By Joan D. Warren
FALL RIVER — On Sunday, September 24, a celebratory Mass of Thanksgiving for Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., took place in the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption in Fall River. Nine years ago to the day, he was installed as the eighth bishop of the Diocese of Fall River.
The Mass and reception that followed under a tent on the property was not only a celebration of his service as bishop of the diocese, it also observed the 41st anniversary of his priestly ordination and the 20th anniversary of his Episcopal ordination.
Many of his fellow priests and deacons participated and the pews were filled with faithful who braved the rainy remnants of tropical storm Ophelia to express gratitude to Bishop da Cunha.
“We kept our plan for this celebration and so did mother nature,” the bishop said before his closing prayer, referring to the deluge of rain outside the cathedral.
During his homily Bishop da Cunha said this is truly a special year when adding up the milestones — the three anniversary dates together, equal his age. The bishop celebrated his 70th birthday August 21.
He recalled portions from the homilies and remarks he made during those important ceremonies where memories came flowing back and his unwavering faith in God, he said, has remained steadfast.
“It is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me,” he said, quoting St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians.
“From my first Mass, I learned the priesthood does not transfer my littleness to greatness. It is in my littleness that God called me to serve.”
“To my God and creator may this song of Thanksgiving be strong and true.”
Among those at the celebration was a couple the bishop has known for many years. Liz and Russell Ruggiero rented a car and drove up from their home in New York City for the day.
Although they hadn’t seen the bishop in many years, they have followed his pastoral path closely (most recently through the bishop’s blog). Bishop da Cunha holds a special place in their hearts.
In 1987, while a new pastor of St. Nicholas Church in Palisades Park, N.J., Father da Cunha not only married the couple, he also baptized, gave first Holy Communion to and confirmed Mrs. Ruggiero. He also confirmed her betrothed that day.
“He did my conversion at the wedding. He performed all my Sacraments that day. It was a long wedding,” Mrs. Ruggiero said.
She and the bishop hit it off from their first meeting when she told him she was a native of his home country of Brazil.
“‘You must be Portuguese’, he said to me. In addition to our wedding, he baptized our two sons — the first on St. Valentine’s Day in 1988 and the second on the Vigil of Easter in 1989. Baptizing an infant at the Easter Vigil is rare. He was wonderful to us,” Mrs. Ruggiero said.
The couple presented the bishop with a compilation of photos from the wedding day, where he can be seen with a full head of dark hair and his signature beard — also dark and neatly trimmed.
When asked about the past nine years as head of the Diocese of Fall River, the bishop was clear to point out that it is not all about him. He credits his staff, clergy and the faithful for working together towards the goal of doing God’s work on earth.
“I just returned from a convocation for parish leaders. We realize that we are doing this together — all of us, not just me as bishop. We are all instruments of God’s love,” he said.
He is humble when speaking of the good work taking place under his leadership.
“There have been so many accomplishments — we strive for quality in our growth with more people and accountability, more transparency, supportive priests, the work of finance and the chancery, the work of assertive managers using our assets wisely. I am blessed to have the gift of faithful people who have faith in me,” the bishop said.
Life is full of adversities, he said, and through adversities, he has sought to rise above with God’s grace.
“I am in a partnership with God. And I couldn’t have made it on my own. By the grace of God, I am here among you and continue to serve you,” he said.
“The past nine years have been a challenge, more than I thought, but I have encountered staff who have met these challenges and risen above. There will always be challenges. Through the administration, ministries and services we are rebuilding faith and hope.”
His dream of a diocese where all are welcome is an ongoing process.
“It is becoming a reality, but not a done deal. The nine years of service has been dedicated to welcoming but it always has its challenges.
The pandemic was a hurdle we have had to overcome and are now reconnecting with people. We are proactive and don’t wait for them to come to us,” he said.
At the reception, a large cake was presented to the bishop and was enjoyed by those in attendance in addition to other baked goods and cold drinks.
In fitting with the wet weather, he recalled the message in a card he received years ago.
“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass; it’s about learning to dance in the rain. Always know God’s rain is enough for us.”