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FALL RIVER — With prayers almost as ancient as the Church, and symbols of office that recall and impose responsibility, the nearly century-old diocese of Fall River received its new bishop. In ceremonies rich in tradition, the Mass of Episcopal Ordination of Most Rev. George Coleman as bishop of the southeastern Massachusetts diocese were celebrated in the cathedral church of St. Mary of the Assumption on July 22.
The ordaining bishop was the apostolic nuncio to the United States, Most Rev. Gabriel Montalvo. The principal assistants were two of Bishop Coleman’s predecessors: Archbishop Daniel Cronin of Hartford who served as fifth bishop, and Archbishop Sean O’Malley, OFM Cap., who served as the sixth bishop. All the bishops present joined in the imposition of hands and the prayer of ordination. Among those present were Bishop Coleman’s good friend and seminary classmate Bishop Walter Edyvean, vicar general of the Boston archdiocese. In addition to bishops from across New England, some of Bishop Coleman’s classmates and contemporaries from his student days at the Pontifical North American College at Rome were present, among them: his classmate, Santa Fe’s Archbishop Michael Sheehan.
The cathedral’s seating capacity was tested as priests and invited guests from across the diocese filled every available seat, and some extras. Bishop Coleman’s status as a native son of the diocese added to the usual demand for tickets for such events.
A native of Fall River where he was born on Feb. 1, 1939, the new Bishop Coleman attended local public grammar schools and Coyle-Cassidy High School in Taunton. While a student at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester he discerned a call to the priesthood. He was sent initially to Boston’s St. John Seminary and then to the North American College in Rome where he completed his theological studies at the Gregorian University.
Ordained to the priesthood on Dec. 16, 1964, he returned to his native diocese and served in a number of parish and diocesan assignments, including: pastor of Corpus Christi Parish in Sandwich, Director of Education and, most recently, as vicar general of the diocese for then Bishop Sean O’Malley. When Bishop O’Malley was appointed to the Diocese of Palm Beach last fall, Msgr. Coleman was elected the diocesan administrator. He served in that capacity until April 30, 2003 when Pope John Paul II named him the seventh bishop of the Fall River Diocese, which encompasses much of southeastern Massachusetts, including Cape Cod and the Islands.
Bishop Coleman is only the second native of the diocese to serve as diocesan bishop. The priests of the diocese were clearly delighted to have “one of their own” named bishop. “He knows us and the diocese and we and the people know him,” seemed to be a frequent comment from brother priests.
Guiding his service as bishop will be the motto he has chosen from the Letter to the Romans (14:8): Domini sumus -- We are the Lord's, reminding bishop and people that the basic relationship for each Christian is a personal bond with Christ the Lord.