Father Riley Williams appointed
first-time pastor of Acushnet parish

By Kenneth J. Souza

ACUSHNET, Mass. — Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., recently announced several appointments, transfers and reassignments as part of his ongoing “Rebuiling in Faith and Hope” initiative in the Fall River Diocese.


Among these changes, after a nearly two-year stint as parochial administrator at St. Francis Xavier Parish in Acushnet, Father Riley J. Williams was announced as the sole first-time pastor appointment.

For Father Williams, the move from administrator to pastor wasn’t unexpected.

“At the time I was sent to St. Francis, the bishop told me that after a certain amount of time as administrator I would be made pastor,” Father Williams recently told The Anchor. “With the ongoing pastoral planning, there was a wait until the situation with other parishes could be sorted out as well. Once that was done, the bishop informed me by letter of my being named as pastor.”

Having now been in Acushnet since 2017, Father Williams has had an opportunity to become familiar with the parish and its school and now that he’s officially “in charge,” he doesn’t foresee making “any major changes.”

“I have been and will continue to work with the people of the parish to develop the ministries already in existence and to envision new ones,” he said. “When I arrived I reminded people that I would only be there for a time, while they are the ones who were there before and after I shall be. I see my job, both as administrator and as pastor, simply to be a good steward of what I found, and leave it in an even better state.”

Having been ordained in 2011, Father Williams said he didn’t encounter any particular surprises since coming to St. Francis Xavier Parish, and he doesn’t expect things to radically change now that he’s the new pastor.

“What is different now is that I’m the one responsible for making the decisions (and) to respond to them,” he said. “Thankfully, my past assignments allowed me to already face a variety of different situations, so I have some background in dealing with most of the common experiences that a parish priest would normally face. Of course, I always have the Holy Spirit to rely on, too!”

Although he’s just shy of being a priest for a decade, Father Williams said he’s already learned a great deal from his past assignments.

“One of experience’s most important lessons is of the importance of listening,” Father Williams said. “While I feel that I have a lot to offer — both from my seminary training and past experience — I can only know how best to apply this to a particular community by knowing what the needs of the community are, and I can best do that by listening to the people I serve. I do not see leadership merely as the imposition of my own ideas on a parish but rather as guiding the community to live out together the teachings of Jesus Christ and His Church.

“I have also learned the importance of finding a balance in my life. It can be very easy for a priest — especially one newly-ordained — to be pulled in many directions, and so learning how best to meet all legitimate needs is key while finding a balance between them and needed personal time.”

In his new pastorate, Father Williams hopes to emulate mentors like Father Philip Davignon, who was pastor at his home parish of Our Lady of the Assumption in Osterville.

“I have always said that my first, and in many respects best, seminary was with Father Davignon,” he said. “Through high school, college, and seminary, I was able to see how he responded to nearly any situation that a priest could face, and find myself turning again and again to his example in my own ministry.”

While the notion of someone as young as Father Williams becoming a first-time pastor might seem extraordinary, he noted that the majority of his seminary classmates have already been appointed pastors.

“I think that we will continue to see younger priests tasked with leadership roles, but also think that the current approach with collaborative parishes will allow for younger priests to have more time serving under a pastor while also necessarily having a greater responsibility in assisting him to manage several parishes,” Father Williams said. “In my first assignment with Father Richard Wilson at St. John the Evangelist and St. Vincent de Paul parishes in Attleboro, I know that this was the case, and I hope that others will have the same opportunity. This means that when they eventually take a on leadership role, they will have more experience in having had more limited opportunities for leadership while under the guidance of a more experienced priest.”

And with the shortage of priests and an increasing number of retirees in the Fall River Diocese and beyond, it’s clear this trend will continue.

“I think that this is simply a reality of where we are at as a Church and diocese at this point in time — creating a situation in which the lay faithful will be called to embrace more fully their share in the life of the Church for more fruitful collaboration in the future,” he said.

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