High school celebrates past, present and future during Memorial Mass

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By Kenneth J. Souza
Anchor Staff
kensouza@anchornews.org

FALL RIVER, Mass. — On All Souls’ Day, students, faculty, staff and supporters of Bishop Connolly High School in Fall River gathered inside the Msgr. Prevost Auditorium for a special Golden Memorial Mass to remember not only the deceased members of the Connolly community, but also those who are still living and have contributed to the ongoing 50-year legacy of the Catholic institution.

Calling the occasion “a way to give thanks for this wonderful school that is here serving the young people in our area,” Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., who served as principal celebrant and homilist for the Mass, noted the presence of several members of the Jesuit community and the Brothers of Christian Instruction, both of which staffed the school over its half-century history.

“We want to give thanks to God and to those who have worked so hard to establish this school and to support it and keep it for 50 years and, hopefully, for years to come,” Bishop da Cunha said. “We want to thank those who have given their lives, their talents, their gifts, their energy to (Bishop Connolly) and many of them are no longer with us. But some of them are still here, and some have come to celebrate with us today and we are grateful to see some of the priests and Brothers who were part of this school community from its very beginning. They have come to give thanks to God with us together, for the blessings of so many people who have come before us.”

“What is represented here today is Bishop Connolly’s past, present, and future,” added E. Christopher Myron, president and principal of the school. “We have representatives from the Jesuits, the Brothers of Christian Instruction and, as you heard earlier, a great number of them have passed who have given their lives and shared their gifts to strengthen the youngsters of our community. And our future is here: it is our students.”

The Mass also served to kickoff a yearlong jubilee celebration to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bishop Connolly High School, which was founded by its namesake, Bishop James L. Connolly, in 1966. 

“Almost 50 years ago, Bishop James L. Connolly invited the Society of Jesus — the Jesuits — to staff our school,” Myron explained. “But God had other plans. There was another great school in the area: Msgr. Prevost High School, a strong private high school staffed by the Brothers of Christian Instruction (that was) ready to put a new addition on. But there was a tragic fire and they could not afford to (maintain) the school or keep it open.

“So they were invited, as well, to come in 1969 to staff the school. Two different groups of extraordinary individuals came together not because they wanted to, but because it was God’s plan. They provided this community and the students who have been coming here with two very important things: first, the understanding of service to others — to not only be hearers but also doers of the Word. And it went without saying that they were going to offer academic excellence, which they did.”

Speaking on behalf of the Jesuit community, Father Donald A. MacMillan, S.J., said it was a pleasure to be back at Bishop Connolly High School and that he was “having all sorts of déjà vu experiences.”

“I was here back in the 1980s as the academic vice principal and Brother Roger Millette and I shared a lot of the responsibilities of (running) the school,” Father MacMillan said. “Then I went away and came back as chaplain and director of the community service program, so I was here about seven years altogether. We had a lot of fun here.”

According to Father MacMillan, from 1966 through 1995 there were 100 members of the Jesuit community who served at Bishop Connolly High School at various times.

“Earlier, I read the names of 33 who have passed away,” Father MacMillan said. “Others are still ministering here, there and everywhere. Some of them wanted to come today, but they couldn’t because of other commitments, but they all send their greetings, fond wishes and blessings.”

Admitting that he left Connolly “with a heavy heart,” Father MacMillan would subsequently get a position at Boston College — one of 28 Jesuit colleges in the U.S. — but he took away an important lesson from his time in Fall River.

“It’s something a lot of the Jesuits have taken away from here — it’s the Latin phrase that comes from Bishop Connolly’s coat of arms which is: ‘Not only hearers, but also doers of the Word,’” Father MacMillan said. “That is a very strong statement and foundation to stand on. To know God’s Word, to love everyone, and to share that love with everybody — not just keep it for yourself. So if you recall that from time to time in your own mind, it will help you get to that final banquet that we’re all going to — that table in Heaven.”

Brother Daniel Caron, F.I.C., who taught at Bishop Connolly for many years, recalled how his order first came to Fall River in 1927 — well before the high school was ever founded.

“We administered and staffed the Msgr. Prevost High School on Eastern Avenue in Fall River,” Brother Daniel said. “It was the high school for Notre Dame Parish. But a calamity in late May 1968 changed all that with the fire. The day after the fire, Father Charles Dunn, S.J., who was the Jesuit director-superior, invited the Prevost staff and the Brothers to come and finish out the year at Bishop Connolly. It would have been for a few weeks at most.

“Those few weeks expanded into 44 years of cooperation between the Brothers and the Jesuits here at Bishop Connolly High School. For us, the Brothers, it has been a privilege and an honor to teach at this school and we pray that God will bless Connolly much into the future.”

The notion of remembering those from our past — the living and the dead — was a theme that also permeated Bishop da Cunha’s All Souls’ Day homily.

“Today is a day to remember them all and to pray for them and to give thanks to God for what they were to us and what they meant to us,” Bishop da Cunha said. “There is a tradition in Mexico where they believe that people die three times. They die, first, when their body stops, when they stop breathing and their brain stops working. But then they die a second time, when they are buried and when they are placed in the earth and you know you’re never going to see them in that body again.

“But then they say the third time is when there is no one left to remember them. When there is no one remembering them anymore — that’s another death they go through. Well, I hope our relatives, friends, and benefactors will not die that third death.”

While death may not seem like the best subject for a celebration, Bishop da Cunha noted how it’s important to consider because “it gives us more appreciation for life, and it gives us more appreciation for other people.”

“Some people say they are afraid to die. But, you know what? Some people are also afraid to live,” he added. “They are afraid to live the fullness of life and to invest all that God gave them to be an instrument of change in the world.

“May our celebration here today renew and strengthen our hope for the future — not only for eternal life, but to live the fullness of life here in this world and together make this world a better place for us and for those who come after us.”

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