Legacy, heritage of Bishop da Cunha’s late father will live on in family, friends

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By Dave Jolivet, Anchor Editor

FALL RIVER, Mass. — Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha told The Anchor that although his father recently died, “there are so many who will carry on his legacy; the legacy of a simple, humble, hard-working man who taught not with words but by example.”

Manoel Antonio da Cunha died June 23 in Brazil at the age of 91, after battling several maladies for many years. The “many” who will carry on Mr. da Cunha’s legacy include his 13 children; his wife of 68 years, Josefa; 36 grandchildren; 20 great-grandchildren, six great-great-grandchildren; and the friends and neighbors of the “simple man who was very well liked” by those who lived with and near him in Nova Fatima, Bahia, Brazil.

The extent of Mr. da Cunha’s influence could be measured by the large pile of cards on the bishop’s desk in his office in Fall River. “I have hundreds of thank yous to send to people all over the world,” explained the bishop. “I’ve received condolences and Mass cards, emails and phone calls from priests, my fellow Vocationist Fathers, bishops and lay people in Africa; Asia; South America; Newark, N.J.; and across the Diocese of Fall River. It’s overwhelming the support my family and I have received. One of my sisters told me that our father has so many Mass cards that we could offer some for those who have no one to pray for them.”

Bishop da Cunha was at his dad’s bedside, as was the rest of his immediate family, when the patriarch passed away in the early morning hours. The bishop explained that it’s customary in Brazil for the funeral Mass to take place shortly after a person’s passing. “My father died at about 1:30 a.m. and we celebrated his funeral Mass at 5 p.m. that day. There were 800 people at the Mass. That’s a beautiful sign of just how loved my father was.”

Mr. da Cunha was born in 1924 and his mother died during childbirth. “My father was raised by his grandparents on a farm not far from where he spent most of his life,” said Bishop da Cunha. “He worked hard on the farm and was accustomed to manual labor.”

It was that great inner strength that helped his father “bounce back” from several occasions when he was near death. “He was a very strong person, and did not give up easily,” the bishop added. “When the time came, we knew, and we were prepared, but when it happens, you’re never completely prepared.”

Bishop da Cunha told The Anchor that the Mass of Christian Burial was “a sad time, but it was also a celebration of a great man’s life.  My father was a man who respected his family and his neighbors, was simple and unassuming and did not project himself as something he was not. He was very well-liked.”

Bishop da Cunha expressed those sentiments during the homily at his dad’s funeral.

“There were several times during the Mass when I choked up and asked those in attendance to bear with me. I told them, ‘We’ll get through this,’ and we did,” the bishop said. 

The bishop said he later gave a PowerPoint presentation set to music with pictures from his father’s long, fruitful life to go along with the lyrics. “There was not a dry eye there,” the bishop said. Some of Mr. da Cunha’s grandchildren also prepared a PowerPoint presentation as a tribute to their loving grandfather.

“While it is very difficult to lose a parent, we are all very grateful to God for giving us a great father and husband for 91 years,” the bishop continued. “He was a model for all of us and we’ll carry on his legacy and heritage.”

Bishop da Cunha told The Anchor that his dad was an influence and very supportive of his decision to answer the call to the priesthood.

“One of my sisters once told me that at my first Mass in Brazil after I was ordained a priest, she watched my father as he sat there, never saying a word, but she could see the pride and joy in his eyes,” said Bishop da Cunha.

“A priest friend once told me that my father is an ‘irreproachable person. There is nothing bad to say about him,’” the bishop added.

“I’m grateful I was able to be there with my father when he died,” said Bishop da Cunha. “There were times when I didn’t think that would happen, but God allowed it to happen.”

Bishop da Cunha and the priests of the Diocese of Fall River will be celebrating a Month’s Mind Mass, a customary Mass on or near one full month since a person’s death, on July 23 at Corpus Christi Church, 324 Quaker Meeting House Road in East Sandwich, at noon. “Faithful from the Diocese of Fall River are invited to attend this Mass,” said the bishop.

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