Bishop da Cunha ordains second-ever Vocationist bishop

By Dave Jolivet
Anchor Editor

FALL RIVER, Mass. — And then there were two. Fall River Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., recently traveled to his native Brazil to ordain the second-ever bishop who is a member of the Society of Divine Vocations, Father José Ionilton Lisboa de Oliveira, provincial of the order. Bishop da Cunha was the first-ever Vocationist Father to be ordained as bishop.

The Society of Divine Vocations was founded in 1920 by Father Justin Russolillo, then pastor of St. George Parish in Pianura, Naples, Italy. The order’s website states, “The ultimate goal of the Vocationist Fathers is to bring all its members, and, through them, the whole world to perfect Divine union with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Vocationist Fathers believe in universal sanctification and promote it in all walks of life.”

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Bishop da Cunha was appointed a bishop by St. Pope John Paul II in June of 2003, and was ordained Titular Bishop of Ucres three months later.

Bishop Oliveira’s ceremony was held July 16 outside Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Parish in the Municipality of Araci, Bahia, Brazil, in the Diocese of Serrinha, which is a suffragan see to the Archdiocese of Feira de Santana. The joyful event was attended by 10 bishops, including Bishop da Cunha, the principal consecrator,  and more than 1,000 faithful, including many former parishioners, priests from the diocese and surrounding dioceses and all over the world. The Vocationists have members in 12 countries worldwide.

“This was such a joyful event,” Bishop da Cunha told The Anchor. “Bishop Oliveira and myself come from towns very near each other. With only two Vocationist bishops in the world, there must be something in the water there.”

Bishop Oliveira was assigned to be prelate of Itacoatiara, Amazonas, Brazil. “It is in the middle of the Amazon, on the banks of the Amazon River,” added Bishop da Cunha. “He had never been there before until his installation on July 30. It’s a fairly remote area, small demographically, but large geographically. There are only eight priests in the whole diocese.”

When Bishop Oliveira received word of his appointment in April of this year, he reached out to Bishop da Cunha to be the principal consecrator. “We have known each other many years,” the bishop told The Anchor. “I was there when he was ordained a deacon, and when he was ordained a priest in 1992. He was also there when I was ordained a bishop, so our friendship goes back years.”

Bishop da Cunha also said that then-Father Oliveira has asked him to ordain a number of men to become Vocationist priests over the years.

“This is awesome because it’s very rare when someone who is not yet an auxiliary bishop is appointed a bishop,” said Bishop da Cunha. “So this may be an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“This is incredibly important and it is such an honor to have been a part of this ordination of a friend and confrere.”

Bishop da Cunha said the ceremony that took place outside Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Church in Araci was planned by the parish, the diocese and Bishop Oliveira. “But I was impressed by the large number of lay volunteers who helped make the day such a joy and a success. 

“It was a real example of community coming together, including the mayor, the police and so many others.

“Many of those people there had mixed emotions about losing a beloved priest, but also very proud to see him become only the second Vocationist bishop.

“Bishop Oliveira’s brother spoke at the conclusion of the ordination also expressing joy and sadness regarding his brother’s becoming a bishop, yet embarking on a new journey.”

Serving as co-consecrators were Archbishop Zanoni Demettino Castro of the Archdiocese of Feira de Santana, and Bishop Ottorino Assolari, C.S.F., of the Diocese of Serrinha, both in Bahia.

Bishop da Cunha told The Anchor that the Society of Divine Vocations is a growing order. “We have two new houses in South Africa and the United States, and one new house in England,” he said. 

No doubt the ordination of Bishop Oliveira can only help promote more vocations.

“I haven’t heard from my friend since the ordination, but he’s been quite busy since,” said Bishop da Cunha. “I hope to visit him in Amazonas when I make my next visit home.”

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