Cardinal Medeiros remembered

CAMBRIDGE -- Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley celebrated a memorial Mass Sept. 21 marking the 25th anniversary of the death of Cardinal Humberto S. Medeiros, the fourth Archbishop of Boston, at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Cambridge.

“It is a joy and a privilege to be able to be here with you to remember Cardinal Medeiros,” said the cardinal, who was joined by concelebrants Bishops John P. Boles and Emilio Allué, the pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish Father Walter Carreiro and many other priests.

The cardinal made a special point of greeting the Little Brothers of St. Francis, for whom the late cardinal was the founding bishop, members of the Medeiros family and priests who had known and worked with Cardinal Medeiros.

As a young priest, Cardinal O’Malley said he met Cardinal Medeiros when the late cardinal encouraged him to establish a ministry for the Portuguese-speaking immigrants coming to Washington from Africa in the 1970s. But, it was not until he came to Fall Fiver to be the bishop that he truly understood the extent to which Cardinal Medeiros was revered.

“He made a profound impression on the diocese. The people were so proud of him and they felt so close to him,” Cardinal O’Malley said.

Cardinal O’Malley said he was convinced that when then-Bishop of Fall River James L. Connolly asked Pope Paul VI to name the late cardinal one of his auxiliary bishops, it was with the intention of seeing that Cardinal Medeiros would succeed Connolly. “But, God had other plans.”

When in 1966 the news came to Cardinal Medeiros at the chancery in Fall River that he was to become the Bishop of Brownsville, Texas, the first thing he did was ask for an atlas because he did not know where it was, Cardinal O’Malley said. Yet, Cardinal Medeiros enthusiastically took up the task of leading the Church there with the help from sisters and priests he brought with him to the diocese, which is still one of the poorest in the country.

Just over four years later he would be called back to the Massachusetts by the Holy Father to lead the Archdiocese of Boston.

It was an immense challenge for Cardinal Medeiros to succeed the larger-than-life Cardinal Richard J. Cushing as the Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal O’Malley said.

Cardinal Medeiros took charge of the archdiocese when it was heavily in debt and facing difficult decisions, Cardinal O’Malley said.

“Many times, as I traveled through Latin America and found plaques with the words: ‘Donated by Cardinal Cushing,’ I have been tempted to take a piece of chalk and write: ‘and paid for by Cardinal Medeiros,’” Cardinal O’Malley said.

Speaking to The Pilot before the Mass, Father Carreiro recalled the time as a boy that he met then-Msgr. Medeiros at Fall River’s St. Michael Parish.

“He was the pastor when I received my First Communion and he heard my first confession. It was before Vatican II, but he heard my confession face-to-face as I knelt at the communion rail. I remember his kindness and his understanding, which is so important when you start going to confession.”

It was the example of Cardinal Medeiros that led to his own vocation, Father Carreiro said. The priest entered St. John’s Seminary in Brighton during the time Cardinal Medeiros was Archbishop of Boston. “I reminded him who I was and he remembered my family. Afterwards, he would always speak to me in Portuguese.”

The seminary was not immune from the turmoil of Cardinal Medeiros’ tenure, Father Carreiro said. “I read about it in the newspapers and heard it from classmates, but I always knew him as my former pastor. I felt Cardinal Medeiros blocked it out. He never showed the strain.”

Father Carreiro said he and the St. Anthony Parish community was thrilled for the opportunity to remember the late cardinal who meant so much to the Portuguese and who is responsible for their church.

The parish of St. Anthony is more than 100 years old, but it did not have its own church building until construction was authorized by Cardinal Medeiros, said Jose A. Chaves, a member of the parish who served as the president of the building committee.

In addition to the parish’s strong Portuguese identity, it was the late cardinal’s encouragement, support and visits to the parish that make it the perfect place to commemorate his life on this anniversary, he said.

Among the members of the Medeiros family who attended the service and reception at the parish hall were two daughters of the cardinal’s brother, Leonel S. Medeiros: Diane M. Bromberg and her husband William M. Bromberg and Sandra L. Shrader and her husband Robert.

Bromberg said that Cardinal Medeiros was a humble and loving presence in their lives. “To us he was always Uncle Bert.”

Everyone in his family, especially his siblings, understood that Cardinal Medeiros was a special man, she said. When the time came for him to quit school and work, the family decided he should continue his education and then go on to the priesthood, and he understood it was because his siblings wanted him to follow God’s plan for him, she said.

When Cardinal Medeiros left St. Michael Parish to live at the chancery, the family and his parishioners were upset about the departure, she said. “But, no matter what happened, even when he was sent to Brownsville or when he was selected to replace Cardinal Cushing, he always said: ‘Whatever God wants.’”

Bromberg said she would often see her Uncle Bert during his visits to his parents’ Fall River home and during the family’s annual summer clam boil. “When he would come down for the clam boil, he would always bring his priest secretaries with him and all the nuns from the chancery, who only spoke French.”

Her uncle was a devout religious man with few passions outside the Church, except for his love for the Boston Red Sox, said Shrader.

“What did he do in his down time? He prayed,” she said.

Cardinal Medeiros died Sept. 17, 1983, after a heart operation, but Bromberg said the family never knew her uncle experienced heart trouble.

“Afterwards, the doctors told us: ‘It is not supposed to happen this way. The operation had been a success and it was the type of thing everyone recovers from,’” she said.

He was laid to rest in St. Patrick’s Cemetery in Fall River.

In his homily, Cardinal O’Malley said that Cardinal Medeiros was a great priest, bishop and very near to the Lord looking out for us, and that the people of Fall River are grateful he is buried with them.

Shrader said she misses her Uncle Bert very much, but she is also aware of what the doctors told the family his last words were: “Whatever God wants.”