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Cardinal Humberto Medeiros: Priesthood in Fall River 1946-1966

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One of his parishioners wrote to Medeiros, "I had a feeling that you would be a Bishop because you are humble and a very good servant to God."

Humberto Medeiros's ordination on June 15, 1946, in Fall River foreshadowed his eventual role in the hierarchy, initially in Brownsville, Texas and ultimately in Boston. His early years of priesthood found Medeiros on a parish "merry-go-round" of assignments. He spent relatively short stints at St. John of God in Somerset, and St. Michael and Our Lady of Health, both in Fall River. In the fall of 1947, realizing Medeiros' potential, Bishop Cassidy approved Medeiros to begin doctoral studies at his alma mater, Catholic University. For the next three years, Medeiros moved between taking classes at Catholic University and returning to Fall River for summer assignments, including most prominently work at St. Vincent Camp in Westport. In September 1949, in order to complete his dissertation, Medeiros was granted permission to conduct research in Rome. He lived at the North American College. In July 1950, he returned and was assigned as a part-time assistant at Holy Name Parish in Fall River, while simultaneously serving as the assistant to the chancellor of the diocese, Father James Gleason. In the fall of 1951, he defended his dissertation and was awarded a doctorate in sacred theology (STD).

On May 17, 1951, Bishop Cassidy died and was immediately succeeded by his coadjutor, Bishop James Connolly. As one of his first actions, Connolly appointed Medeiros to be his secretary. Residing with the bishop in his residence, Medeiros accompanied Connolly to almost all events. While his role as secretary kept Medeiros actively engaged, he also served as chaplain to the Sacred Hearts Academy, a preparatory school administered by the Sisters of the Holy Union.

In April 1953, after serving for two years as an assistant to James Gleason, Medeiros was appointed vice chancellor. Less than one year later, on Feb. 17, 1954, he was appointed chancellor of the diocese. His appointment was not surprising for he was respected by all his fellow priests. Medeiros's close friend, Father John Driscoll, characterized his relationship with Bishop Connolly as "father and son."

Medeiros's duties as chancellor were many and significant. Essentially, he ran the day-to-day operations of the Church in Fall River. He often functioned as the master of ceremonies at various events, especially liturgical celebrations, but his ministry with his fellow clergy was most significant. Connolly consulted with Medeiros, trusting his young chancellor's opinion about clergy assignments. Again, John Driscoll commented "They (the clergy) opened their hearts to him and he opened his heart to them." Additionally, Connolly assigned Medeiros as vicar for religious, a role that allowed him to provide spiritual conferences for numerous groups of women religious. Medeiros also served on several boards, including the Board of Consultors and the Diocesan Commission on Sacred Art, the latter position being consistent with his previous interest and expertise in artistic expression. His excellent work in the diocese was rewarded with his elevation to monsignor on March 3, 1958.

A consistent theme in the ministerial life of Humberto Medeiros, which began in Fall River, was his support for Catholic education. He rejoiced when Stang and Memorial (today Connolly) High Schools opened in September 1959 and September 1966, respectively. He once wrote, "In a Catholic school everything is or should be taught with an eye on God. God is or should never be left out of the classroom or the lesson. ... Catholic education tries to make the student aware of that tremendous reality."

On Oct. 3, 1960, while still serving as chancellor, Medeiros was appointed pastor of St. Michael Parish, his childhood church. He was much beloved by his parishioners and was viewed as a very holy man. In 1962, he presided over the 75th anniversary of the parish's foundation. His pastoral and highly visible ministerial style was characterized by leading by example.

Holding two significant positions, chancellor and pastor, Medeiros took on a third task, serving as a "peritus" (theological expert), at the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), accompanying Bishop Connolly to all four sessions. His expertise with languages, including Latin, plus his theological acumen made him a valuable asset to his ordinary. During scheduled breaks in the Council proceedings, Medeiros traveled with some bishops throughout Italy and to the Holy Land. When home in Fall River between sessions, he gave numerous conferences to various groups, explaining the changes the Council mandated through its 16 published documents.

Humberto Medeiros's plans to implement the teachings of Vatican II as well as his parochial ministry were radically altered in the spring of 1966 when he was appointed the second bishop of Brownsville, Texas. As with his earlier appointment as chancellor, his fellow priests as well as the laity were not surprised. One of his parishioners wrote to Medeiros, "I had a feeling that you would be a Bishop because you are humble and a very good servant to God." On June 9, 1966, at St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral in Fall River, Humberto Medeiros was ordained bishop by his long-time diocesan bishop and friend, James Connolly. Multiple vistas for ministry were in the future for the new bishop.

FATHER RICHARD E. GRIBBLE, CSC, IS A MEMBER OF THE FACULTY OF STONEHILL COLLEGE IN NORTH EASTON, AND AUTHOR OF A FORTHCOMING BIOGRAPHY OF CARDINAL MEDEIROS.



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