By Kenneth J. Souza, Anchor Staff
WESTPORT, Mass. — Bishop George W. Coleman’s smile was broader than usual as he strolled into the entrance of White’s of Westport for a reception in his honor celebrating the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood and his 11th and final year as bishop of the Fall River Diocese.
The reception was held immediately after a glorious Mass of Thanksgiving that was celebrated inside a capacity-filled St. Mary’s Cathedral earlier that afternoon.
As always, Bishop Coleman obliged the humble Anchor photographer for the umpteenth time, but when asked if he would miss being photographed, he dryly quipped: “Not at all.”
That broad smile — which hinted at not only a deep and Spiritual love for Christ and His Church, but also a sense of accomplishment in serving as the shepherd of the diocese for more than a decade — remained firmly affixed to the soon-to-be-former Bishop of Fall River as he took the time to stop and chat with the many priests, deacons, religious and lay people who gathered to greet him.
Relaxed and calm, Bishop Coleman stopped and joked with Msgr. John Perry, his former longtime vicar general, then he shared a laugh with Msgr. Edmund Fitzgerald, director of the Diocesan Health Facilities Office, before approaching a chair that had been set out at the end of a makeshift reception line.
In a telling gesture, Bishop Coleman never did take a seat in the chair, opting instead to remain standing so he could greet his guests and brother priests face-to-face.
One of the first to heartily shake his hand was John Birch, a parishioner of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Attleboro, who also attended Msgr. Coyle High School in Taunton at the same time as Bishop Coleman.
“Bishop Coleman was a year behind me (in high school) but I’ll always remember him as being calm, cool and collected — and I remember that because I was just the opposite,” Birch told The Anchor. “And to me, he’s always been the same to this day. I’ll miss his calmness and his Spirituality.”
Birch’s wife, Ann, agreed.
“He’s always been so calm, quiet, prayerful and so patient with everybody,” she said. “I’ll miss him.”
As buses pulled into the parking lot at White’s shuttling people from the earlier Mass at the cathedral, more people got in line to offer their personal thanks and appreciation to their longtime shepherd.
“It was really great to see such a good turnout and it was just a lovely Mass,” said Lou Yokell, a parishioner of St. Joseph’s Parish in Fall River. “(Bishop Coleman) has done a very good job, he’s a very Spiritual man and he’s been here during a difficult time (for the Church), but he’s handled it well and I wish him the best.”
Brenda Gagnon, principal of Holy Trinity School in Fall River, said she always considered Bishop Coleman “a kind soul” and “it was a beautiful Mass and I thought it was a nice reflection for Bishop Coleman.”
Irene M. Frechette, president of the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Attleboro and a parishioner at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs in Seekonk, thought it was wonderful that so many fellow priests and bishops came to honor Bishop Coleman on this special day.
“Bishop Coleman looks like he’s going to embrace retirement and I thought he gave a wonderful parting sermon during the Mass,” Frechette said.