FALMOUTH — Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., has approved the recommendation of the Pastoral Council of the Catholic Community of Falmouth to unite St. Anthony, St. Patrick, and St. Elizabeth Seton Parishes, and create a new parish, St. Joseph, Guardian of the Holy Family.

“At this time, we plan to retain the present churches, including St. Thomas and St. Joseph Chapels, maintaining historic names and identities,” said  Rev. Msgr. Stephen J. Avila, who has been pastor of all three parishes in the Falmouth Collaborative since 2019 and has been appointed pastor of the new parish community.

The Collaborative was formed in November 2018, stemming from a study conducted by the Fall River Diocese. As part of the Collaborative’s Strategic Plan, the Pastoral Council, consisting of members of all three parishes, was charged to review the viability of the Falmouth Collaborative within a three year time frame.

“This year, the Council agreed it was time to merge the parishes into one, since we have seen evidence that collaboration makes us a stronger and a more viable community,” said Msgr. Avila. As a result, the Pastoral Council, along with Parochial Vicar Fr. Ryan Healy, began the unification process earlier this year and presented the proposal to Bishop da Cunha for his approval in April. After a review by the Bishop’s Presbyteral Council at its May meeting, Bishop da Cunha endorsed the proposal.

“I am grateful to Msgr. Avila, Father Healy, and the Pastoral Council of the Catholic Community of Falmouth for their dedicated work to offer a sound recommendation to unite the present parishes of Falmouth into one, new community of faith,” said Bishop da Cunha. “I am convinced that the plan offers the best way to move forward at this point not only on the administrative side but also as a way to rekindle the evangelization efforts and the services provided. The new parish begins well positioned under the patronage of St. Joseph, Guardian of the Holy Family, and I want to assure the clergy and Catholic faithful of Falmouth of my prayers as they become one united parish family.”

Bishop da Cunha also accepted the pastoral council’s recommendation to name the new parish, St. Joseph, Guardian of the Holy Family.  “The name was the pastoral council’s first choice,” said Msgr. Avila. “Not only is this year designated by the Catholic Church as the Year of St. Joseph, but the name was chosen because all of our churches and chapels in Falmouth were established from the first Catholic parish in Falmouth, which was St. Joseph in Woods Hole.

There are many benefits to the unification of the three parishes.  As throughout the United States, the Fall River Diocese is experiencing a decrease in the number of priests.  Unification will help address this shortage. In addition, the unification of the parishes will help to develop a stronger sense of community among the Catholics in Falmouth, allow for a greater efficiency in human and financial resources, greatly assist in the development of an Evangelization Strategy as we reach out to the larger community and strengthen the many existing organizations and ministries associated with the churches.

Bishop da Cunha has appointed Msgr. Avila as the pastor of St. Joseph, Guardian of the Holy Family Parish, and he will be assisted by a newly-ordained priest, Fr. Peter R. Scheffer, Jr. who will serve as Parochial Vicar.  Fr. Ryan Healy, who has served with Msgr. Avila for two years, has been reassigned as administrator of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Acushnet.

“ I am very grateful to Fr. Ryan for his dedicated ministry these past two years”, said Msgr. Avila, “and I look forward to continuing to serve the wonderful people of our new parish along with Fr. Scheffer.”

The new parish will be formally established on July 1.

You may learn more about the unification and establishment of St. Joseph Guardian of the Holy Family Parish by visiting the website www.falmouthcatholic.org

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