By Peter Gelzinis
September 15, 2010
Maurice “Moe” Gillen did not go to Fenway Park [map] for the premiere of “The Town.” He didn’t need to.
For the last 70-plus years, Moe hasn’t just lived in “The Town,” he’s been The Town – or at the very least, a significant part of it.
Across the span of his life, Moe has known most of Charlestown’s sinners and all of its saints.
When J. Anthony Lukas came to Charlestown 25 years ago to research his Pulitzer Prize-winning epic on busing, “Common Ground,” he turned to Moe.
When Jared Barrios, an openly gay man, needed to forge a crucial bridge between Charlestown and Cambridge during his first run for state Senate, he came to Moe.
When I needed context for so many Townie issues – from bank robbery and drug addiction to extraordinary acts of kindness and generosity – I called Moe.
He is without doubt the most complex and intriguing former Edison worker, BRA employee and constituent services guy I have ever known.
Yesterday, I found him standing on Main Street in front of a polling place, holding a “Tim Flaherty for Senate” sign while throwing a fatherly arm around Flaherty’s opponent, the incumbent Sal DiDomenico.
“You see,” Moe croaked at me, “now pay attention, this is what we’re all about in Charlestown. I can stand beside my good friend Sal here, and I can disagree with him all day without being disagreeable. Now, will I see that in the movie? Yeah, right.”
“Yeah, but Moe, I hear it’s a pretty good movie, really,” said Steve Owens, who was quick to add, “But in all the years I’ve lived in this town, I’ve never heard of anybody robbing a bank dressed in a nun’s habit. I mean, hey, this is a Catholic town.”
Moe frowned. He understands bank robbers dressed as nuns make better movies than people quietly trying to do the right thing.
But that didn’t stop him from leading me up to the top of Bunker Hill Street, to stand before a grand Celtic cross that overlooks an ancient cemetery behind St. Francis de Sales Church.
“Someone should make a movie about the 3,000 people buried under those stones,” Moe said “They fled the famine in Ireland only to die here. Most are kids.”
Moe was raised in St. Francis parish. His kids served Mass here. Last year, he buried his beloved wife, Hunna, from this church.
“It’s not bank robbers that bother me,” he said. “What I’m afraid of is that one day, the lovely spot we’re standing on, this place that says so much about this town and it’s real character, will be sold off. Now that would be a real crime.”