By Kenneth J. Souza, Anchor Staff
FALL RIVER, Mass. — When Bishop John J. Myers first arrived in Newark, N.J. in 2001 to shepherd the archdiocese, he met Father Edgar Moreira da Cunha, S.D.V., who was then serving as pastor of St. Michael’s Parish, and immediately recognized him as having “the heart of a pastor.”
“That quality led me to ask then-pope, now St. John Paul II, to appoint him as auxiliary bishop in 2003,” Archbishop Myers said. “Bishop da Cunha has continued to share that heart with the people of the Archdiocese of Newark throughout his episcopal ministry and leadership of our Evangelization and New Energies Parish initiatives, and most recently as vicar general. He knows the people of God, knows the depth of their faith, and he knows the challenges of serving and leading in a Church with many cultural and ethnic traditions.”
Pope Francis recently appointed Bishop da Cunha as the eighth Bishop of the Fall River Diocese. He succeeds Bishop George W. Coleman who, in accordance with Canon Law, submitted his letter of resignation upon turning 75 years of age on Feb. 1, 2014.
The acceptance of Bishop Coleman’s resignation and the appointment of Bishop da Cunha were announced July 3 in Washington, D.C. by the apostolic nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo M. Vigano.
Bishop da Cunha, 60, will be officially installed as Bishop of Fall River in the context of a Mass to be celebrated on September 24 at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption in Fall River, while Bishop Coleman will remain on as Apostolic Administrator in the interim.
Archbishop Myers admitted that Bishop da Cunha’s appointment as Fall River’s new shepherd is somewhat bittersweet.
“For some 36 years, Bishop da Cunha has been an integral part of the life of the local Church of Newark — first as a seminarian of the Vocationist community studying for priesthood at Immaculate Conception Seminary, then as a Vocationist priest and pastor ministering in several Newark parishes, and ultimately as a brother bishop assisting me in ministering to all of the people of the Newark Archdiocese,” he said.
“We are all very proud for him, although (Fall River’s) gain is certainly our loss,” agreed Father Antonio L. da Silva, S.D.V., current pastor of St. Michael’s Parish in Newark, N.J.
As a fellow Vocationist priest, Father da Silva is also very proud of the fact that a member of his order had been selected to lead the Fall River Diocese.
“I had the opportunity of working with Bishop da Cunha (here in Newark) and I can tell you he’s a good priest and he will certainly be an asset to the Fall River Diocese,” he said.
“True to his roots as a Vocationist, he has collaborated well with clergy, religious and laity alike, demonstrating great skill in calling forth and respecting the gifts of others,” said Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda, coadjutor archbishop of Newark, N.J. “Having worked closely with Bishop da Cunha these past eight months, I can personally attest to his pastoral zeal and to the palpable love for Christ and His Church that has consistently motivated his service in the Archdiocese of Newark.”
“I’ve known him for 15 years, ever since I first came to the archdiocese,” said James Goodness, communications director for the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J. “He’s always been a joy to work with and I count him as one of my really great friends. He brings to every situation a sense of wanting to find out all there is possible so that he can do the best work for the people he’s serving. He’s an extremely welcoming person and when you approach him, you know the smile is real.”
Bishop da Cunha was born in Nova Fatima, Bahia, Brazil, on Aug. 21, 1953, the son of Manoel and Josefa Moreira.
He attended local schools in Nova Fatima, Bahia, including the minor seminary (or Vocationary) of the Vocationist Fathers in Riachão do Jacuípe. There he joined the Vocationist Fathers, also known as the Society of Divine Vocations. He studied philosophy at Universidade Catolica do Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, and theology at Immaculate Conception Seminary, Darlington, N.J., graduating with a master of Divinity degree.
Bishop da Cunha was ordained to the priesthood for the Society of Divine Vocations in the Church of St. Michael, Newark, by Bishop Joseph A. Francis, S.D.V., Auxiliary Bishop of Newark, on Mar. 27, 1982. Following his ordination he served as a parochial vicar of St. Michael Church, Newark, and as director of vocations for his congregation. In 1983, when the archdiocese entrusted St. Nicholas Parish, Palisades Park, to the Vocationist Fathers, Bishop da Cunha was transferred there to serve as parochial vicar and vice superior of the local community and at the same time continued his ministry of promoting vocations.
During his time as vocation director he was very active and served on the board of the Eastern Religious Vocations Directors Association. In 1987 he was appointed pastor of St. Nicholas Parish. In 1992 he was elected secretary of the Council of the Vocationist Delegation in the United States.
From 1994 until 2000, Bishop da Cunha served as novice master and director of the Vocationary, the house of formation that the society maintains in Florham Park, N.J.
His appointment as Auxiliary Bishop of Newark and Titular Bishop of Ucres was announced by the Holy See on June 27, 2003, the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. He was ordained a bishop on Sept. 3, 2003, at the Sacred Heart Cathedral Basilica and was appointed Regional Bishop for Essex County on Oct. 15, 2003 and then Vicar for Evangelization on May 4, 2005. He was named vicar general for the Archdiocese of Newark on June 6, 2013 and as such has since served as the principal deputy of the archbishop in the administration of the archdiocese.
Bishop da Cunha is presently a member of the Newark Archdiocesan Board of Consultors, Presbyteral Council, the Clergy Personnel Board; the New Jersey Catholic Conference Board of Bishops and chairman of NJCC Public Policy Committee; he has served as member of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church; Committee on Migration; and currently he is a member of the Sub-Committee on the Church in Latin America, the Sub-Committee on Pastoral Care of Migrants, Refugee and Travelers; he serves as a Consultor to the Sub-Committee on Hispanic Affairs; he also serves as Episcopal Liaison to the Brazilian Apostolate in the U.S. He is chairman of the Archdiocesan Implementation Team for the New Energies — Parish Transition Project in the Archdiocese of Newark.
In his new assignment as Bishop of the Fall River Diocese, Bishop da Cunha will shepherd a community of faith of approximately 302,484 persons who worship in 84 parishes and 11 mission churches in Southeastern Massachusetts, Cape Cod and the Islands, covering 1,194 square miles and encompassing all of Bristol County, Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket and the towns of Mattapoisett, Marion and Wareham in Plymouth County.
Bishop Coleman has led the diocese since July 22, 2003.
While praising the leadership and commitment of Bishop Coleman for the past 11 years, Father John J. Oliveira, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in New Bedford and coordinator of the Portuguese Apostolate for the Fall River Diocese, said he is looking forward to working with Bishop da Cunha.
“It’s very important to underline the fact that he’s Brazilian, he’s not Portuguese, although Portuguese is his first language,” Father Oliveira told The Anchor. “To say we are going to have a Portuguese bishop is not accurate.”
Having met Bishop da Cunha briefly last week during his day-long tour of the diocese and having had prior encounters with him at national immigration meetings, Father Oliveira said he seems to be “a very approachable man.”
“I think he comes with an awful lot of enthusiasm and I think his work in a culturally-diverse diocese only prepares him to be of service to everybody — not just immigrants,” Father Oliveira said. “At this point, it should be of no surprise to us anymore that a bishop of any diocese needs to be culturally diverse; and that a man can speak several languages only helps him to minister to the people of the diocese.”
“While the various Portuguese-speaking peoples around the world have their own cultural traditions, customs and particularities, there is commonality among them,” agreed Father William Rodrigues, pastor of St. Anthony’s Parish in Taunton. “The Fall River Diocese has been home to generations of Portuguese-speaking immigrants from places such as continental Portugal, the Azores, Cape Verde, Madeira and Brazil. I know that it will be very meaningful for my parishioners––– in Taunton that the shepherd’s staff in our diocese will be held by a native Portuguese-speaking bishop.”
“Having the experience of being an immigrant himself in a new place is very encouraging for us because we are a diocese of multi-cultures,” said Father Craig Pregana, pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe at St. James Parish in New Bedford and director of the diocesan Hispanic Apostolate. “From what I’ve seen of Bishop da Cunha, I think he’s very much in the spirit of Pope Francis. He seems to smile easily and is very welcoming. I think he’ll certainly build on what Bishop Coleman has done in being supportive of the Hispanic ministry here in our diocese.”
“I have come to know him as an extremely capable leader who never fails to put the needs of others before his own, and I have quickly grown to admire him for his ability to bring the joy of the Gospel into even the most challenging of circumstances,” added Archbishop Hebda. “His life gives daily witness to a real solidarity with the poor and a deep empathy for those who, for various reasons, find themselves living in a culture that is not their own.
“If Pope Francis were ever to abandon the tango of his native Argentina for a Brazilian samba, I have no doubt that he would look and sound a great deal like Bishop da Cunha.”