Medeiros, Humberto Sousa

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Fourth archbishop and seventh bishop of Boston, cardinal; b. Arrifes, Sao Miguel, in the Azores (Portugal), Oct. 6, 1915; d. Boston, Sept. 17, 1983. The eldest of four children, he attended elementary school in Arrifes and later worked in a wholesale store and law office until April 1931 when he emigrated to the U.S., joining his family in Fall River, Massachusetts.

Unable to speak English when he arrived, this future linguist worked as a sweeper and "bob-watcher" in the city's mills to help support the family in the depths of the Depression. In 1937 he was an honor graduate of Durfee High School, completing the course in only three years. Medeiros studied for the priesthood at The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., earning an M.A.(1942) and S.T.L. (1946) and was ordained there for the Fall River diocese on June 15, 1946.

Medeiros was assigned to various parishes until 1949, when he was asked to pursue doctoral studies in Washington and Rome. He was awarded an S.T.D. in 1951 from Rome's Gregorian University. From 1951 to 1966 he served as assistant chancellor, vice chancellor, and chancellor under the Most Rev. James L. Connolly, Bishop of Fall River. At the same time he was involved in parish work, especially among the city's growing Portuguese community, accepting the pastorate of St. Michael Parish in 1960. He was named a domestic prelate in 1958.

On April 14, 1966, Pope Paul VI named Msgr. Medeiros the second bishop of Brownsville, Texas. Ordained to the episcopacy on June 9, 1966, he soon earned a reputation for being close to his people, especially his large Mexican-American flock. He championed education, human and civil rights, and showed a particular pastoral care for migrant workers as they traveled in search of crops to be picked. While serving in Brownsville, Critic magazine named Medeiros one of the 12 leading U.S. bishops who held the "most promise for the future of the Church in the U.S."

When Pope Paul VI publicly accepted the resignation of Cardinal cushing in September 1970, he simultaneously announced that his successor as archbishop of the nation's second largest See would be the bishop of Brownsville. Within a month of Medeiros' installation on Oct. 7, 1970, in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, the beloved Cardinal Cushing had died.

Archbishop. Both in temperament and style, he differed from his more flamboyant predecessor. But Medeiros soon earned respect and affection for his gentlemanly courtesy, even disposition, and obvious holiness. Inheriting an archdiocesan debt of approximately 42 million dollars, as well as the arduous task of implementing the directives which followed the Second Vatican Council, he restructured the archdiocese into three, and later four, regions each presided over by an auxiliary bishop. In turn, each region was subdivided into four smaller vicarates so as to better serve the archdiocese's two million people.

In August 1971, Medeiros issued a timely pastoral letter which gained international attention. In "Man's Cities and God's Poor," his commitment to education, housing, racial and ethnic equality, as well as to alleviating the plight of the poor, was clearly articulated as his future pastoral agenda. Racial tensions and the subsequent solution of bussing to achieve integration in Boston's public schools placed an enormous strain on the Catholic community as well as its archbishop. He preached time and again on the sin of racism but would neither bless nor publicly oppose the specifics of the court-ordered bussing.

Cardinal. On Feb. 2, 1973, Pope Paul VI named Medeiros to the College of Cardinals, an honor which he maintained was more a compliment to the faithful of the archdiocese than to him personally. He received the "red hat" on March 5, 1973.

After the death of Pope Paul VI in August 1978, Medeiros participated in the elections of Pope John Paul I, "The September Pope," and the first non-Italian pontiff in centuries, Pope John Paul II on Oct. 16, 1978. This same Holy Father, on his first pastoral visit to the Church in the U.S., visited Boston for two days, spending the night of Oct. 1, 1979, in the Cardinal's Brighton residence after having captured the hearts of millions during a spectacular Mass on Boston Common.

Medeiros' nearly 13 years as archbishop were marked by issues of unrest: racial tension, the legalization of abortion, human and civil rights, the decline in vocations, the consequent closing of parochial schools, as well as the elimination of a huge archdiocesan debt. He bore these difficulties with an equanimity and natural grace. Ever mindful of his humble origins, Medeiros embraced an attractive simplicity of style, a directness in speech, and a compassion for those whom society overlooked or discarded.

In the summer of 1983, it was obvious that Medeiros' health was declining. He underwent open-heart surgery at St. Elizabeth's Hospital, with apparent success. Unexpectedly, he died the next morning, Sept. 17, 1983. His death was followed by an immediate outpouring of grief and tribute, unprecedented for an archbishop of Boston. His obvious holiness, gentlemanly bearing, and unassuming presence made a deeper impression on the greater Boston community than had been evidenced during his years as archbishop. Only in death was his pastoral leadership adequately recognized and properly acknowledged.

Bibliography: "Medieros, Humberto Sousa," Archdiocesan Archives of Boston.

[p. v. conley]

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Medeiros, Humberto Sousa

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