Fall River Resources – August 2002
By Robert J. Barcellos
NEW BEDFORD -- Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, the second of three Catholic parishes in New Bedford to serve a growing Portuguese-speaking population, will observing the centennial of its founding next month.
A Solemn Mass will be celebrated at 4 p.m. Sept. 15 in the church at Rivet and Bonney streets in the South End. A banquet will be served at 6 at White's restaurant in Westport. Tickets for the banquet may be acquired at the rectory.
In September 1902, the Rt. Rev. Matthew Harkins, then bishop of the Providence Diocese, announced a division of St. John the Baptist Church, created in 1871 as the first parish formed to serve Portuguese residents, and assigned the Rev. Joseph D. Nunes, to be in charge of the new parish. A third Portuguese parish, Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church, was created in 1909 for residents of the North End.
The parish lines of Our Lady of Mount Carmel were to include the area south of a line drawn through the center of Rockland Street east to Acushnet Avenue, then to Potomska Street, and through Potomska Street to the west.
Although land for a church had been acquired on the south side of Acushnet Avenue at Bonney Street, there was still no building. The Rev. Nunes at first conducted services at St. Hyacinth Church on Rivet Street, a discontinued parish that was formed to serve French-speaking residents.
The cornerstone of the present house of worship was laid on July 4, 1903, and the basement was completed a year later, enabling the first Mass to be celebrated there on July 16, 1904, The church itself would be completed in September 1913.
In its 100-year history, the parish has had only six pastors, this in part due to to the 56-year pastorate of the Rt. Rev. Antonio Pacheco Vieira, who became pastor on Dec. 13, 1907, and served until his death on March 27, 1964, just two days after turning 98. On his 75th anniversary, the late Richard Cardinal Cushing of Boston described him as the "patriarch of priests of the United States."
A native of Feteira d'Achade, St. Michael, Azores, the future pastor and dean of Portuguese clergy -- he would become the oldest active Catholic priest in this country -- was ordained in September 1888 and arrived in this country in 1903. Four years later, he succeeded his former classmate, Father Nunes, as pastor, inheriting a parish of 3,000 and a church under construction. The new church -- red brick with distinctive twin towers -- was blessed on Oct. 12, 1913, and the $75,000 debt was cleared by 1923.
Under Monsignor Vieira, the first parish school in this city for Portuguese-speaking students was established in 1941. Initially approved in 1929 by the bishop, the $200,000 project was delayed by the Depression. The Sisters of St. Dorothy were invited to staff the school with a new convent for them built in 1953.
When the venerable pastor died, he was succeeded by the Rev. Jose Maria Bettencourt e Avila, a native of St. George, Azores, who served from 1964-74. He died in 1988.
The fourth pastor, the Rt. Rev. Msgr. Luiz Gonzaga Mendonca, served from 1974-94 and was simultaneous vicar general of the Fall River Diocese from 1971-89. The New Bedford native received his priestly training at the Seminario Episcopal in Angra, Terceira, Azores, and returned to New Bedford. As a tribute to his sponsor, Msgr. Vieira, he was ordained at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church on June 10, 1944, the first occasion in diocesan history in which an ordination had been carried out in in a church other than the cathedral in Fall River.
Monsignor Mendonca died on Feb. 21, 1997, at 77 and his funeral Mass at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church was attended by one cardinal, an archbishop, two bishops and numerous clergy.
He was followed as pastor by the Rev. Henry S. Arruda and the current pastor, the Rev. John J. Oliveira. The Rev. Oliveira, previously pastor of St. John the Baptist Church, was assigned to Our Lady of the Carmel Church in June 2001 when the Rev. Arruda went to St. Anthony's Church in Taunton.
The Rev. Oliveira leads a parish of just over 8,000, assisted by two parochial vicars, the Rev. Michael Camara and the Rev. Kevin Cook; a permanent deacon, Deacon Abilio dosAnjos Pires; and a seminarian, David Nichols, doing his pastoral intern year at the parish.
Six Masses are celebrated every weekend in the parish; the 7 and 10 a.m. Masses are celebrated in Portuguese.
More than a dozen years ago, the parish undertook a major renovation of the church, with Masses during the first year of the three-year project being celebrated in the parish school. The-pastor Monsignor Mendonce, described the project as "a complete and total renovation and modernization of the church, bringing it into conformity with the recommendations of Vatican Council II."
The completion of the project was marked on April 26, 1992, by the formal dedication of the rebuilt 1928 Hook and Hastings organ and with a concert of sacred music. As rebuilt by the Delisle Organ Co. of Fall River, the organ was increased from 15 ranks of pipes to 80 ranks and 2,337 pipes.
The parish school has 128 pupils with an all-lay staff; the Sister of St. Dorothy left about five years ago.
Cardinal Bernard F. Law was the celebrant on Sept. 19, 1992, when the Association for the Advancement of the Catholic University of Portugal held its annual Eucharistic celebration and banquet at the Rivet Street parish.
On Feb. 14, 1996, the parish held a Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
ecumenical service at which the guest speaker was the Rt. Rev. Barbara
C. Harris, suffragan bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts.
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