FALL RIVER — In his two pastoral letters to members of the Fall River Diocese, Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., presented his vision for renewing the Diocese (Rebuilding in Faith and Hope, 2017) and the process through which that would be done (Introducing Strategic Planning, 2018).

“As we move forward, parishes will begin a process of renewal designed to help them rebuild Spiritually and materially,” explained Bishop da Cunha in Rebuilding in Faith and Hope. “Most likely, parishes (especially those within close proximity) will be encouraged to collaborate with one another and perhaps to operate as partners or clusters.”

Last fall that planning began, and to date 29 of the Diocese’s 80 parishes are already engaged in a process that brings them together in small geographic groups to explore ways to collaborate and partner to help ensure a stronger future, together. Over the last six months several hundred parishioners from the parishes in these geographic groups have been planning for their collaborations. It’s enabled informed laity to help plan the way forward for their parishes.

Emerging in these planning groups as a viable administrative option is a model of “linked” parishes that would enable the sharing of resources and expenses while retaining the separate identity of each parish. With a linked structure, the two or more parishes in a particular group remain independent yet operate under one central administration.

Parishes in Falmouth, Somerset, Swansea, and one cluster of three in New Bedford launched strategic planning early on, and their planning teams are in the forefront of the process. These groups already proposed to Bishop da Cunha the administrative linkage of their parishes, and received his initial approval to continue their planning efforts using that structure. As proposed, linked communities of three parishes would be served by two priests, one as pastor, the other a parochial vicar or assistant.

All of this takes a big step forward with the announcement by Bishop da Cunha in this week’s issue of the diocesan paper, The Anchor (May 3, 2019), of his appointments of priests to serve these communities pioneering in this shared model often referred to as a “collaborative” of parishes in other dioceses in the country.

These appointments are as follows:

  • Monsignor Stephen J. Avila as pastor of St. Elizabeth Seton and St. Patrick Parishes in Falmouth while also remaining as pastor of St. Anthony Parish in East Falmouth; (an assistant priest will be named in the coming weeks)
  • Father David A. Costa as pastor of St. Patrick and St. Thomas More Parishes in Somerset and St. Louis de France Parish in Swansea; (an assistant priest to be named)
  • Father Philip N. Hamel as pastor of St. John of God Parish in Somerset; and St. Dominic and St. Francis of Assisi Parishes in Swansea; Father Brian E. Albino will serve as parochial vicar.
  • Father Michael S. Racine as pastor of Holy Name of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and St. Lawrence Parishes in New Bedford, and as administrator of St. Francis of Assisi Parish, New Bedford (Father Racine will be named Pastor of St. Francis when Father Harrington retires after his sabbatical). Father Michael A. Ciryak will serve as parochial vicar.

At the same time, Bishop da Cunha announced appointments for three additional groups of parishes where strategic planning efforts are in earlier stages:

  • Father Dariusz Kalinowski as pastor of St. John the Evangelist and St. Vincent de Paul parishes in Attleboro; Father German Correa Agudelo will remain as parochial vicar
  • Father Daniel Lacroix as pastor of St. Joseph-St. Therese Parish in New Bedford while remaining pastor of St. Mary Parish, also in New Bedford
  • Father Rodney E. Thibault as pastor of St. Mark Parish in Attleboro Falls and of Sacred Heart and St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Parishes in North Attleboro; Father John M. Schrader will remain as parochial vicar

All of these appointments will become effective June 26.

In this new paradigm, each linked group will have a central administration with an appropriate staffing structure to assist its priestly leadership. Two key staff positions are proposed in this new model: a lay administrator (could also be a deacon or religious) to oversee temporal needs such as finances, human resources, buildings and grounds, and other non-ministerial administrative tasks; and a pastoral associate to oversee faith formation, parish ministries, evangelization programs, and liturgical planning.

As Bishop da Cunha explained, “This will allow our priests to be priests, freeing them from the day-to-day burdens of administration.”

Strategic planning within parish groups extends beyond administration to include new shared approaches with regard to worship and sacraments, adult formation, youth ministry and formation, and community outreach, and partnerships.

Within each newly created collaborative, a Coordinating Council with an equal number of representatives from each of the linked parishes will be assembled to advise the pastor and to help implement all of the goals of the entire strategic plan.

Bishop da Cunha has expressed his gratitude to all those who are contributing so much of their time and energy  to this extensive planning process, both clergy and lay alike, and he emphasizes that continued efforts are necessary to move from planning to implementation.

“This transformation in our Church will only happen if we are all in this together, building on our strong parish traditions and consolidating our human and financial resources,” he said in his communications with planning teams in the participating parishes.

While not all that common, neither the linked model nor a shared relationship between parishes is new to the Fall River Diocese. Four parishes were linked last fall to comprise the still evolving Central Catholic Community of Fall River and several parishes like those in the Attleboros have shared a pastor and some elements of their administration in recent years.

Learn more: Bishop da Cunha addresses priest transfers and retirements in this Q and A in this week’s issue of our diocesan paper, The Anchor

Read the complete list of clergy appointments, transfers and retirements here.

The Most Reverend Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., D.D.
The Most Reverend Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., D.D.
The Bishop of Fall River