as an Edmundite religious and not a diocesan priest, “I have to respect you, but I don’t have to obey you!” Soon thereafter, Fr. Ray, the longtime bicyclist and cross-country skier even into his very advanced years, was riding his bike again.
“God Bless You, Father Ray,” Bishop Coyne said — joining the congregation to smile once more at the memory of Ray Doherty.