Ad multos annos, Bishop Coleman

St. Joseph-St. Therese Church has a sign posted on its front lawn announcing various events or Liturgical seasons throughout the year. Located on the well-traveled Acushnet Avenue in New Bedford, many cars routinely pass by it. Recently, the sign was changed to read: “Thank You Bishop Coleman.” This week, we as a diocese and as individuals come together to express our gratitude to Bishop Coleman for his service as he celebrates 11 years as a bishop and 50 years as a priest.

Gratitude is not commonly expressed today. It is good therefore that we pause to give thanks to Bishop Coleman and, in a sense, we say farewell as his successor will be installed in a few weeks.

There is an adage that states, “Man proposes, but God disposes.” I believe as most of us look back on our lives we can see that the hand of God directed our lives in ways that perhaps we would not have anticipated or requested.

What did Bishop Coleman anticipate these 50 years would be the day he prostrated himself during his ordination ceremony as a priest?

He said yes to his bishop’s invitation to study in Rome. He came to love Italy and is known to enjoy vacationing there.

He said yes to the varying parish assignments that were given him. In those years, a new assignment was not discussed with a priest. Rather, the priest simply received a form — fill in the blank — signed by the bishop telling him where and when he was to report to his new assignment. 

The Second Vatican Council has allowed the priest and a personnel board to assist in discerning the best assignment for a priest.

Once I met Bishop Flanagan, the Bishop of Worcester, and I asked him what was the greatest change he experienced since the council. He replied that before the council he could transfer a priest for the cost of a stamp. With the right bishop, that could be the best policy since a bishop presumably knew the priests and knew the needs of the diocese.

The young priest, George Coleman, was asked by Bishop Cronin to assume the duties of  director of Education. He would coordinate the work of the Catholic schools, Religious Education, and clergy formation — a task he accepted willingly and assiduously attended to. 

As director of Education, Bishop Coleman brought his technology skills to the fore. As I recall, it was the first diocesan office to enter the computer age. One Saturday he introduced me to a new computer that, believe it or not, used cards to make form letters. Much has changed in the intervening years and Bishop Coleman has kept up with technological developments.

Bishop Coleman was asked to be a pastor of Corpus Christi on Cape Cod. Once there, Bishop Cronin purchased land that would become the site of the new Corpus Christi Church and parish complex in Sandwich. Again, Bishop Coleman said yes and later, as Bishop of Fall River, he would have the privilege of consecrating the new church to the glory of God.

As pastor, he was called by Bishop O’Malley to serve as his vicar general and moderator of the curia. Again he said his yes to the will of God as expressed through his bishop. 

With the experience he gained, the Board of Consultors elected him to serve as diocesan administrator when Bishop O’Malley was asked to serve as Bishop of Palm Beach.

I am sure Msgr. Coleman thought he would soon be relieved of his responsibilities and be able to return to a parish on the Cape where he could retire at 70 and walk the shores of the beach in quiet contemplation and peace. He must have awaited the call from the nuncio to inform him who the next bishop of Fall River would be.

He indeed got the call from the nuncio, and he was told that the Holy Father had selected him to be the seventh Bishop of Fall River. Again he said yes. Man proposes, but God disposes.

In Marriage, single life, priesthood and religious life, many “yeses” are needed to persevere. Some are easier to accept than others, but acceptance of God’s will, not our own is required. Jesus said yes to the will of His Heavenly Father. Mary said her “fiat,” or her yes to the will of God as conveyed by the angel sent from God. Each time we pray the Our Father we say “Your will be done.”

Now Bishop Coleman says yes to the acceptance of his retirement by Pope Francis and begins the chapter of the book of his life entitled “retirement.” Perhaps now he can relax and walk along the beaches of Cape Cod in peace, in union with God and continue to respond “yes” to all God asks. Likewise may we continue to say our yes.

I have been told that the former rector of the North American College in Rome, Archbishop Martin O’Connor, had a tradition. At the ordination of a new priest, he would kneel and reverently kiss the hands of the new priest, look into his eyes and say “50 years and everlasting life.” Imagine the blessing of 50 years of priesthood, religious life, or Marriage! What a grace and blessing from the Lord.

Celebrating 50 years of priestly ministry, let us pray that Bishop Coleman has many years in retirement filled with much good health and happiness. Then when the last “yes” is asked of him, may he have everlasting life. 

There is a Latin adage used at anniversaries of priestly ordination — ad multos annos. It conveys in a few short words the desire, the wish and the prayer that the jubilarian will have many more years filled with much joy, good health, and happiness — for many years. Ad multos annos, Bishop Coleman.

Anchor columnist Msgr. Oliveira is pastor of St. Mary’s Parish in New Bedford and director of the diocesan Propagation of the Faith and Permanent Diaconate offices.

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