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The Rev. Joseph I. Collins, who served Harvard as a pastor and chaplain in the late ’60s and remained a dynamic figure in Catholic life in Boston and Cambridge well into retirement, died Tuesday. He was 89.
In Nov. 2002, Bernard F. Law ’53, then archbishop of Boston, singled out Collins as a seminal figure in his life.
“Like countless others, I placed great trust in [Collins],” Law said.
And in recent weeks, newly-installed Archbishop Sean P. O’Malley visited Collins several times at Regina Cleri, the residence for retired Catholic priests in Boston where Collins spent the last 13 years of his life.
Collins went to Norwood High School, and attended college at Holy Cross University in Worcester.
He was ordained at St. John’s Seminary in 1940.
Collins served as a chaplain in the Army’s 89th Division during World War II, and delivered a sermon during the Battle of the Bulge shortly after his unit arrived in Europe.
In a 2001 interview with The Boston Globe, Collins described his regiment’s advance to the Rhine River.
“By that time it was Holy Week, and the 354th crossed the river just ahead of us. Many of their men were killed by German machine-gunners in the hills on the other side of the river,” he recounted. “The next day, Good Friday, we had little or no opposition making our way across, and I found a church in a little village where several soldiers and I took part in the liturgy they were holding there. On Easter Sunday, in the town of Kiedrich, we had Mass in a church that was filled with American soldiers.”
After the war, Collins served at Harvard Square’s St. Paul Church from 1948 to 1971, first as curate and then as pastor.
He became actively involved with the boys’ choir, where Law sang as a Harvard student in the 1950s, and continued to support its activities after leaving the parish in 1971.
Following his stint at St. Paul’s, Collins was pastor at St. Pius V Church in Lynn, Mass. until his retirement in 1983.
Collins, who continued to offer Mass at area parishes through 2001, was still laughing and singing up until his death, according to close contacts at Regina Cleri.
Teresa L. McCallion, clergy personal assistant at Regina Cleri, said Collins was an inspiring figure to those around him, even in the waning days of his life.
A devoted singer, Collins would often fill the hallways of the home with song, McCallion said.
“Sometimes coming down in the elevator, you’d hear him three stories above,” she said.
A sports enthusiast, Collins played baseball for his high school and in college.
Later in life, Collins turned to golf as his sport of choice, McCallion said.
Speaking to the Globe in 2001, Collins reflected on his life.
“I took nothing for granted, but 75 years later, I know I had it right,” he said. “I wouldn’t change a thing in what has been a very full and very happy life.”
A week before Collins’ death, McCallion said he was in good spirits.
“He was looking forward to meeting God,” she said.
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