Area priest helps bring bishop’s installation into local living rooms

By Dave Jolivet, Anchor Editor

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SOUTH DARTMOUTH, Mass. — Admittedly, Father Rodney E. Thibault, pastor of St. Mary’s Parish in South Dartmouth, was disappointed not to be able to join his brother priests at the Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Fall River for the installation of Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha. But he was busy.

Father Thibault was busy that day bringing the solemnity and joy of that event into living rooms, nursing homes and computer screens across the diocese as part of the ABC Channel 6 broadcast of the unique event.

“It was bittersweet,” Father Thibault told The Anchor. “I was excited to be able to offer commentary but I was not there to concelebrate the Mass when the new bishop took possession of his diocese for the very first time.”

Father Thibault joined Channel 6 TV anchors John DeLuca and Alexandra Crowley for the broadcast that aired on Channel 6. The feed was also picked up and aired on CatholicTV out of Boston, and worldwide on EWTN. It was also streamed live on the Channel 6 website.

Father Thibault is no stranger to providing commentary and insights for a special TV Mass. He was at the Channel 10 desk for Bishop George W. Coleman’s ordination to the episcopacy at St. Mary’s Cathedral in 2003.

It was Father Thibault’s “youthful face,” that prompted his selection as commentator for that Mass. “I received a call from John Kearns [diocesan director of Communications] and he asked if I would be interested in providing commentary. It would be nice to have a ‘young face’ representing the diocese. I had to laugh this time around since I am not as young as I was 11 years ago.”

Diocesan Moderator of the Curia Father Michael McManus asked Father Thibault if he would again provide commentary for Bishop da Cunha’s installation. “I told him that I would be honored to represent the Diocese of Fall River in this fashion on this important day,” said Father Thibault.

Immediately Father Thibault began to research the man on whom he would be commenting. “I had to start from scratch,” he told The Anchor. “How do you talk about someone you do not even know? I researched Bishop da Cunha online and focused on his work in the Archdiocese of Newark. I was fortunate to have about 10 minutes of his time the day before the installation so that I could ask about his family and was happy to learn that 11 of his siblings still live in his native Brazil; one lives in the U.S., and his parents are still alive. In point of fact, they were planning on watching the Mass of Installation streaming live from Brazil. The other thing that I did was to research what happens at a Mass of Installation. My folder containing my notes for Bishop Coleman’s ordination was not going to be helpful at all. I watched a Youtube video of the Mass of Installation in Manchester, N.H. and the online program that was posted on the diocesan website was very helpful. 

“On the day before the installation, Father McManus and I met for a bit at the chancery before I arrived for my work at the Tribunal. The information that Father McManus provided was helpful. I feel that the preparation that I did beforehand was sufficient to offer commentary.”

Father Thibault said the experience was “a humbling moment. I was able to represent the diocese and hopefully gave helpful and insightful commentary during the Mass. We didn’t want to talk too much, but the station didn’t want silence all of the time.”

Father Thibault said it was a challenge to balance the commentary while remembering that the Mass is a Sacred time and that the commentators and viewers remembered that.

His research and prepared materials proved to be a great asset. Having a list of all the participants, Father Thibault was able to quickly identify each and provide some background for the viewers. “I was able to put a name with a face as someone was coming forward to read a reading or read one of the prayers of the faithful,” he said. “It was also nice that I had a list of the names of the greeters and could introduce them to the viewing audience. I feel that the preparation that I did beforehand was sufficient to offer commentary. One last thing that was crucial was that I had a copy of the homily Bishop da Cunha would deliver, the night before so I could look over it and highlight some talking points. I also had received an email from Madeleine Grace who told me the particulars about the music and how Bishop da Cunha had practically chosen everything himself     — especially the opening hymn: “All Are Welcome” — a salient point that he hit home during his homily.

“We focused during our commentary a lot on the homily. We really dissected it during the distribution of Communion. I said that this was Bishop da Cunha setting out his vision for the local Church. We discussed, in great length, the fact that Bishop da Cunha wanted to reach out to disenfranchised Catholics.”

Leonor Rego is a parishioner at Espirito Santo in Fall River and watched the installation Mass from her home. “It was such a beautiful Mass and ceremony,” she told The Anchor. “Father Thibault provided such good information, and he kept the Sacredness of the event in his words. You can truly tell that Father Thibault is a man of God.”

“I have the distinction of saying that I announced, once they were seated in the cathedra, the seventh Bishop of Fall River and the eighth,” Father Thibault added. “I will probably be too old for the ninth and will take my place in the cathedral with my brother priests. Listening to Bishop da Cunha’s homily was truly a reason to be hope-filled. His pastoral style seems to be in the spirit of Pope Francis and for that, I am truly excited and hope-filled. I believe that the Diocese of Fall River has received a shepherd who wants to get to smell his sheep, as Pope Francis recently said that he and bishops and priests should do. He wants to get to know the people of this local Church that he has been charged with shepherding. He certainly has the promise of my prayers. I wish him the very best.”

Father Thibault added, “I hope that if Bishop da Cunha ever watches it [the installation Mass broadcast] and listens to the commentary, he will be pleased.”

© 2017 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing  †  Fall River, Massachusetts