By Dave Jolivet, Anchor Editor
FALL RIVER, Mass. — When Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., became the pastoral shepherd of the Diocese of Fall River last September, he embarked on a mission to meet diocesan faithful and get to know the diocese’s current strengths and weaknesses.
In a whirlwind first half-year in the diocese Bishop da Cunha has made a conscious effort to meet with students, diocesan workers, lay faithful, and his brother priests and other religious groups and individuals to acclimate himself to the everyday existence of the people whom he was sent to shepherd.
In an effort to learn where the greatest needs are and prepare a game plan to keep the diocese vibrant and on board with the New Evangelization of the Catholic Church, Bishop da Cunha announced the creation of two groups to assist in the endeavor.
In a recent letter to his brother priests, the bishop wrote, “From the beginning of my ministry among you, I have heard from many of you and from our deacons and laity, about the need of our diocese to embark on a serious pastoral planning. I’m glad to share with you the good news that I have already taken some steps in this direction.
“I have established two task forces to study and make recommendations for the future of our parishes and schools.”
The newly-established entities are the Task Force on Parishes, chaired by Father Leonard P. Hindsley, pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish in Westport, and the Task Force on Schools co-chaired by Father George C. Bellenoit, pastor of St. Pius X Parish in South Yarmouth, and Kathleen Carney Larisa.
The forces are made up of priests, deacons and lay people selected by Bishop da Cunha based on consultations and recommendations with and from people around the diocese.
“I am grateful to the people who accepted to be on the task forces and invest their time and talents to help plan for the future of our diocese, especially our parishes and schools,” the bishop told The Anchor. “The members are very gifted and qualified people. They bring a variety of talents and expertise to this work.”
Father Hindsley explained that the Task Force on Parishes is “for establishing goals for the renewal of our parishes to help them move from ‘maintenance mode to mission mode.’
“We are working on establishing criteria to ascertain the health of each parish in the diocese. To accomplish that we will also be generating an assessment document that pastors and their parish teams can use to help them evaluate their situation and ascertain their needs. This process also has the goal of identifying those parishes that are in need and recommending ways to help them so that the whole diocese will move forward on our task to evangelize.”
Father Hindsley told The Anchor that the task force has been meeting every other week to discuss each of the tasks set before them.
Father Bellenoit told The Anchor that the Task Force on Schools “will be looking at the concerns which the bishop presented to us, namely the importance of Catholic education for the formation of leaders for the future of the Church.
“The task force, which will meet monthly for nine to 12 months, has formed various committees to strengthen academics for students and development opportunities for educators; examine governance structures for the schools in the system; examine ways of ensuring financial sustainability; and ensure the charism of Catholic identity.”
The chairmen agreed that the people assembled to assist them were well-chosen and bring a great deal to the table.
“This task force was formulated by the bishop and me and comprises a wonderful group of faithful people who are dedicated to helping the parishes thrive,” Father Hindsley told The Anchor. “The meetings have been very productive and the rapport of the members is excellent.”
Father Bellenoit had similar sentiments about his team. “The members of the task force are enthusiastic about and committed to the goals which the bishop has suggested to us. The members bring a diversity of experience and wisdom to the group,” he said. “They are from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines, all committed to fostering and sustaining quality Catholic education now and into the future.”
Norma Colon is a member of the Task Force on Parishes. She told The Anchor, “I belong to different parish councils, and I’m an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion and a proclaimer of the Word. I feel it is a call from God to share my experience with other parishes and strengthen one another. We’ve already learned a lot from each other.”
Corpus Christi parishioner John Dellamorte is also a member of the Task Force on Parishes, and while he has a great deal of successful business experience, he told The Anchor that he feels, “The relevant experience I bring to this task force is my life experience as a husband and dad who raised my family Sacramentally, and my experience as an active parishioner. I also bring my prayer life, my love of God and His Church and a deep love of His holy mother.
“I love our Church. I see her as a fountain of goodness in our very troubled world. If there is any way I can help her spread the Good News, I am eager and honored to assist.
“It is my personal hope that the fruit of this task force will be the transformation of our parishes into places of encounter with the living God.”
Carney Larisa brings a great deal of experience to the Task Force on Schools. “My current role is executive director of the Carney Family Foundation and member of the New Bedford Funders Group,” she told The Anchor. “My training is a licensed mental health counselor with clinical experience in private practice working with individuals and families, community based mental health advocating for the severely and persistently mentally ill population and commercial mental health care benefit management.”
She said she accepted the bishop’s invitation to join the task force “to ensure a healthy and excellent presence for Catholic schools in Greater New Bedford and the South Coast; participate with other like-minded and smart individuals to help meet the bishop’s goals and ultimately to support the new bishop’s forward thinking in strengthening our area’s Catholic schools.”
Also on the Task Force for Schools is Adam Krueckeberg; the associate dean for Finance and Administration for Boston College’s School of Theology and Ministry, and he has been working with BC’s Roche Center for Catholic Education for the past five years. Prior to transitioning into education, Krueckeberg worked in the technology and finance sectors for 14 years, most recently as a vice president with Fidelity Investments in Boston.
“Ever since getting involved with the Roche Center as a graduate student, I’ve felt that our Catholic schools are an extremely important part of the Church’s mission,” Krueckeberg told The Anchor. “They are places where the Church lives out its faith, evangelizing by serving some of the most critical (and underserved) needs in society. I’m delighted that Bishop da Cunha feels the same way, and that he’s been able to bring together such a wonderful, diverse group of people to advise him on how to really enhance and strengthen this mission.”
Bishop da Cunha hopes that the two task forces can complete their work and make recommendations by the end of the year.
“It is my desire, my hope, and my commitment to do all we can together to keep our diocese, parishes, and schools viable and strong for years to come,” he said. “Obviously, this will require hard work, patience, collaboration, and perseverance.”
“Precisely because this task is not easy work, I would like to ask for the prayers of our faithful, that these task forces will fulfill God’s plan,” added Dellamorte.
Making up the Task Force on Parishes, along with Father Hindsley, Colon, and Dellamorte are: Debora Brum; Father David A. Costa; Father Richard E. Degagne; Deacon Frank D. Fantasia; Father Peter J. Fournier; Kathleen Graziano; Margaret M. Keenan; Deacon Frank R. Lucca; Peter Marshall; Breda L. McCarthy; Richard Palanza; Kathleen St. Laurent; and Brian Wall.
Along with Father Bellenoit, Carney Larisa and Krueckeberg, the Task Force on Schools is comprised of: Matthew Bourque; Nicholas Christ; Father Thomas E. Costa; Brenda Gagnon; Dr. Michael S. Griffin; Father Mark R. Hession; Paul Kawa; Christopher Keavy; Dr. Jean F. McCormack; Kristen Melley; Janice Olson; Dr. Patricia Weitzel-O’Neill; Father Craig A. Pregana; Michael Reardon; Roger Sullivan; Dr. Stephen J. Sweeney; and Jeffrey Thielman.