A Brief History of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish


From the founding of the United States as a nation, there has been contact between America and Portugal and their people.  At first, this contact was mostly diplomatic.  But later, lured by the possibilities of a “better life”, this contact came largely in the form of immigration.  Drawn initially by work in the whaling industry and later by work in the textile mills, these immigrants have brought to the American “mosaic” a richness that is distinctively Portuguese.

In New Bedford, as the numbers of Portuguese immigrants grew, so did the need for their pastoral care.  The firstPortuguese Catholic Church in America, St. John the Baptist, was established in 1871.  But by the beginning of the next century, thePortuguese population in the south end required a new parish.  ON September 5, 1902, Father Jose Duarte Nunes, a native of Terceira island in the Azores, became the first Pastor of the new congregation.  Fr. Nunes bought a tract of land on Rivet Street, between Crapo and Bonney for the site of the new church and dedicated the parish to the honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.  The first parish census listed 606 families, comprising 2,749 souls.  With generous cooperation from his parishioners and great personal sacrifice, Fr. Nunes labored to establish a solid beginning for the new parish.  Eventually, however, his health broke, and on December 7, 1907, Fr. Nunes resigned as pastor.

On that same day, Fr. Antonio Pacheco Vieira became the second Pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.  A native of St. Michael Island in the Azores, Msgr. Vieira would remain at Mount Carmel for the next 56 years, still one of the longest pastorates in American Catholic history.  Under his leadership, our parish would found an elementary school, in 1941, staffed by the Sisters of St. Dorothy.  All of the Dorothean sisters who served in our parish were much loved and respected.   Among the most beloved members were Sister Margaret Walsh (1947-1992), the first American born vocation to the Sisters of St. Dorothy; and Sister Aurora Avelar (1963-1997), who worked extensively with the immigrants and the poor.  Besides running the school , the Dorothean Sisters were involved in many other good works.  In 1953, when the new Convent was completed, the former Convent became the parish Youth Center.  Msgr. Vieira’s remarkable pastorate ended with his death on Good Friday, March 27, 1964.  At his death, at the age of 98, he would be acknowledged as the oldest, active priest in the United States.  May his prayers ever be with us.

That same Sprint, Father Jose Maria Bettencourt e Avila became the third Pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.  Fr. Avila, a native of St. George Island in the Azores, brought the parish through the side-ranging changes initiated by the Second Vatican Council.  He also attended to the needs of the new wave of Portuguese immigrants that welled the membership of our parish to over fifteen thousand souls.  Ill health and the mounting pressure of these responsibilities led to his retirement on January 31, 1974.

Native son of the parish, Fr. Luis Gonzaga Mendonca, became the fourth Pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on this same date.  Msgr. Mendonca had been ordained as a priest at Mount Carmel thirty years before, the first priest in the history of the Diocese of Fall River to be ordained outside of the Cathedral.  At the time of his appointment as pastor, he was Vicar General of the Diocese of Fall River.  The thorough renovation of our Church, which we continue to enjoy today, occurred during his pastorate.

Fr. Henry S. Arruda became the fifth Pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel with Msgr. Mendonca’s retirement on June 15, 1994.  Fr. Arruda served as pastor for the next seven years, until he was succeeded by our current Pastor, Father John J. Oliveira in June of 2001.

Founded for immigrants, blessed by God, the home of saints, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish has helped generations of immigrants to find their way in a new land.  For one hundred years of such blessings, we are grateful to God to the members of our parish family who have gone before us.  As we look forward together to the future, we trust that God will continue to bless us through the intercession of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, our patroness and our Mother.



** Cornerstone located at front entrance of church