FALL RIVER — This December, the Diocese of Fall River is unveiling the “Serving the Shepherds Fund” as a designated fund to support its priests. The Fund is dedicated to ensuring that priests serving the Diocese of Fall River receive the necessary resources, mentorship, and financial assistance at every stage of their vocation. The Fund’s mission is to provide care for seminarians, active priests, and retired priests, starting with discernment and extending through their retirement years. Each year, diocesan collections to support these initiatives cover less than a quarter of their combined costs. This month, Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., will send a letter to supporters across the diocese asking for their support of this important fund.

Father Marcel Bouchard

Over recent years, hearing the call to the priesthood through all the noise in the world has become more complex — making it even more imperative to help muffle the noise and create space for those called. At the same time, active priests carry increased responsibilities, sometimes serving multiple parish communities and performing other diocesan duties. Retired priests have become one of the Diocese of Fall River’s most cherished resources — as many continue to give their time, talents, and dedication to sharing Christ’s love with new generations of the faithful.  

Gifts to the Serving the Shepherds Fund will be used in a variety of ways to assist at all stages of the priesthood. It will provide priests with opportunities for ongoing professional development and bolster their physical, mental, and spiritual health. Donations will help sustain the work of the Office of Clergy Support, established two years ago by Bishop da Cunha, to support priests professionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. Bishop da Cunha has called on the faithful to pray for the well-being of the dedicated priests in the Diocese of Fall River because, he said, “a flock will lose its way without able, alert, and healthy shepherds.”   The office has called upon others to assist by praying, fasting, and thanking priests for their commitment and good work. Matt Robinson leads the office and coordinates its broad and relevant programs. “Priests face emotional and spiritual challenges throughout their vocation and retirement, and it is essential to support them. They have committed their lives to serving us,” shared Robinson.

Father George Bellenoit

“Being a priest isn’t a job; it is a life,” Father Marcel Bouchard recently said while reflecting on his five decades as a priest. Father George Bellenoit mirrored these insights stating, “It’s not a 9 to 5 (job), but you also have to realize you are not alone,” referring to the support that the priests provide to one another. These words also ring true for Father Jay Maddock, who has recently retired to the Cardinal Medeiros Residence and still enjoys assisting in many aspects of parish and school life. All three of these retired priests help in various ministries, celebrate Masses, administer Sacraments, and serve as mentors to younger priests in partnership with the Office of Clergy Support.

In 2023, the work of the Office of Vocations has become increasingly challenging and the Serving the Shepherds Fund seeks to support the office’s critical mission. Father Jack Schrader is the Pastor at Corpus Christi parish in East Sandwich and serves as the diocesan Director of Vocations. Father John Garabedian also serves at Corpus Christi and is the Assistant Vocations Director for the diocese. Fathers Garabedian and  Schrader work hard to help young men hear the call to the priesthood in addition to the important work of running a busy parish.

The Serving the Shepherds Fund will assist in providing for the educational expenses of seminarians who are preparing for ordination in the Diocese of Fall River. Lucas da Costa, a third-year theologian at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, has found the Vocations Office and his work at various parishes helpful in providing opportunities to learn from many different priests across the diocese. These experiences are helping to form him as he moves through his education and prepares, God willing, for his future life as a priest. Da Costa’s grandparents highly influenced his faith. Participating in a robust and active parish, specifically through Adoration, amplified the quiet voice calling him to the priesthood. It was his pastor and the Vocations Office that helped identify the path he is currently walking.

Lucas da Costa
Father Jack Schrader

While it is critical to continue to pray and offer gratitude for these men, gifts to the Serving the Shepherds Fund will also help address the financial need to support them. The increased costs of living, housing, and healthcare also affect retired priests. Supporters of this new fund also send a powerful message of a caring community that stands behind them at every stage of their journey. In the words of Father Bouchard, “It is wonderful to offer the opportunity for parishioners to dedicate a gift,” which will impact the future of the priesthood. 

The Catholic Foundation of Southeastern Massachusetts administers this new campaign on Bishop da Cunha’s behalf. 

For more information or to give to the Serving the Shepherds Fund online, please visit www.catholicfoundationsema.org/shepherds or contact the Catholic Foundation of Southeastern Massachusetts at 508-675-1311.

Father John Garabedian