Three diocesan priests retire from parish ministry


By Kenneth J. Souza
Anchor Staff
kensouza@anchornews.org

FALL RIVER, Mass. — As he offered his farewell sermon to the parishioners of Santo Christo Parish last weekend, longtime pastor Father Gastão Oliveira said he is leaving with a happy and joyful heart.

“I would like to reiterate the great pleasure I have had in knowing you, above all for having had the opportunity of witnessing your unconditional support,” Father Gastão announced from the pulpit during his final weekend Masses at the historic Portuguese parish.

On July 15, Father Gastão will conclude a remarkable 23 years as pastor of Santo Christo Parish, turning the administrative responsibilities over to first-time pastor Father Jeff Cabral, J.C.L.

Father Gastão will now be joining the coveted ranks of the retired along with Father Marcel H. Bouchard, pastor of St. Mary-Our Lady of the Isle Parish in Nantucket; and Father Robert J. Powell, pastor of St. Lawrence Martyr Parish in New Bedford, both of whom also ended their pastoral duties last month.

“In these 23 years I have harvested many good fruits and had wonderful springs,” Father Gastão told his parishioners in English and Portuguese. “During my pilgrimage among you, I have been very concerned with what has always preoccupied Christ the Lord: the people, to whom all love must be given. If we love one another we live in Christ, and truly I feel very honored for having tried to do this.”

gastao

A native of Ponta Delgada, São Miguel, Açores, Father Gastão was born April 13, 1946, the son of the late Altino C. and Maria Luisa Oliveira. He has one brother, Manuel.

Father Gastão attended public school in the City of Ponta Delgada and entered the Seminario Episcopal de Angra in the Azores in September 1959. He graduated from the Catholic University of Portugal in Lisbon in 1971.

He was ordained in 1972 for the Diocese of Carmona in Angola and served as parochial vicar at the Cathedral of Carmona and then pastor of Our Lady of Fatima Church in Carmona City. In Angola he served on the diocesan Tribunal, presbyteral council, and as diocesan director of Communications and the Cursillo movement.

“I started working over there in Africa and in Angola, and I always tried to do the best I could,” Father Gastão recently told The Anchor. “I don’t want people to feel they have to go to church, they should go because it’s something they need.”

After arriving in the Fall River Diocese in 1975, Father Gastão served as parochial vicar at Our Lady of Health Parish in Fall River, then at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in New Bedford. He first arrived at Santo Christo Parish in 1987, where he served his first seven-year stint as parochial vicar.

He then became pastor at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Fall River in 1994, but within one year he would find himself back at Santo Christo when then-Bishop Sean P. O’Malley, OFM, Cap., appointed him as pastor, which is where he’s remained for nearly a quarter-century.

“It’s a special parish,” he said. “But my focus was always the people. They were thirsty to feel welcomed by the Church. The Church is not priests or bishops, the Church is the people — we are the Body of Christ, and they needed to hear that.

“It’s an older parish, but I think even today we can say it’s a vibrant parish. And there are great people here. I think Father Jeff is going to be happy in this parish; that’s what I told him.”

Father Gastão’s affection for Santo Christo Parish — one of the oldest active Luso-American parishes in the United States — is probably best exemplified by his successful efforts to restore and preserve the 111-year-old church building on Columbia Street. 

“Now it’s just the last phase that needs to be done, and it’s the easiest phase, but Father Jeff can complete it,” Father Gastão said. “We spent a million-and-a-half dollars, and we have no bills. These aren’t rich people here, but they love the church and their parish.”

Since 1978, Father Gastão has coordinated the broadcasts of the weekly Mass in Portuguese on the Portuguese Channel, and since 1994 he has served as diocesan director of Communications for Portuguese ministry. With his retirement, the longtime Portuguese TV programming may have to originate from outside the diocese.

“The reality is there aren’t too many Portuguese priests around,” Father Gastão said. “I told the bishop, probably the best way will be to have Masses from Portugal. I contacted a priest there who is a good friend, he’s a pastor in the heart of Lisbon, and he’s trying to resolve the problem. I’m not sure if it’s going to be possible, but the bishop was happy with the idea. I’ll be doing the last Portuguese TV Mass in August. Everything comes to an end, but life doesn’t stop.”

Like most retired diocesan priests, Father Gastão will be remaining in the area, living in Dartmouth, and he’ll “be available for whatever any of my colleagues may need,” he said. “But no more administration — praise God!”

Having just overseen his 23rd Santo Christo Feast, Father Gastão said he’s confident the annual parish celebration will continue to thrive under Father Cabral’s leadership.

“I told him, don’t be concerned about the feast,” he said. “Altogether there are more than 200 people who work on the feast, and they work with enthusiasm and joy. I told him, don’t be concerned, you have my phone, and if you need my help, I’m here.”

Like Father Gastão, Father Bouchard is looking forward to “surrendering the responsibility for all sorts of administration problems,” he recently told The Anchor.

“You don’t retire from the priesthood,” he said. “Once you’re a priest, you’re always a priest — you are just retiring from the pastorate, which means you don’t have to deal with the likes, leaks, locks and lots. I heard that one from Msgr. (Daniel F.) Hoye.”

Saying he plans to “stick around” and will reside in Brewster with one of his longtime friends and classmates, Father George Bellenoit, who retired last year, Father Bouchard is also anticipating “helping priests on the Cape according to their needs for Sundays, days off, vacations, retreats, or whatever,” he said.

But he won’t miss having to plan everything around busy weekend Mass schedules.

“The other day someone invited me to something in November and I said, well, let me see what I have,” Father Bouchard said. “Then I thought, well, I don’t have to. I won’t have anything scheduled in November this year, so I’ll be there! It may take a while to get used to not being so busy, but I’ll manage. I don’t know anybody who’s retired who’s not happy, and I think that’s a good thing.”

bouchard

Born in New Bedford, the son of the late Henry R. and Leona M. Bouchard, Father Bouchard attended the former St. Joseph School in the city and then Bishop Stang High School in North Dartmouth, graduating in 1964. He studied for the priesthood at St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield, Conn., and St. John’s Seminary in Brighton. He was ordained to the priesthood on May 13, 1972, by Bishop Daniel A. Cronin in St. Mary’s Cathedral, Fall River.

First assigned as a parochial vicar for three years at St. Joseph Parish, Taunton, he then entered the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., for advanced studies, earning a licentiate degree in Systematic Theology in 1977. Returning home, he was appointed diocesan director of Youth Ministry and assistant diocesan director of Religious Education and also as an assistant in parish ministry first at Notre Dame Parish, Fall River, and then Holy Family Parish, East Taunton.

“When I was working in the Education Office between 1977 and 1984, it was a wonderful thing because I got to meet the priests of the diocese and realize how good they really are and how hard they work,” he said. “I also went to the annual convention and at that I always met some great priests from all over the country, so that certainly was a highlight of my ministry.”

In 1984, he began a four-year assignment as parochial vicar at St. Julie Billiart Parish in North Dartmouth, and chaplain at his alma mater, Bishop Stang High School.

“I was the first alumnus to be chaplain at Stang and a lot of my classmates had kids there at the same time, so I got to reconnect with a lot of them,” he said. “That was a beautiful experience. And each of the parishes where I’ve been pastor has had unique things to contribute to my life.”

In 1988, he was named pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in North Attleboro, remaining there until 1994 when he became pastor of Corpus Christi Parish in East Sandwich. In his pastorate at Corpus Christi he oversaw the design and construction of a new 1,500-seat church for the parish, which was dedicated in 2003.

In 2010, he went to Nantucket to assume his current post at St. Mary’s-Our Lady of the Isle Parish.

“Leaving here will certainly be bittersweet because I’ve only been here eight years, but I have established some really beautiful relationships with people here,” Father Bouchard said. “They are very warm and outgoing and very grateful to have priests. I’ve enjoyed being here very much.

“The fascinating thing about the parish on the island is its great diversity. I never realized it would be so diverse. We have lots of Hispanic folks, of course, but besides that we have Portuguese folks, we have people from Eastern Europe, from Ireland, people from Jamaica; a lot of them come more in the summer because a lot of them come to work, but all year long it is still a diverse congregation. At Mass you have people who live here all the time, and the people who come for the summer, and others who come for two weeks every summer, or just come for the weekend, so it’s very diverse and very interesting.”

Through the years, Father Bouchard also served in additional assignments including as diocesan director of Stewardship, of Continuing Formation for Priests, and of the Television Mass Apostolate; as chaplain to the Attleboro and later Cape Cod districts of the St. Vincent de Paul Society; and in the Marriage Prep program in several deaneries.

“I have to say that my priesthood has been a wonderful experience,” Father Bouchard said. “It far exceeded my expectations in terms of the blessings and the rewards I’ve experienced in my life, but it’s also far exceeded my expectations in terms of what it’s demanded of me. But the work has been tremendously rewarding and exciting.”

Like his fellow retirees, Father Powell said he has enjoyed “the variety” in his ministry over the last 42 years.

“What I enjoy the most is engaging people to go deeper into their Spiritual life,” he recently told The Anchor. “And when I’m encouraging them and accompanying them through presentations or preaching or retreats or workshops or through Spiritual direction.”

powell

Born in Acushnet, Father Powell is the son of the late Arthur E. and Violette E. Powell. He is a graduate of the former St. Anne School, New Bedford, and graduated from Bishop Stang High School in 1967.

After high school, he entered the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts, completing postulancy and novitiate in 1968 in Wareham. He continued preparing for the priesthood at St. Mary’s College in Winona, Minn., and the Washington Theological Union. In 1976, he professed final vows as a member of the Sacred Hearts Community, and was ordained a priest on June 19 by Bishop Daniel A. Cronin in St. Joseph Church in Fairhaven.

Over the next 13 years, he served at Damien High School in La Verne, Calif.; as director of the Sacred Hearts Retreat Center, Gallup, N.M.; in campus ministry at the University of California-Davis; and as vocation director and novice master at the Sacred Hearts Novitiate in Hemet, Calif.

Seeking a life of greater prayer in the contemplative tradition, in 1989 he transferred into the Camaldolese Benedictine Monks at the New Camaldoli Hermitage in California, where he remained for nine years.

Father Powell began ministry in the Fall River Diocese in 1998, as a parochial vicar at St. Pius X Parish in South Yarmouth, then at St. Julie Billiart Parish in North Dartmouth, and later at St. Mary Parish in North Attleboro, where he became parochial administrator. While there, he also served as a hospital chaplain at Sturdy Memorial Hospital.

In 2006, he was appointed first-time pastor of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Orleans where he served until coming to St. Lawrence Martyr Parish in 2014. 

“I served as pastor in Orleans for seven-and-a-half years,” he said. “Then I came (to New Bedford) as an administrator initially, and then I think it was after two years was made pastor.”

With his two sisters, a brother and a sister-in-law all in close proximity, Father Powell plans to reside in “a small little house in South Dartmouth” after retirement, he said. But he does expect to be available to help “active priests who are running parishes.”

“When they want to take a vacation, they can’t go to the other nearby active pastor, it’s very difficult,” Father Powell said. “So they go to the retired priests. All my vacations over the years, it was always a retired priest who filled in for me. So we really do need them to cover for vacations especially, but also some of the parishes that are burdened with a lot of Masses to help out on the weekends.”

In addition to offering Spiritual guidance and support, Father Powell said the other highlight of his ministry has been “presiding at the Eucharist.”

“It has been a privilege and it’s usually a very moving experience for a priest and that certainly has been true for me,” he said.

Citing “health issues” as the primary motive for his retirement, Father Powell said it has been “becoming more difficult for me to run a parish.”

“Running a parish can be stressful,” he said. “Especially if you’re at a parish that’s struggling financially.”

So he looks forward to just filling in as needed and maybe offering some Spiritual programs or retreats at different parishes.

“I’ll probably send a letter to area pastors with the list of all the things that I have done, all the different themes and topics,” he said. “At my former parish on the Cape next month, I’ll be giving a three-part series, three Wednesdays in a row on mysticism in everyday life.”

Looking ahead to retirement, Father Gastão said he may do a little traveling to visit family in Portugal, or maybe get a little more exercise by walking or swimming.

“I love to exercise, to walk, maybe go to the beach and put my feet in the water,” he said. “I’m not the type of person to stop and put my feet up on the couch and watch TV, eating potato chips.”

Looking back over his ministry, he considered it a great “privilege” to serve the diocesan faithful.

“It was my privilege because I think that’s the mission of a priest,” he said. “It’s about bringing the Gospel to the people on a daily basis. That’s why we are diocesan priests, to be among the people. That was my priority and I did the best I could with the grace of God.”

Although he doesn’t have any big travel plans, Father Bouchard is going take a month off to relax this summer and may travel to Toronto to visit relatives. He’ll also be traveling to Florida this winter with Father Bellenoit in February and March.

In the meantime, he’s content to simply not have to run a parish.

“I just feel that it’s time to let someone else bear the responsibility, while I’m still young enough and healthy enough to relax and enjoy some time off,” he said.


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