Friars, faithful celebrate chapel’s 25th anniversary with bishop

By Kenneth J. Souza
Anchor Staff

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — Faithful from the New Bedford area joined members of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate and Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., on Friday, December 15 to celebrate a special Liturgy on the 25th anniversary of the reopening of the historic Our Lady’s Chapel — a significant house of worship within the Fall River Diocese for more than 60 years.

Initially founded and staffed by the Franciscan Friars Minor, the Sanctuary closed for nearly a year in 1992 when the Friars Minor moved to Providence, R.I. In the interim it was renovated and then reopened under the auspices of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate on December 15 — the feast of Our Lady, Queen of the Seraphic Order.

During his homily, Bishop da Cunha noted how the Blessed Mother, who is not only the namesake of the downtown worship site, but also the patroness of the friary, was a “model and example for us all” as the “first disciple to proclaim, to bring, and to show Jesus into the world,” he said.

“God has a mission for each one of us as He had a mission for Mary,” the bishop preached. “Mary did her part by bringing Jesus into the world. But now, you and I are called to the ultimate goal in life: to become holy. We become holy when we are able to be agents of transformation to the world and to other people — when we become missionary disciples of Jesus.”

That call to discipleship is best exemplified in the Mission of the Immaculate Mediatrix, a Roman Catholic association of the faithful comprised of laypersons devoted to the Marian-Franciscan charism of the Franciscans of the Immaculate. Along with the Friars, the members of the MIM and the Third Order of the Immaculate are constant fixtures at Our Lady’s Chapel.

The friary offers daily Mass celebrations and the Sacrament of Penance for the faithful. The Friars hear numerous Confessions every day, especially on the First Fridays and Saturdays of the month, as well as during the periods of Advent and Lent. They also provide Spiritual direction to the faithful, especially to members of the MIM.

On Oct. 6, 2002, the chapel opened its doors to Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration for the first time, which currently has about 150 members. They take turns, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to be present in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament in the chapel. The Sanctuary becomes a place of prayer and recollection for the busy inhabitants and office workers of New Bedford.

The upper floors above Our Lady’s Chapel also serve as a base of operations for the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate and home to Radio CorMariae, a Roman Catholic radio station broadcasting on a frequency of 88.5 on the FM dial. Also known by the call letters WPMW, Radio CorMariae marked its official launch on March 25, 2011, the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord.

Located at 600 Pleasant Street, the origins of Our Lady’s Chapel date back to September 1954, when the Franciscan order was invited by then-Bishop James L. Connolly, to establish a church and information center in New Bedford. The chapel was initially located a few steps down from its current address at 572 Pleasant Street in a building owned by the M.J. Leahy Company of New York. That original edifice was blessed and dedicated by Bishop Connolly on May 22, 1956.

In September 1959, buildings north of the chapel were to be demolished, paving the way for the construction of a new chapel and monastery structure at its current location. The new Our Lady’s Chapel cost $850,000 and was dedicated on Feb. 5, 1961. When the aforementioned Friars Minor relocated to Rhode Island, the Marian friary of “Our Lady, Queen of the Seraphic Order” was officially opened on Dec. 15, 1992 by then-Bishop Sean P. O’Malley, OFM Cap., and the congregation assumed responsibility for Our Lady’s Chapel.

In addition to offering daily Liturgy, the Sacraments, Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration, and the operation of Radio CorMariae, the Friars also host annual celebrations at the downtown location, including the feast of Our Lady of Good Voyage, typically held on the third Sunday of September, and the yearly Corpus Christi Procession, celebrated on the third Sunday after Pentecost.

These outreach efforts and continuing opportunities for evangelization not only fulfill the congregation’s mission, but also help keep the Church alive and active in the community.

“When Mary received the annunciation that she was going to be the mother of Jesus, what was the first thing she did right after that? She went and visited (her cousin) Elizabeth,” Bishop da Cunha said in his homily. “And the moment she arrived at Elizabeth’s house, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leapt for joy, because Mary came and brought Jesus to that home. She was the first missionary to bring Jesus to others. What a beautiful example, my friends, for us to remember. (Mary) did all that God asked of her.

“And what is He asking us to do today, right here in New Bedford in 2017? He is asking us to be holy and to be instruments of His love, His grace and His Salvation to our neighbors, to our families, to our community, and to those who have drifted away from God, from the Sacraments, and from the Church. When we say ‘yes’ as Mary did, we can continue to help save the world.”

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