By Linda Andrade Rodrigues
NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — An angry young man, William “Bill” Synnott arrived on the doorstep of St. Mary’s Home for Children, after being bounced around with his siblings to several orphanages in New York City — and that’s when he met Father John Hogan, his saving grace.
“I was going the wrong way,” he said. “I could have been in jail, if it wasn’t for the goodness of one man.”
Father Hogan served the Diocese of Fall River for 41 years, caring for the youth of the communities in the South Coast area.
The son of Irish immigrants, he grew up in Fall River, attended Msgr. Coyle High School in Taunton and graduated from Providence College in 1939.
“He decided to go into the priesthood at St. John’s Seminary in Baltimore,” Synnott said.
After completing his studies, he was ordained and became a parish priest. His first assignment was at the church of St. Lawrence Martyr in New Bedford, where he served as curate.
Father Hogan became director of Holy Family High School, then left there to be the guiding light at St. Mary’s Home for Children.
“Even though I stumbled along and got into trouble, he took an interest in me and encouraged me,” said Synnott. “Are you sorry? Try to do better,’ he would say. ‘Pick yourself up, and let’s try again.’”
A charming man, Father Hogan liked to tell stories and impart words of wisdom, according to Synnott.
“Live a good life, smile at every person you meet, be good to your parents, respect your teachers, be nice to people, and everything will fall into place,’ he told us. ‘That will make you a great Christian.’ They were not just words. They had a tremendous effect.”
Synnott remembers Father Hogan’s serenity and endless compassion.
“In Confession he would tell us to say one “Hail Mary” and one “Our Father” and try to do better and move forward,” said Synnott. “He wasn’t dogmatic, wasn’t ritualistic, he just had faith in people. He was the type of person who always forgave. He didn’t find fault. In God’s eyes you are forgiven.”
Synnott also recalled the way he treated the homeless in the street and those who showed up at the rectory in dire straits.
“I never saw him say no to anybody,” he said. “He just followed Christ’s example. This is how we treat each other. Love thy neighbor.”
With Father Hogan’s help, Synnott went to Holy Family High School and graduated from Providence College and Boston College School of Law. Since 1972 he has been a practicing local attorney. He is married to Deborah, and the couple has two daughters, Patricia and Kathleen.
On his last assignment, Father Hogan became the founding pastor of St. Julie Billiart Parish in North Dartmouth, responsible for erecting the new house of worship on Oct. 11, 1971. During his ministry, the parish grew with membership reaching more than 2,000 families.
“I went to St. Julie’s for Father Hogan, and my wife was converted by Father Hogan,” said Synnott. “He touched so many people.”
The man of great charism and charm who understood and helped so many people died Aug. 7, 1986.
“At that time we formed a little committee and decided to raise some money for a scholarship named in his honor,” said Synnott. “We were able to raise $125,000. Education changed me. It breaks the cycle of crime and poverty.”
“Since 1986, Synnott and the committee have raised funds to honor their friend, mentor and priest,” said Therese C. Reilly, assistant director of Stewardship and Donor Relations at Providence College. “Over the past 25 years, 53 students have been supported by the fund, which has awarded a total of more than $450,000; and the fund has grown in value to more than $700,000.”
Annual awards are gifted to high school graduates from a New Bedford, Fall River or Dartmouth high school who are undergraduate students attending Providence College. Selection is based on academic achievements, financial need, potential, and community/school activities.
The Providence College South Coast Alumni recently hosted a reception at The Cove and Marina in Fall River in celebration of 25 years of Father Hogan’s legacy and awarded a $3,000 scholarship to Cheyenne Cosme, 18.
“A talented young lady from New Bedford is this year’s recipient,” said Chrissy Centazzo, director of Media Relations at Providence College. “She graduated from New Bedford’s Global Learning Charter high school and is the first in her family to apply and be accepted to a four-year higher-ed institution.”
She also received grants from Providence College and a scholarship from her high school.
“I’m really grateful for receiving the award because I won’t have to take out loans,” said Cosme, who was raised by a single mother and is currently working at Sunrise Bakery in Dartmouth.
She will pursue a degree in creative writing.
“I like movies, and I’m interested in writing screenplays,” she said. “I want to get my master’s at least.”
“I think (Father Hogan) would have been happy to know that a girl like Cheyenne is getting an opportunity at Providence College to change her life and the people she touches,” said Synnott. “If he is looking down from Heaven, he would be very happy with that.”