By Kenneth J. Souza, Anchor Staff
NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — The Fall River Diocese is mourning the loss of Father Marc H. Bergeron, 69, pastor of Our Lady of Fatima Parish in New Bedford and former longtime pastor of St. Anne’s Parish in Fall River, who died unexpectedly at Charlton Memorial Hospital in Fall River on August 1.
Having faithfully served the diocese for 44 years as priest and pastor, Father Bergeron was also the Ecumenical and Interfaith Affairs Officer for the diocese.
Rev. David Lima, Executive Minister of the Inter-Church Council of New Bedford, on which Father Bergeron also served, called the priest’s passing “a great loss” for the diocese and the entire SouthCoast community.
“He transcended relationships across all faiths,” Rev. Lima said. “He was a man of great wisdom and had historical insight that astonished me. He was able to talk about not only things on the local level here in our community — where I’ve known him for so many years and I know he dearly loved — but he had a historical perspective in terms of the relationships of the churches.”
Noting that Father Bergeron was a kind and charitable man who always wanted to help others, regardless of their religious affiliation, Rev. Lima recalled his active involvement with the Holocaust Memorial effort in New Bedford and also his quick response to the tragedy of 9/11.
“We had an opportunity to take some of the (local) youth down to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in New York — it was where all the rescue workers and those who were searching the rubble were being cared for, it was the rest stop,” Rev. Lima said. “Father Bergeron stepped up to help pay for one of the buses and we brought all faiths on those two buses and took a lot of people down there so they could get the Spiritual value as well as the understanding of what transpired on 9/11.”
Father James R. McLellan, a retired priest of the Fall River Diocese who was ordained with Father Bergeron in 1970, called his classmate a “dedicated priest.”
“I’ll always remember him as having a wonderful, dry sense of humor,” Father McLellan told The Anchor. “He was just a wonderful human being and a real Church man — he just loved the Church. He was the perfect man for the ecumenical work that he did. He did a lot to try to promote unity among all faiths.”
Father Christopher Stanibula, parochial administrator of St. Anne’s Parish in Fall River, said it was a pleasure to know and work alongside Father Bergeron for more than 10 years.
“He enjoyed other people’s company and he was a guy who was always willing to listen and to laugh,” Father Stanibula said.
Father Stanibula recalled how Father Bergeron was always a font of information for him.
“He always was the first to share with you some exciting news or would point out articles from the Vatican newspaper or local newspapers about some timely events or Liturgical matters,” he said. “He was a good person to provide comments on things that were happening, and he was always willing to give his opinion or comment on things that were taking place.”
Dr. Vito Nicastro, Ph.D., of the Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the Archdiocese of Boston, called Father Bergeron “a truly amazing man.”
“What a blessing he has been in my life and in the Church,” Nicastro said. “It is a huge loss for us, but a huge gain for him.”
“I know he had been battling some physical ailments, but it never seemed to deter him,” Rev. Lima added. “He always wanted to go where needed and to continue to serve right until he went home to be with the Lord.”
Father Bergeron was born in New Bedford on Jan. 10, 1945 to Romeo and Ella (Therrien) Bergeron.
Graduating from Bishop Stang High School in North Dartmouth in 1963, he attended St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, Md., where he obtained a bachelor of arts in philosophy in 1967 and a master of divinity in 1970.
Father Bergeron was ordained to the priesthood on Dec. 5, 1970 at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption by Bishop James L. Connolly. It was Bishop Connolly’s last ordination.
Following his ordination, Father Bergeron was first assigned to St. Joseph’s Parish in New Bedford, where he served as parochial vicar from 1970 to 1975.
He was then transferred to St. Anthony of Padua Parish in New Bedford, where he served as parochial vicar from 1975 to 1983.
He returned to St. Joseph’s Parish in New Bedford in 1983, serving another stint as parochial vicar there until 1990, when he was named pastor of St. Joseph’s Parish.
Because the bulk of his ministry — 24 years — was spent in the north end of New Bedford, Father Bergeron would often quip: “I have an in-depth knowledge of one square-mile of New Bedford.”
In 1994 Father Bergeron was transferred from his native New Bedford to Fall River, where he was named pastor of St. Anne’s Parish. He would serve there for the next 18 years.
In 2012 he returned to New Bedford to become pastor of Our Lady of Fatima Parish.
Father Bergeron served as vice chairman and treasurer of the Presbyteral Council for the diocese and as a member of the National Board of Directors and the Executive Board of the National Federation of Priests’ Councils, representing the priests of Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.
He served on the board of the Sacred Heart Home in New Bedford and of Market Ministries, which operated a shelter and soup kitchen in New Bedford. Father Bergeron was also the former chaplain of the New Bedford Catholic Guild for the Blind and the Fall River Catholic Guild for the Blind.
In 1997 he was appointed by then-Bishop Sean P. O’Malley, OFM, Cap., as director of the Ecumenical and Interfaith Office for the diocese.
Founder of the Engaged Encounter Weekends for married couples, Father Bergeron also served as team priest and team member for Cursillo, Marriage Encounter and Life in the Spirit Seminars, and as an advocate for the diocesan Tribunal Office.
Father Bergeron was a member of the Massachusetts Commission on Christian Unity and served on the board of directors for the Massachusetts Council of Churches. He was also Religious Assistant of the Dominican Laity for the Mother of Mercy Chapter based in Tiverton, R.I.
In June, Father Bergeron was honored as the Franco-American Professional of the Year by La Ligue des Franco-Américains in New Bedford.
Having ministered in many traditional French-Canadian parishes over the years, Father Bergeron remained proud of his Franco-American heritage and his local roots.
“Several good friends joined me for the celebration,” Father Bergeron recently told The Anchor. “That made it all the more pleasant. It was a very happy experience to have received the award and to be informed of it by Dr. Alfred Saulniers, my Bishop Stang High School classmate. We were in the first graduating class at Bishop Stang in 1953.”
A wake for Father Bergeron was held at Our Lady of Fatima Church in New Bedford on August 4, and on August 5 at St. Anne’s Church in Fall River, followed by a Mass of Christian Burial. Father Bergeron was buried at Sacred Heart Cemetery in New Bedford.
Donations in Father Bergeron’s memory can be made to the Catholic Charities Appeal, 450 Highland Avenue, Fall River, Mass. 02720; Our Lady of Fatima Parish, 4256 Acushnet Avenue, New Bedford, Mass. 02745; or to St. Anne’s Parish, 818 Middle Street, Fall River, Mass. 02721.