Bishop appoints fellow Vocationists to staff Wareham parish

By Kenneth J. Souza
Anchor Staff

WAREHAM, Mass. — When he was first appointed shepherd of the Fall River Diocese in 2014, Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., said he remembers speaking with the superior general of his order, the Society of Divine Vocations, about one day establishing the community within the diocese.

“But we needed to figure out when the time was right and if a parish was available,” Bishop da Cunha said. “When I was doing all the transfers this year, that became a nice possibility. We needed more priests, so I went back to the Vocationists and they came and saw (St. Patrick’s Parish in Wareham) and they liked it, so we agreed they would come and help staff the parish.”

This past week, two of Bishop da Cunha’s brother priests from New Jersey — Father Antonio Lisboa da Silva, S.D.V. and Father Cyril Offiong, S.D.V. — arrived in the diocese to begin staffing St. Patrick’s Parish in Wareham, effective June 28. 

Father da Silva will serve as pastor, while Father Offiong will be parochial vicar.

“I’m happy not only to have my confreres here, but they will also be supporting our mission and sharing our ministry of serving God’s people here in the Diocese of Fall River,” the bishop said.

A classmate of Bishop da Cunha who also hails from the bishop’s native Brazil, Father da Silva was born in the city of Pau dos Ferros, Rio Grande do Norte, on Sept. 8, 1952. One of 16 siblings, he entered the Society of Divine Vocations in 1974 and, at the request of his superiors, he came to the United States to complete his studies in New Jersey in July 1980.

Father da Silva made his perpetual vows on Feb. 11, 1982 and was ordained a priest on March 26, 1983.

He previously served as parochial vicar at St. Nicholas Parish in Palisades Park, N.J. and at St. Michael’s Parish in Newark, N.J.

In July 1994 he was named pastor of St. Nicholas Parish in Palisades Park, N.J. and then served as pastor of St. Michael’s Parish in Newark, N.J. from 2003 until 2015. He most recently served as parochial vicar at Visitation Parish in New Brunswick, N.J. before being appointed to St. Patrick’s in Wareham.

“I’ve known Father da Silva for a long time,” Bishop da Cunha said. “I knew him from Brazil, and we were in the seminary together; he was one year behind me. We used to drive to the seminary together, and we studied together. I preached at his first Mass, because he was ordained on my first anniversary of ordination.”

Father da Silva recently told The Anchor he is looking forward to his new assignment in the diocese.

“At the new parish entrusted to us in Wareham, I will work, with God’s grace, to promote the universal vocation to holiness and accompany the parishioners on their journey to Christian perfection, leading the people of God to a more intimate relationship with the Blessed Trinity,” Father da Silva said. “I will continue to try to practice, and help others to do the same, the motto of our beloved founder, Father Justin Russolillo, who said: ‘Always more, always better, always forward, always upward.’ I pray that together, with the good people of Wareham, I may become a ‘saint and sanctifier.’”

Originally from Nigeria, Father Offiong was ordained just last year and has only served as pastoral associate at St. Michael’s Parish in Newark, N.J. since then, so this is his “first official assignment,” he said.

“I have not yet visited the parish, but I have done some research on the Internet and I look forward to coming there and serving God’s people,” Father Offiong said.

Although he has mostly been based in New Jersey since coming to the United States, Father Offiong is familiar with the area having completed his graduate studies nearby at Providence College in Rhode Island.

The seventh of eight children, Father Offiong has three sisters and four brothers — one of whom is a priest in his home diocese of Calabar, Nigeria.

“He is currently serving on a mission to the Diocese of St. George’s in Grenada,” Father Offiong said. “He is older than I am; he was ordained in 2003. But we have two priests in the family.”

All of his siblings still reside in his native Nigeria, along with his mother.

Although he doesn’t have the same long history with Father Offiong, Bishop da Cunha met him many times and knew him from New Jersey.

“I was already a bishop when he joined the Vocationists,” Bishop da Cunha said. “When he was ready to be ordained a priest, they asked me to ordain him, but the date didn’t work for my schedule — I was already committed to something else — so they had another bishop ordain him. But I’ve known him for quite some time now.”

Like his traveling companion from the Garden State, Father Offiong is looking forward to serving the parishioners of Wareham and the faithful throughout the diocese.

“I hope to work with the vocations office in the diocese in any way I can to help foster vocations,” he said. “I look forward to working with the young people, mostly. I hope to get more young people involved in the Church and to see what they can offer in any way the Lord is calling them.”

Since one of the defining charisms of the Vocationist order is to foster and support vocations, both priests are eager to help young people discern their potential calling to the priesthood or religious life.

“As a member of the Society of Divine Vocations, I am committed to work for our community in the parishes, schools and missions,” Father da Silva said. “Our most important ministry is to foster vocations to the priesthood and religious life and to promote the Divine union of the people of God.”

“If there is anyone who feels God is calling him or her, we provide the necessary support — emotional, Spiritual and financial,” Father Offiong agreed. “It’s really that part of our charism that first attracted me and I like to share my vocation story with young people. And I like to hear from them and see how I can help.”

While bringing in two fellow Vocationists from New Jersey may be a temporary solution to staffing shortages here in the diocese, Bishop da Cunha also hopes it will bear fruit in terms of increased vocations in the long run.

“With their presence here, I hope they will also help us to increment and implement the vocation efforts that we have already established because they bring with them that charism — to help with the work of vocations,” he said.

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