A Boston fire alarm operator called St. Joseph Church’s rectory in East Boston during the early morning hours of Oct. 1, 1964, looking for the Rev. Daniel J. Mahoney.
Five Boston firefighters had been killed when a wall collapsed during a blaze that swept through a vacant toy factory in the South End, and the department’s Roman Catholic chaplain was out of the country.
Mahoney rushed to Boston City Hospital and prayed with the families of the deceased firefighters. A few hours later, Cardinal Richard J. Cushing appointed Mahoney and another priest to be assistant chaplains for the Boston Fire Department.
Mahoney has performed that job for nearly 52 years now, and on Saturday Boston firefighters honored him for his service by naming their new fireboat Father Dan.
“I was just overwhelmed by it,” Mahoney said after a ceremony at Florian Hall in Dorchester where he blessed the boat and unveiled its name. “I’m humbled by it.”
The 32-foot aluminum catamaran is being stationed at Battery Wharf, where Boston Fire Commissioner Joseph E. Finn said it will used for water rescues and firefighting.
“Father Dan has been a very lucky man to have woven his two passions in life into one memorable career,” Finn said. “We’ve all benefited from this great man’s love and devotion to the church and his love and devotion for his firefighters.”
Mahoney, who declined to give his age, grew up in Haverhill, where his sister, Mary, said he chased after firetrucks from a station near their father’s hardware store.
“I always wanted to be a priest, and I always wanted to be a firefighter,” he said.
Mahoney was ordained a priest on Feb. 2, 1956, and assigned to his current parish, St. Francis de Sales in Charlestown, in 1968. Prior to becoming a chaplain for Boston firefighters, he said, did the same job for the Revere Fire Department.
Mahoney became chief chaplain of the Boston Fire Department on Oct. 1, 1991, which also marked the 27th anniversary of his chaplaincy and the fatal Trumbull Street fire.
Mahoney said being named assistant chaplain in the hours after the deaths of five firefighters “inspires me to be the best chaplain I can be in spite of my human frailty.”
“At the time, I kept saying to myself, ‘God almighty, I’m being appointed to the job on the day five of them were killed,’ ” he said.
Aside from being a source of comfort, Mahoney has also distinguished himself for heroic actions at fires and other disasters, Finn said.
In 1982, Mahoney, two other priests, and four firefighters, rescued Torah scrolls from a fire that destroyed Congregation Tifereth Israel in Everett, according to a Globe report from the time.
Mahoney said he went into the burning synagogue holding the key to the ark where the scrolls were kept.
“Just as I turned the key, there was a backdraft, an explosion,” he said. “I was blown back around 25 feet.”
The scrolls were returned to the rabbi unscathed, Mahoney said.
“It was a miracle,” he said. “God’s hand was there.”
Mary Mahoney, 83, said she learned of her brother’s heroics from watching a television news report.
“Somebody from one of the TV stations that was there said, ‘Why would you risk your life to save the Torah? You’re a Christian,’ ” Mary Mahoney recalled. “He said, ‘We are an offshoot of Judaism.’ ”
Some joining in the celebration Saturday said Mahoney had seen their families through baptisms, weddings, and funerals.
Charlestown resident Anne Kelly said Mahoney visited her in the hospital the day her youngest daughter, Denise, now 47, was born. When another daughter, Nancy, fell ill four years ago, Kelly said, Mahoney spent hours praying with her family at Massachusetts General Hospital.
“He’s the best person in times of adversity,” she said. “He’s always right there for every parishioner that needs help.”
After blessing the boat, Mahoney said he had a full day of ministry ahead. He planned to celebrate Mass at 4 p.m. and then attend the annual awards ceremony for Boston firefighters.
“It’s in your blood,” Mahoney said. Firefighting is “not just a job. It’s a vocation.”Laura Crimaldi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.