Bagpipers filled the warm spring air of Dorchester’s O’Donnell Square with the melancholy strains of Irish ballads as they marched down Freeport Street to St. Ann Parish Sunday morning.
Eight members of the Boston Police Gaelic Column played “The Dawning of the Day” and “Leaving of Liverpool” as prelude to a memorial Mass for Martin Richard, killed April 15 in the Boston Marathon bombings.
He would have celebrated his 9th birthday Sunday.
Martin’s 7-year-old sister, Jane, lost a leg in the explosion. The children’s mother, Denise, suffered a head injury and lost vision in an eye. Their father, Bill, received shrapnel wounds and burns and suffered hearing loss. The eldest child, Henry, was unharmed.
Hundreds packed the stately red-brick church, where the Richard family regularly attends the 10:30 a.m. Mass.
The crowd included dozens of police, firefighters, and first responders from Boston Emergency Medical Services, as well as many elected officials, and ranged in age from seniors to the very young.
Some of the smallest children bounced up the church’s front stairs toting stuffed animals.
Out of respect for the Richard family’s privacy, church officials asked reporters to remain in a designated area across Neponset Street, allowing inside only Bill Forry, managing editor of the Dorchester Reporter who is a family friend.
Richard family spokesman Larry Marchese, a longtime family friend, told reporters after the Mass that Bill Richard paid tribute to the loving child his family lost and the man he might have become.
“He reflected on what in his personality as a young child . . . would have carried to adulthood,” Marchese said. “[He described Martin as] an emotional kid who was willing to tell you what he thought and a loving, compassionate child who would always give a minute to another child in need.”
Bill Richard said his son was a talented athlete who asked at the Marathon how old he had to be to compete, Forry reported. Martin ran in a Marathon-related race two days earlier, passing older children as he sprinted to the finish line, he reported.
Marchese said Bill Richard also spoke of Jane’s strength as she recovers from her lost limb, saying she inspires her family. Forry reported that Jane, who has been a step dancer at Clifden Academy in Milton since she was 4, received a standing ovation as she pushed her wheelchair up the church’s center aisle.
Marchese said the family is staying near Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, where Jane moved after being discharged May 23 from Boston Children’s Hospital. “She’s working on the next phase of her life,” he said. “She’s learning balance, and she’s building strength and moving forward pretty well.”
He said Denise Richard is constantly at her daughter’s side, monitoring her progress even as she recovers from her own injuries.
“I think she shows a lot of signs of being the Denise she’s always been, and that is someone strong — a very dedicated, very committed, very protective mother — and she’s looking after her kids,” he said.
Marchese said the Richard family faces a “long and difficult” process of recovery and will rely on the support of their church and their community. He said he could not fully express how the family faces the emotional toll of so much loss.
“They deal, they move forward, they find strength and humor in moments, and they persevere through other moments,” he said.
Marchese said the Rev. Sean M. Connor, the parish pastor, directed his homily at Martin Richard’s young peers grappling with the sudden loss.
“He sat on the floor with the children, and he talked to them,” Marchese said. “When you simplify it for the kids, I think it’s profound for the adults in the church as well.”
He said Connor told the children it was OK to grieve and to express their emotions, but encouraged them to hold on to positive memories.
As the Mass progressed, a few small, restless boys and girls emerged from the church to run and play, too young to fully comprehend the day’s grim purpose.
Kenny Blasi, owner of Blasi’s Café on Adams Street, was among the congregation.
Blasi said as a father of children close in age to the Richard children, he wanted to pay his respects to the family. He was deeply impressed, he said, by Bill Richard’s ability to speak before a crowd of hundreds about the son he lost.
“I thought it was unbelievable,” he said. “I don’t know if I could do that.”