Fall River Faithful Treasure O'Malley

By Kevin Rothstein
Boston Herald
July 1, 2003

FALL RIVER - Headed into noon Mass in Fall River, Margeurite Boyer was hoping the news that her beloved Bishop Sean O'Malley was coming back to Massachusetts was true.

"He kind of helped this city when it needed a boost," the 82-year-old Fall River woman said. "He's got a big job ahead of him. He needs a lot of prayers and we're giving it to him."

Fall River Catholics reacted with joy to the news their humble bishop might return to the Bay State to succeed Bernard Cardinal Law in the Boston archdiocese.

He left Southeastern Massachusetts just nine months ago to lead the Palm Beach, Fla., diocese.

Saying his farewell Mass at St. Mary's Church in Fall River, O'Malley needed 45 minutes just to work his way through the throngs of well-wishers who came to say goodbye, said Deacon Michael Fitzpatrick.

Fitzpatrick believes O'Malley will be able to heal the troubled Boston archdiocese, but wonders whether an unassuming Franciscan would want the trappings of office that come with running the nation's fourth-largest archdiocese.

"I don't think it would be his first choice of where to be," said Fitzpatrick. "He's had to rub elbows and he can do all that but it's not his first choice."

The unassuming O'Malley would always stop in St. Mary's kitchen to say hello whenever he visited, never wanting more than a cup of tea or a sandwich, said housekeeper Mary Camara.

"He'd sit in the dining room and have a tuna sandwich," she said. "I would love for him to be cardinal of Boston because he'd be close to home."

Worshipers at St. Mary's recalled how O'Malley helped heal their church after a sexual abuse scandal sparked by former priest James Porter.

It was an experience they said could be put to good use in Boston. "He's tough and he did a good job in Fall River with the Porter scandal," said Catherine Grandfield, 80, of Fall River.

O'Malley's ability to speak Portuguese, among other languages, endeared him to Fall River's Catholic Portuguese community, the largest in the nation.

Maria L. DeSousa, 49, proprietor of the Fall River knick-knack shop Bazar Portuguese, recalled a much-loved man.

"I don't think I've ever heard anybody say they don't like him," DeSousa said.

O'Malley attended most of the community's feast days and festivals, rarely turning down an invitation, DeSousa said.

"He certainly had a special ability with newcomer groups and has a great fondness for working with newcomer groups," said the Rev. John Oliveira, a New Bedford priest and the diocese's liaison with the Portuguese community.

Oliveira remembered the bishop's work not only organizing social services and saying Mass in Portuguese but visiting the priest's mother as she lay dying in the hospital.

"He's a very warm, very affectionate person," he said.


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