The passing

Monday 4 August 2014 — Port-O-Call: Our Lady of Fatima Church, New Bedford — feast of St. John Vianney, patron saint of parish priests

You know me, dear readers. I do my best to laugh at every opportunity. Today, however, I’m grieving. My good friend Father Marc Bergeron died unexpectedly on Friday past.

I first met Marc in the summer of 1964. I was entering a college seminary that fall. Marc had just completed his first year in the seminary. We met at St. Vincent’s Camp in Westport. Back in the day, the Diocese of Fall River operated three summer camps. One was Cathedral Camp in Freetown. This was for campers whose parents could afford to pay. Another was Camp Nazareth in Westport. This was for campers with special needs. The third was St. Vincent de Paul Camp. This was for families who were struggling financially.   

Back in the day, all seminarians were required by the diocese to work eight weeks every summer at one of the camps. We were paid $50 for the entire season. Money went farther in those days, I guess. Marc and I were both assigned to St. Vincent de Paul Camp.

Camp was a great experience. Not only were you able to work with the children, but you got the opportunity to spend quality time with other seminarians and with the frequent priest visitors. These would be the men with whom we would spend the rest of our lives. They were our diocesan brothers (DBs) and so they would remain forever.

Marc and I shared a room (nicknamed the “Bowling Alley”) in the counsellor’s house. It was an elongated closet with a window. I quickly learned that we had something in common. Marc and I were born and raised in the city of New Bedford. We were one year apart in age.

I remember that first night. Tired from a long day’s work, I slept like the proverbial log until I was awakened by a medical emergency. My new roommate Marc was having some sort of a cardiac event. I didn’t know what to do. I knew absolutely nothing about emergency treatment for a heart attack except what I saw on TV. I rushed over to Marc’s cot and pounded vigorously on his chest. Marc awoke immediately. I had saved his life. “What are you doing, Tim?” he asked. I explained that, having been alerted by the distressful sounds he was making, I had heroically resuscitated him. “Oh. I forgot to tell you, Tim. I snore loudly.” So began a 50-year friendship.

Marc and I worked together at camp for the next seven summers. Although we attended different college seminaries, we were both assigned to the same theology seminary — St. Mary’s in Baltimore, Md.  

Marc was ordained to the priesthood in 1970, a little earlier than anticipated. Seems it was the last year before the retirement of Bishop James L. Connolly. The bishop (being a former history professor) wanted, as part of his legacy, to ordain more priests than any other Bishop of Fall River. And so Bishop Connolly made the history books and Marc, among others, was ordained a priest.

Marc and I remained DBs although we were now separated by two years in our ordination dates. We would, on our days off-duty, occasionally take the train to New York City and see as many half-priced Broadway plays as we could in two days. He walked so fast I could hardly keep up. He knew the city like the back of his hand. We stayed at St. Leo House, an inexpensive and conveniently located hostel. 

Once we traveled together on vacation to the Island of Madeira. Actually, we didn’t technically travel together. There was a blinding blizzard on the East Coast. Marc got as far as Connecticut. I made it to New York City and caught the last flight out. When I arrived at the Madeira hotel, the staff was amazed to see me — dressed like an Eskimo among the palm trees. Marc arrived two days later. At least I got one good night’s sleep. After Marc arrived, I slept outside on the balcony. Did I mention he snores?

Marc used to say, “There’s nothing deader than a dead priest.” He meant that since we are celibate and have no family of our own, a handful of folks will remember us for a while and then the memory will fade and disappear. There are four priests buried in my parish cemetery and room for more. I have never seen anyone visiting their graves. This is something we priests readily forego for the sake of the Kingdom.

Marc died of a heart attack on Friday at 9:10 a.m. in Fall River as I was saying Mass in Falmouth for his intention. The phone call came in 15 minutes later. He requested that I preach at his Funeral Mass.

Dear readers, remember your priests in prayer, both the living and the deceased. Priests, tell the stories of your deceased brothers at every opportunity. Sometime, a priest will be telling your story to his diocesan brothers. 

Anchor columnist Father Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

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