Recently, East Boston resident John Zirpolo was driving by the iconic Cross that sits on the western slope of Orient Heights hill. For decades the Cross was an Eastie landmark beckoning motorists below to visit the historic Madonna Shrine on Orient Avenue. For Eastie residents it was a navigation point when giving directions to out-of-towners. Many used it as a reference point telling people unfamiliar with the area, at the Cross you take a left and that will take you into the neighborhood .
Local folklore has it that when The Beatles performed their concert at Suffolk Downs in 1966, John Lennon, on his way to the show, thought the Cross was a protest against the comments he had made earlier in the press that the band was more popular than Jesus .
Sadly for years the Cross had remained unlit and had fallen into disrepair.
Zirpolo said he felt something had to be done.
I called (Representative) Carlo Basile and told him I wanted to help and asked him who I should call, said Zirpolo.
Basile put Zirpolo in touch with St. Joseph-St. Lazarus parish Priest Father Miroslaw Kowalczyk and Zirpolo pitched his plan.
He told me it was costing the Don Orione fathers $350 a month to keep it lit and they couldn t afford it, said Zirpolo.
Zirpolo began exploring his options and reached out to NStar.
I thought maybe we could get a partnership going and they could donate more energy efficient lights, said Zirpolo who has a background in electrical work.
Soon, NStar got on board and donated the LEED bulbs that would replace the older ones on the Cross.
However, when Zirpolo began working to replace all the bulbs he ran into a problem.
The light fixtures were so rusted they would just crumble, he said.
Zirpolo, on his own time, installed over 90 new light fixtures for the Cross.
Atlantic Heavy Equipment donated the lift so we could do the work, said Zirpolo. We also cut down the number of circuits needed to light the Cross from 8 to just 1.
Then, on March 13, the same day Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected as Pope Francis, Zirpolo was testing out the new lighting scheme.
Then someone called and said white smoke was coming out of the Vatican and they had elected a new pope, said Zirpolo. We joked that it was a sign from God.
Facebook was instantly awash with posts about the Cross being lit coinciding with the election of the new pope. Some commented First day on the job and Pope Francis has gotten the Cross in Eastie relit.
It had to be relit, said Zirpolo. That Cross is an icon in East Boston. When you think of Eastie you think of the Cross. Even when you fly into Logan at night over Eagle Hill you would know you were home once you saw the Cross.
Chuck Famolare, a member of the St. Joseph-St. Lazarus Parish Council said Zirpolo deserves all the credit.
It s been a couple of years now that the Cross has been unlit, said Famolare. It wasn t only costing a lot to keep it lit but it was in need of repairs. John (Zirpolo) saw it one day and took the ball and ran with it to get the Cross lit up and running again.
Famolare said the Cross has been a landmark and he for one is happy to see it glowing once more.
Here s a guy who saw something that needed to be fixed and did it, said Famolare. My hat is off to him for his work.
Tony Cerasuelo, who is part of the new management team at the Don Orione, said the relighting of the Cross is long overdue and thanked Zirpolo for his work.
It shows the level of commitment to the Don Orione as a community treasure when someone like John (Zirpolo) steps up to the plate and does what he did, said Cerasuelo.