The Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston’s 11th Annual Dinner Honors the Brett Family.

By John Joseph Fahey

The venue was the Seaport Hotel in Boston on April 23rd and the occasion was the Living the Dream Mission Alive annual dinner hosted by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston.  The gathering was definitely celebratory, as Mission Alive raised over $800,000;

The theme of Mission Alive as Sister Mary L. Murphy, CSJ, President of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston indicated at the well-attended dinner is a continuation of the goals which the original congregation of Sisters had when first arriving in Boston over 150 years ago. Although their first ministry was in education (and impacting countless students) ensuing ministries and community outreach followed.

Sister Mary spoke of how the Living the Dream 2024 Dinner will help guarantee those ministries continue as “The proceeds…will support our retired sisters and the many ministries in which the sisters, associates, agregees, and partners in mission are involved.”

And those ministries are many and varied and often life-changing: “We fulfill our mission through a diversity of ministries inspired by the ever-changing needs of the Church and the world; we build right relationships and community where we live and work.  These ministries address the interconnectedness of housing, literacy, justice and peace, education, healthcare and more.  They embrace our core values of gracious hospitality, love and service of the dear neighbor without distinction, peaceful resolution of conflict, and care for all God’s creation.”

One ministry in particular for which the Sisters of St. Joseph are noted is education. The current Director of Shelter and Stabilization of Children’s Services of Roxbury, Crystal Parker, the evening’s Testimonial Speaker is undeniably witness to how significant the Sisters and their role as educators were in her early life.

Crystal holds a responsible position and has for quite some time; however it was not always easy – in fact, Crystal’s background growing up was replete with substance abuse and attempts at self-infliction. But with her positive experience at St. Ambrose School in Dorchester, and later at Cardinal Cushing Central High School in South Boston, her path in life transformed to one of success:

“At CCCHS, Crystal not only received a quality education, but received quality crises intervention from her active abusing and self-harm. Upon graduation, Crystal received the Christian Herter Scholarship. From there, she went to Regis College where she earned her degree in Social Work.”

As Crystal’s biography indicates, she “continues to respond to her call to serve the homeless and to speak about the needs of the poor and disadvantaged.”  Crystal’s story is definitely a tribute to the missionary zeal that the Sisters have had and continue to have for those whose lives can be transformed because of the Mission Alive program.

The needs of the marginalized are addressed in other ways too. There are those in the community who work tirelessly in aiding the less fortunate and underprivileged and truly try to make a difference; and this is the intention of the “Dear Neighbor Award” – to formally appreciate those whose “lives of service and commitment to the betterment of life for all are an inspiration.” The Honoree this year was the Brett Family of Dorchester.

The contributions of the Brett Family, individually and collectively are too numerous to mention; however, the following biography from the evening’s program exemplifies why the family is deserving of this designation: “The Brett Family (Harry, Peggy, Bill and Jim) embraces everyone with love. Each, in their own way, has the heart of their mother and the soul of their beloved brother, Jack. When the doctors suggested to Mary Ann that she place her special needs son, Jack, in an institution, she said no. Instead, Jack was raised with love and profoundly influenced each of his siblings.  Because of the love they had for Jack, and he for them, the Bretts have always embraced Gospel values. It is their generous and faith-filled spirit for the most vulnerable and alienated among us that makes the Brett Family the perfect choice for this year’s Dear Neighbor Award.”

Among his many contributions to the local area as well as state and national levels, Jim’s biography includes the following: “Prior to joining The New England Council, Jim served for 15 years as a member of the MA House of Representatives. In May of 2022, President Joe Biden appointed Jim to serve as the Chair of the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities (PCPID) and reappointed him as Chairman in 2023.  He previously served on PCPID under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, including a term as Chairman from 2011 – 2013. In 2016, Congress appointed Jim to the National Council on Disability where he served as Vice Chair; and he currently Chairs the Massachusetts Disabled Persons Protection Commission.” 

Jim is involved with the Mary Ann Brett Food Pantry in Dorchester which recently had a very successful fundraiser.

Jim’s brother, Bill is certainly not unknown in Boston; indeed, if one may not know Bill personally, chances are one may have seen his photos: “Most know Bill Brett, an award-winning photojournalist for his long career at The Boston Globe. Bill has published six books featuring the lives of those who have influenced Boston, starting with his first book Boston: All One Family which was published in 2005, which featured the iconic photo of Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and his two predecessors, Raymond Flynn and Kevin White…In his 60+ years as a photojournalist, Bill has photographed thousands of events and fundraisers, with his coverage helping to raise awareness and funds for the many organizations he has covered.”

Harry Brett is part of the family too and, like his brother Bill is a photographer. As the Sisters of St. Joseph include in their biography of Harry: “He is generous to a fault, so very kind and thoughtful. In very quiet ways he is always doing something for someone to make their lives better or more manageable. It might be taking someone to a doctor’s appointment, giving someone a bag of groceries or using his gift of photography to memorialize an event or to bring life to a story in a local paper. In all these situations he does it with no fanfare and not a thought of getting anything in return.”

And then there is Peggy Brett McCobb. Peggy, and as her biography states “is in many ways the glue that keeps the family together. During the pandemic, each Sunday, no matter the weather, the brothers were welcomed to Peggy’s backyard (not her house) for Sunday prayer. It was a time to catch up with each other, discuss the happenings of the world and just enjoying each other’s company.

“Post-Covid she is again very involved in her parish, and also the quiet loving presence of Jesus for the dying and their families at a local hospice.

She, like her mother Mary Ann, is a concerned, caring and available friend to her many dear neighbors.”

Congratulations to both the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston as they embark on their 151st year of service here in Boston and to the Brett Family in receiving the “Dear Neighbor Award,” truly demonstrating the message of the Gospel.


The recipients left to right: Jim Brett, Harry Brett, His Eminence Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, Peggy Brett McCobb and Bill Brett. (Photo by Tim Brett)