By Dave Jolivet
FALL RIVER, Mass. — It was a warm autumn day when Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, OFM Cap., of the Archdiocese of Boston, the Metropolitan Archbishop, and a former Bishop of the Diocese of Fall River, welcomed Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., at the doors of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption in Fall River, prior to Bishop da Cunha’s installation as the eighth bishop of the Diocese of Fall River.
That was on Sept. 24, 2014. “I don’t know where the time went,” Bishop da Cunha said during a recent interview with The Anchor to discuss his first year as the shepherd of the 111-year-old diocese.
Looking back over the last year, Bishop da Cunha said he has experienced the joy of shepherding a diocese filled with people of faith, commitment and hope for the future.
“So many good things have happened during the last year,” he said. “I’ve met many very good, faithful and devoted priests, religious and lay people all across the diocese.”
Bishop da Cunha said that one of the highlights for him of the last year has been the opportunity to celebrate Mass with the children of the diocese’s Catholic schools.
“I’ve been able to celebrate Mass with all of the children who attend our Catholic schools during the last year,” the bishop added. “I haven’t yet been able to visit every school yet, but through the gathering of schools at various Liturgies across the diocese I was able to share the Eucharist with all of them. And each time I met with the students they were as excited to meet me as I was to meet them. I see such great hope for the future of the Church in the Diocese of Fall River by meeting with these students and the teachers and administrators who guide them.”
In addition to his having met with the young students of the diocese, Bishop da Cunha told The Anchor that he has so far visited 54 diocesan parishes. “I was hoping to visit them all this year, but it just wasn’t possible,” he said. “There are 26 more to go and my hope is to visit those fine parishes by this coming spring.
“It’s been a real joy to visit the parishes I have so far. So many times I’ve heard, ‘We’re so glad to have you here,’ and I can’t help but respond, ‘I’m so happy to be here with God’s people.”
In his interview with The Anchor in Newark, N.J., last September, Bishop da Cunha said, “I need to know more about the priests, the people, the parishes. I’m ready to go in with open ears and do a lot of listening.
“I want to hear, before anything else, I want to hear what the needs are; the gifts are, so that we can put those gifts and needs together and plan the work for the future.”
True to his word, Bishop da Cunha has listened to the needs and hopes of the people of the Diocese of Fall River. Based on his many encounters with the priests, religious and lay people across the diocese, Bishop da Cunha established two task forces: one to study the needs and resources of diocesan schools and the other of diocesan parishes.
“There are many challenges to face in the diocese, but the establishment of the task forces is a step so we can strengthen our parishes and schools,” said the bishop. “We have great potential and great resources to strengthen both for the future. With hard work, time, and collaboration on the part of the priests and lay faithful this can happen.”
Bishop da Cunha said that he was very hopeful for the future because, “So many of our priests have high morale and a commitment to serve the diocesan faithful. And the lay people of the diocese are equally committed to the Church and have great faith. It’s a joy to enter into a collaboration with them for the future of the diocese. We can face any challenge together.”
The bishop said this first year was “a honeymoon year,” adding, “I’ve had only wonderful experiences and have met so many priests, religious and lay people who have been extremely supportive and welcome.”
The bishop relayed a story of visiting Holy Family-Holy Name School in New Bedford. “I visited each classroom and was warmly welcomed by the students in each class. In one class, they had a duckling that hatched the day of my visit. The children named the duckling Edgar.
“It was wonderful. The children feel so connected to you.”
Bishop da Cunha also fondly looked back on sharing time with the young men who were on the Quo Vadis retreat this past summer sponsored by the diocesan Vocations Office, and the young men and women who were attending the Pro-Life Boot Camp, facilitated by the diocesan Pro-Life Apostolate. “I was able to get out to both events and play a little bit of soccer with the young men and women. It was fun for all of us.”
It hasn’t only been the diocesan faithful who have warmly welcomed its new shepherd. “I have been treated very well by the local TV and radio stations and newspapers,” the bishop added. “I have made myself available to them and cooperate with them. I think we’ve grown to have a good rapport.”
Not everything that needs to be done is good news, like the closing of Sacred Heart Parish in Fall River, with the cathedral taking on the faithful there, and the closing of St. Kilian’s Parish in New Bedford with the faithful there being welcomed by those at St. Anthony’s Parish, also in the Whaling City.
“The Sacred Heart closing was in the works before I got here, but it is so very good and hopeful that the Sacred Heart soup kitchen, which has assisted so many in need, was able to relocate to St. Bernadette’s Parish in Fall River,” the bishop said.
“The closing of St. Kilian’s and the welcome by Father Edward A. Murphy and the parishioners of St. Anthony’s went so very smoothly,” Bishop da Cunha told The Anchor.
“I didn’t hear any negatives during the process, and I tried to make myself available to everyone as much as I could; celebrating a closing Mass with the faithful at St. Kilian’s and joining with the symbolic procession from St. Kilian’s to St. Anthony’s. I joined the procession at the halfway point to show the faithful that I am with them through this difficult time. It’s the small things that matter also.”
The bishop also felt a sense of satisfaction with the great success of the record-breaking Catholic Charities Appeal campaign this year, and the retooling of the St. Mary’s Education Fund into the Foundation to Advance Catholic Education.
“This first year was largely devoted to listening and planning,” the bishop said. “There is a lot to accomplish.”
The bishop mentioned that Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. comes at time of his first anniversary in the Fall River Diocese. “People are enthusiastic about Pope Francis,” he said. “I’d like to follow the visions of Pope Francis and hopefully his visit to America will bring hope of faith to many. And I pray that his visit will bring a renewal in the Diocese of Fall River as well.
“In my second year I hope to build on this renewal and reenergizing of the diocese, and build on that hope.”