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'Whatever God wants'


Cardinal Humberto Sousa Medeiros Pilot file photo

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The centennial of the naming of William Henry O'Connell to the College of Cardinals on Nov. 11, 1911 provides The Pilot a chance to recall and celebrate that historic event. Brief biographies will appear in this series about Boston's cardinals, native sons, or seminary alumni who received the "Red Hat" in the course of their lives.

Humberto Sousa Medeiros was born on Oct. 6, 1915 in the town of Arrifes on the island of Sao Miguel in the Azores, an archipelago of nine volcanic islands located 930 miles west of Lisbon. The nine islands comprise the Portuguese Diocese of Angra. His parents were Antonio Medeiros, who died on Feb. 9, 1950, and Maria de Jesus Sousa Massa Flor, who died on Sept. 26, 1963. The infant Humberto was baptized on Nov. 1, 1915 in the church of Nossa Senhora da Saude.

After attending the Candido Afonso elementary school in Arrifes, young Humberto worked in a wholesale warehouse and in the offices of Attorney Jose Oliveira San-Bento. In the spring of 1931, his mother immigrated to the United States, along with Humberto, his brothers Lionel and Manuel and his sister Natalia. They settled in Fall River, joining his father who had previously immigrated. His family were parishioners of St. Michael, a local Portuguese parish.

Prior to entering the B.M.C. Durfee High School in January 1935, Humberto attended Border City School and Danforth Street School. In 1932, he worked as a sweeper in Sagamore Mills. He was graduated from high school in June 1937 and, having discerned a vocation to the priesthood, he was accepted as a candidate for the Diocese of Fall River. Later that year, he was sent to the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., to begin his studies for the priesthood.

He earned a Master's degree in Philosophy in 1942 and a Licentiate in Sacred Theology (S.T.L.) in 1946.

Deacon Humberto S. Medeiros was ordained a priest on June 15, 1946 in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral in Fall River by the bishop of that diocese, Most Rev. James Edwin Cassidy. After ordination, he was engaged in pastoral ministry in the Diocese of Fall River until September 1947 when he returned to the Catholic University of America to work on his doctoral dissertation in theology. He remained there until June 1948, returning to his diocese for temporary assignments until he departed for Rome and the Pontifical North American College where he engaged in additional studies for his doctorate. He returned to Fall River in the summer of 1950 where he was assigned to the chancery office. He served successively as assistant chancellor, vice chancellor, and chancellor of the diocese. He remained chancellor until his appointment as a bishop.

He was awarded a Doctorate in Sacred Theology (S.T.D.) in 1952. He was honored by Pope Pius XII in 1958 with an appointment as a domestic prelate and the title of Right Rev. Monsignor. In the fall of 1960, he became pastor of St. Michael Parish in Fall River.

On April 14, 1966, Pope Paul VI named Msgr. Medeiros to be the second Bishop of Brownsville, Texas. He received episcopal ordination on June 9, 1966 in the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption, Fall River, from Bishop James Louis Connolly of Fall River, with Auxiliary Bishop James Joseph Gerard of Fall River and Auxiliary Bishop Gerald Vincent McDevitt of Philadelphia as the principal co-ordaining bishops. Bishop Medeiros was installed in Brownsville on June 29, 1966. For his episcopal motto, he chose ''Adveniat regnum Tuum'' (May Your kingdom come).

Arriving in his diocese at the time of labor unrest and the threat of a farm workers' strike, he supported the demands of the farm workers for a minimum wage of $1.25 an hour and was an advocate for social justice. He was well-known for his practice of celebrating Mass in the fields for the migrant workers. The eminent church historian John Tracy Ellis described him as a man of "deep faith ... and a concern for others that was conspicuous."

On Sept. 8, 1970, Pope Paul VI promoted Bishop Medeiros to the Metropolitan See of Boston, replacing the retiring Cardinal Richard James Cushing. He was the first non-Irish ordinary of Boston in more than a century. Archbishop Medeiros was installed in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on Oct. 7, 1970. He requested the pallium through a procurator in the consistory of March 5, 1973, the same consistory in which he was created a cardinal.

He continued his advocacy for social justice as Archbishop of Boston with his support for the poor and those suffering from discrimination and was an opponent of the war in Viet Nam. He was outspoken in his defense of life, calling abortion the "new barbarism."

Pope Paul VI created Archbishop Medeiros a cardinal in the consistory of March 5, 1973, assigning him the titular church of Santa Susanna, the American church in Rome. Santa Susanna was also the titular church of both his predecessor and his successor as archbishops of Boston. Cardinal Medeiros was named papal legate to the sixtieth anniversary celebration of the apparition of Our Lady of Fatima on May 13, 1977.

During his episcopate in Boston, he ordained his eight auxiliary bishops: Bishops Joseph F. Maguire, Lawrence J. Riley, Thomas V. Daily, John M. D'Arcy, John J. Mulcahy, Joseph J. Ruocco, Daniel A. Hart, and Alfred C. Hughes. Five of them would go on to head other dioceses, one among them becoming an archbishop, Most Rev. Alfred C. Hughes.

Among the priests he ordained for the Archdiocese of Boston, four would later be named auxiliary bishops of the archdiocese: Bishops Richard J. Malone, Richard G. Lennon, Peter J. Uglietto, and Robert F. Hennessey. Two of them have since been appointed ordinaries of other dioceses.

Cardinal Medeiros participated in the 1978 conclaves which elected Pope John Paul I and Blessed Pope John Paul II.

Early on the morning of Sept. 17, 1983, Cardinal Medeiros underwent open heart surgery at St. Elizabeth Hospital and died of coronary arrest. His funeral Mass was celebrated on Sept. 23, 1983 in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. He was buried with his parents in the family plot in St. Patrick Cemetery, Fall River.

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