Fall River gears up for centennial celebrations

The Diocese of Fall River will mark its 100th anniversary with a mass of thanksgiving at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption March 14.

Bishop George W. Coleman will be the principal celebrant and homilist at the 3 p.m. mass. A dinner at White’s of Westport will follow.

Because the cathedral has a seating capacity of about 750, admission is by ticket only. Leaders and representatives of each of the 101 parishes have been invited, along with the mayors of cities in the diocese and other faith groups in the area, and representatives of different apostolates and ministries.

"This centennial mass offers us an appropriate opportunity to thank God for his many blessings to the Fall River Diocese over these past 100 years," Bishop Coleman said.

Active and retired priests, who minister in the diocese, and visiting bishops will concelebrate the mass. Two former bishops of Fall River – Boston Archbishop Sean P. O’Malley and Archbishop-emeritus Daniel A. Cronin of Hartford – will participate. Providence Bishop Robert Mulvee will also attend.

Fr. Barry W. Wall of Holy Rosary Parish, who is the diocesan archivist, has written a history of the diocese for the centennial celebration.

The 128-page book includes a history of the diocese prior to its establishment by Pope St. Pius X March 12, 1904. From 1808 to 1872, it was part of the Boston Archdiocese, and from 1872 to 1904, it was part of the Providence Diocese.

The book, which will be available in every parish, chronicles the growth of the diocese in the second half of the 19th century after large numbers of French Canadians and Irish settled in the region. Italian and Polish Catholics in considerable numbers also arrived in the late 19th century, and the Portuguese arrived around the turn of the 20th century.

The first French Canadian parish was St. Anne’s Parish, dedicated in 1870. Founded in 1892, Santo Christo Church was the first Portuguese church.

St. Mary’s, now the cathedral, was an Irish Catholic parish dedicated around 1836. The original church was a small wooden structure that was called St. John the Baptist Church. Dedicated in 1855, the existing St. Mary’s Cathedral was built when Fr. Edward Murphy was pastor.

Centennial celebrations began last fall with the enthronement of an icon, representative of the centennial theme, "The Spirit Gives Life" (Jn 6:63).

In December, the faithful were invited to participate in "100 Days of Prayer," leading up to the March 12 anniversary date.

Other centennial activities include a diocesan pilgrimage to Rome and Assisi, Italy, in April and an outdoor Centennial Rosary Celebration at LaSalette Shrine in Attleboro in October.

The territory of Fall River Diocese covers 1,194 square miles. In 1904, there were 44 parishes serving about 130,000 Roman Catholics. Today, there are 346,000 Roman Catholics who worship in 101 parishes.

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