Church’s absence at feast causes rift with P-A Club
In a departure from long-standing tradition, no representative of the Catholic Church participated in the blessing of Queen Isabella's crown during the Portuguese-American (P-A) Club's annual Feast of the Holy Ghost held last weekend in Oak Bluffs.
Angry P-A Club president Tricia Bergeron said the absence of a church representative was about money. Equally irritated, Catholic priest Michael Nagle said that was not true and laid the blame at a lack of timely communication.
Whatever the cause, in telephone conversations with The Times on Tuesday both Ms. Bergeron and Mr. Nagle expressed anger and disappointment as they provided contrasting accounts of what caused the rift. Father Nagle and Ms. Bergeron told The Times they had not spoken to each other.
P-A Club president Tricia Bergeron left a phone message at The Times Monday morning in which she described her dismay over the church's conspicuous absence from its usual role at the feast.
"And I know a lot of the older Portuguese people are very upset because that's our heritage," Ms. Bergeron said in a follow-up phone call Tuesday. "They're very upset, because the Portuguese community really is the foundation of Father [Michael] Nagle's Catholic parish, or always was, anyway."
The annual Feast of the Holy Ghost honors Portugal's Queen Isabella, who sold her crown jewels to feed the poor. The two-day celebration typically features live music, Portuguese food, and games for children at the P-A Club and its grounds on Vineyard Avenue in Oak Bluffs. Sunday's activities included a parade, followed by a performance by the Portuguese Folklore Dancers.
"I've run the feast for 19 years," Ms. Bergeron said. "Every year I call, and the priest comes, and during the parade, we stop at the Catholic Church. We have the first communion girls, and one girl is picked to represent Queen Isabella. A crown is placed on her head and there's a little ceremony. The crown is blessed, the feast is blessed, and our good works are blessed, and then we continue back to the club."
This year, however, Ms. Bergeron said her attempts to make arrangements for the parade's traditional stop at Our Lady of the Sea Church went nowhere.
"I called at least three weeks ahead," she said. "I called the parish, I called the rectory, I called Father Nagle's cell phone number, which he gives out on the rectory phone message. I called all of them several times."
When she did not hear back from anyone at the church by last Friday, the day before the feast's start-up, she panicked. After trying unsuccessfully to reach Father Nagle again, Ms. Bergeron said she called a few parish members, who suggested she talk to Karl Buder, a church deacon.
Ms. Bergeron said Mr. Buder told her that the church had decided not to show any support for the feast or participate in the festival parade this year because the P-A Club does nothing for the church.
"And I was like, what do you mean? Everything we do is for charity, for the community," Ms. Bergeron said.
Money raised by the nonprofit P-A Club's fundraisers goes to Island charities, scholarships, and people in need in the community, she said.
According to Ms. Bergeron, Mr. Buder suggested the club sponsor a mass once a month. "I was just horrified that the Catholic Church, who has made Queen Isabella a saint, would refuse to do something because we don't physically give them money," she said.
Ms. Bergeron said that Mr. Buder apologized that no one had contacted her to explain the situation.
Reached by telephone and asked for a comment yesterday, Mr. Buder said, "For that kind of information, you should speak to Father Nagle. He is the pastor of our parish and through whom the parish speaks to the media."
In a phone conversation with The Times late Tuesday afternoon, Good Shepherd Parish priest Father Nagle refuted Ms. Bergeron's accusations.
He said the church's lack of participation in the feast had to do with the timing of the P-A's request, not money. Father Nagle serves as the priest of Good Shepherd Parish, which includes St. Augustine's Church on Franklin Street, Our Lady Star of the Sea in Oak Bluffs, and St. Elizabeth's in Edgartown.
"The first thing is, she [Ms. Bergeron] called me last Friday, and she wanted me to participate with less than a day's notice," Father Nagle said. "And it was one of the busiest weekends I've had."
At the time Ms. Bergeron called and left a message, Father Nagle was officiating at a funeral — his fourth that week. He said his schedule last weekend included five masses, two weddings, and two baptisms. Church deacons were busy, as well.
Father Nagle said Ms. Bergeron likely was counting on asking Father Thomas C. Lopes, a retired priest who lives in Vineyard Haven, to do the blessings, and then learned last week he was out of the country and would not be back in time.
"The first message I heard from her on my cell phone after I was at a wedding was, 'It's the Portuguese feast. What am I going to do? Father Lopes isn't around. He won't call me back,'" Father Nagle recalled. "And I knew right off the bat I was going to be the bad guy."
He bristled when asked about Ms. Bergeron's impression that the church's lack of participation in the feast was linked to a lack of donations from the P-A Club.
"It has absolutely nothing to do with money," Father Nagle said. "I don't recall them ever giving any money for anything in the past."
If somebody in the church gave Ms. Bergeron that information, it was incorrect, Father Nagle said, and she did not ask him about it.
The Holy Ghost Association and Good Shepherd Parish have not had any kind of relationship for years, he added.
"There probably was a relationship way back when, when all those people were coming to church, but now hardly any of them are coming to church," Father Nagle said. "So now it's become let's play Catholic for the day."
In reference to Sunday's ceremony, he added, "The little girls who are dressed in their first communion clothes come to church asking for a blessing after they haven't even been to church that morning themselves, which is contrary to and the antithesis of what the whole thing was originally about."
Putting all that aside, Father Nagle said, the real issue was his already booked schedule and the last-minute nature of the Holy Ghost Association's request.
"Whether they were the most active people in the world in church I couldn't have helped them out this weekend, he said. "I just didn't have time."
Father Nagle also dismissed the rumor Ms. Bergeron told The Times she heard that some of the Portuguese parishioners put notes in the church collection basket on Sunday saying, "No crown, no money." He said he did receive a few phone calls from parishioners questioning the church's non-participation at the feast.
Methodist fills in
Ms. Bergeron said that when she learned that Our Lady of the Sea Church would not participate she asked Ralph Shunk, a retired Methodist minister and father of P-A Club treasurer Jenny Pye, to provide the blessing.
"He did a fantastic job and I'm so grateful to him for filling in for us. He did the ceremony and blessings at the club," Ms. Bergeron said. "We didn't go to the Catholic Church, which broke my heart."
Mr. Shunk and his wife June live in Dublin, Ohio, and spend summers in Oak Bluffs. Over the years, Mr. Shunk has occasionally preached at the Tabernacle and at Trinity United Methodist Church, Ms. Pye said.