Bishop celebrates first Mass at reopened Saint Anne’s Shrine

By Dave Jolivet

FALL RIVER, Mass. — This year, the feast of St. Anne, the grandmother of Jesus, had extra meaning for a group of faithful Catholics in the Fall River area. On that day, July 26, Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., celebrated a Mass in honor of St. Anne in the shrine that has borne her name since 1895.

That may not seem to be an extra special event at first glance, yet what makes it so remarkable was that the 125-year-old shrine was closed in November of 2018, following months of study to find ways to keep the iconic shrine and church open for prayer and celebrating the Sacraments.


Since the time of the closing of St. Anne’s Church, a grassroots team formed by parishioners Richard Affonso and Robert Gauvin began to meet, plan and pray for a way to reopen the shrine that has purportedly been the home to countless miracles over its more than 100 years in existence through the intercessions of Good St. Anne and other saints to whom Catholic faithful turn in times of need or thanksgiving.

From this grassroots effort, the St. Anne’s Preservation Society emerged with the mission to reopen the shrine first, and then possibly the upper church in the future.

With the hard work and prayer of Affonso, Gauvin and many others, enough funds were raised to reopen on July 4, with Bishop da Cunha’s blessings, the shrine portion of the granite structure that is such a comforting presence on South Main Street across from Kennedy Park in Fall River. Its towering twin spires can be seen from miles away outside the city.

To celebrate the reopening of the shrine, which maintains a weekly schedule of 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Sunday, the society asked Bishop da Cunha if he would celebrate a Mass on the feast of St. Anne. “Bishop da Cunha has been very supportive through this whole venture,” Affonso told The Anchor. “He said he was honored and delighted to be a part of the Mass.”

When time came for the Mass, more than 500 friends of St. Anne’s Shrine and Church were in attendance, filling the downstairs and spilling into the hallways.

Affonso said that in his homily Bishop da Cunha told the congregants that everything in life happens for a reason, yet things can get done when people get together and work and pray for the right reasons. “When the bishop concluded his homily everyone got up and clapped,” said Affonso. “It was a very emotional time for me. The Mass was so powerful and when the people responded to the Mass you could feel the vibrancy in the room. Many of the parishioners were crying with joy. Many of them never thought they would get a chance to attend Mass there ever again.”

Affonso was busy during the Mass, carrying the statue of St. Anne and giving one of the readings. “So many people came up to me after the Mass with questions and comments,” he said. He also said there was a renewed optimism in the people who attended. “You could feel it.”

Affonso, who had left the Church for a time, returned to the faith when he got married at St. Anne’s and later had a daughter, now 11, who was baptized there. “My wife and I were the last couple to be married at St. Anne’s,” he told The Anchor.

With his return to the faith and the church he loved, Affonso felt he shouldn’t just sit back when the parish and church were going through difficult times.

He was named by then-pastor Father David Deston to the task force to study ways to keep the church open. Eventually, Bishop da Cunha — after receiving reports from the group, along with input from community business leaders — made the heart-wrenching decision to close the church, but also left the door open by expressing a desire to find an alternative use for the historic building.

With the extraordinary efforts of Gauvin, Affonso, a board of nine other indivduals, and commitments, financially and volunteer-wise, from countless others, the society was able to come to an agreement with the diocese to reopen the shrine. The Preservation Society will be responsible for its care and upkeep, thus allowing faithful to again find a haven for prayer and devotion within the shrine walls.

“It’s amazing,” said Affonso, “we were able to raise $60,000 in just three weeks’ time. People have been so supportive and so generous. This has exceeded my expectations by so much. There was a time when I would think, ‘Is this thing going to go through or not?’”

The shrine will host at least two Masses per year; the feast of St. Anne on July 26 and the anniversary of the opening of the upper church on July 4. The Shrine will host recitations of the Rosary, Bible studies and other events.

Meanwhile the St. Anne’s Preservation Society will initiate a fund-raising campaign to be capable of making major repairs downstairs, and with the goal of restoring the upper church to be able to reopen that as well.

“It’s going to take time,” said Affonso. “We will move slowly and make the right decisions to be able to make this happen.”

“We are also reaching out to people who have had a miracle take place because of intercessory prayers at the shrine,” added Affonso. “We may even make a book out of the stories and perhaps raise more funds with that as well.”

Affonso encourages faithful who were once St. Anne’s parishioners and people who were touched by events at the shrine in any way, either personally or Spiritually, to help make the dream of a fully restored St. Anne’s Church a reality.

For more information, folks are encouraged to contact the society at

“We will get back to them very quickly,” Affonso assured. The society is also near completion of a website, and will announce when that will be accessible.

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