Our Lady of Fatima Parish closes out 70th anniversary celebration of its founding


CUMBERLAND — Our Lady of Fatima Parish has closed its year of events celebrating the 70th anniversary of the founding of their parish.
The February 25 Mass was celebrated by Bishop Richard G. Henning. Father Fernando A. Cabral, pastor of Our Lady of Fatima Parish, concelebrated the Mass.
“This is a blessing,” said Father Cabral. “It is a day of joy and thankfulness to the Lord because it is a milestone for our parish. It is beautiful to see the involvement of our people, rejoicing and celebrating, and especially with Bishop Henning visiting.”
The celebration took place at the end of a yearlong series of events meant to mark the 70th anniversary of the parish.
A mission church established in the 1930s to minister to the needs of the quickly growing Portuguese community in the Central Falls and Valley Falls area grew into Our Lady of Fatima Parish in 1953.
In the early 20th century, a large number of Portuguese immigrants began to settle in the Blackstone Valley, and in the late 1920s established St. Anthony’s parish in Pawtucket. Yet, as the Portuguese population began to grow in regions farther away from the center of the Portuguese immigrant population, it became necessary for Catholics of Portuguese descent to set up other churches.
Our Lady of Fatima became its own canonically distinct parish in 1953, with the approval of the then-Bishop of Providence Russell J. McVinney. Our Lady of Fatima parish – the first Catholic parish in the United States dedicated to the Blessed Mother under that title – quickly grew, with a large number of families associating with the parish.
On New Years’ Eve, 1962, the parish burned down in a fire-related incident, and in 1964 permission was granted to build a new parish building, which was completed in 1966.
The parish’s first pastor, Father José Barbosa, served as the first shepherd of this community from 1953 to 1987. Born in Portugal in 1915, he was ordained a priest in 1938. In 1950, he was sent to the United States to serve as a priest for the growing Portuguese community of Rhode Island, serving as a priest for Our Lady of Fatima while it was still a mission church. It was during his time as pastor that Our Lady of Fatima was first made a parish, and it was Father Barbosa who oversaw much of the early growth as well as the reconstruction of the parish.
Bishop Henning, speaking to a packed church, situated the mission of Our Lady of Fatima within the broader framework of the Biblical view of salvation. He focused most of his attention on the first reading for the day’s Mass, which described the story of Abraham being asked by God to sacrifice his son Isaac. Noting how this was a prophecy of the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, Bishop Henning noted that the spiritual effects of Christ’s saving mission are perpetuated through the mission of the Church.
“This is a sacred place…This is our place where we go to encounter that Transfigured Lord of Glory. This place exists because of men and women full of gratitude in their hearts for the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and who trust the Lord,” Bishop Henning noted, going on to assert that it is through the ministry of the Church that we are “brought closer to the Heart of God and brought together ourselves as the family of faith.”
“As you celebrate your 70th anniversary, you are not celebrating a mere human endeavor. This is not just a club where people came together and built a building and we come together and hang out every week,” Bishop Henning said.
Holy Mass was followed by a reception. Present were not only members of the parish community, but also former clergy of Our Lady of Fatima parish, as well as clergy from local Catholic parishes with a large Portuguese presence.
“We are very proud of this event,” said Fernanda Silva, the president of the 70th Anniversary Committee. “It’s an honor to have the bishop, and several deacons and also several priests from the community. I’m very proud of this moment. It’s a very special moment for Our Lady of Fatima church, and especially for the Portuguese immigrant community.”
“It was beautiful,” said parishioner, Lucia Martins, who, in many ways, exemplifies in her own life the story of the Our Lady of Fatima community more generally.
An immigrant from Portugal, she migrated to the United States in 1966, and has attended Our Lady of Fatima parish for most of her time in America. Martins attributes many positive events in her life to the intercession of Our Lady of Fatima, which in turn inspired her to volunteer much of her time serving her parish, serving in the choir, as a lector, and an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion. This reflects the close-knight nature of Our Lady of Fatima parish more generally, with rates of volunteer work being high in the community. This is something Deacon Armand M. Bartolo, a deacon of Our Lady of Fatima Parish, describes as the “foundation” of the community.
“It’s a pleasure to have the bishop visit,” Virginia Rodriguez, added.
Silva paid tribute to the parish’s past, while looking ahead to its long days ahead.
“We’ve come a long way. We belong to the past, we belong to the present, and we certainly belong to the future,” Silva said.