Three longtime diocesan priests to retire this month

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

FALL RIVER, Mass. — At the end of the month Father George C. Bellenoit, pastor of St. Pius X Parish in South Yarmouth; Msgr. John J. Oliveira, pastor of St. Mary’s Parish in New Bedford; and Father Stephen B. Salvador, pastor of St. George Parish in Westport, will join the ranks of the retired as they officially give up the day-to-day responsibilities of running a parish.

But don’t expect these active and devoted diocesan priests to just kick back and transition into a life of leisure. Like so many of the recently-retired presbyterate, they plan to remain available to help their brother priests when needed.

“I definitely won’t be playing golf,” Father Bellenoit recently told The Anchor. “I’m looking forward to filling in and helping out guys who are alone and need help. I’m going to be living in Brewster, so I’ll still be on the Cape and be present to the folks down here who need me. A couple of priests have already talked to me about helping them, but there’s nothing set in stone. I’ve had a few offers and I’ll follow up on those as we get closer.”

While he admits that the notion of retiring is “a little bittersweet in the sense that I will miss people,” Father Bellenoit said the one thing he won’t miss is being an administrator.

“I’m really looking forward to letting younger people have the joys of administration and just being a priest,” he said.

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Father Bellenoit was born July 1, 1946 in New Bedford, the son of the late Domenica (Bollea) and Omer Bellenoit.

Following his studies at Holy Name School in New Bedford and Bishop Stang High School in North Dartmouth, he prepared for the priesthood at St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield, Conn., and then at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, Md.

He was ordained to the priesthood on May 13, 1972 by Bishop Daniel A. Cronin and served at St. Mary’s Parish in Mansfield and at St. Mark’s Parish in Attleboro Falls as associate pastor before being assigned to hospital ministry at Charlton Memorial Hospital in Fall River on June 22, 1983.

Looking back over his 45 years of ministry to the diocese, Father Bellenoit said he’s been blessed with a lot of stable, long-term assignments.

“My first assignment was a year and then my next assignment was 10 years,” he said. “That was at St. Mark’s in Attleboro Falls. Then I went from there for another 10 years to being the hospital chaplain at Charlton Memorial Hospital in Fall River.”

While serving at St. Mark’s, Father Bellenoit also held diocesan appointments as Attleboro area vocations coordinator and area chaplain for the Girl Scouts and Camp Fire Girls. He was also chaplain for Bishop Feehan High School in Attleboro.

In July 1993, Father Bellenoit was named pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Somerset. Three years later, in July 1996 he returned as pastor of St. Mary’s Parish in Mansfield, where he would serve for the next 10 years.

“When Bishop Sean P. O’Malley, OFM, Cap., asked me to go to Mansfield, he asked me to determine if (the parish) needed a school and, if so, to help build one,” Father Bellenoit said. “So that’s what we did. We got a determination that there was certainly a need for a (Catholic) school, so we built the school and opened the school. That was certainly challenging, but also very rewarding. The school opened in 2002.”

In 2006 Father Bellenoit was appointed pastor of St. Pius X Parish in South Yarmouth, where he served until his retirement this month.

“When Bishop George W. Coleman asked me to come to South Yarmouth, I left a new school (in Mansfield) and came to another parish with a newer school, because the school down here opened in 2004,” he said.

For Father Bellenoit, serving at those parishes and schools have been highlights of his ministry.

“In serving a parish with a school, when you’re working with young families there’s a vitality and enthusiasm that they bring to the school and the parish,” he said. “You can’t run a parish without dedicated people. They are the backbone and they are the ones who stay there while we move on and they are the ones who continue to give and continue to keep the parishes vibrant and vital.”

Having served in a variety of roles during his ministry, Father Bellenoit said despite the differences, he’s really enjoyed “all of them.”

“I would have to say the highlights for me would definitely be working with people and just celebrating the Sacraments and enjoying being with them,” he said. “In all those ministries, it’s really the people I was working with and for who made them very special.”

Msgr. John J. Oliveira, likewise, said the hardest part of retirement for him is leaving his parishioners after a long tenure at St. Mary’s in New Bedford.

“I know I’ll miss them,” Msgr. Oliveira said. “There are so many things I’ve enjoyed over the years, but the highlight or the best part for me was always when I was helping others — whether it was the priests, or the bishop at the chancery, or the people when I was at the parish, or the young people when I was involved in education.”

Like Father Bellenoit, Msgr. Oliveira’s half-century of service to the diocese has been distinguished with a mixture of ministries and longtime assignments.

Just five years after his ordination, on Aug. 15, 1972, Msgr. Oliveira was tapped by Bishop Daniel A. Cronin to become his secretary — a position he would hold for the next 23 years.

“I served in the chancery as the bishop’s secretary, master of ceremonies, chancellor, vicar general, and vicar for administration (moderator of the curia),” Msgr. Oliveira said. “That was a good part of my priesthood and it was certainly different from what I expected. As I preached this past Sunday: ‘Man proposes and God disposes.’”

Serving as the bishop’s secretary gave Msgr. Oliveira a unique opportunity to attend and witness firsthand many of the key advancements in the diocese over the years — from new church and school dedications to feasts, ordinations and celebrations.

“I was there alongside the bishop for all of that,” Msgr. Oliveira said. “I’ve had an opportunity to be a part of so many things, thank God.”

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Born Sept. 28, 1942 in New Bedford, Msgr. Oliveira is the son of the late John J. Oliveira and Celina Amarello Cordeiro. He has a twin sister, Theresa Gaffney; a brother, Dr. Lawrence Oliveira; and two twin sisters who have passed away: Gloria Lima and Celina Oliveira.

Baptized at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in New Bedford, he attended Catholic school there, graduating in 1955. He attended Holy Family High School in New Bedford, graduating in 1959. 

He studied at Our Lady of Providence Seminary in Warwick Neck, R.I., graduating in 1963 with a bachelor of arts degree. He completed his theology studies at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, Md. in 1967 and was ordained by Bishop James L. Connolly on May 20, 1967 at St. Mary’s Cathedral.

For the first five years of his priesthood he served at St. John of God Parish in Somerset, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Seekonk, St. John the Baptist Parish in New Bedford, and St. Anthony’s Parish in Taunton, before becoming the bishop’s secretary.

“Looking back, it’s certainly been a varied career in ministry,” he said. “One would not have thought that I would have been involved in all these things, but through God’s grace I’ve been able to do so many things and have remained in good health.”

Despite this diversity, Msgr. Oliveira balked at the notion of being considered a “jack of all trades.”

“That’s a title that follows with ‘master of none,’” he said. “I just think I’ve had a great opportunity to work in varied ministries, which has been a great blessing.”

Like his early tenure at the chancery office, Msgr. Oliveira’s other long-term assignment will now be his last: serving as pastor at St. Mary’s Parish in New Bedford for the past 21 years.

“In fact, I’m the longest-serving pastor at St. Mary’s,” he said.

Over the years, Msgr. Oliveira has also been instrumental in leading the Permanent Diaconate program for the diocese, a role he took on in 2002.

“It is an important ministry and we have a very dedicated group of men and it has been a pleasure to meet and work with all of them,” Msgr. Oliveira said. “I’m glad I was able to set up a program of academic formation that prepared them well. Moving forward, Father Robert Oliveira and Deacon Frank Lucca are going to serve as co-directors — so that’s great.”

Having served as director for the diocesan Propagation of the Faith Office since 1977, Msgr. Oliveira will continue on in that capacity until the bishop appoints a replacement.

“I’m still going to be working with the mission office,” he said. “I haven’t retired from that, and I’m happy to do it because I’ve loved working with the missions. It’s been wonderful to see the involvement of the Church beyond the diocese in helping the missions throughout the world.”

Taking into consideration his many honors over the last 50 years, including being given the title of monsignor three times — Chaplain to His Holiness with the title of Monsignor (1977), Prelate of Honor (1987), and Protonotary Apostolic (1994) — Msgr. Oliveira said his fondest memories will always be working for and with the people of God.

“I certainly look back with gratitude for God’s graces over these so many years and for the many people I’ve been involved with and for the many ways I’ve helped the Church that were different from what I thought — be it working in the chancery, or celebrating Confirmations,” he said.

With plans to remain living in the area to “assist his brother priests when needed,” Msgr. Oliveira hopes to remain active and healthy.

“I pray for good health so that I can enjoy retirement, but above all so I can help my brother priests and continue making the Lord present through my ministry,” he said. “I have no particular plans to go traveling or go golfing and between the missions, the deacons, the school and the parish, I’ve always had enough things to keep me busy, so I guess I’ll have to find some new ways to occupy my time.”

Unlike his fellow retirees, Father Stephen B. Salvador does hope to get in a few more rounds of golf after his official retirement on July 5.

“You don’t want to just sit back and do nothing,” Father Salvador said. “I’ll probably go down to visit some buddies in Florida and play a little golf now.”

He’s also planning a long-overdue trip back to Portugal with his two sisters — Mary Anne and Carmen.

“I’m going to go back and visit some of my family in the Old Country and my sisters are coming with me,” he said. “They’ve never been and it’s been 26 years since I’ve been there, so it will be fun to go back with my sisters and brother-in-law to show them where our family is from.”

Echoing comments from the other retirees, Father Salvador said he’ll certainly miss his parishioners — especially the youth — but he is ready to leave administrative duties behind.

“As I have stated: one retires never from priesthood, one retires from administration,” he said. “And that’s the thing I’m looking forward to — retiring from administration.”

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Born May 30, 1947 in New Bedford, Father Salvador is the son of the late Agnes (Borges) and Seraphim Salvador. 

Baptized at St. John the Baptist Church in New Bedford, he attended T.R. Rodman School in the city and New Bedford High School, graduating in 1966.

He studied at St. Mary’s College Seminary in Kentucky and also at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, Md. He was ordained by Bishop Daniel A. Cronin on May 11, 1974 at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Fall River.

His assignments after ordination included St. John the Evangelist Parish in Attleboro, St. John of God Parish in Somerset, and St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Fall River. He also served as chaplain to St. Luke’s Hospital in New Bedford and the Knights of Columbus.

In 1993 he was named pastor of Holy Ghost Parish in Attleboro, where he would serve for seven years until becoming pastor of SS. Peter and Paul Parish at Holy Cross Church in Fall River in 2000.

For the past three years Father Salvador has served as pastor of St. George Parish in Westport, an assignment he has called “a gift.”

“It’s a wonderful parish and it’s been a lot of fun setting up some new programs here,” he said. “It was fun getting these young families involved and meeting with them, and seeing young couples coming to church — there’s a lot of young families worshipping at St. George. That’s why I think St. George has been a gift in my ministry.”

St. George also benefits from having an active CYO with five basketball teams — two girls and three boys — and an impressive cadre of 35 altar servers.

“Seeing the kids at Mass and having them give me a ‘high five’ as I go by — those are some of the things that I will miss,” Father Salvador said.

Over the years Father Salvador has maintained a close connection with youth through his involvement first as diocesan chaplain for the Catholic Committee on Scouting and more recently as the regional chaplain for the National Catholic Committee on Scouting.

“That’s what has kept me young and active — staying involved with young people and families,” he said. “Scouting has done that for me.”

A Boy Scout himself, Father Salvador never realized how important Scouting would become in his ministry when Bishop Cronin first appointed him district chaplain in 1975.

“I’ve attended the jamborees and arranged retreats and awards ceremonies,” he said. “I’ve been to Argentina, to Brazil, and to Buenos Aires for big meetings. Two years ago I traveled to Japan to represent the National Catholic Committee on Scouting, which was a great experience. I think Scouting is very important, especially for the Church. And a lot of the ideas from Scouting can be brought into the parish.”

Although he no longer plans to participate in meetings or travel abroad, Father Salvador does plan to remain active in Scouting after retirement.

“I still serve on the NCCS board and I’m still involved with the Boy Scouts of America,” he said.

He’ll also continue serving as chaplain for the Daughters of Isabella for the foreseeable future.

“There’s very few of them left and they just call on me when they need me,” he said.

Having just turned 70, Father Salvador said he is “still staying active” and like Father Bellenoit and Msgr. Oliveira, he expects to fill in for his brother priests when they need to take vacations or attend retreats.

“I’m going to be living in Padanaram, so I’ll probably be helping out here at St. George or maybe St. Julie Billiart Parish,” he said.

Father Salvador is also pleased that Father David C. Frederici — whom he recommended to serve as diocesan Catholic Scouting chaplain — will be succeeding him as pastor at St. George next month.

“I’m glad he’s coming here,” Father Salvador said. “I’ve talked to him and he’s going to continue many of the programs I’ve started and he also plans to bring in and involve some of the students from UMass Dartmouth, where he also serves as chaplain.”

As for beginning retirement, Father Salvador said it still seems “hard to believe.”

“The hardest thing to admit was telling the people how old I was,” he said. “I’d always say somewhere between 40 and death — that’s a line from the Broadway musical ‘Mame.’ So now you know, for sure, how old I am.”



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